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Academic Appeal: Comparing Pages and Word 2008

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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.

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.

31 Responses to “Academic Appeal: Comparing Pages and Word 2008”

  1. Very good article. Citations management is I think one of the most important factors to consider before you go out to buy either Pages or Word. As some other people mentioned, compatibility with Endnote, or BiBDesk, Senta, Bookends should be considered. If you add other options to the mix such as using Scrivener to create the draft, makes it even more challenging.

  2. florestan

    In these comparative reviews, there is almost never any mention of superior alternatives to EndNote, such as Sente and Bookends. Both work very well Pages AND Word, and can be used with Scrivener. These products are stable, functional, pretty and designed for the Mac – unlike EndNote which seems to be a terribly expensive Windows app ported to the Mac. Thomson Reuters, the develper of EndNote, should be embarrassed to offer such a crappy product at such a high price. Academic licences for Sente and Bookends are $89 and $69 respectively. If I remember correctly, EndNote costs $199 with academic discount.

  3. Vadim Iablokov

    I recently upgraded to Snow Leopard and CiteInPages doesn’t work anymore. Something wrong with the scripts all of a sudden, anyone know how to fix this or have the same issue?

  4. Jeff Peach

    We just bought a site license for iWork for our middle school for 249 dollars from Apple. MS Office wants somewhere between 40 to 80 dollars per machine. 150 machines x ?? do the math. We are considering moving to IWork.

  5. Krapster

    Word users: (poor you) You can avoid Word 08 outputting .docx files altogether by opening Preferences > Save and choose .doc as the default format for saving.

    BTW can anyone tell me why the Hxxx Word still doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut for “Save as…”?

  6. When it comes time to hand the paper in, why not simply print the paper to a pdf writer? This would ensure that the paper is formatted properly and that the paper is unalterable. Pdf files are enough of a universal standard that this should work no problem.

    • Mark Crump

      As I said earlier, “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.”

      I’ve had teachers refuse a .docx file even though a converter is available. I’m finding when they say they want a .doc file, they aren’t kidding.

    • not sure who inquired, but this entry will probably not be read anyway…

      an alternative to mark up all your PDFs is SKIM. amazing opensource alternative to pro Acrobat. Also, I hear Preview should now have the option to mark up your PDFs.

      Skim requires some but very little “get to know”. It saves all comments as metadata that is not easily transported. BUT, there is an option to save the PDF WITH the comments embedded.


    • Not sure it its getting through, while the other solutions are appreciated. Professors are already on limited time, they are viewing at least 1000 papers, they don’t have time seek out alternate systems and software to view a students electronic paper, which is the reason they are “specific” on the format they will accept.

      I can’t see what’s so hard to understand about that concept. Send it to me in a file that I can open and read or it doesn’t get graded. Simple

  7. Others have mentioned BibDesk, but this article is about Pages vs. Word.
    How can one interface the BibTeX database created with BibDesk, using one of these two programs?
    (Why Apple didn’t make its citation manager compatible with the “industry-standard” BibTeX in the first place, I don’t know.)
    An Applescript for Bibdesk called CiteInPages, allows you to create a bibliography the same way you would do in LaTeX. Just insert citation markers into the text in Pages, and then when the text is finished, run the Applescript, and you get a few file with a bibliography and autonumbered references in the text.

    CiteInPages can be found here:

  8. Peter Stuyvesant

    Interesting article and well worth the read – everyone’s comments are most enlightening. I have both Office and iWork and tend to always go with iWork – Office is there only because my Uni provides it (to staff) for free. I agree that anyone wanting to work in the professional world will need to know how to operate in the Office environ (not to mention Windows) but I find Pages way better to use (from a creative point of view – I do use CS4 for any big jobs).

    I think it’s a great idea for students to get an understanding of as many software packages as possible – it’s important to be critical of how software frames the way you write – you only have to look at how Powerpoint has dictated what a presentation is (so much so that I’ve given up using them for anything other than showing images – I want people to listen and learn not be bored by dot points). Templates in Word (and Pages) are just as dangerous – take the time and make your own – from a lecturer’s point of view a student that gives me an original layout wins over someone who uses a template.

    My real comment though – I rarely ever send off anything but a PDF. One never can tell which version of Office, which fonts, display options etc someone else has – so PDF wins every time.

  9. How odd. In my grad program most of my profs recommend sending files in openoffice, pages, pdf, anything but doc. Which makes me very happy indeed.

    And Skim, a free pdf reader, annotate pdfs wonderfully.

  10. Leonard

    Great article. I used Endnote previously but I just found that it was too difficult to use and it’s amazing how much they charge everytime they do a minor upgrade.

    I’m now using WizFolio for my work. Not too bad a biblio manager, it is actually linked to your library subscriptions. However currently while it’s biblio manager component works on Safari, they still do not have a citation engine for Word 2008. But I checked with them and it’s in the works. So right now I use it with Parallels Desktop.

  11. Both Pages and Word are layout program. Neither are really suitable for writing anything more than a couple of pages long.

    Both try to adapt themselves to writing long-form documents such as research papers (you even see hardy souls who try to write novels or a thesis on them). But they are very amateurish tools for this job.

    They are really meant for writing short documents, such as newsletters (especially Pages!), letters, resumes and menus.

    If you are writing documents over, say, 500 words, get a professional writing tool; Ulysses, Scrivener and a few others are sensational.

    The difference is: a proper writing tool works the way people actually write, which is not linear from the begining to the end. Writing long form documents involves jumping all over the text, inserting notes and holding other media to one side as you write, followed by – often – multiple re-edits. You need to be able to organise your workflow around writing like this.Your need to be able to outline and import research quickly, while tracking citations.

    Once you have written, you can then format in a document layout program – Pages is much better at it, but Word is necesary sometimes.

    Anyone advising someone to use either Pages or Word as their primary writing tool, however, is directing people into programs that will waste huge amounts of their time and cause frustration. If you have ever had to scroll through pages of text to move some piece of writing around, you were using the wrong programme.

    I would therefore advise a student starting out to get a professional writing and research management tool first. Scrivener is the best value by far, but even Omni Outliner will do if you want something more adaptable to other uses (You could use Outliner to mange classes, lists and much more.)

    • Mark Crump

      I agree with you on Scrivener (I use it a lot), but the amount of after-market formatting has made it tough for me to integrate into my academic writing. Getting citations to work on it via services, and then having to run the RTF file through EndNote, and then to the formatting requirements to me leaves a margin of error I’m not willing to accept on a relatively short paper.

  12. PS I forgot to mention, automating importing of articles into BibDesk is done with none other than QuickSilver (what a great tool).

    DropBox is essential to keep all the files accessible on any computer you happen to be on so you can work on the same document from anywhere :)

  13. 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.


  14. 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.

  15. Daniel Kvasnička jr.

    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

  16. Kenneth H.

    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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

    • Mark Crump

      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.

  19. 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.