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Looking for PIM / Thesis Writing Software for the PC

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Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Oct 6, 2009 at 02:37 PM

 

Coincidentally, there was a reference to a Scrivener rip-off for Windows at the Literature and Latte site this morning. Here’s the link:

http://www.storyboxsoftware.com/index.php

I have no idea if this application is stable or works, but just thought I’d point it out to you.

Steve Z.

 


Posted by JohnK
Oct 6, 2009 at 05:39 PM

 

Like many PC users, I have been waiting for a PC clone of Scrivener for a long time. I’ll certainly test Storybox, and if it’s even vaguely promising, I’ll probably avail of the “early adopter” pricing just to encourage the developer.

 


Posted by Lucas
Oct 6, 2009 at 07:33 PM

 

Hi Peter,

As a fellow PhD student (although not yet at dissertation stage), I can relate to your quandary. I also know that, for myself, the software search can become a big distraction (a situation amplified by the fact that I have both an inherited Powerbook and a PC). So, I’ve tried them all (almost).

First off, I would point out that the current beta version of Zotero offers much of the same functionality as Evernote. Zotero gives you (something like) 300 MB of free storage, although I set up Zotero to use a WebDAV account through my university so that I can have more storage room. PDF’s are automatically indexed (so long as they have text information—-Zotero does not do OCR like Evernote). Zotero has rich-text notes and tagging as well. In the same vein, Mendeley offers much of the same functionality as Zotero, and they say they will support OCR soon.

However, neither of the products mentioned above serves very well as a serious writing/drafting environment, in my opinion. For me, the killer feature of Scrivener is the ability to view one’s assembled chunks of text as an integrated draft and to edit that draft. So one can switch back and forth between working on the document as a whole and working on just one isolated section. I haven’t found other programs that offer this. Whizfolders, for instance, has a combined *view*, but you can’t edit in that view. Biblioscape tries to offer something similar but I found it still primitive and not really usable. IdeaMason isn’t bad, but I find it frustrating that one can’t just write directly in a draft (or “composition”)—one must take the time to create a new “Idea” first, which I find interrupts my ideational flow. I have not worked much with Ultra Recall or Zoot, so perhaps I should still give them another look. I just checked out StoryBox, and it’s definitely not at a point where I’d use it yet, but it’s a promising start.

Even though I have an (aging) Mac, I have not settled on Scrivener as a writing environment. It tries to be a combination of outliner and word processor, but I find that I can do my outlining much better in an actual outliner (I love OmniOutliner on the Mac; the free Ecco Pro is great on the PC, although I wish it could export OPML—-InfoQube may do that). As for writing and drafting, I do some of it in the outliner and the rest in a word processor.

The moral of the story for me (although I don’t profess to have cracked this particular nut) is that in the long run it makes more sense to use a combination of dedicated tools rather than a single integrated application. So, I use Zotero for references, notes, and PDFs; I use OmniOutliner (or Ecco Pro), as well as Cmap Tools for outlining and brainstorming and some drafting; and then I use a word processor for the final stage. (Another moral of the story for me is to stick as much as possible to tools that don’t lock my data in a proprietary format.)

That said, I am still searching for software that would actually facilitate my writing process. What I would like is a program that would have an “Outline View” in which one could do one’s writing in single-pane outliner mode, and a “Draft View” in which one could see the same text in regular page layout (including footnotes). I would like to be able to switch back and forth between seeing my text as it will actually look when I submit my paper, and seeing it in a hierarchical organization (which is how I actually conceive of it). Actually, good old Microsoft Word comes closest to this, if one converts all the heading styles to regular unformatted text, but since it’s not designed to be used this way, it gets awkward. (Plus I want cloning and flexible text folding!) But now I’m veering off topic…

Good luck,
Lucas

 


Posted by Peter
Oct 6, 2009 at 10:46 PM

 

What fantastic responses! Thank you!

Jon - On your suggestion I had another look at UR. It definitely has some nice features. However, unless I?m wrong (I only browsed the documentation) it only allows pdf importing but it lacks reference management (like Biblioscape or Endnote) for citation export. As you point out, it feels a more like a project management (admin) tool than a writing (creative) tool? but that?s probably unfair because it does seem to handle a lot. I especially like how hyperlinks can be created between different elements. But I am a bit worried by the apparent necessity of tweaking attribute to enjoy accurate search results down the line. WhizFolders was also recommended which looks great for creating a network of interlinked notes/ideas. However I?m looking for software that can do that but then also move me into the next stage of writing prose, argument development, etc.

Hugh, Stephen, JohnK - Thank you for the StoryBoard link. It looks like the closest thing to a PC Scrivener so far (until PC Scrivener comes out ;). However I think after all this current reflection I?m leaning more towards a PIM designed for writing research and not ?just? a writer?s program for story development. So far Evernote and Biblioscape both (in their own ways) imitate the workflow I have in mind. There seems little incentive to learn and use IdeaMason at this point since it is discontinued.

Matt ? your suggestion for Biblioscape pretty much hit the nail on the head. I haven?t started using it yet but the website provides a complete manual. However, at least two issues emerged for me. First, selecting pdf text (underlining) for hyerlinking notes didn?t look like it?s been implemented. I assume this means that one must manually preview the document (pdf) looking for the place of the note reference, unless of course the page number was included with the note. I have become accustomed to manually underlying and leaving scattered notes in my pdfs with Acrobat Pro but I was hoping to find a way to import, organize and search these in one place. Second, it doesn?t look like the process of creating notes on the fly is supported. Instead one has to stop and assign attributes, categorize it, and give it a name. With Scribener for instance one doesn?t have to interrupt the writing process but instead keep writing. Meanwhile, Evernote is still attractive simply because of its superior graphical interface in my view. Nevertheless I am still concerned about the risk of upload my project to the cloud so the search is not over yet. Re: PhD ?Running away screaming? - now that?s a great title!

Daly and Lucas ? Both of your reflections explore the nuances of my (our?) dilemma extremely well and are very helpful! I?m still a bit stumped, but at least the choices are now narrowed!

One more question - Are any of you concerned about ?cloud syncing? with software clients like Evernote, Mendeley, or Zotero? For instance, let alone the copyright issues, I have ethnically sensitive material and just the thought of it getting uploaded somewhere ?out there? weird?s me out a little.

Rather than respond any further I think I?ll pause here and let the others jump in? ;)

Thank you again!

 


Posted by Peter
Oct 7, 2009 at 07:24 AM

 

That darn cut and paste - I just found out the hard way that this forum doesn’t like smart quotes! Please disregard all the unusual question marks in my post above. Most of them should be changed to an apostrophe.

Also, I’m still interested to hear if anyone has an opinion about the ‘cloud’ issue of online synced databases with regards to data security risks and confidentiality.

Now I’ll get back to distracting myself from writing by exploring Mendeley, Zoot, and Zotero…

 


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