The Mac is a great tool for writers, with a plethora of software available for any kind of writing. It doesn't matter if you're a student spending long nights on your big paper, a journalist writing up your latest scoop, or a novelist furiously typing away on your next opus — there's an app for you on the Mac.
Ulysses offers a full array of tools for writers of any kind. This app is easy to pick up and start using but offers a wide array of customization options for everything from writing to exporting. Choose to work in Markdown or create your own markup style. With Ulysses, you can also create your own writing environment with everything from background colors to fonts. When it comes time to publish, you can export your work in a variety of formats, including plain text, DOCX, and ePub. You can also publish your work to WordPress sites and Medium.
Your projects all sync with iCloud between Mac, iPhone, and iPad, with Dropbox support also available. The app also recently added support for Touch ID to keep your documents safe.
"Simple but effective" is the best way to describe Byword. With this Markdown-focused writing app, you start with a blank document and just write. It's a minimalist app with only a few settings to fuss with, and Byword really only cares about getting you writing. Your documents sync between Mac, iPhone, and iPad using iCloud Drive, though you can also store them in Dropbox.
When it comes to publishing, you've got options for PDF and HTML. You can also post what you've written to blogging services such as Medium, WordPress, Tumblr, and Blogger, or you could send your document to Evernote.
iA Writer's gone through quite a few changes over the years. Where the previous Pro app tried to break down your writing into a flow between notes and writing and editing, the modern iA Writer focuses on having your write in plain text, with full Markdown support. That's not to say that there aren't advanced features, however, as there are quite a few. Syntax Control breaks down your writing to show you the structure, highlighting adjectives, nouns, conjunctions, and more. Link to other documents in iA Writer to combine them into a single project, or link to images or spreadsheet files to see them in iA Writer's Preview screen in a number of different templates.
Like other apps on this list, iA Writer lets you publish to blogs, in this case, WordPress and Medium. You can also export your work in Markdown, PDF, HTML, and Microsoft Word.
Scrivener is nothing short of a full-featured suite of tools for writers. Novels, scripts, essays, research papers, it doesn't matter, because Scrivener supports all of them. Organize your ideas on digital notecards and lay them out on the corkboard to see how your work fits together. Import images, PDF and other media you've used as research to refer to it later. Keep your work segmented for easier organization and edition, while maintaining its structure with the Binder. And each part of the app can be customized to create the exact writing environment that you need. It's actually hard to encapsulate just how many options Scrivener gives you.
When you're done, compile your project into a single document, and export in formats like DOC, rich text, PDF, ePub, Kindle, and even export for other apps like Final Draft. Away from your Mac? You can also check out Scrivener for iPhone and iPad, which lets you work on your Scrivener projects no matter where you are.
Blogo is a standout amongst our selections here because while many of these apps allow you to publish to the web, that's Blogo's explicit purpose. Open up Blogo and sign in to your WordPress, Blogger, or Medium account and start writing those hot takes. Manage everything from your post's title to its tags, preview your posts, and images. Write in Markdown or rich text, insert inline HTML and code blocks, and keep track of your writing goals. You can also perform some basic photo editing, cropping and resizing photos, and even adding effects and filters.
While Blogo is free up front, you can subscribe to Blogo Pro for $2.99 per month (or $24.99 for a year) to get access to more advanced features. You'll be able to add as many accounts as you want, get access to the Media Search feature to easily find videos, images, GIFs, and more, and on certain accounts, you can even moderate and reply to comments.
A relatively new app compared to the rest of the list, Bear might seem simple, but it offers a great deal of flexibility for handling text. It's true that Bear is good for both notes and todo checklists, but it's support for Markdown, a variety of themes, and simple organization makes it a great tool for many different kinds of writing. Add images, files, code blocks, and more to spice up your work and give it more context.
In terms of options, you've got few. Choose how to sort your documents, pick a theme, pick your font, and even control fine-grain details such as font size, line height and width, and paragraph spacing. Subscribe to Bear Pro for $1.49 per month in order to sync your documents between Bear for Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
Apple's own writing app, Pages lets you create all sorts of documents. There are more than 60 templates in Pages, covering just about every kind of writing, from short essays to research papers. There are even templates for items like business cards and flyers. You can add images and shapes, layout your documents in different styles, and more. You can also secure documents with Touch ID if you have one of Apple's 2016 MacBook Pros with Touch Bar.
Pages also makes it easy to collaborate with other people. Multiple people, whether they're on macOS, iOS, or even Windows thanks to iCloud.com, can collaborate on a document at the same time. You can share collaborative documents publicly or with specific users, see who is in the document at any given time, and follow their cursors as they edit the project.
- iPhone and iPad, Free ($9.99 for pre-September 2014 iOS devices) - Download Now
What is your writing app of choice on your Mac? Do you use one of these or something else? Let us know in the comments.
Finding sources to cite is easy5 Ways to Get Your Hands on Academic Papers Without Losing Your Mind (or Money)5 Ways to Get Your Hands on Academic Papers Without Losing Your Mind (or Money)For a lot of people academic journals are hard to get hold of. They are also expensive. But with the right tools, you can get your hands on any academic journals you want.Read More. Planning a paper is easy. Sitting down and writing the thing? Much harder, and though there’s no shortage of word processors, not all are well-suited to academic writing.
As someone currently working on my dissertation, I know this problem all too well. So I found five popular Mac applications commonly used for academic writing and reviewed each in order to see which excelled the most when it comes to writing college papers and dissertations.
Here’s what I found.
At just short of $45, Ulysses is one of the more expensive applications in this rundown. I reviewed version 2.0, which runs exclusively on 64-bit Macs running Yosemite. There’s also an iPad version ($19.99), which Bakari reviewed recentlyUlysses, Pages & Write: 3 Very Different Writing Tools for iPadUlysses, Pages & Write: 3 Very Different Writing Tools for iPadWe're no strangers to the Mac versions of Pages and Ulysses or the earlier version of Write for iOS, but which is of these apps is best for writing on your iPad?Read More.
Ulysses is, like Desk and iA Writer, a markdown-oriented text editor. Markdown allows you to format text using a special syntax, rather than pressing a button in an application. The advantage of this is that it doesn’t break your workflow, and text written in MarkDown can be copied between applications without losing formatting.
Another advantage of Markdown is that it’s incredibly easy to learn, not just because we published a guideLearning Markdown: Write For The Web, FasterLearning Markdown: Write For The Web, FasterMarkdown is the best way to write in plain text but still create complex documents. Unlike HTML or LaTex, for example, Markdown is simple to learn.Read More to it last year. Ulysses is different from other markdown editors in a number of ways that distinguish it from the pack.
Firstly, it allows you to separate texts into individual sections, each within their own writing space. This is handy if your university project is effectively an anthology of texts, as most dissertations are.
Secondly, Ulysses allows you to change the theme from a bright one, to a more subdued night-mode version which looks great when working in the dark. It also comes with a command palette that feels oddly reminiscent of Sublime Text 2Try Out Sublime Text 2 For Your Cross-Platform Code Editing NeedsTry Out Sublime Text 2 For Your Cross-Platform Code Editing NeedsSublime Text 2 is a cross-platform code editor I only recently heard about, and I have to say I'm really impressed despite the beta label. You can download the full app without paying a penny...Read More, which allows you to navigate your document without endlessly scrolling, just like VimThe Top 7 Reasons To Give The Vim Text Editor A ChanceThe Top 7 Reasons To Give The Vim Text Editor A ChanceFor years, I've tried one text editor after another. You name it, I tried it. I used each and every one of these editors for over two months as my primary day-to-day editor. Somehow, I...Read More.
Ulysses also makes it easy to set goals, which is handy when you’re unmotivated and trudging through the tedium of a literature review. Unfortunately it doesn’t natively support any major reference managers, such as EndNote and ZoteroTake The Stress Out Of Referencing With ZoteroTake The Stress Out Of Referencing With ZoteroEssays are dry. They're time consuming. They're dull. And the worst part of it? Referencing. Thankfully, there's an app out there making referencing less frustrating.Read More, and it doesn’t allow you to embed images or graphics.
Despite these limitations, it’s a perfectly adequate markdown editor, and one that lends itself favorably to academic applications.
iA Writer Pro ($20)
I’m a fan of iA Writer. We reviewed the non-proiA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never UsediA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never UsedBe it a school paper or a blog post, all of us at some point find ourselves in the position of having to dump a bunch of characters into a text file. While cell phone...Read More version of it back in 2013 and it immediately became my writing application of choice. Why?
The app is markdown-based, so you can add formatting as you write without getting distracted or having your writing pane filled with superfluous toolbars and ribbons. It also allows you to focus on the writing, as it puts the text in the center of your screen and a simple, readable typeface contrasts with the austere, white background.
That’s the cheaper, non-pro version. I’ve since moved on to the professional version, and I’m convinced it too is an excellent choice for markdown aficionados tasked with academic writing.
iA Writer Pro comes all the same features of the cheaper version that allow you to focus on the writing, but brings with it a ‘night mode’ theme, which is great for late night work.
It also allows you to drill-down on your text and identify parts of your writing you can remove and refactor, such as adverbs, verbs, and prepositions. Given academic writing strongly emphasizes conciseness and precision, this is really helpful.
But iA Writer Pro is lacking some features that are helpful when it comes to academic writing. It doesn’t support third-party plugins, which makes it hard to import your citations in from Zotero, or any other reference manager. It also only lets you to work one document at a time, unlike Ulysses’s multi-sheet approach to document editing.
Despite those drawbacks, it’s only $20 and makes it easy to be focused and productive, and is therefore worth a consider.
Scrivener 2 ($45)
Scrivener is an inexpensive application with an excruciatingly steep learning curve. It’s commonly used by people working in the creative industries, and has found a niche as a tool for writing screenplays and scripts. But despite this pedigree, it is also worth considering for your next academic paper.
Scrivener, like Ulysses, lets you break your document into manageable chunks, and tackle them one at a time. Editing is done through a graphical interface, with formatting added through the application, rather than using Markdown syntax.
But perhaps the killer feature of Scrivener is its ‘cork board’. This allows you to manage, collect, and collate resources you might want to use in your paper, such as images, notes and references.
Scrivener supports a handful of popular third-party bibliography applications, which means you don’t have to adjust your system of managing citations and references. It also allows you to create snapshots – or versions – of your text, and revert back to them when you want to return to an earlier form of your work. This is similar to how Git worksWhat Is Git & Why You Should Use Version Control If You’re a DeveloperWhat Is Git & Why You Should Use Version Control If You’re a DeveloperAs web developers, a lot of the time we tend to work on local development sites then just upload everything when we’re done. This is fine when it’s just you and the changes are small,...Read More, which is a version control system used by programmers.
However, Scrivener lacks the sleek, distraction-free aesthetics of iA Writer and Ulysses, which makes it less than ideal for long writing sprints where your focus might wander. It’s also rather expensive, and takes a few hours (and a lot of reading) to fully get to grips with.
Microsoft Word 2016 Preview Edition (Free)
It’s hard not to talk about word processors, and not mention Microsoft Word. It’s the incumbent, and has been for a couple of decades now. Go to any university, and you’ll find Microsoft Word is the de-facto word processor. This due to that fact that it’s well understood, supported by Microsoft, and works well with other the packages in the Microsoft Office family.
Microsoft recently released the preview version of Word 2016, and is currently available as a free download before being publicly released.
This latest version represents the biggest change to Microsoft Word on OS X for almost 5 years. It comes with a sleek new aesthetic that makes it feel like the modern, premium word processor it is. For once, you’re going to want to write with Word.
But as a tool for writing Academic papers, how does it stand up? Well, it’s not a distraction-free editor like iA Writer is, but that’s fine. It makes up for that by being well-rounded and complete, boasting all the features any university student or academic could possibly need.
One of the most compelling features for any student is its built-in citation manager, which offers many of the features of Zotero, and can produce references in APA, MLM and Chicago style.
Unlike iA Writer Pro and Ulysses, Word allows you to insert and embed figures and graphics, and create charts that underscore the points you make.
This makes it one of the more compelling packages for academic writing. The only problem is that when it exits the beta phase, it will ultimately cost a good chunk of change. This free version will eventually cease to work, so you’ll have to purchase Word as part of the Office 2016 release if you want to keep the functionality you’ve gotten used to. In the Apple Store, Office 2011 costs $139.95, so expect Office 2016 to cost something approaching that.
It’s also worth noting that beta applications can ship with bugs that might end up destroying all your hard work. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to make regular backups if you decide to use it.
Pages is part of iWork, Apple’s flagship productivity suite. Apple made it available free of charge to anyone who purchased Mac on or after October 1, 2013. Everyone else can purchase it for $19.99 on the Mac App Store, which is pretty good for a fully-fledged word processor.
As a tool for getting words on a page, it’s solid. It comes with a number of templates for academic writing. However, these overwhelmingly are geared towards a style of academic writing that’s more common in the American university system, than in the British and Antipodean ones. That said, it’s easy enough to tweak a template, and formatting text in Pages is simple enough for this not to be too much of a barrier.
Pages also supports academic citations through EndNote, a perfectly competent though expensive reference manager, with a license costing around $250. The closest free alternative, Zotero, hasn’t released a plugin for iWork and given the niche status of Apple’s iWork when it comes to productivity software, I doubt they ever will.
Pages can also produce incredible graphics and charts with a button’s press. This makes it ideal for those writing papers with a somewhat data-driven emphasis.
For those on a tight budget, it remains the best option, and poses a serious challenge to the likes of Scrivener and Ulysses.
No Surprises Here
It should come as absolutely no surprise that the two packages I’m ultimately going to recommend are ones made by Microsoft and Apple; both giants in what they do. Pages and Word are just too complete and functional to not recommend, and offer the most value for money (at least while Word is free).
As a close second, I’d also recommend iA Writer Pro, which despite lacking a number of killer features like EndNote integration and bibliography management, offers the best writing experience of any application listed in my opinion.
What do you use to write your academic papers? Leave me a comment below and we’ll chat.
Image Credits: student with laptop Via Shutterstock
How to Unlock Your Mac Using Your iPhoneHow to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them)