Scrivener 3 for macOS: Long-Form Writing, Research and Composition

Ms Word Alternative For Thesis.png

One of my favourite apps — one of the most important apps I own — just had a significant update for macOS. Scrivener is such a rich, and well thought out writing tool that I have held back on covering it until I could provide adequate detail. Now that version 3 has been released, I will have a chance to review it properly. In the meantime, call this a prelude. If you are already a user now is good time to upgrade. If you are looking for an alternative to Word for writing a thesis — for any kind of long form writing —  now is the perfect time to check out Scrivener.

Existing users can upgrade for $25. New users will only pay $45, and there is an educational discount license for students and academics at $38. Trust me, this is a steal. Microsoft Office will set you back $120, if you have to purchase it yourself. Or, put the one-off purchase of Scrivener against a subscription the most directly comparable app, Ulysses. The value is immediately obvious. The comparison with Ulysses is not unwarranted, the two apps get compared a lot for their ability to organising text. However, Scrivener is a much more comprehensive app for writers requiring research tools, and working on much large projects. Scrivener can do things that Ulysses is not made for. Writing a dissertation, or a thesis with Ulysses is more than possible. It may even suit some disciplines. In my experience, Scrivener is one of the more ideal tools for the job.

Looking for an Alternative to Word for Writing a thesis?

With outlining, context mapping, indexing, and more Scrivener can save you from the anxiety inducing mess of multiple, bloated Microsoft Word files. Why anyone would want to write anything legitimately long-form; a thesis, a dissertation, or a book of any kind in Microsoft Word is beyond me. Although, my working theory is that most writers stuck in the word processing paradigm simply don’t know any better. 1 It might seem extreme, but I’m not kidding when I say that writing with Scrivener saved me from all but giving up on long form writing. If you have anything like the chaotic, organisational ticks that I carry around, Scrivener can provide unique respite. Not only is it an alternative to Word for writing a thesis, it is a better experience in every conceivable way.

Alternative to Word for writing a thesis

Aesthetics Matter

I know there was a time when Scrivener turned away prospective users with it’s interface. I was one of those users once. The skeuomorphism of the early versions went a little too far for my liking. A virtual cork board with cork texture. It didn’t work for me. Say what you like about that kind of superficial reaction, but aesthetics matter in interface design. If you don’t like looking at something, you don’t want to work in it. If you have followed the history of this app, you might know that Keith Blount taught himself to code specifically to make Scrivener. The alternatives available for long-form writing were that discouraging. I would argue, if he hadn’t done that we would still be in a similar place. That the original version wasn’t all that easy on the eye is not surprising, the functionality of the app is a remarkable achievement.

Version Two gave users more control over those elements. In turn, fussy users like myself were better able to understand the powerful utility of a genuinely purpose built writing tool. Fast forward to this version, Scrivener 3, and the interface is thoroughly modernised. Frankly, it looks amazing.

Alternative to Word for writing a thesis

Best Laid Plans…

I have every intention of covering the release in more detail as I start to uncover its finer points. In the meantime, if you are looking to ditch MS Word — or even Pages — and the more straight up text editors are too sparse for you. Scrivener is worth your attention. Especially if you are writing any kind of long-form work, but even the humble research essay can benefit immensely from a bit of fine control.

For more details of the update, see Literature and Latte You can download a trial for Scrivener directly. Scrivener is also available on theMac App Store. And, there is also an excellent version available for iOS

 

  1. Yes, I know for some people familiarity is everything.

Managing the Mac Menu Bar with Bartender

If you're the kind of person who has gone all in with OS X utilities — now macOS — , then you may have met with the problem of menu bar overload. Menu bar apps are one of the many ingenious aspects of macOS, so much so that it’s far too easy to go overboard with them. If you get too crazy, the menu bar can become so overloaded that icons start disappearing behind the actual menus of other apps. It end up looking something like this:

macOS Menu Bar Apps

Enter Bartender, a long time favourite of the mac geek community. Bartender 2 was already a neat solution for app addicts, offering the option of shifting less used apps to a secondary bar that acted as a dropdown shelf bellow the main menu bar. On top of which, apps whose presence in the menu bar was merely cosmetic could be hidden altogether, and apps that only require visibility while active could be configure to be so. Do a simple search for must have mac utilities and you will find Bartender on practically every list — with good reason.

In recent times, Bartender developer Surtees Studio has been busy getting ready to release version 3. The update takes an already tidy solution and builds in a touch of subtlety. Instead of adding a secondary menu bar — the Bartender Bar — Bartender 3 simply acts as a toggle, allowing the user to switch between frequently and lesser used apps. This is an an elegant, and supremely effective change to the user interface, making the new version seem much more integrated with macOS. For current users at first, it can seem a little strange not having that familiar Bartender bar appear on command, but it doesn’t take long to see this is an improvement. In the developer’s own words,

Initially we missed the below menu Bartender Bar too, but once your muscle memory gets used to the new setup and you have organised your items to suit your workflow in Bartender Preferences, and by ⌘+dragging items to a good position. We think you, like us, will start to feel Bartender now feels even more part of macOS.

If you are already a user of Bartender 2, the update is free. If it hasn’t happened already, simply activate it within the app preferences. If you are yet to become a user, you can download a 4-week trial from the website.

Update 23-03-2018: Bartender has become part of Setapp, making it yet another reason to pick up a subscription. You read more about Setapp here.

Zapier’s integration with Alfred App Launcher

I'm a little behind on this, simply because I planned to do it nore justice than a quick link post like this one. Best laid plans and all that. This is great news for Alfred users, Zapier opens up an already powerful automation utility into an unparalleled beast of an app. The article on the Zapier blog has a good run down of how you might use this. Given time, I will try for a deep dive, and post some workflows.

Setapp Continues to Impress with Further Updates

Setapp has a growing collection of apps for education users, with few gaps in the collection the service is becoming a compelling option for students and academics alike

Setapp has a growing collection of apps for education users, with few gaps in the collection the service is becoming a compelling option for students and academics alike

Setapp shows no sign of slowing down, as it adds more quality apps and essentail services. Not that long ago, powerful FTP client and Finder alternative Forklift was added to the stable. For science students and researchers, they have added the wonderfully designed digital lab book Findings, and I recently mentioned the addition of 2Do. In the past couple of days Setapp have announced the addition of third-party Gmail client Boxy.

These are all excellent additions to an already compelling service, but the development that I find most pleasing is the service being translated into Spanish. Not only is this a boon for the Mac users among the more than 400 million Spanish speakers worldwide, but it is a sure sign that Setapp is here for the long haul. If you haven't already checked it out, you have nothing to lose, there is a 30-day trial — no credit card required. If you decide to roll with it from there, you can either pay US$10 per month, or grab the educational discount by paying US$60 annually. With the growing trend toward subscriptions, this is starting to look like a serious bargain.

It is getting harder to see where the gaps are in the collection for education users, unless you are wedded to mainstream giants for your work, like MS Office. The one obvious omission at this point is citation management. Otherwise, from mind mapping to timeline generation, your choice of world class text editors, and the dedicated Studies App, it is safe to say they have you pretty well covered.

To be clear, I'm not affiliated with Setapp in any way, this is genuine enthusiasm for an approach to the app market that I feel is promising for everyone.

If you are interested, you can Download the trial here: Setapp

Updates to Setapp include Boxy and Spanish Translation

Setapp has a growing collection of apps for education users, with few gaps in the collection the service is becoming a compelling option for students and academics alike

Setapp has a growing collection of apps for education users, with few gaps in the collection the service is becoming a compelling option for students and academics alike

Setapp shows no sign of slowing down, as it adds more quality apps and essentail services. Not that long ago, powerful FTP client and Finder alternative Forklift was added to the stable. For science students and researchers, they have added the wonderfully designed digital lab book Findings, and I recently mentioned the addition of 2Do. In the past couple of days Setapp have announced the addition of third-party Gmail client Boxy.

These are all excellent additions to an already compelling service, but the development that I find most pleasing is the service being translated into Spanish. Not only is this a boon for the Mac users among the more than 400 million Spanish speakers worldwide, but it is a sure sign that Setapp is here for the long haul. If you haven't already checked it out, you have nothing to lose, there is a 30-day trial — no credit card required. If you decide to roll with it from there, you can either pay US$10 per month, or grab the educational discount by paying US$60 annually. With the growing trend toward subscriptions, this is starting to look like a serious bargain.

It is getting harder to see where the gaps are in the collection for education users, unless you are wedded to mainstream giants for your work, like MS Office. The one obvious omission at this point is citation management. Otherwise, from mind mapping to timeline generation, your choice of world class text editors, and the dedicated Studies App, it is safe to say they have you pretty well covered.

To be clear, I'm not affiliated with Setapp in any way, this is genuine enthusiasm for an approach to the app market that I feel is promising for everyone.

If you are interested, you can Download the trial here: Setapp

DEVONthink Back to School Promotion – 40% Discount

It took me some time to get to understand why DEVONthink is so universally admired in the Mac community – especially by researchers. I resisted for numerous reasons, but some were just superficial and stupid. For instance, I didn’t like the user interface at all. Late last year, Despite backtracking, my feeling was that Evernote had transgressed too far beyond the privacy barrier to keep using that service, so I needed a serious solution for getting a daunting amount of data out of it. Not only could DEVONthink Pro handle the transfer of data locally, without a hint of hassle, it is superior in every conceivable way. DEVONthink Pro can do everything that a premium Evernote subscription can do, and more. Better still, you can buy DEVONthink outright for the same price as a year’s subscription of the Evernote, and that’s before you factor in the 40% back to school discount they have on offer at the moment.

This post is intended as nothing more than a head up on the current sale, to do the software justice I will need to write a great deal more – which is exactly what I intend to do. For now, I will weigh in briefly on a question that I grappled with in getting started with DEVONthink, by which I mean how to choose between the Pro version and the Office version. There are only two significant additions to the full office version, the first is in-built OCR, and the second is much deeper Mail integration. My feeling is that most people are scanning documents with mobile apps that can handle OCR, like Scanner Pro for example. DEVONthink’s OCR will be a little more accurate, but there is a value proposition to weigh up there. On the Mail front, arching all of your mail in DEVONthink is not something that most people will want to do, unless you need more powerful search capabilities for your correspondence. In short, DEVONthink Pro is powerful enough to meet the needs of most people, unless you are literally running an office I would suggest starting there. You can always upgrade later if you feel you need the extra features.

The Back to school promotion runs until 15th of September.

Setapp Adds Premium Task Management App 2Do

I have already written about the value of subscribing to Setapp, but the service just keeps getting better. The utility of this service for academic work should be hard to ignore for a lot of people, especially for students, considering the potential savings on apps you might only need for the duration of your studies. They recently added education pricing, and now they have added one of the very best task managers available to their impressive inventory. I have been a user of 2Do in the past, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. It is easily the most flexible, and customisable task manager available, and has picked up something of a cult following in the past few years.

2Do is on of the most powerful task management apps available today. It is an ideal app for keeping the demands of study and research in order. 2Do is on of the most powerful task management apps available today. It is an ideal app for keeping the demands of study and research in order.

Still the Best App for Plain Text Note-taking

If you happened to have read any of the posts I have made about note-taking, you might think I have a problem. The real problem is not so much being torn between numerous different tools, but being torn between waiting on an old favourite to be reincarnated, so to speak, and moving on to something new. There are trade offs no matter which way you look at it. Apple Notes, for example, has some hard to overlook advantages – native integration means an unparalleled user experience when it comes to sharing material with the system-wide share extension on both the macOS and iOS. The Apple Notes share extension captures URLs in a form it calls rich links, which includes a thumbnail and text snippet to make captured links that much easier to recall. This rich text approach is both the major strength and weakness of Apple Notes, at least now that iCloud syncing has become so reliable and fast. Rich text relies on a proprietary database, meaning portability and future-proofing are open questions for notes kept in a system that relies on them. For that reason, I find myself only using Apple Notes as a kind of place holder for links I will use immediately, or when very basic collaboration is in order.

Apple Notes

A plain text system is the antithesis of proprietary, it is as open as you can get for storing text. Plain text also has one more significant advantage, the speed at which you can work with it. Which brings me back to the aforementioned problem. Where haste is concerned, for a long time there was a pretty clear favourite among the mac community. nvALT was tool of choice for quick text capture where keyboard ninjas were concerned. Nerds might roll their eyes – a detour through the history and utility of nvALT would be an undertaking of its own – but nvALT remains as useful as ever, despite being eclipsed by a new wave of notes apps in the past couple of years [1]. Brett Terpstra is promising a commercial replacement to nvALT, with an app called BitWriter apparently close to beta release. You can use nvALT wit any iOS text editor you choose as a companion, just set the default folder inside nvALT to your favourite cloud service and sync between the two apps. The official stamp of approval for an iOS companion was given to 1Writer, another app I have no hesitation recommending, and one that includes a Javascript automation enginE. OR if you would prefer you can synchronise it with another stalwart app, the minimalist and reliable Simplenote.

When it comes to capturing text as quickly as possible on the Mac, I have a hotkey set for nvALT, so it has become so ingrained that it just happens. You might wonder why I would recommend an app kept in the barest of maintenance cycles while the developer openly builds its replacement. To which I would suggest that first, I can’t imagine Bitwriter will depart from the nvALT workflow much at all [2] – the user base for Bitwriter are nvALT users, so moving to the new app will be trivial when it happens. Second, even if there were significant changes, this is the beauty of plain text, moving to another app will not break your system. Having said all that, I have recently been made aware of another Notational Velocity [3] clone out there that is in active development. So if you are looking for an a lightweight plain text, open source, note-taking app, then FSNotes is worth a peek.


  1. I should probably add that nvALT can also handle rich text, but I believe most people use it to work with plain text  ↩

  2. Although I do hope there is a native iOS app too  ↩

  3. The app original app that nvALT was forked from  ↩

Mac Power Users Covers how to Implement Tagging System

The Mac Power Users Podcast had a show last week with Internet mad scientist Brett Terpstra on how to start using tags on macOS and iOS. This is something that I have only recently begun in earnest myself, but already I can see how beneficial it is. Whether you are a new student or a seasoned researcher, this is something I cannot recommend strongly enough. Managing documents and files in a sane way can be the difference between meeting a deadline and losing a ridiculous amount of sleep at times.