Mac Productivity

The Best Mac Apps for Planning and Writing Your Next Research Paper

Michael McConnell 10-10-2017

Taking a paper from an idea to polished submission on the Mac may seem obvious, but you can save a ton of time with the right tools. If you are back in school, then you have likely settled in and are starting to get your first big papers this year.


These apps can help you craft the perfect submission.

Research: Apple Notes

Notes can be an essential tool for research on the Mac. There are other notebook apps, but none of them keep your work in sync between your Mac and iOS devices as easily. Though you want to do the bulk of your research on your Mac, your phone can come in handy to capture random ideas. Alternatively, your phone might help in other ways.

mac apps research notes paper

If you end up researching with physical media, you can take a picture of the passage you need (be sure to grab the title page for your references). You can then keep these with the rest of your work. iOS 11 even comes with a fancy new document scanner How to Scan Documents With Notes in iOS 11 Now, thanks to iOS 11 and iPhone Notes (and a bit of help from the camera), you don't need a document scanner anymore. Read More .

As noted in our guide to using Apple Notes for research How to Use Apple Notes as a Research Tool Apple's free Notes app can be an indispensable research aid on both a computer and mobile device. Read More , you can save text selections from web pages in Safari. The feature is convenient to save a link to a page, several entries of quotes relevant to your topic. Just select the text, hit the Share button and drop it into a note of your choosing.


If you only remember Notes as a basic list of text files, it has come a long way in the last few years How to Use Apple's Powerful New Notes Features in iOS 11 Notes has received its fair share of useful new features in iOS 11, so here's how to use them. Read More . You can keep folders for each project, allowing you to work on multiple streams. There are markup and handwriting features for iPad Pro users, and webpages and files are handled elegantly as attachments.

For a default app, Notes is a powerful tool with a ton of features for power users.

Outline and Mindmap: MindNode ($30)

Now that you have completed your research, it is time to organize and structure your thoughts. Mind mapping is an excellent way to organize your ideas into a complete structure 8 Tips To Come Up With Winning Ideas When You Are Brainstorming Alone Two heads think better than one, but brainstorming is as much about individual problem solving as it is about the group. Here are some methods to build up a “storm” of ideas. Read More . MindNode is a great app to do so.

MindNode is great because it is effortless to build a complex mind map Mind Map Ideas, Projects and Tasks With MindNode for Mac and iOS Though good old pen and paper traditionally got the job done, digital mind mapping applications like MindNode offer flexibility and features that save time and trees. Read More . It has support for huge mindmaps that allow you to get as detailed as possible. You can string out child nodes as deep as you need to, or do a wide array of sibling nodes. If you are using a lot of visual aids, you add them right to your mind map as part of your outline.


mac apps research mindnode

You can then export your mind map to an RTF outline. You lose your images, but you can get a nice layout of your thoughts ready to form the skeleton of your document. You can export directly to Markdown, which includes the images. This export comes as a text bundle able to open in Ulysses. Even if you do not edit further in this doc, you can keep your outline as you move to the next step.

Drafting: Ulysses ($4.99/mo, 14-day free trial)

Once you have your outline, it is time to start getting down to actual writing. Now you could open Word or Pages Is It Time to Ditch Pages and Word for Ulysses? In 2016, not everyone needs a full-service word processing program, which is why software like Ulysses exists. Read More and get right down to crafting a document with formatting, works cited, and bibliography. You are not going to get very far with your writing when you fight odd formatting quirks. Choosing the correct fonts and spacing that you want can be another distraction.

Ulysses has support to organize your files into groups with separate sheets. Then you can have your paper as a group, with each section as a single sheet. It has support for Markdown What Is Markdown? 4 Reasons Why You Should Learn It Now Tired of HTML and WYSIWYG editors? Then Markdown is the answer for you no matter who you are. Read More , but you can use default keyboard shortcuts. It inserts Markdown, but it does not require you know the syntax.


mac apps research ulysses

Now that you have your draft, it is ready to export and edit. However, you can avoid a Word Processor. You can use an external app, Papers, to create your bibliography and insert references into the text. You can add images using Markdown and the filename (Ulysses has some tools to help with this process).

If you choose this route, everything is done in a single app using one of Ulysses predefined styles. There is a preview option so you can see what your document looks like. If you are stopping at Ulysses, give everything a polish before you finish.

You can now export as DOCX either to submit or further edit. Better yet, use Copy As > Rich Text in the Edit menu, and paste into a template.


Final Draft: Word or Pages

Here is where you’ll need to make a decision based on the complexity of your document. If all you need to do is give the paper a polish, add a couple of citations, and a bibliography, Pages does the trick How iWork Works: The Basics of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote Have you always dismissed Apple's productivity apps as unsuitable for your office needs? It's time to reconsider! Read More . In fact, it makes your document look fantastic without much work, and it’s free for all Mac users.

The formatting tools are much friendlier than Word’s. It spares you some of the more frustrating aspects of getting your paper to look nice. There is a problem. Like Ulysses, its support for complex bibliography pages is through the Papers app.

mac apps research pages word

Word, on the other hand, has a built-in tools for creating a “works cited” page How to Create an Annotated Bibliography in Microsoft Word An annotated bibliography is an important part of any research document. Let's see how to create one with the help of Microsoft Word. Read More based on multiple style guides. You can get the style set as a template when creating a document (make sure to use Paste and Match Style How to Always Copy & Paste Text Without Formatting in Mac Here's a simple workaround that prevents you from ever "pasting with formatting" again on a Mac. Read More when copying from Ulysses).

Pages has report templates How to Create Impressive Pages Documents and Templates on Mac The price isn’t the only reason to give Pages a spin — it's packed with ready-to-use templates that will make your work look fantastic. Read More , but it’s just a cover page and default double spacing. If you are going to be tracking comments and changes with other users, Word pulls out ahead here too.

mac apps research word paper

Word on Mac’s features are on par with the Windows version. If your school relies on Windows, it is better than depending on Pages maintaining compatibility. Pages might be free, but it is missing some features. Word is powerful but complex, though you could get a nice student discount.

Getting an A

Before you submit your final draft, make sure to check the document for any grammar mistakes 9 Websites That Solve Dumb English Grammar Mistakes Instantly We all make grammar mistakes every now and then. The Internet comes to the rescue. Here are some websites that can help you avoid the grammar police. Read More . Even though you may have been careful to cite sources and quotes, you should use a plagiarism checker to be safe The Plagiarism Checker: Check Papers For Plagiarism Read More . Also, you will want to double check your grammar. None of this guarantees that you get an A, but you are in the best position possible.

As a student, what do you need help with on your Mac? If you’re a graduate, what was the biggest project you used your Mac for? And how did it go?

Image Credit: avemario/Depositphotos

Related topics: Apple Notes, Education Technology, Microsoft Word, Mindmapping, Note-Taking Apps, Pages, Students.

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  1. Rafael Nunes
    April 14, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    LOL a whole article to suggest NOTES, pages, a mindmap and ulysses? at least suggest other apps or change the name of the article

  2. Lucy
    October 11, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    This was sooo helpful! Thanks a lot!!! :) xx

  3. Ed Skinner
    October 10, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    No Scrivener? How could you miss that? It does non-fiction as well as fiction and has build-in capabilities for Research, Outline, imports ODTL from mind mapping programs if you're so inclined, does the Draft and Final versions, integrates with Bibliography generators, and supports more than a dozen output styles (publisher manuscript, eBook, custom) and formats (Word, RTF, PDF, plain text).
    The omission lessens the credibility of your entire article.
    Other MakeUseOf authors know about it. Maybe you should'a asked them.

    • Michael McConnell
      October 11, 2017 at 7:31 am

      Scrivener is a good app. I just have always felt that it's a bit untenable for a beginner. It does do a lot, and it does it all very well. However, I think that it's an app that needs a crash course just to get comfortable working in the app.