Academic Writing with Ulysses

Thanks so much to everyone who completed the survey. It was so helpful to get an understanding of who is reading this blog and what they are interested in. I was also amazed to find that not only do I have readers from across the U.S., but also from Kiev to São Paulo. I know that this is 2015, but it blows my mind that something I write can reach someone on the other side of the world. If you haven’t completed the survey, I’d still love to hear from you.

One of the recurring themes throughout the survey results was people wanting more posts about using technology as a student. That's what this post is going to cover. I have written a bit about my writing workflows before, but it was more focused on this blog than academics. So today I want to talk about Ulysses, and how I'm using it for Grad School.

Ulysses

Ulysses has long been the standard for what a powerful writing app could be, but it wasn't until March, when The Soulmen released Ulysses 2.0, that I became truly interested in the app.

Version 2.0 brought a Yosemite style redesign to the Mac app and introduced an iPad app. As someone who does a lot of writing on iPad, finding a writing app that had a lot of power and was on both Mac and iOS felt like a losing game. And while I would prefer for there to be an iPhone version as well, this is less important to me (and one is apparently in development as well).

So what makes Ulysses my writing app of choice?

Ulysses on Mac

Ulysses on Mac

Ulysses on iPad

Ulysses on iPad

Features

At its heart, Ulysses is a markdown text editor like Byword or Multimarkdown Composer. However, it has a lot of features that make long form writing far more manageable.

Ulysses stores all of its files in its database in iCloud (though they are easily exportable). This allows it to have its own organization and file management system and sync that system between your devices automatically.

Individual documents are called "sheets", and they can be organized into folders called "groups." Sheets can be merged and separated at any time. So if for instance you are writing a novel, you can separate chapters into groups, and in each group have outlines, drafts, and final versions. These can easily be moved and reorganized.

For my own academic purposes, I have a grad school group which is divided into sub-groups for each course I am taking. If an assignment is going to require multiple sheets, that assignment will get its own sub-group inside of the course. So for example, in my most recent class, I had to write a Unit Plan for my own classroom. The plan featured 3 individual lesson plans as well as a lot of introductory material, closing, and research. I did this in a sub-group, and each component was written on its own sheet so I wasn't distracted by other material as I set out to write. When completed, I merged the sheets and exported the plan for my professor.

With the Unit Plan or Blackboard discussion posts, formatting was more up to me in terms of font and layout, so I was able to use export styles from the Ulysses Style Exchange. However, many times professors will have specific formatting rules their students must follow. Often times this required opening the text in Word or Pages. Exporting to a format Word or Pages could use was a struggle for Ulysses until today.

Ulysses 2.1

Ulysses 2.1 features many new features, but there are two in particular that I am excited about: DOCX export and collapsible groups on iPad.

With DOCX export, I can now open exported files from Ulysses straight into Pages for final formatting and publishing. I've been beta testing this feature, and it works really well and saves me a lot of headache.

My one complaint is that with certain export styles, tabs and returns behave strangely in Pages, but if I had to guess, that's Pages's fault, not Ulysses's.

Also added with 2.1 are collapsible groups on iPad. As you can tell from the organization system I’ve described, I have groups that are several levels deep. On the Mac, this hasn't been an issue because I could collapse groups I wasn't using. On the iPad, this wasn't possible which forced me to scroll through every group when moving through my library. Today, that issue is resolved.

Closing

While Ulysses may not have the powerful Automation features of Editorial, it serves me better for long form writing when moving between iOS and Mac. And with Workflow and many of the advancements coming in iOS 9, I feel like I will have many of my automation needs covered.

Ulysses is powerful enough for long form writing, but simple for shorter pieces as well. Its ability to sync between devices (and an iPhone version coming) make it one of the apps I spend the majority of my time in. Whether you're a blogger, a student, or a writer, you can find a use for Ulysses.