I’ve written before here about how useful I find the iPad to be as a productivity tool. I’ve been musing on this some more, in particular its use at different stages of writing and research.
Perhaps the most help the iPad gives me is when I’m brainstorming an idea in the initial stages. This can be for a piece of writing, or a planned piece of research, or anything really. I will always have a mind map (in iThoughtsHD) for my overall to-do list plans, and whenever I start a new project I make a new mind map for it. I’m not a natural mind mapper, but find it a great way, especially on the iPad in this app, of breaking a task down into smaller stages, recording ideas before I forget them, and moving research on a lot. Using this technique I’ve been able to bring more projects to fruition more quickly than in the past. I also think it’s helped me to be far more creative than I would have been without it.
The other way the iPad is brilliant for my way of working is as a concentrated writing tool. Because you can generally only focus on one task at a time in it, apart from possibly playing music in the background or through headphones, it’s very good for focused working. There are a number of distraction-free writing apps out there. I like WriteRoom, and will often take the core structure of a mind map from iThoughtsHD, import it into WriteRoom, and then start to write up my text. This is good for blog posts, short articles, and even academic papers. I also used it for some of my essays and my final project report in the honours level Open University art history course I took for fun last year. WriteRoom provides a word count facility, but little more. No fancy formatting options or anything like that. It’s essentially a getting-the-words-down app, and it’s really good at that.
I don’t find the iPad so good for final laying out and formatting. For example in #AcWriMo I’ve been working to get a few journal papers out the door and submitted. And a really important part of that is to make sure that each paper conforms to the journal’s own chosen house style. This editing could be done on an iPad, but I find it easier on my Mac laptop, even a 13″ size one, where I can have two windows open at once. On the left I have the Word window for the paper I’m working on, and on the right I have a window (whether in Word or a PDF, or a web page) containing the journal house style rules. And then I can refer to both as need be.
Also I don’t find the iPad as good for higher-level editing, at least in the word processor directly. For Paper 2 in my #AcWriMo goals I’ve been hacking away at the text like mad, making very big changes. And that’s easier done, for me anyway, on a laptop or a desktop. But the iPad is brilliant for annotating text. I have a stylus (cheap but effective, with a squidgy end that presses on the screen as I write with it), and using GoodReader I can open up a PDF that I’m reviewing and considering changes to, then scribble all over it on the screen. Then I can email the annotated PDF to my laptop for making the big changes. Talk about a paperless office! Anyway that method works for me. I also find I get through more PDFs reading them on my iPad than I would on the computer, and I really don’t like printing them all out.
Note all this applies to the large-screen iPad. I have an iPad 2. I’m not sure how well I’d work this way on an iPad mini. I think it’s a fantastic device, but the smaller screen size, both for typing on and reading PDFs, might be an issue for me. I have a separate Bluetooth keyboard that I use at times, and would work with an iPad mini too, but I rather like typing on screen as much as I can.