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  • Back to School App Spotlight: Nota Bene

    Home Forums AskWoody support Non-Windows operating systems macOS Back to School App Spotlight: Nota Bene

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        Nathan Parker

        In this week’s Back to School App Spotlight, I want to focus on my favorite word processor for academic writing: Nota Bene. I was going to cover Scrivener, but I will cover it next week due to the fact that Nota Bene is having a Back to School sale until the end of August.

        AskWoody members may wonder why did I invest the extra funds and time into using Nota Bene, when many students simply use Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, or a similar general word processor for writing papers. Here’s why. The power of Nota Bene is its integration of various components into a single application (called the Nota Bene workstation), allowing me to have everything I need to organize my research and handle my writing effortlessly. I consider writing an academic paper equivalent to crossing the Pacific Ocean. I can either cross the ocean in a luxury ocean liner and have staff take all of the heavy load off of me so I can sit back and enjoy the experience, or I can cross the ocean in a rowboat and have to manually row my way across the ocean. Nota Bene is the luxury ocean liner, whereas general word processors such as Microsoft Word are rowboats. Nota Bene takes all of the heavy lifting off of the writing process and allows me to enjoy the research and writing process, whereas Microsoft Word forces me to do plenty of additional of manual work, and even tools that can speed up the process do not seamlessly integrate into the program as well as Nota Bene’s suite.

        Nota Bene also runs flawlessly on Windows. In fact, I started using it on Windows during my brief stint away from using a Mac for my daily work machine. On a Mac, Nota Bene runs under WINE so it can provide the full functionality of the Windows program, but it still runs well on a Mac under WINE without the need of the overhead of running a Windows VM.

        The main kicker that had me looking for alternatives and end up switching to Nota Bene was simply how many times I’ve been burned using Microsoft Word for academic papers. On the Mac, I had an issue where the Office 365 version of Word from my school would toss the license every time I restarted the application, plus the Mac version didn’t offer support for languages such as Hebrew for a long time (it finally does). On Windows, I still had issues with Hebrew support working well, plus overall performance/reliability for larger, complex papers. Microsoft Word is fine for general, “office” type work, but I needed something better for academic writing.

        Overview of Nota Bene

        As mentioned earlier, Nota Bene comprises a series of tools that integrate into the application (called the Nota Bene workstation). First up is the Nota Bene word processor itself. Overall, it has a familiar interface to those who have used other word processors, with a few minor variations (such as placing toolbars vertically down the left-hand side of the screen versus horizontally at the top, although the menu bar is still horizontally at the top). The interface itself has more of a “classic” versus “modern” feel (thankfully no hideous “ribbon”, but it does allow for different themes and styles), but I’ve found the classic feel to be a nice break from the modern apps I use on a daily basis. Nota Bene does exceptionally well with larger papers (and even offers manuscript management for dissertations and books), as well as it includes all of the major style guide templates out-of-the-box (Turabian, Chicago, even SBL, etc.) I simply pick the style guide template, fill out the information, and all the rest (subheadings, spacing, paragraphs, etc.) gets handled automatically. Even block quoting is a breeze with a keystroke.

        Nota Bene also includes Ibidem, an excellent citation manager that seamlessly integrates with the Nota Bene word processor. Adding references to the citation manager is simple (it’s the first one I found I easily “clicked” with), and generating bibliographies or adding citations to research papers in a variety of style guide templates can be done with just a couple of clicks. Linking articles and virtual note cards to Ibidem is also simple, allowing me to keep my research a click away when I need it. Ibidem also includes IbidPlus which allows for non-bibliographic database management which is also powerful, although for what I was going to manage in IbidPlus I decided to use 1Password instead (software license keys) due to the syncing between the Mac and iOS with 1Password. For those who need to manage specific databases on a computer, IbidPlus is quite powerful and fully included with the purchase of Nota Bene.

        Nota Bene also includes one of my favorite features, Orbis, which is essentially one’s own personal “Google” for their documents. Orbis indexes and searches Nota Bene and TXT format documents effortlessly, allowing me to go to the search engine, type in a term or even a complex search query, and find it anywhere across my documents. The power and functionality of Orbis are essential in my research. I’m not sure how I’ve ever lived without it.

        Nota Bene Addons

        There is also a series of addons for Orbis called Orbis+ that allows for searching for PDF, DOC, DOCX, RTF, and HTML formats (I own all of these addons). This allows me to bring non-Nota Bene documents into Nota Bene and still have them searched by Orbis, although I occasionally still convert some documents to Nota Bene format (it depends on the complexity of the formatting, plus if I can dramatically reduce the file size by converting it to Nota Bene format). One feature that would be nice to see in a future version of Nota Bene is OCR recognition for PDF documents (maybe from licensing Abbyy). I would gladly pay for a “platinum” version of Orbis+ for PDF searching that allows for OCR recognition.

        Another great addon for Nota Bene is Archiva. Archiva allows for quicker ways to bring records into Ibidem without having to manually type out everything. Archiva comes in two versions: “premium” which allows for online searching of Z39.50 libraries, as well as the ability to capture information from journal articles from major journal databases and “platinum” which includes all of that plus the ability to capture data from existing bibliographic databases, web pages, and ISBN numbers. I personally use Archiva platinum, and I frequently use the bibliography converted to bring in bibliographic information into Ibidem.

        Another addon super beneficial for my studies is Lingua, which allows me to effortlessly type in Hebrew and Greek (it also supports Cyrillic and Arabic), and I haven’t found a word processor who handles Hebrew and Greek this well (although Mellel and Nisus Writer Pro on the Mac support Hebrew and Greek well). There are also addons for those who type in Coptic, Syriac, Ugaritic, and Akkadian. I haven’t needed these yet, but it’s great to know a word processor offers support for them. Nota Bene also offers a bookshelf library of classics, although I haven’t needed these yet either.

        Other Uses of Nota Bene

        I use Nota Bene for academic writing for papers, and that is its primary audience. Other authors would also benefit from using Nota Bene, as well as those who prepare documents that require research and storing research (pastors and attorneys are two who quickly come to mind). The integration of Nota Bene with Ibidem, Orbis, and Archiva (plus Lingua for those who need it) is seamless and a joy to use, and it makes for any major writing project far more pleasant.

        Bottom Line

        My only regret is I didn’t have Nota Bene when I first started college, and it could have even benefitted me in high school for papers. For students who are serious about writing academic papers and need solid tools for collecting research and making the writing process easier, look no further than Nota Bene. It offers the best integration and experience for the most demanding academic papers, and I look forward to writing a PhD dissertation with it and using it the rest of my life in my academic career. For others who are involved in major research and writing projects, Nota Bene is a solid choice as well with better power, performance, and integration over general word processors such as Microsoft Word. There is an upfront cost (although no subscription hassle like Office 365) and a short learning adjustment (although if you’ve used other word processors, you’ll settle in fast), and for those who make the initial investment, it quickly pays off in far-better productivity for research and writing (there are some semesters where I would not have survived without Nota Bene, period). Nota Bene remains the “gold standard” of solid academic word processors, and it is the tool I continue to use and wholeheartily recommend.

        Nathan Parker

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