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Academic Productivity Tools

Which Should I Use?

There are many ways to get things done, and while there are similarities in software tools, they're still not all the same. So which should you choose? It really depends on your preferences. With open-source software and freeware, it's easy to download and try programs out. In some cases, the department in which you're studying may require a certain program. Or you may feel comfortable with industry standards, such as the Microsoft Office suite of applications.

On this page, we've chosen some popular tools to get you started, but there are more available. If you have a program you particularly like, please let us know! We'd love to hear more.

Computer Software Suites

Apple iWork

The iWork suite for Macintosh has three parts: Pages is its word processor, Keynote is for presentations, and Numbers works for spreadsheets. All three will read and write files that are compatible with their Microsoft counterparts. One advantage of using iWork tools is the ability to save files on the iCloud service and open them on iPads or iPhones using the iWork apps. Those apps are sold individually on the App Store. Apple offers a set of tutorials if you're interested in learning more about creating and editing documents in iWork.

Microsoft Office

The Office suite is easily the dominant set of tools for creating documents on Windows and Macintosh computers, and has been for many years. Microsoft offers several different packaged versions of Office, but its core software includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook. Other apps include the Windows-only applications OneNote, Project, and Publisher. If you're interested in working on the go, Windows Phone and Windows 8/Windows RT users can use Office; however, many believe Microsoft will release versions of Office for Google Android and Apple iOS devices sometime in 2013.

Open-source Software

Although the paid office suites hold the lion's share of the productivity software market and there are educational discounts on these tools, you may find that you prefer an open-source software suite, which are free to download and use. All of these tools work on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computers.


If you're using Windows, Macintosh, or Linux, you can download and use LibreOffice for free. Not only can you use the word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet software included in the suite, but it also has a drawing program, a database, and an equation editor. LibreOffice is derived from OpenOffice.

Lotus Symphony

Lotus, a division of IBM, offers this open-source software suite for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh computers. Like LibreOffice, it is a derivative of the OpenOffice suite of software, and offers programs for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

Apache OpenOffice

Apache OpenOffice provides word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, database, equation editing, and drawing tools, free for the end user. Mac, Linux, and Windows users may all download the software for free.

How are LibreOffice and OpenOffice different? Not in many ways, according to Neil McAllister of InfoWorld.

Cloud Office Suites

Using cloud services to complete your academic work can be very convenient, especially if you're looking for a way to keep your documents portable. There's no flash drive to keep track of, and it's easy to share your work with your collaborators. Both Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive have desktop clients for Windows and Macintosh computers. They also work on Apple iOS and Google Android devices. Both are free services.

Google Drive

Google Drive allows you to create word processing documents, spreadsheets, forms, drawings, and presentations online. Although the Web-based tools aren't as robust as the computer applications you're probably used to, you can also upload work to save or share. Documents created in Google Drive can also use Google's Web Fonts, if you're looking for a differentiator.

Microsoft OneDrive

If you prefer Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents, you're probably better off using Microsoft OneDrive. Mac users who enjoy using the OneNote note-taking app can use the Web-based version here, too. Like Google Drive, OneDrive gives you the option to share your work with your classmates. If you have a Microsoft Hotmail, Outlook, Windows Phone, or Xbox Live account holder, you may already have a OneDrive account.


Scrivener, produced by a company called Literature and Latte, started out as a creative-writing tool, but is growing in popularity as a tool for academic writing.

Psychologist Daniel Wessel uses Scrivener for academic writing and recommends it in his blog.

Ryan Cordell looked at Scrivener in The Chronicle of Higher Education's ProfHacker blog.