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Your top 3 tools?

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Posted by Dr Andus
Feb 25, 2013 at 11:45 PM


A variation on the software roll call. Perhaps it gives a different view of people’s use of outliners. What are your top 3 (outliner, PIM, writing, note-taking) tools right now? Do they form a toolchain (fit in a workflow)? They don’t need to be ranked.

I realise the answers will depend on the type of task you tend to work on these days, so the context would be helpful.

I am mostly doing academic writing right now, which requires me 1) to refer to notes, 2) create a final outline, 3) write the draft, while referring to 1 and 2. For these steps I use, respectively:

1) ConnectedText - for storage, analysis and recall of notes. Easy to find them, link to them, annotate them.

2) Freeplane - after not seeing the point of mind mappers for many years, Freeplane emerged as my surprise fave outliner! I don’t really see any major difference between mind mapping and outlining, other than it is a more spacious view. But perhaps it’s just my use, as I try to emulate an outliner as closely as possible (starting node on the left, all child notes to the right).

3) Outline 4D (StoryView) - again, a bit of a surprise, as I thought I’d be doing the final writing in Scrivener or in Word. But there are just so many visualisation options for reverse outlining and comprehending a large and growing piece of text (20k words at the moment), provided by the single-pane structure and the multiple document interface.


Posted by Dr Andus
Feb 25, 2013 at 11:48 PM


P.S. The idea for this poll was to really restrict ourselves to the top 3 tools (and no more :)


Posted by Wayne K
Feb 26, 2013 at 01:58 AM


1) PDF Revu.  I spent several frustrating years trying to find a good PDF mark-up tool.  Now that I’ve found it, it has truly changed the way I work.  When I have to do a job I often try to organize it so I can make maximum use of Revu just because I know things will go better that way.  I use it at work all day nearly every day.

2) Ecco Pro.  I can’t leave out my old friend.  I’ve tried dozens of PIM’s but have never left Ecco Pro.  I use it for any kind of writing and note-taking.

3) Swift To-Do.  I love the clean interface.  If only we can get a little more control over columns it’ll be on the same level as Ecco Pro.


Posted by WSP
Feb 26, 2013 at 03:25 AM


(1) I’m working on a book right now and am taking notes in Evernote, mainly because the OCR is convenient and the software lends itself to quick-and-dirty notes. I suspect that I need that kind of approach, because I tend to take notes that are super-neat, and I fear that they may become almost an end in themselves.

(2) I’m also working on another big project (a book eventually, I hope), and for that I’m using MyInfo, which has been my favorite note-taker for years. It’s beautiful on the screen (see my comment about neatness above), it has a nice UI, and it is easy to organize material. Its major shortcoming is that it is Windows only and hence not available on mobile devices.

(3) I’ve just begun using Documents by Readdle on my iPad. It’s an excellent file organizer and a solid reader of PDF (and other) documents. When I download a PDF of, for example, a book, I need to look through it carefully, marking it up as I go. Then I turn to Evernote or MyInfo for the actual note-taking.



Posted by MadaboutDana
Feb 26, 2013 at 11:09 AM


Hm, tricky one. Okay, but it’s going to be slightly artificial, ‘cos I use loads of different apps/progs depending on what I’m doing. But this is a recent “workflow” that has been something of a revelation. Outlining doesn’t figure prominently - except it kind of does:

Intro: when I get a new document to translate, clearly I’m going to want to refer to lots of reference material (previous translations, either by me or somebody else). One way is to use a CAT (computer-assisted translation) tool, but these don’t deal well with that trickiest of formats, PDF (extracting coherent text from PDFs is difficult, even for specialised apps). So what I do now is:

1) Download/dig out the PDFs I want to refer to (annual reports, brochures, press releases etc.), in the two languages (I usually translate from German into English). Then use PDF Split & Merge Basic (open-source) to “interleave” the German/English reference docs so page 1 of the German (source) text is followed by page 1 of the English (target) text, page 2 by page 2, and so on. PDF Split & Merge Basic generates a neatly interleaved document in about 10 seconds and saves it out as a new file.

2) Use PDF-Xchange Viewer to modify the document properties of the new file so that it automatically opens in “Two-Page Scrolling” view. This means the interleaved German and English pages are displayed neatly side by side, so you can immediately see how the texts relate to each other, regardless of where they’re positioned on the page.

I prepare all my PDF reference documents using the above process, put them all in the same project subfolder (labelled ‘reference’), then:

3) Use Adobe Reader X (my favourite so far) to search for specific terms in all documents in the folder. Adobe Reader’s Advanced Search function is ignored by most people, but is in fact very efficient and pretty quick. It is capable of carrying out Boolean searches on all PDF documents in a given folder (including any subfolders of that folder). It then produces a list of hits - and this is where the outlining comes in. The list includes individual documents with, underneath the name of each document, a list of hits comprising chunks of every single sentence in which the search term(s) occur. The actual terms are highlighted in each chunk, and if you decide a particular document isn’t relevant, you can collapse (fold) the list of hits for that particular document so you can concentrate on other documents. If you want to view a particular sentence in more detail, you simply click on it and Adobe Reader immediately pulls up a separate window with the document in it and the search term conveniently highlighted. It’s easy to copy text out of Reader if you want to. You can, of course, have multiple Reader windows open if you want.

This is, in my experience, how outliners should work: by enabling you to produce a list of and then zoom in on specific items of information. There are those (especially CAT users) who will say “that’s a very clunky way of doing things”, but in fact it isn’t. In my line of business (high-end translation of ad/marketing copy) you don’t want to slavishly copy existing text. You want to see specific terms in context so you can use them effectively (and appropriately) in your new translations.

The above process is
- remarkably fast
- gives you direct access to client-approved terminology
- makes it easy to check exactly which documents (and what sort of documents) that terminology appears in (something that’s not easy with CAT tools, which tend to treat all phrases in a “translation memory” as equivalent/homologous, regardless of their source(s); such tools treat concordance as a separate function - ridiculous, in my view).
- makes it easy to flip from ‘search’ mode to ‘contextual’ (concordance) mode.

The above may be of interest to other bilingual/multilingual researchers.



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