Criteria and questions for establishing your academic work flow

I’ve spent a fair amount of time (and probably too much money) trying to set up the academic workflow I want over the past year, and looking back I’ve now tried to consolidate the key criteria that are important when you’re designing your work flow. What questions should you ask when setting up your academic work flow on a mac? Here’s a short list of things I find useful to consider (‘it’ here being the app you’re looking at): 

Does it have an iPad version? If yes, does it talk to the mac version, and how?

With some rare exceptions, an iPad counterpart is a key criteria for me when I’m looking at apps for mac. My iPad is always with me, my mac isn’t. The second key question here is how they talk to each other, and whether that connection requires effort on your part (see next point). 


Does it sync? If yes, to what and how? Will the sync require any effort on your part?

Some apps are easier to sync than others. For example, while some sync seamlessly across iPad and mac, others require this to be a manual operation (e.g. Sente versus Bookends). 

Cross platform sync is also an issue for those using both Windows and OS X, and applies to e.g. Scrivener, Papers and EndNote. 


Does it communicate with other apps? 

Some apps, like Evernote, Scrivener, PostBox and Curio, have actively addressed integration with other apps – which can make your work flow that much smoother. Explore what the different apps offer, and how that might help your own workflow. 


Do you need to work across platforms (e.g. OS X and windows, iOS and android)

If you, like me, work in a windows environment but use mac privately, this is important to look into. For example, Word, Scrivener, Papers and EndNote work across OS X and Windows, while Pages, Sente and Bookends don’t. 


What do the reviews say?

There’s a large number of reviews available on almost every mac and iPad app out there. Do some proper googling and make sure the posts you read are recent (I usually only go 12 months back in time) before you shop. Ask for advice on forums such as MacRumours and ask your connections/followers on social media what their experiences are. 


Will it be on sale soon?

A lot of apps are frequently on sale. I’ve saved a fair bit of money looking out for the apps I’d like on AppShopper, a site that has consolidated lists of apps on sale for both mac and iPad. Bookmark this site if you haven’t already – they also have RSS feeds.  


Any other questions and issues you think are important to consider? Please leave your comment below! 

Related post on this blog:

Academic work flows: When to use what, and how 

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6 Responses to Criteria and questions for establishing your academic work flow

  1. cj13 says:

    Nice take on what for many in the social sciences is a bit of a minefield or just too hard. What I’m interested in (I will add to your list of software) is what folk do with this stuff? What are their digital habits? What do they actually do with this stuff? I think these questions are more important than the what they are tinkering with. OK. I see tablets as cut down computers (for obvious reasons) so it is, as you point out, how well they carry their functionality across devices. Notebook, which I use a bit simply could not move it’s nice cross referencing to iOS for obvious reasons. The other software that I am still trying to reconcile with the Steven Johnson (he of where good ideas come from fame) rec. is DevonThink. Still to decide. I must confess that I use notability to shuffle stuff back n forth. I’ve learned not to expect too much of what one can do on a tablet, i.e. it is really just a gigantic iPhone 🙂

  2. macademise says:

    Thanks for those comments. I think the ‘what to actually do with the stuff’ is the big question. I’ve outlined what I do here However, my workflow is still a bit in flux and one of the changes I’ve done since is to switch to Bookends from Sente, which means I’m also back to marking up all my academic literature in iAnnotate, which works well with Bookends. I’ve also switched from CPN to Evernote and DevonThink for storing all my academic notes. I still really like CPN, but because I work in a Windows environment and have an android phone, Evernote got the edge over CPN with cross platform sync.

    I haven’t talked about it here on the blog (yet), but I think DevonThink really is a brilliant and very powerful app (in spite of being somewhat clunky and coming with a bit of a learning curve). At the moment, though, I don’t rely on it for my day to day academic work, because it doesn’t talk well to iPad yet (apparently the developers are working on improved sync). It has three main purposes for me: it’s my repository of everything personal admin (bank statements, receipts, contracts, etc), it’s hosting a bunch of web clips that I’m collecting for a future research project, and it’s holding a copy of all my literature notes. It creates nice notes templates that are linked to entries in Bookends (or Sente, whichever you use), so I often type up my notes there and then just copy and paste them to Evernote to have them available ‘everywhere’. I’m still not 100% comfortable relying on a web based, external server for all my notes (Evernote), so I like to have everything backed up in DT, and it only takes a few seconds to copy them over.

    • cj13 says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I guess what I did not make clear is that my interest is in the detail, what folk actually do, not just the summary, I use X to do Y. I’m interested in the notion of learning in public – i.e. making explict/sharing how one does stuff with these various digital bits n pieces. If I can use a cooking analogy. To make ap ie you need pastry, filling etc – recipe is the usual “explanation” – but what you miss is what folk *actually* do. If they have to improvise. if they have to adapt. What do they do when things go wrong. This information has always lived under the broad brolly of “secret academic business” – I’m interested in peeking under the brolly.

      • macademise says:

        I like your post – is your academic work in the field of practice theory? Yeah, I’ve improvised a lot, and there’s a lot of the fumbling and experimenting that don’t get reflected in my posts. Overall, though, it’s still a continuous adaptation in progress, although I feel I’m starting to arrive where I want to be now, work flow wise.

  3. Dellu says:

    Good questions: I don’t have ipad, but I always keep of the possibility of getting it some day. I also like that you shift away from CPN; I also dropped it after hustling with it for some time. The Notebook analogy, the linear relation of my notes created a hurdle to shift from one note to another. I also don’t like the locking habit of Evernote. Exporting notes from evernote to another application is pain. I agree, Devonthink and Scrivener are always the best in both worlds (They import all kind, and export to all other kind; love the two). I wish Devonthink is available to windows too.

    Any ways, thank you for your usual good writeup. I will be watching ur updates. Let’s know when u come up with cool ideas and tools.


    • macademise says:

      Hi again Dellu, thanks for your post. Yes, I’m increasingly using DevonThink and will probably do a post on it soon. I fully agree with your thoughts on exporting and importing notes. At the moment, I’m writing up all my literature notes in DT but I do copy them over to Evernote, for reasons of cross plat form access – I work in a Windows environment, and have my iPad with me everywhere, and DevonThink To Go still isn’t quite there yet for me to rely on as part of every day work. I did one batch conversation of academic notes from EN to DT, via html and then converting the html files to rich text in DT, and that went fairly smooth. I now start out by setting up a Bookends template in DT when I take literature notes (which automatically transfers the tags/meta data from BE), then type stuff up in DT (integrating annotations from GoodReader/iAnnotate) and, at the end, do a quick copy and paste to EN. Bit of a work around with the last round, but worth it for me in terms of cross platform access.

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