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  • Back to School App Spotlight: Ulysses

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

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        Nathan Parker

        Since it’s Back to School time, over the next series of weeks, I will be pivoting the “App Spotlight” column to focus on apps I recommend for students. This week, I’ll be focusing on one of the writing tools in my toolbox: Ulysses (if you’re wondering about Scrivener, stay tuned).


        Ulysses is a writing tool for Mac and iOS (iPhone and iPad). Writing tools differ from traditional word processors in that they generally allow for more organization, are ideal for producing first drafts, and provide for distraction-free writing. Ulysses is one app I couldn’t give up a Mac for (since it is not available on Wind0ws). Ulysses is now subscription-based, although there is a deep discount for students, plus one subscription works across Mac and iOS.


        Ulysses has a clean, beautiful, distraction-free interface that works great with Mojave Dark Mode, as well as uses a variety of themes to allow for customizing the writing area. The writing area is divided into a series of “sheets”. Sheets can be organized into folders, and folders can even be grouped into subfolders. Ulysses can sync with iCloud (the most seamless form of syncing), plus there is a way to set Ulysses to sync with Dropbox.

        Ulysses relies on a form of Markdown, so everything is done in an enhanced version of plain text editing. All of the Markdown commands are available from a menu, and once one learns the common Markdown commands, typing and formatting in Ulysses is a breeze. Ulysses also offers “typewriter mode” for focusing on text, split editor mode, attachments, automatic backups, writing goals, and it can even directly output to WordPress, Medium, and Ghost sites, in addition to exporting to Word (DOCX), RTF, HTML, Text, and ePub. When exporting documents, Ulysses uses a series of styles that make exporting text in a variety of formats a breeze.

        How I Use Ulysses

        As a PhD student, I need to quickly prepare reading summaries for my PhD reading and research seminars, as well as for the reading I’m completing from my comprehensive bibliographies for my supervisors. I created a folder in Ulysses called “PhD Program” (so I can also use Ulysses for work and other activities if I want). Inside the folder, I created subfolders for my PhD major and minor. I then create a sheet for each week of a reading or research seminar I need to prepare a reading summary of, as well as a sheet for every major category of my comprehensive bibliographies. I use the Heading 1 tag for the seminar week/bibliography category, the Heading 2 tag for the titles of books, and the Heading 3 tag for listing study/discussion questions and additional material I’ve studied (I also use the list tags for the discussion questions or lists of additional material). Once I’m done, I generally export to Word or PDF using the “Papers” style since it’s close to what my school uses, and I email a copy to my supervisors or seminar professors. I also import a copy into my word processor, Nota Bene, so I can search the document with Orbis.

        I also sync Ulysses with my iPhone and iPad so I can take my reading summaries with me if I needed to visit a library or bookstore (although I generally do the bulk of my research and book purchasing online). I also use an iPad in my seminar classes for accessing my notes for discussion questions.

        Bottom Line

        Ulysses is a powerful, beautiful, easy-to-use writing tool that syncs flawlessly between the Mac and iOS. It’s a tool I heavily use in school and prefer it to traditional note-taking apps such as OneNote, Evernote, and Apple Notes, for summarizing material for school due to its clean interface and excellent flexibility with exporting documents to other formats. It’s an essential part of my school toolbox, one I’d highly recommend to other students. It’s such a good app that it’s worth switching to a Mac and iOS devices for. While it is a subscription instead of a perpertual license, the student version is a great discount, and even at full price, it’s well worth it.

        Nathan Parker

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