This time of year, it seems almost inevitable. There’s a forum post somewhere, a plea for help in the middle of the night, asking a time-honored question. No, it’s not “the answer to Life, the Universe, Everything!” It’s more profound than that: “I’m starting school this […]


This time of year, it seems almost inevitable. There’s a forum post somewhere, a plea for help in the middle of the night, asking a time-honored question. No, it’s not “the answer to Life, the Universe, Everything!” It’s more profound than that: “I’m starting school this fall and I want to know what to get, iWork or Office. I’m going to be writing light papers.”

So, I’m going to compare the two programs when writing a research paper to MLA standards. While there are a plethora of other options — I can see the “use LaTeX” comments in my head now — I’m focusing on Word and Pages. Word and Pages both support EndNote X2 and Math Type 6, but since I’ve never used Math Type, I’m not going to be able to comment on it.

The Price Myth

On the surface, any comparison of price comes out in iWork’s favor. iWork lists for $79. The Home and Student version of Office 2008 is $150, but that version is crippled for enterprise support, so if you want to connect to your school’s Exchange server, you’ll need the Standard version, which is $399. Wow, that’s a lotta leaves.

However, since we are talking about academic pricing, it’s important to note Microsoft is very generous with its educational pricing — through my school, I can get Office 2008 Standard for $80. With an educational price of $71, Apple is less generous, but the price gap between the two suites is now negligible.

Built-in Templates

Neither package had any templates I felt adhered to the MLA standard, but it’s short work to create your own. Usually, I end up needing to massage the styles every now and then since professors have different requirements.

Citation Management

It’s unlikely you’re going to get through a semester without hearing a teacher say, “Give me 10 pages on the Middle East; cite your sources.” If your major isn’t one that requires heavy citations usage, you can get away with just about any word processor out there. In my mind, however, any topic of academic writing tools lives and dies by citation management for one simple reason: I’m too lazy to build the bibliography myself.

While there are multiple choices for citation management, I’m going to focus on EndNote X2 and Microsoft’s built-in citation manger. I’m focusing on EndNote because it’s the sole manager with native support for both apps. I’ll get the sticker shock out of the way early: EndNote costs around $109 from an educator’s web site. However, my university has a volume site license and I can download it for free, legally, off my school’s intranet. So, before buying it, check with your school.

One of the nice features in EndNote is its ability to search any school’s library. I find this invaluable when starting a research paper. For the Middle East paper, I fired up EndNote, connected to Northeastern’s library, and typed in “Israel” as a keyword. I could look through books I felt might be useful, note if they are available, and print out their location in the stacks. For the rest of this article, I’m going to assume you’ve built your EndNote library.

EndNote Search

Endnote's Online Search Screen

Citation Management: Pages

In Pages, go to the Insert menu and choose “EndNote Citation.” It’ll then bring you to the EndNote search screen; type in the author or title you want to add and click insert.

Pages-Insert Citation

Pages Insert Citation

Pages Inserting Citation

Pages Inserting Citation

As you add each citation, EndNote will automatically create the bibliography.

Pages Bibliography

Citation Management: Pages Conclusion

Pages citation management requires EndNote X2. If your university doesn’t have a site license for EndNote, and you want to use Pages to write papers, you’re on the hook for the EndNote license, or do citation management by hand.

Citation Management: Word 2008 & EndNote

Word 2008 handles EndNote citations similar to Pages. Go to Tools → EndNote X2 → Find Citations. Then type in the search criteria and click Insert.

Word - Find Citations

Word 2008: Fnd Citation

Word - Insert Citation

Word 2008: Insert Citation

Word- Citation Inserted

Word 2008: Citation Inserted

As in Pages, EndNote in Word also auto-adds the citations to the bibliography.

Word - Biblio

Citation Management: Word 2008’s Built-in Manager

While Word’s Citation Manager offers no connectivity to library databases, or the ability to import from EndNote, once I’ve created a citation it’s very easy to add it. Granted, EndNote’s method isn’t exactly suffering, but in Word it’s simply a double-click. Also, each citation is added to a master citation database, so if you use the same source on multiple papers it’s easy to add them to your document.

You can access the Citation Manager from the Formatting Toolbar. To create a citation, click the “+” button and enter in the details.

Word 2008 Edit citation manager

Word - BI toolbox

To add a citation to your paper, simply select it from the list and double-click it. The citation will appear in-line. One nice thing about Word’s manager is if you select the citation you get a pull-down menu that lets you customize the citation. If you choose Edit this Citation, you can select the page range for the citation.

Word 2008 - citation manager pull down
Word 2008 - edit this citation

Unlike EndNote, the bibliography is not automatically created; you use the Document Elements tab. From there. you can choose the bibliography style.

Word 2008 BI Biblio 2

Citation Management: Word Conclusion
While both EndNote and Word’s manager work well, I find myself using Word’s more than EndNote for lazy reasons: I like having everything in one program. If the paper I’m working on has a plethora of library sources, that’ll tip the scales towards EndNote as my manager of choice. If your university doesn’t have a site license for a citation manager, Word’s tool is very usable.

Additional Features

Citation management is all you’ll need for run-of-the-mill research papers. If you’re writing basic papers, and have a license to EndNote, feature-wise they are a wash. If your paper is more complicated than that, however, you can start widening the gap between Word and Pages.

One notable difference between the two programs is how they handle figure captions. In Pages, you can link a text box to a figure, and type in “Figure 2-1: A very nice screenshot.” Word, however, can auto-number the figure and use that to create a Table of Figures.

Word also has an impressive array of Smart Art graphics which will let you create quick graphics.

word smart art 2

Playing Well With Others

Once you’re all done with the paper, now comes the crucial moment: handing it in. If you’re simply handing in a printed copy, there’s no difference between the two. However, in four years of night school I think I’ve only handed in one paper physically. Most of my classes are online and my classroom professors often just want the paper emailed to them.

Based on my experiences, you’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher that can take a Pages file; I’ve found exactly zero teachers who can take one. Fortunately, Pages can export as a Word document so it’s easy to get the teacher a Word file. Any form of file conversion makes me nervous, though. I subscribe to the theory that Murphy was an optimist, and the file you export from Pages to Word and email to a professor at deadline will be the one file that beats all odds and is an unreadable mess. Now, it’s never happened to me, and I’ve found for simple files like research papers Pages export function is quite good. However, it’s like juggling chainsaws. Sooner or later you’re gonna drop one in a bad area.

That said, Word is not always fine wines and nice cheeses. There’s one teacher I frequently have who cannot accept .docx files (the new default format Word saves in). Again, I can “save as” to an older format, but tend to sweat the dialogue box that comes up and says, “Some features specific to the .docx format may not transfer properly. Since this is your thesis paper, and your teacher is still in the stone ages of computing, I’m going to choose this paper to come out as Ancient Mandarin. Have a nice day.” OK, it’s not quite like that, but I tend to get a little nervous.

When it comes to sharing files with others, I trust Word over Pages. While I’ve never had any noticeable problems on research papers, I feel I’m eliminating a possible danger point by using Word.

The Moment of Truth: Which do I prefer?

I’ve flip-flopped for a while between the two programs. Pages won out for a while because of its quick launching speed, but Service Pack 2 for Office 2008 has significantly improved launch speeds. Small features like easily handling captions and lesser chances of file conversion weirdness make me prefer Word over Pages. If your writing needs are modest, and simple essays are the norm, Pages will do just fine. However, even my Technical Communications classes require some sort of source citation, so it’s wise to plan on needing one.

There’s one area I think iWork wins over Office 2008: Keynote. If your major is heavy on giving presentations, and you can use your Mac to give them, I think Keynote is much better than PowerPoint. The focus of this piece is Word and Pages, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Keynote as a strength of iWork.

Like most things, it can come down to price, but I think Word wins on this one. If the worst-case is your school offers no special educational pricing on Office or EndNote, buying the Home and Student version of Office 2008 is still cheaper when you factor in the extra $100 for EndNote. While a lot of people tend to complain that Word is bloated, I’ve found various school projects require me to use those features.

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  1. iWork is actually around $49.99 from my schools computer store I believe. The education discount on Apple’s webpage is often not that great. I also picked up Logic Express 8 last year for $79.99 from my school store. Pricing to me is not the issue here. Compatibility is. While the iWork suite is well designed and very easy to use, it quite simply is a huge pain in the rear to get everything to export to the universally accepted Office formats. Keynote presentations lose their flare when exporting to powerpoint, Pages documents often after formatted incorrectly and need to be fixed in Microsoft Word anyway. If Apple really wants to gain some market share they really need to find a way to seamlessly save projects in Microsoft Office format.

  2. iWork can also save as PDF and nearly anyone can open that.

    1. While you’re correct, I’ve found a lot of teachers mark up the file with comments when they grade it. I don’t know if there’s a way to do that with the non-pro version of Acrobat.

  3. As a history major, I have to write many long papers that have to be cited in a specific format. It is this reason that I broke down and put Office 2008 on my mac. No professors were willing to accept Pages or Open Office files, and I didn’t quite trust the conversions. I found more than a few cases where my footnotes would get messed up when moving over to Office, and messed up footnotes are a death sentence for a History student. If I were soley majoring in education (my second major) I think Pages or Open Office would have been a fine choice for me as I have never had to write a paper with a strict citation format for that major.

  4. Office or iWork? « Gospel-Centered Musings Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    [...] If your interested in reading the whole article (I think you should Mac college students) see it all here. [...]

  5. Just buy both. Problem solved :P

  6. I always have to turn essays in by hand, but file formats still pose a problem since I use iWork but need a school printer (don’t have one at home), which are windows-based. However, I’ve never found anything weird happening when exporting the iWork document as a pdf file.

    I’ve seen the staff comment, but wanted to note that exporting to pdf is, layout-wise, problem-free, at least for documents written using Pages.

  7. Word tends to conflict with Spaces on my Mac. If I shift a space away from the one holding Word, I run the risk of losing my cursor or having the Word window jump to a different space (or the tool pallet doing this, which is even more annoying). For this reason, I tend to use Pages to avoid all of this. However, I bare the issue with Word when writing Final papers or papers that require Word’s diagram support.

  8. Daniel Kvasnička jr. Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    I, being an IT student, use LaTeX for my diploma and while it’s not WYSIWYG and it has a pretty steep learning curve, it’s extremely reliable and I would not trade it for anything else — for diploma only. I wouldn’t write a letter to my grandma using TeX… although I know such people :D

  9. There is something to be said for being proficient in the Microsoft products, especially if you think you will work in a business environment using a PC. Everywhere you go, Microsoft Word and Excel are the standard. It’s worth knowing them so you are professionally competitive.

    Overall, I think Microsoft still has a more developed office suite but iWork is quickly gaining ground. I really like the way iWork handles, especially in the page layout department. Charts and graphs created in iWork also look much, much better. And Keynote is absolutely light years ahead of PowerPoint.

  10. I prefer TexShop for my research write ups, and even my assignments. It’s super easy to get started with a template, and then just throw in your own text in between the commands of begin{document} and end{document} (and a few others). Typeset, and you have a beautiful looking product worthy of being in a journal.

    As for referencing materials, BibDesk is the bomb. Has a nice PubMed search built in so you can import references straight into BibDesk from within this plugin. I use a macro to import a BibDesk citation into TexShop (google it, there should be a wiki with all these nice options), and at the end, the bibliography gets made for you just by indicating bibliography{name} and a few other commands that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

    More features of BibDesk: I needed an organization system for all my PDF articles but didn’t want to pay for Papers or Yep (or to use Evernote). BibDesk allows me to import my articles and have them available along with all my references. You can either drag and drop an article into BibDesk and an entry will be created (I’m oversimplifying, because this involves some tinkering; google is your friend), or have an entry imported via Pubmed, then go to download the PDF and just drag it onto the entry in BibDesk.

    BibDesk integrates with Skim, which of course, is a replacement for Acrobat. You can mark it up with highlights, notes, etc and save these and view them in BibDesk as well.

    LaTeXiT can be used to generate nice PDF math formulae that you can drag and drop into Keynote (and drag them BACK into LaTeXiT or TexShop and the code will be revealed!!!)

    Anyway, all the above options are free, but the time to learn them might not be free for you. Having gotten used to these programs, I can’t go back to Word (which I prefer over Pages) with it’s messy handling of tables and figures and citations if you need to change things around.

    Even though you anticipated an entry about Latex, I hope that this was at least informative given the plethora of FREE options out there.


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