Folks keep asking me about my writing workflow, so I thought it might be about time to post this little update here. Most of my papers start out with mind maps - the two main apps I use for them on the Mac are the open-source Freemind but now I was lucky enough to get a license for iMindMap. There’s something about the visuals in iMindMap that makes it superior to all the others I have tried. But if you are not as lucky as me and on a budget, give MindNode a try.
Lots of my pre-writing gets also done on the iPhone - for that I rely on the incredible iThoughts, a mind map app that works well with pretty much all of the main desktop apps. MindNode has a version on the iPhone as well, which works great if you use it in combination with the desktop application, and the iMindMap iPhone application is coming very soon, we are being told. I’ve pre-written — and actually pretty much finished — many reports and memos using my main writing tool on the iPhone, WriteRoom, which also has a very cool Mac version (which actually started it all - one of my main productivity tools when I have to focus on writing something that’s not a paper and needs references, I always turn to WriteRoom first). For those who like it a bit more Zen-style, check the new OmmWriter.
When it comes to my literature and notes and ideas management, I actually have given up on Papers in the current version, especially since my workflow also is LaTeX centered. My workflow now includes BibDesk for all my reference needs, in connection with CiteULike. Check out this post to see how the two link together. CiteULike pretty much does for me for me what Papers did before, only it works much better with BibDesk. I do all of my writing with Lyx which in the current version already is pretty amazing, but v2 soon will include the two last remaining sore points (spelling check and thesaurus). For PDFs, the indispensable Skim works perfectly with BibDesk and also Lyx as a PDF viewer and note-taking powerhouse. For other notes and to manage ideas and comments on citations, I rely now completely on Slipbox which is powerful, lightweight, and fully integrated into the above work-flow, as it wonderfully interacts with the Mac (Spotlight, etc.), BibDesk (via plugin), has a visualization aid to view the connections between your notes, and just is wonderful to work with. The author is extremely responsive to ideas and feedback and seems to work with all the same tools I do. In the past, I have tried to base all my research work on the powerful DEVONthink Pro Office - the main selling point, the AI-fuzzy-logic search-finds-you-stuff-you’ve-forgotten-about-feature never really worked for me. Slipbox works better for the way my brain works and lets me search and browse through trails. And in connection with a document manager such as Yep (my main document tool, I don’t use the Finder or folders really anymore, I don’t really need to store everything in a database, as I prefer to have my documents accessible to all apps via Spotlight and using meta-tags (which both, DTP and Slipbox both integrate with as well).
Don’t get me wrong, I love Papers, but for a social scientist who doesn’t need PubMed the pay-off is simply not there to justify all the extra entry and exporting time and hassle. The workflow I describe above works well for me.
Given that most of us work in more than one place, syncing your work becomes a significant issue for many academic writers. Check out Mendeley - they have now seemless BibTeX automatic export, a great web-intergration, etc. - I just don’t like the interface of the Desktop application and love BibDesk too much to drop it for this…cross-platform creature ;-) The main reason I have not included Zotero in my workflow is again the awkward BibTeX and LaTeX integration. If they solve that, it might become another interesting solution for me. There are some solutions out there for Zotero, but nothing that really matches the above workflow. Most of my references come in PDF format, which Zotero manages well, but for the actual editing, I would rely on the same workflow as above, so there’s no real value added for me at this point, as I rely on Dropbox to keep all of my research in complete sync between my various computers. Apart from having actual copies of your work on more than one computer in different physical locations (you don’t have to wait for your house to burn down, one burst water pipe or leaking ceiling is all it takes…) you also get web-copies that are save no matter what AND you can get go back in time to get earlier versions of your file in case something got corrupted or deleted accidentally. Indispensable. (If you want to give it a try and get 2gig of storage for free, click here and we both win ;-)