Best s/w for starting Uni.

I know there are other similar threads around, but I’m looking for specific advice. I am about to start Uni, and would love some ideas on what the best s/w is for me. I love Scrivener, but I need to look at other types of software.

The most important is bibliographic s/w. I’ve never used it before. I downloaded Zotero, but I hate Firefox, and most of my references will be printed books. Also I frequently have no internet access at all. I tried out bookends, but it felt limiting and I just didn’t take to it. I downloaded the trial of Sente, and that looks much better. But I know my Uni supports Endnote, so would that be a safer bet? Also, my subject is in Humanities, and uses JSTOR. Is one better than another for that?

Also, should I look at Mellel or Nissus, or stick with Pages/Word? Are there any key advantages/disadvantages?

Lastly, I have been trying the trial of Devonthink, and it seems good, but really, what does it do in everyday life, and is it, or its’ sister s/w worth me getting?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Any advice and opinions would be greatly appreciated!

I understand that Bookends feels a bit clunky – it feels like a port of a Windows application – but when I used it alongside Sente for a little while, I found it to be amazingly flexible, and easily better for a humanities student than Sente.I can’t remember exactly why this was so, but Sente has its origins in the sciences, and both its search capabilities and referencing methods shine in those disciplines. This may have changed recently, however, because I compared them a couple of years ago.

If you read a lot of papers in PDF format I recommend Skim for its powerful annotation features and general superiority to the alternatives:

When I was a law student I used Circus Ponies Notebook ( for all my notetaking and revision. It’s a great program–essentially an outliner, but it has many uses. I found the voice recording feature very handy: I used it to record all my lectures. I liked that you could click on any line of text and the playback would start from whatever was being said when you typed that line.

If you’re prone to letting things get away from you I would recommend some kind of task manager. My personal favourite is OmniFocus ( but there are many on the market, and many comparisons have been written by people more credible than me.

Good luck and have fun at uni :slight_smile:

Hi Scylax,

Well done on getting into uni, and good luck with your studies.

If your uni uses Endnote, I’d stick with that as your IT dept or library will probably support. The most recent version (EndNote X2) is much better than the previous editions, and can be surprisingly flexible.

If you were studying science, I’d recommend Papers - an amazing piece of software! Its ability to automatically recognise citation details in PDF’s is sometimes quite astonishing. It is (almost) perfect for storing, reading and annotating academic journal articles. However, it is not good at recording bibliographic details of texts that are not journal articles (such as books and websites). So if you are using books extensively, I’d just stick with EndNote (or Sente, or Bookends).

Regarding DevonThink, I own it and use it. It is a very powerful piece of software, but for undergraduate study (if that’s what you’re doing, apologies if my assumption is wrong) it could be overkill. For the price, it might be worth considering Together, or perhaps Circus Ponies Notebook (although I have very little experience of the latter).

Personally I use Papers for day-to-day storage of academic articles. I synchronise these with DevonThink (a cool feature of DT) so they can be indexed and searched from within DT and then store all non-journal resources in DT. When writing large pieces, I export the citations of the references I am using into EndNote for automated reference lists, for short pieces I don’t bother.

I like using Pages, but tend to use Word because that is the standard at my university - using Word simplifies sharing information with my supervisors and, previously, other students. I am starting to use Scrivener for drafting - can’t beat it! :slight_smile:

UPDATE: I second the recommendation of Skim. Can’t believe I didn’t remember it upfront.

Good luck!

EndNote X2, definitely. When searching JSTOR and most library catalogs, you may download the references in EndNote format.

Not DevonThink, but DevonNote 2. It’s quick, fast, flexible, cheap. Store your course notes, web links, just about anything, and the RTF files export easily to Scrivener.

iWork '09. Pages, Keynote, and Numbers easily replace MS Office '08.

The standard Mac apps: Mail, Address Book, iCal are very handy, and they team well with:

Bento 2, if you need to create simple databases. The new Template Exchange is full of good files, including one for reading and lecture notes.

You may not believe this now, but welcome to the best four years of your life.

I am a writer/journalist so I don’t know how helpful my advice to you is …

  1. I use Scrivener for almost everything that has to do with typing something into the computer. S is extremely flexible, it is rocksolid and should you ever run into a problem: the forum here is very responsive, I would say even entertaining. I follow it on a daily basis. Keith is an extraordinarily helpful developer.

  2. For my sometimes extensive internet research I use Devon Think Pro. Very powerful app. Not as elegant as Scrivener but also with a very active user community and helpful (if sometimes not as friendly) developers.

  3. Things as task manager. Not as expensive and complicated as OmniFocus – but still quite expensive. You can sync to iPhone/iPod Touch which I do a lot.

  4. Word Processor: I prefer Pages, but have to use Word usually as it is the standard in the publishing business.

Hope this helps,

I may get flamed for saying this, but every university I’ve dealt with insists that all on-line coursework be submitted in doc, docx, xls. I return papers for re-submission in doc when students give me something else. Not every professor is so generous. iWorks does a good job of translating into MS Office, if you are determined to avoid Microsoft. However, give some thought to buying the student version of MS Office. Use one of the others for most of your work if you’d prefer. I do. But if your school is like the one where I teach, a copy of Office on your hard drive will simplify your life.

Sorry, but this kind of advice is exactly what keeps Microsoft in power.
And it also scares students into mindless orthodoxy, not the goal of university life.
MS Office will most certainly not “simplify your life”
It crams the System with junk fonts, is slow, a resource hog, and difficult to learn.
A student working in Pages, KeyNote, or Numbers can open any MS file format.
For the MS-centric professor, just export the file back in his/her required format.
I abandoned MS four years ago.
Have no problems at all exchanging files or tracking changes with students or editors.
(Another alternative to MS Office is the free OpenOffice)

Strangely, my university (or at least my department at university) does the opposite. They refused to accepted doc, docx, etc. and wanted everything in either plain text or PDF. If anyone submitted anything in a Microsoft format they would usually get a penalty and asked to resubmit.

Wow, I’m utterly shocked that any university would penalise or cause problems for a student over a file format. That is bureaucratic insanity. I can understand a lecturer returning a file and saying, “Sorry, I can’t open this, can you send me a different file format?” and I can understand universities specifying certain file formats so that lecturers don’t waste their time doing this sort of thing all the time - but penalties? Or refusing to mark a paper at all? This stuff really annoys me, because it’s just ignorance on the part of those who make these policies at the university (if they specified RTF - standard among most word processors and understood with all formatting by any version of Word - or PDF it would be more understandable). Grr.

Rant over!

All the best,

P.S. Scylax - apologies for going off-topic. :slight_smile:

Pages does not exchange all MSWord files without problems. I wish it did. If you only ever have simple files, use only minor formatting (bold, italic, etc), only ever use very basic tables, and don’t use footnotes, citations, etc, then sure, it works fine. If you do use advanced (or even moderate) features then I’d recommend using either Word or Pages (or one of the other word processors recommended here) and avoid switching a document between them. My experience has been that importing Word docs into Pages is not without risk - sometimes it works flawlessly, other times it is a lesson in frustration. Also, EndNote works better with Word than with Pages, although at least it now does work with Pages.

Word is only difficult to learn and use if you don’t already know how. If you only use the features you need to, then it is definitely usable.

I would love to be able to stop using Word, and resisted installing it on my MacBook Pro. I succumbed because I couldn’t find anything else that would open Word documents as well as Word does. It hurts me to say it, but true. I can’t trust that Word files I open with Pages will faithfully represent the original. If it was only the content of the text that matters then it wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but formatting of academic papers is also important and needs to be maintained between versions.

I use Pages for any “final presentation” documents (such as client handouts) that only I will work on. For sharing documents, I always write it (or at least edit it if I’ve written it in Scrivener) in Word. Faster and less headaches all round.

Scylax: check with your university what their policy is regarding electronic submission. I’m sad to say that my university still requires, and will only accept, paper submission - the exception is for theses when they require both paper and electronic submission. Yes, they have heard of the 21st century, it just hasn’t reached them yet…

Thanks everyone for your very helpful comments so far. I will be doing Undergraduate work over 6 years part-time. I have used Word 2008, and I don’t mind it too much. It is slow and crashes quite a lot, but if it’s best, I’ll use it. My Uni requires both paper and electronic submission.

I just got Circus Ponies notebook, and I think I’ll make good use of it. As for organization, I use my iPhone, and the free s/w iGTD, which is enough for my needs.

What I’m nervous about is bibliographic software. The price of Endnote scares me (Sente is bad enough), but I will pay if it’s worth it. As far as I know, it’s the one the Uni uses and supports. Any more advice on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

And I am shocked deeply that anyone could be penalised over a file-format. I find that frightening!

Thanks all!

For those who are like me and go to ridiculous lengths to avoid M$ on their mac consider the rather powerful combination of Pages + Open Office 3. I have run into a few files (xls/docx) that iWork doesn’t like. Open Office (which i do not like at all) opens these files just fine. So 95% of my work is in apple native, 5% in Open Office, 0% in M$ Office.

Let me know if more info is wanted.

Be sure to check to see if your university has a deal which would enable you to get Endnote at a reduced rate. Some do. And, of course, you do not need more than the Student Edition.

Endnote is good. I have been using it forever (and remember the day when it was reasonably priced).


P.S. By being a Scrivener user, you will already have a leg up on your university cohort.

I am not sure why the university requires this format. I never asked. I would guess that the reason is that of all the various formats, this is the only one that crosses platforms and is universally acceptable. i do most of my teaching in a graduate program designed for adult learners who are earning their degree while holding down full-time jobs. almost all of these students use pcs rather than macs. i think this is because they are coming from a business environment where pcs are the standard. when i teach undergraduates, i encounter more macs.

from the university’s standpoint, it makes sense to require electronic submissions in a standard format. also, like or hate it, ms office is what students will encounter in the work world. a familiarity with it can only help, not hurt, them.

I’m very much a mac convert. i use a macbook, an imac, iphone and ipod. i can’t imagine life without scrivener. mellel is my choice for academic wp. but i also have a copy of office on both my computers. as i said, it simplifies my life. as for the flame wars between ms and apple, that has nothing to do with what’s best for an individual student. if a student wants to add the load of combating microsoft to the other challenges of getting a degree, that’s their choice. but the most direct way on the campus where i teach is to buy office and get on with life.

Funny–I only accept RTF or ODF.

doc, docx and the other M$ formats are not “cross platform”. they are proprietary and licensing could be enforced. PDF is in the same boat.

RTF is public domain but was initially proprietary. PDF has been “pd” by Adobe, but there is still some concern there. ODF is probably the only real non-proprietary format, but it is not as widely used making it less acceptable.

The whole argument that “M$ is what folks use in the real world” the the core of the problem in my mind. Formats like ODF, RTF and PDF make the use of processor specific formats like doc/x, pages, etc the bane of modern computing. Until we, the consumers, stop thinking like lemmings we will continue to suffer from what I like to call the “microsoft shotgun” method of software development (read druids post). If we want truly portable formats we need to stop using software that doesn’t support them.

This means M$ and Apple are pretty low on the list of vendors…

Zotero works with books too–most of my refs are print. Just like with bookends or sente, you can enter hem manually or download the info from amazon or google books or something like that. I suggest having another look–it’s free, easy to use (easier than the others you mention, I think), and like the others, scans RTF texts to produce the final document. It also has cite while you write-style plugins for Word and OpenOffice. Another reason to reconsider is that its styles are often more correctly implemented than in sente or bookends. (bookends has finally started to fix its MLA… after 3 years.) It also works perfectly well offline and also has wonderful sync capabilities.

Scylax: my field of interest is in humanities also. Be sure that Bookends is the best choice, without any doubt. It is absolutely more efficent than Sente. I tried both of them. The philosophy is different. With Bookends you can create a huge database with tens of thousands references and use it during all your life. Sente is aimed to small, single-project, databases, as Zotero.
Bookends works very smoothly with JStore allowing the automatic import of citation with pdf etc…
In my opinion Scrivener, Bookends, DevonThink, Mellel and Nisus are the only serious reasons to be MacOS users :mrgreen:

I don’t know that much about Sente (but as I recall you can create a number of different libraries, holding thousands of references); however the above posted is simply incorrect about Zotero. While its implementation is different (a main “My Library” with “Collections” and also the option of using tags to organize things), it also lends itself precisely to the development of a “lifetime” database of many thousands of references. Zotero is developed by scholars like me–the others aren’t and that’s the difference.