Three stages of the academic workflow and Mac software

The’academic workflow’ is a representation of scholarship as a series of stages or steps connected to each other without gaps or duplication. Although simplified, the idea of the workflow helps to structure, develop, and communicate tools, knowledge and experience across various academic contexts.

There are three essential stages of the academic workflow:

  1. Capturing and processing existing knowledge.
  2. Creating new knowledge.
  3. Disseminating knowledge.

This blog is dedicated to Mac software and work techniques useful at each of the three stages as well as to cross-cutting tools related to task and time management and general productivity.

Capturing and processing existing knowledge

Every academic has to capture, processing and organize information received in electronic, paper, or verbal form as well as his/her own thoughts and ideas. Macademic covers organization of email messages, reference files, and notes. The Mac software I use for these purposes includes Apple Mail with MailTags (for email), NValt and Simplenote (for notes), Tags, DefaultFolderX, Hazel, and Papers (for pdf files). In the past I also tried (and still use it to some extent) Leap, Notational Velocity, DevonThink, Sente, Evernote, and HoudahSpot. Most of this software relies on OpenMeta tags. Macademic posts on capturing and processing knowledge use the following tags: email, notes, reference files and tagging.

Creating new knowledge

In most of academia, especially in social sciences, the process of creating new knowledge is intricately connected to academic writing. Mac software which I use at earlier stages of writing includes OmniOutliner, Byword, and Scrivener as well as Google Docs (for collaborative writing). My publications are typically finalized in Apple Pages (for printing or distribution in the pdf format) or in Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac (for publishers). Citations and references are handled by Papers. I prepare graphics in OmniGraffle. In the past, I tried Mellel for writing as well as Bookends, EndNote and Sente for citations and references. Macademic has posts on writing tagged as writing, wordprocessing and bibliography.

Disseminating knowledge

Academic knowledge is primarily disseminated through teaching, publications (“the difference between alchemy and science is that the latter involves publishing!“) and presentations at scientific gatherings. I use Apple Keynote for both teaching and presentations. My publications and essays are usually circulated in pdf format through email or Dropbox. Macademic has several posts on presentations and on sending files by email.

Cross-cutting tools

As other knowledge workers academics have to manage their projects, tasks and time at each of the three stages of the academic workflow. I use OmniOutliner, OmniFocus and TaskPaper for task and project management; BusyCal, Fantastical, Pomodoro, and OfficeTime for time management and tracking. In the past I tried Microsoft Entourage, Things and the HitList. This blog is also about the benefits of automation which saves time and attention from routine to more creative and important tasks. My most important automation tools are LaunchBar, TextExpander, 1Password, Hazel and DefaultFolderX. To read more, check Macademic tags: task management, project management, calendars, timing and automation.


About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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10 Responses to Three stages of the academic workflow and Mac software

  1. Paul says:

    Aleh, I thoroughly enjoy your posts. Always lots of good information.

    Would you please consider changing your WordPress settings to allow the full article to be pulled down over RSS? The setting is in the Dashboard under Settings->Reading->For each article in a feed, show ….
    I keep up with the blogs I read using either Google Reader or reader app on my iPhone/iPad. Having the full article available means I can sync and then read the whole thing post on my iDevice even if no network connection is available.

    Keep up the great posts.


  2. Kurt says:

    Great site! I use most of the apps that you have mentioned. Have you considered Alfred? I highly recommend it.


  3. Pingback: Useful web sites for academic productivity on a mac | Macademise

  4. Really useful collection of different tools. I know most of them from past experiences. Nowadays I try to keep my Mac as clutter-free as possible to avoid distraction. I am satisfied with Pages and Keynote for basic writing and presentations, but I really love Scrivener for larger projects. I figured out that the in-built Reminders app for Task management is just awesome, and it syncs seamlessly with my iPhone. Papers is great software for organizing and reading papers, and Evernote is my tool of choice to collect basically everything.


  5. Timo says:

    I just ran into your site and I’m pleased to see that somebody else is trying to figure out how to effectively work (academic) with a mac! 🙂
    My current favourites are Scrivener for writing, Zotero for reference management and DevonThink for all the information crossing my way (mind).


  6. I am just starting to pull my molecular biology research together to write my thesis. Rather than actually writing I distract myself with trying to find the best workflow ideas and the apps that support them. At this point I own Devonthink Pro Office, Scrivener, Omnifocus, textexpander, and evernote. My recent pondering make me wonder how I might not accept that I made a less than efficient/redundant choice when i chose both Scrivener and DTPO. Any thoughts?


    • Aleh Cherp says:

      First, organizing your system is the best way to procrastinate, so don’t feel any guilt! It’s important that you’re writing/researching at least some defined number of hours per day. Secondly, I think you’d benefit from pdf management/bibliography software such as Sente or Papers. Third, DevonThink is really cool, but in order to get it to the full power (e.g. perform the role of a writing machine like Scrivener) you’d need to learn and customize quite a lot. I believe the best application of DevonThink is organization, the best application of Scrivener is writing (although of course they can be used in reverse roles).


  7. Joe says:

    Hi, great blog. I’m looking for suggestions to get Scrivener and Devonthink to “talk” (sync, index, integrate) with each other in a user-friendly way. I have Devonthink set up to index my Zotero pdf library (works great). Now I’m wondering how to get it to do the same with my Scrivener writing project so I can find associations in DT as I write in Scrivener. I found this workaround but it’s a little too geeky for me. The advantage to dellu’s method is tagging separate scrivenings but that’s also time consuming and interrupts the workflow.


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