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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 (s msft) 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 (s aapl) is less generous, but the price gap between the two suites is now negligible.
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.
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.
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.
As you add each citation, EndNote will automatically create the 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.
As in Pages, EndNote in Word also auto-adds the citations to the bibliography.
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.
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.
Unlike EndNote, the bibliography is not automatically created; you use the Document Elements tab. From there. you can choose the bibliography style.
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.
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.
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.