Scholarly Smackdown: Ulysses vs. Mellel

On today’s edition of Scholarly Smackdown we are looking at Mellel and Ulysses, two word processors for Mac created with novelists, playwrights, and thesis writers in mind. Both of these programs let you control and customize aspects of your documents and give you control over your word processing experience in ways that MS Word and Google Docs do not. Both also have features such as easy-to-configure automatic saving, version control, outlining, and are adaptable for languages other than English.

The Basics:

Mellel actually is probably most similar to Pages for Mac but with less default templates to work from or MS Word for Mac 2011.

Blank document in Mellel

I’m not sure what the hieroglyphs in the top left corner mean, or my general feelings about the user-friendliness of Mellel.

Mellel blue and yellow document with font tab open

A lot of options for customization!

Mellel features  a WYSIWYG editor. For example, in Mellel if you drag and drop photos into the window they appear and can be edited there. However, you can’t see the videos or other media content when dragged and dropped in Ulysses.

Yet despite lacking a WYSIWYG editor, Ulysses is much easier to use. Ulysses’ documentation is incorporated right into the app itself while Mellel forces you to scroll through its user guide (which, to its credit, is well written and accessible). Yes, as much as we praise Markdown here at Scholarly Commons, before Ulysses I felt pretty indifferent to Markdown, but now I may convert. This is a great Markdown editor for people who have never used Markdown before — it includes a plethora of instructions on how to use Markdown, shortcuts for using Markdown, and other useful features. Plus, Ulysses has lots of neat features like setting writing goals, and it lets you preview how your document will look in different formats.

HTML view of Markdown text in Ulysses and example of writing goal feature

Text in Markdown in the background, HTML version in the foreground! Easily set easy to see writing goals!

Typewriter mode allows you to focus on the sentence you are writing and encourage you to keep your writing and your story moving forward, instead of getting stuck editing the same sentence again and again. Also, typewriter mode is fun if you miss using typewriters (especially since one of the few places on campus that still had typewriters available back when I was an undergraduate has had its original building condemned and is being rebuilt).

For Your Thesis:

But I know what you really want to know: can I use this to write my thesis? Well, to get a better idea I inputted my thesis outline into the software from MS Word for Mac 2011 Notebook layout. I can see, though from playing around with the titles/headings/etc., how useful Mellel’s features would be for creating outlines for a thesis structure. It may even present said outlines even more effectively than Microsoft Notebook. Mellel, unlike Ulysses, is known for allowing users to have multiple types of footnotes/endnotes. However, when I imported my MS Word Notebook into Mellel it did not keep my endnotes or acknowledge the sections.

When I repeated this experiment, and opened my thesis outline on Ulysses, it also was clear some of the usefulness of this program. To start, it preserved my Notebook document’s structure and linked the endnotes in the HTML view which was beautiful to behold.

Levels of text with example of a linked footnote

Look at that linked endnote, absolutely gorgeous.

If you have already started writing in MS Word and have documents to convert this could be one advantage of Ulysses, though it did put all of my Notebook as one very large document instead of giving each section it’s own page. However, it converts back to MS Word with very different formatting.  With Ulysses it’s easy to create outlines and formatting. Also because it’s easy to create sheets and connect them together moving around sections is a lot easier than in MS Word, even in Notebook layout.

The Verdict:

Ulysses is the clear winner here. But Mellel has some advantages especially if you’re a Bookends or Sente power user and are really attached to having a WYSIWG editor.

Learn more here:

Link for Mellel

Link for Ulysses

And remember Scholarly Commons is a great place to work on your writing and get expert help with your research!

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