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Best Word Processor for a PhD Dissertation


Nathan Parker
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I'm curious as to what would be the best word processor for a PhD Dissertation between Word for Mac, Pages, Mellel, and Nisus? Pages is probably too bare bones, and I'm not sure if Word's performance is really good enough. I'm wondering if Mellel would be ideal since it offers pretty solid performance and iCloud support for backing up the files.

 

Also, for doing research for a PhD, is Accordance Notes and/or user tools a good place to store research? Logos' note taking capabilities are pretty buggy, and performance isn't great at all. Evernote is great, but it's outside the realm of Bible software, so the notes can't be searched in line with Bible software without exporting out of Evernote and into the Bible program. Accordance has great performance, and everything's searchable inside Accordance without doing an export/import dance.

 

Just curious as to the ideal workflow for this setup.

 

Thanks!

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That depends on your subject area. If it is OT or NT that includes Hebrew, R-to-L text, then I'd look at Mellel. It's perhaps the best for anything with Hebrew. By all means don't use Word if it includes any R-to-L text (Hebrew or any other Semitic language). I've not used Nisus, but I've heard it does OK in that area. Pages, as you note, is not ready for a dissertation-sized project. If you need only English or English and Greek, then Word does just fine, even a full-length diss. MS. Once you get up in the 400 (?) page range, it gets a bit slower and wants to repaginate more often than necessary (but you can cancel that with Esc), but I've had up to 1,200 pages of technical English/Unicode Greek in a single document w/o problems. It's also the most robust in terms of features, even if you don't need all the fancier ones for a dissertation. Keeping footnotes on the right page is always a problem and I'd be surprised if any word processor is always perfect in that regard, esp. given the quantity of documentation expected in a diss.

 

As for notes, you'll have to listen to others. I'd be very hesitant to commit my notes to any Bible software program. Though they all provide for notes, you really need something dedicated to notes if you want digital research notes for a diss. There is no way to organize or collect notes in the limited notes features in Bible software. I've always done it an older way and simply recorded my notes in Word processor documents. Using the outliner features there provides some ability to organize and Find is very handy. There are probably better solutions.

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I would consider using Scrivener. It is great for research notations, chapter divisions, and writing. You can export into Word to beautify it but nothing really beats it for writing. Now, I must confess that I have not thrown Hebrew at it yet.

 

Frank Jones, Pastor

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I used Nisus Writer Pro for an OT dissertation and it's performance was superb. It handled RTL and mixed LTR and RTL text well. I used Sente for bibliographic management as well as note taking on articles.

 

Though the word processor was important, I couldn't have done it without Accordance!

Edited by Mike Thigpen
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I'd probably use Mellel. It's little bit "strange" application, has its own ideology, but once you master it, it's really robust. Very structured and supports L-to-R and R-to-L. I wrote almost all of my MA papers with it.

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LibreOffice.

 

I use it for all my articles, books, and even edited a collection of articles entirely with it.

It saves to native format (.odt) or Word (.doc/.docx). And it handles Hebrew beautifully (though you must turn on the Complex Text Layout options in the preferences).

 

Basically it's 99% as powerful as MSWord with a cleaner engine under the hood.

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LibreOffice.

 

I use it for all my articles, books, and even edited a collection of articles entirely with it.

It saves to native format (.odt) or Word (.doc/.docx). And it handles Hebrew beautifully (though you must turn on the Complex Text Layout options in the preferences).

 

Basically it's 99% as powerful as MSWord with a cleaner engine under the hood.

Did you use a bibliography app with LibreOffice?

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I used Endnote for years (originally integrating it with MS Word, but then giving that up due to Word crashing all the time b/c of the bloated file). I now use Bookends and don't bother integrating it with my files. I simply keep a running biblio and copy the references from Bookends in the style of whatever journal or publisher I'm writing for.

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If you're not doing much Hebrew, then I would suggest Word. It's still the standard.

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I would consider using Scrivener. It is great for research notations, chapter divisions, and writing. You can export into Word to beautify it but nothing really beats it for writing. Now, I must confess that I have not thrown Hebrew at it yet.

 

Frank Jones, Pastor

 

Scrivener is a great program for writing! You can organize everything neatly! But, I think it only works well with English. I tried typing, copying and pasting Hebrew. It will look great, but when you compile it to doc/rft formats - boom, it will flip the letters/words in odd-reverse way. :/ So, I got tired of it, and now I am using Mellel for my dissertation, it is a great program, and need to learn a lot :) I wish I could really use Scrivener for the entire project!

Edited by joelmadasu
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Scrivener is a great program for writing! You can organize everything neatly! But, I think it only works well with English. I tried typing, copying and pasting Hebrew. It will look great, but when you compile it to doc/rft formats - boom, it will flip the letters/words in odd-reverse way. :/ So, I got tired of it, and now I am using Mellel for my dissertation, it is a great program, and need to learn a lot :) I wish I could really use Scrivener for the entire project!

 

Thanks Joel for the information on using Hebrew. It will save me a step. I have used Mellel but there is a learning curve and the proprietary doc format bothers me a little.

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The only real problem with Mellel for me these days is the lack of iOS support. I have Mellel documents in my Dropbox, which I cannot see on iPad and iPhone. But as for the writing - excellent app! One of the best optical text justification. Text looks way better than in Pages. Really fast and it has crashed only once in 7 years (!!!).

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Just throwing it out there…

 

You could always forego a word processor and use a typesetting system like LaTeX. Then you do not need to worry about proprietary source files, or get bogged down in formatting. It can easily handle book sized projects and given time on the learning curve is super easy to understand. And because they are plain text documents so that you will never have to worry about not being able to open your files. You could even use TextEdit and get iCloud backup.

 

Support for Hebrew is also quite strong. See this pdf.

 

Perhaps the best part is that the product is also super pretty, not like Word output… [ugh]. And it autogenerates things like table of contents, footnote numbering, etc.

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The bottom line is, as is typical, the standard set by the degree-issuing institution.

 

U Mich, where I took my doctorate, required MS Word. It remains the most commonly required program by publishers and universities, the standard as it were. Yes, it does have issues with right-to-left text, but the Near Eastern Studies Department at UM still had to abide by the university standard.

 

Other institutions may have different standards. Check with them.

 

If you are preparing a manuscript for a publishing company, check with that company. If you are fortunate enough to have a company that is will to accept a PDF, most professional-level word processing programs will export to that format. You can then use whichever of those you want.

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"Without doubt, the absolutely best word processor would be

Nota Bene using a DOS computer!"

 

so some might say.

(Or you might do it on a Windows 3.11 computer.)

 

LOL

Edited by Enoch
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Thanks everyone for the excellent feedback! A few additional questions:

 

1. How well does Mellel do with formatting end notes (if I can get by using end notes over footnotes so at least the formatting won't be all crazy)?

 

2. Between Mellel and Nisus Pro, which has better performance? When I've used Mellel, performance was pretty good over Word. I almost had the hang of exporting Mellel docs to Word with very few "conversion errors".

 

3. Are there any training videos on Mellel, or any other training besides the "big manual" that'd help me learn more quickly and easily (like a "Mellel for Dummies"?

 

4. What's Scrivener? I've faintly heard of it but never used it. Sounds interesting.

 

5. Any suggestions of storing research notes in Accordance User Tools? Good or bad idea? It'd be searchable in Accordance and a little less clunky than having to use Logos Personal Books and re-compile all the time.

 

6. Thoughts on Microsoft's new OneNote for Mac? I store all my college documents in OneDrive and all my company docs in SharePoint, so would this interface better with my workflow?

 

Thanks!

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Thanks everyone for the excellent feedback! A few additional questions:

 

1. How well does Mellel do with formatting end notes (if I can get by using end notes over footnotes so at least the formatting won't be all crazy)?

 

2. Between Mellel and Nisus Pro, which has better performance? When I've used Mellel, performance was pretty good over Word. I almost had the hang of exporting Mellel docs to Word with very few "conversion errors".

 

3. Are there any training videos on Mellel, or any other training besides the "big manual" that'd help me learn more quickly and easily (like a "Mellel for Dummies"?

 

4. What's Scrivener? I've faintly heard of it but never used it. Sounds interesting.

 

5. Any suggestions of storing research notes in Accordance User Tools? Good or bad idea? It'd be searchable in Accordance and a little less clunky than having to use Logos Personal Books and re-compile all the time.

 

6. Thoughts on Microsoft's new OneNote for Mac? I store all my college documents in OneDrive and all my company docs in SharePoint, so would this interface better with my workflow?

 

Thanks!

 

Re: 1. You won't have a problem. I had a 30 page course paper, in which I used footnotes. I wanted to edit this paper and submit to an annual conference, in which case I wanted to clearly see how many pages I needed to edit down. Mellel worked like a charm, with either footnotes or endnotes.

 

Re: 2. Depends on for what. Text manipulation? Charts? Graphs? Document length? Hebrew font rendering? Not sure what you mean by performance, as it is relative to a task.

 

Re: 3. Mellel has several tutorial videos. It's not that hard to learn—just start using it. Software learning is an empirical process! Just start using it, and solve each problem when you encounter it.

 

Re: 4. Scrivener is a research/writing application. If you are doing Hebrew, forget it exists. It's also heavily reliant on Ms Word or another editor. Also, it doesn't support Live Bibliography like Mellel does (which is very handy at times).

 

Re: 5. Funny. My advisor keeps all his notes on Qumran in Accordance. He is the Accordance note master! I like the idea, and have recently started to use them more. All of my data on my thesis is in notes and a tool.

 

Re: 6. Wouldn't have a clue. I detest MS Word and Microsoft products. I bought a Mac for a reason.

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Thanks everyone for the excellent feedback! A few additional questions:

 

1. How well does Mellel do with formatting end notes (if I can get by using end notes over footnotes so at least the formatting won't be all crazy)?

 

2. Between Mellel and Nisus Pro, which has better performance? When I've used Mellel, performance was pretty good over Word. I almost had the hang of exporting Mellel docs to Word with very few "conversion errors".

 

3. Are there any training videos on Mellel, or any other training besides the "big manual" that'd help me learn more quickly and easily (like a "Mellel for Dummies"?

 

4. What's Scrivener? I've faintly heard of it but never used it. Sounds interesting.

 

5. Any suggestions of storing research notes in Accordance User Tools? Good or bad idea? It'd be searchable in Accordance and a little less clunky than having to use Logos Personal Books and re-compile all the time.

 

6. Thoughts on Microsoft's new OneNote for Mac? I store all my college documents in OneDrive and all my company docs in SharePoint, so would this interface better with my workflow?

 

Thanks!

 

I'll make a few comments:

 

1. Mellel allows multiple note streams, so you can have endnotes and footnotes, or multiples of each.

 

2. I've had problems with performance in Nisus with very large documents, but performance in Mellel has never been a problem.

 

3. Not that I'm aware of.

 

4. I understand Scrivener is best for writing novels or screenplays. I'm not sure it supports footnotes or how it handles different languages.

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Re a video tutorial for Mellel. There's not much, but this is a start. (you need to look through the forum post to find the link)

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I wrote my dissertation in Mellel and have also copy-edited the manuscript for publication in Mellel. I sent everything to my readers and editors as pdfs, so electronic format was not an issue. It is an issue with journals that want .docx files, however, so you should think about that for the future. That is, once you establish a workflow you are comfortable with, you will probably want to keep using that for publication projects after the dissertation. I have had to find work-arounds for the cases where a docx was required.

 

Mellel is great for controlling the text. My only problem was the lack of a feature comparable to "wordart" for charts or diagrams. There were a few places I would have liked to have made a simple diagram that I ended up using ASCII symbols.

 

Finally, I can't imagine your readers will want endnotes. They are incredibly cumbersome for a scholarly work, particularly a dissertation where there will be significant interaction with secondary literature in the notes. No one wants to have to flip back and forth to the end of the book or chapter.

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Mellel's export to word has proved trustworthy for me over the years, and has recently made improvements.

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Mellel is great for controlling the text. My only problem was the lack of a feature comparable to "wordart" for charts or diagrams. There were a few places I would have liked to have made a simple diagram that I ended up using ASCII symbols.

 

Finally, I can't imagine your readers will want endnotes. They are incredibly cumbersome for a scholarly work, particularly a dissertation where there will be significant interaction with secondary literature in the notes. No one wants to have to flip back and forth to the end of the book or chapter.

 

For charts I used Pages. Created a chart, grouped and copy/paste in Mellel.

I agree that endnotes are not good idea, especially for the printed materials. Avoid as much as possible.

I've created 1000+ page document in Mellel. No problems, speed is good, no formatting issues. What I like about Mellel is character spacing and kerning. Text looks better than in Pages.

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Best thing for any form of graphics, *esp.* if you anticipate eventual publication, is to create in a separate app and save as eps (NOT as pdf!), then import/place in your word processor. Be sure to save the eps graphic since most publishers will want that format, not native word processor-created graphics. (If you send camera ready copy to an academic press, you might get by with internal graphics--and of course vanity presses take anything, but provide no editing either, and it shows!). Commercial publishers will want the graphics as separate eps files with a note in the text file where each graphic is to be inserted.

 

There are inexpensive graphics programs quite capable of most academic-oriented graphics. On the Mac, the old MacDraw Pro was a classic, but it did not survive the shift to OS X. I use EazyDraw with good results, but there are several other decent graphics apps. (I'd guess there are on Windows as well, but I've no experience there.) I have a grammar coming out this year with a pretty good number of grammatical diagrams that originated as Accordance diagrams, exported to EazyDraw where they were converted to eps and "touched up." Be sure the final text in Greek or Hebrew is in Unicode.

 

One trickier type of graphic is the graph or chart. If they aren't too complicated, you can created them in a program that automates some of the drugery, say Excel, Word, or PowerPoint [i suspect other Office suites have similar options], export them to EazyDraw, then convert to eps--or if they are a simple format, just redraw then in a separate layer using the imported one as a template. If you have a lot of these, then a native graphing/charting program that will create eps directly might be a better option. Thus far EazyDraw had done what I've need to do in that arena, but that's not been a lot.

 

And BTW, I second the recommendation to avoid end notes at all costs. I don't know of any PhD guidelines that allow them, and readers (either of the diss. or of a published version) hate them. Yes, my published diss. had endnotes [don't ask why!], and I've regretted it ever since.

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More publishers are accepting PDF graphics now (so long as they're prepared correctly), although it's best to check with the specific publisher beforehand. Conversion between EPS and PDF is usually not a lot of trouble.

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I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with scalable vector graphics. Start here for a brief introduction. Even if a future publisher will ask for image files in a different format, if you create them as svg you will never have to worry about image sizes/resolutions/etc.

 

And, please, please, please, never ever do a simple table of text as an image. Even if publishers will accept them, from a e-text developer's perspective these are the worst. ;)

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