As my grant writing has ramped up over the years, I’ve gradually brought my workflow over to the iWork suite and found it much more satisfying than in the Office world. Surprisingly, there are no resources on the internet providing tips and tricks for research grant writing on a Mac, so I thought I’d share the things that I use and how it gets me to the end product with minimal fuss.

I’d love to hear other people’s approaches to this. I’m coming from an academic biomedical research angle with this. The fact that almost all grant agencies prefer PDF grants liberates Mac users from the MS Office World and makes integration with iWork very easy.

My workflows…

1. Word “processing” – First there was Word and almost all people are locked into this in academia. Pages came along and provides a much more Mac-like experience than the behemoth that Word has become. I still think that there are advantages and disadvantages to both. In the academic setting the biggest need for Word nowadays is in collaboration. While track changes does transfer between Pages and Word it is not without flaws. The biggest issue I run into as I pass a document back and forth is keeping embedded references in order (e.g. Endnote). So in alot of ways, unless all my collaborators use Pages, I have to keep a copy of Word around.

The writing geeks in the Mac community are migrating to Scrivener that I’m starting to use. It has alot of very interesting features including having a research folder embedded in the file and able to focus on subsections when you write. Very interesting and liberating in many ways. Mac-only and does not track changes very well which makes collaboration hard but does permit saving versions which I find helpful as I rewrite sections of grants. It will import Endnote refs as text tags so will ultimately have to be formatted out to Pages or Word.

I try to stick to Pages to put the grant together. I’m starting to use Scrivener for the text creation initially. Google docs are intriguing way of collaboration on documents as well but the open nature of putting unpublished research out there is a bit scary.

2. Fonts – Here is a weird thing that I found. With the same document set up with via NIH guidelines with 0.5″ margins and Arial 11pt – in Pages I get an extra line of text per page. This is within the NIH guideline for lines per page but it’s bizarre. What I found is that Arial 11 in Word has a bit more space between lines vs Pages. In this world of shrinking grants…that extra line is kinda huge.

3. Reference management – Up until a year ago or so this was not easy to do with Pages which was a bit of a deal breaker but now Endnote X3 and the latest Pages play nice together. This was the final straw in me completely ditching Word for grant writing. I still find the Endnote integration buggy at times but it does work. I don’t use RefMan or other systems to know how well they play nice with Pages. All of these programs can format the refs from an rtf file so that is the simplest default.

4. Creation of embedded figures/tables in grants – Need I mention the eyeball-scratching, pain that it is to create floating text-boxes in a Word document. Need I mention the times where the #$%@ thing jumps from one area to 6 pages away for no particular reason. Need I mention how awesome Pages is in rendering the documents and moving text boxes around.

Here is my workflow for creating embedded multipart figures. I’m adept at Photoshop and Illustrator but I found that this is the simplest overall once I have all the pieces in place.
1) Use Keynote to make the figure as a slide
2) Select the portions that I want in the figure and copy to clipboard (apple-c)
3) Open Preview and select new file from selection (apple-n). This creates a new preview window with my Keynote selection
4) Select the area I want to include in the figure and copy to clipboard (apple-c). This lets me trim to maximize space. You can also crop and save this as a jpg/tiff or whatever.
5) Go to Pages, make a text box, paste the selection into the box and resize as you want. Text can be added below the figure or on the side if you set the box to have 2 columns.

I’d love to hear if people have a quicker way to do this. Pasting from keynote directly doesn’t work. If I want to edit a figure in the grant it’s very quick. This is in contrast to opening illustrator, edit, save the file, reimport the file into Pages. I have a keynote doc that has all the figures for each grant.

5. Creating graphs – I don’t use Numbers at all as they didn’t have error bar support for the longest time (and its still not perfect). Excel stinks at compatibile graphs IMHO. I use Prism (our school has a site license) which is very powerful. There is a bit of a learning curve but graph creation is really straightforward and it works.

6. Putting it all together – Just print to a PDF and you are done from a Mac. Doesn’t get better than that. Adobe Acrobat is still often required to merge PDF’s and I find it the most consistent.

Those are my thoughts. I’d love to hear what other people are doing.