If you work on a Windows PC your life most likely revolves around Microsoft Word. It does not need to be so on a Mac. I still need MS Word to exchange files with Windows-based colleagues and also because it has some important features not available in any other software (for example the ability to automatically manage captions and cross-references and some important features for working with tables). Yet, I often observe how MS Word is misused to do simple tasks less efficiently than could be done with other Mac apps. Here are the five most frequent instances when MS Word can easily be replaced to make academic work better, faster and more pleasant.
- Note-taking. Plain text is far superior for making notes faster to take, easier to find, and more universally available (e.g. on iPhone). Macademic explains how to take notes using such apps as NValt, Notational Velocity and Simplenote.
- Early stages of academic writing. Going through the first two drafts of an academic paper you need focus and ability to structure your thinking. You don’t need formatting or other wordprocessing distractions. At these early stages of writing I outline with OmniOutliner and write with Byword. For manuscripts longer than 2,000 words I also use Scrivener. Check Macademic posts on writing techniques, habits and software.
- Preparing short documents. If you want your text to look professional, snappy and elegant use Pages for final formatting. An ancient philosopher said ‘The difference between Pages and Word in Pages it is very diffivult to make a document look ugly whereas in MS Word it is very difficult to make a document look pretty.’ So most of my memos, briefings, case-studies, and reports are written in Byword and then transferred to Pages for final formatting. Of course you should not email Pages files – convert them to PDFs. MacSparky explains how to make PDFs with a lighting-fast ⌘-P-P keyboard shortcut. Check also Macademic entry on sending files by email.
- Exchanging textual information. I often receive emails starting as follows: “Please find enclosed my inputs/thoughts/an interesting idea”. Attached are MS Word documents with 2–3 paragraphs of unformatted text. Sending MS Word attachments is not a good idea. The best alternative is again plain text inserted at the end of your email.
- Disseminating and storing reference documents. Another type of emails I receive start like this: “Please find attached my recent paper on XXX for your files”. Once again, the attachment is a “.doc(x)” file. I find it frustrating. What if I do not have this version of Word or a particular font or something else prevents my computer from displaying the file properly? What if I want to import the file in a pdf-management software such as Papers? What if in 10-years time MS Word won’t be used any longer? For circulating and storing final papers and documents it is always best to use the open document-exchange PDF format maintained by the International Organization for Standardization. Even if your document was prepared in Word converting it to PDF can be done in seconds.
In summary, while it is too early to phase Microsoft Word out of academic workflows (I will write about its necessary uses), it can clearly be substituted in a variety of situations to result in faster and more effective work.