A beginner's guide to using your Mac at school

Working with your information

However you go about gathering your information, you'll eventually want to give it some order so that you can easily draw from it what you need for your research project. There are a number of general organising/note-making applications that can help, and a few more specialised academic ones that are particularly aimed at working with research material.

Together ($40 (£27)) and EagleFiler ($40 (£27)) are two similar programs. Both can help you keep track of all kinds of information, from rich text notes that you type directly into the application itself, PDFs, or web archives that are available for offline viewing.

Both store your material in its original format, so it's easy to get it out when you want it. Both also allow you to make Smart Groups (EagleFiler) or Smart Folders (Together), which are search-based collections drawn from your entire library – so if you've collected hundreds of web pages or PDFs, you can quickly find all those that include the word 'panjandrum,' for instance.

Selenium is an inexpensive app ($15 (£10)) that aims to meet all your research needs in one place. The interface is project-based, so you start a new project and then assemble your reference material in the Documents section, sketch out your entire text in the Outline section, and add bibliographic items (using your Mac's built-in iSight camera as a barcode scanner, if you like) as you go about writing in the Text section. It has a built-in tabbed web browser, so you could remove distractions, focus your work in this one application, and just get on with it.

The final program we're going to look at is Papers (£20), which is described as "your personal library of science". While it is focused on scientific research, it is a mature and beautifully designed application (in 2007, it won an Apple Design Award) that can be used across all disciplines as a focus and a storehouse for your research.

It includes search facilities for several academic repositories, including PubMed, JSTOR, and Google Scholar and Google Books. You can simply drag and drop PDF files and Papers adds them to your library – and it includes the best-looking full-screen PDF viewer that we've seen anywhere.

With the right tools and the best search facilities anywhere, your Mac can be a huge help in researching any topic. If you can keep your information in good order, chances are that you'll also be able to organise your thoughts effectively – so your Mac, along with all the other good things it brings to your life, might just turn out to be an unexpectedly good companion on your academic journey.


First published in MacFormat, Issue 205