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Ditching MS Word for SciTech grant writing

A recent blog thread reveals that Mac users in the scientific and technical fields are taking a break from Microsoft Word. And the list of excellent Mac writing tools keeps growing.

A recent blog thread reveals that Mac users in the scientific and technical fields are taking a break from Microsoft Word. And the list of excellent Mac writing tools keeps growing.

A post on Wednesday the MacResearch site discusses grant writing workflows and starts with a discussion of a number of Mac text tools. The article writer as well as those commenting, say they have passed over Word for the moment, although they keep a copy in case of collaborators who use it.

The author uses Apple's Pages (part of the iWork suite) as well as Word 2008 for Mac, but has started to use Literature & Latte Ltd.'s Scrivener. It's an interesting choice.

[Scrivner] has alot of very interesting features including having a research folder embedded in the file and able to focus on subsections when you write. Very interesting and liberating in many ways. Mac-only and does not track changes very well which makes collaboration hard but does permit saving versions which I find helpful as I rewrite sections of grants. It will import Endnote refs as text tags so will ultimately have to be formatted out to Pages or Word.

I try to stick to Pages to put the grant together. I'm starting to use Scrivener for the text creation initially. Google docs are intriguing way of collaboration on documents as well but the open nature of putting unpublished research out there is a bit scary.

Note the mention of Endnote integration. It is a popular professional research and bibiography manager for Mac and Windows (and now Web). It's owned by Thomson Reuters.

[Update 5/26/2010: Readers reminded me of competitors to Endnote including Sonny Software's Bookends and Third Street Software's Sente 6. Both Mac-only programs appear to be powerful reference managers that are way more than simple bibliographic formatting utilities.]

Scrivner offers a number of unusual features such as a "Full Screen" mode that blacks out the rest of the desktop, a "corkboard" interface with virtual index cards that can visually map out a story (there's an outliner too, of course), and built-in screenplay formatting tools.

I've been impressed by the growing list of excellent word and text writing tools for the Mac. I keep meaning to try more of them out. Here's a short list:

Nisus Software's Nisus Writer Pro. This longtime Mac word processor is flexible, supports many typographic features and has a great search capability. This spring it won the latest About.com Readers Choice contest (perhaps due to Nisus' excellent customer newsletter and its loyal customers).

Ross Carter's Pagehand is pitched as a simple word processor that makes it easy to use styles without forcing "you to choose from a bewildering array of small icons."

If you're creating a long structured document, then you should check out RedleX's Mellel. It offers full Unicode import/export to many language encodings including ancient languages. Like Nisus, it offers excellent right-to-left input suppport.

In addition, there's Mariner Software's Mariner Write, which is a part of the company's productivity suite called MarinerPak.

Meanwhile, it would be wrong to forget pure text processors.

Bare Bones Software's BBEdit 9.5 was released last quarter. If you're new to the Mac and have never used this product, please give it a try. Some of its many many useful features powerful search and replace capability to local and remote files (unopened even), an easy interface to Unix grep pattern matching, and syntax coloring for a number of source code languages.

The company also offers a free version called TextWrangler, which is powerful enough for most casual text needs. I use it all the time.

I was interested to see the release last week of Aquamacs 2.0, the now Mac-native version of the Emacs text editor. The project says that aside from the 64-bit Cocoa implementation, the free program offers a new, simpler interface; fully support Unicode text display; and supports updated Emacs editing modes for a number of programming languages.