OS X text editors for academics

Most of our time, as academics, is spent writing on our computers. Papers, dissertation, grant applications, reviews, but also coding. The geek in me has been somewhat obsessed about finding the best tools for these various jobs, and I have spend a fair amount of time testing different solutions. My writing activities fit into three different groups:

  • note-taking. I do this in raw text or markdown, a lightweight and future proof solution, for which I’m not dependent on a proprietary file format. That also includes the few blog posts I write every once in a while.
  • scientific writing. I do it mostly in markdown these days (more on this in another blog post), but also in LaTeX when I collaborate with hardcore physicists or for longer projects.
  • code. I am not an expert, far from it, but I am using more and more coding for my research (mostly image analysis). Most of it is done with Jupyter (formerly IPython notebook), but a text editor is also a light IDE environment, convenient for small projects, or when the text editing abilities of Jupyter are limiting for what I do (e.g snippets, multi-line editing, etc.).

I you are not sure which one to use, here is a (not exhaustive) list of softwares I came across and that you can test.



  • Sublime Text  Unlimited free trial, 70$ for a license.
  • BBedit  Free trial, 50$ for a license.
  • Subthaedit  Has been designed specifically for collaborative work. Get it from the AppStore (30$), no free trial.
  • Chocolat  . Projects are super easy — just drag a folder onto it. Free trial, 50$ otherwise. Bonus point for the name.
  • Textstatic  Get it from the AppStore. Free trial, license for 9$.

There are also lots of specialized text editors for plain text, Markdown (Marked, Mou, Byword, Macchiato), or TeX (TexShop, TexPad). But you may not bother with specialized softwares when one can take care of everything, right ?

Finally, a different category is related dedicated to authors of long, elaborated documents (Ulysse, Scrivener). Multi-files writing projects (e.g. your PhD manuscript) can be done with most text editors like Sublime Text, though.

I set on the following 2 or 3 years ago to fulfill my needs:

  • iAWriter Pro for all the basics raw text writing and note taking, used in combination with Simplenote/Notational Velocity. I can open each note from Notational Velocity (Cmd+Maj+E). Super convenient. The full screen, text-only mode is perfect to make the most of my 11’ screen. Word counting is helpful, too.
  • Sublime Text for everything else, that is paper writing, or the coding when I am not using Jupyter. With proper LaTex, Python, and Pandoc installations, I can build anything from ST with a shortcut and get the PDF or anything else out of it. I will describe my new workflow for paper writing in another blog post. I could replace iAWriter with ST, of course, but they fit slightly different purposes. The syntax highlighting of iAWriter, for instance, is very useful for the non native english writer that I am.
  • For collaborative writing, I am using online solutions, depending on who my co-authors are. Overleaf is excellent for LaTeX writing. When my colleagues are less inclined to advanced tools, I stick to Google Docs, which is perfect for grant proposals with little formatting, figures, and just a few references.

Here is a pro-tip to conclude: if you are working on a multi-file LaTeX project, add the following line to each of your individual chapter file so that you can build your project (PDF) from any file (assuming main.tex is your main file), hitting Cmd+B:

%!TEX root = main.tex

3 thoughts on “OS X text editors for academics

  1. Hi Sylvain,

    I have been working under linux for the past 10 years or so. Last year I tried OSX again, but gave up after a few days, partly because of the text editor. One killer feature I use thousands of times a day in Kate (KDE Plasma) is the terminal synchronization: press one key and you get to a terminal prompt, in the directory where the file lies, embedded in the editor. I couldn’t find anything similar in OSX. Do you know of any? Otherwise, how do you usually compile/execute your text files? Thanks!


    • Hi Martin,
      sorry for the late answer. I execute (build) text file (markdown, LaTeX, Python) from Sublime Text directly, if that’s what you mean. I don’t make a lot of use of the terminal so far.

  2. Pingback: Writing academic papers in plain text with Markdown and Jupyter notebook | Sylvain Deville

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