Using macOS voiceover for academic study

macOS and Mac Apps

I would like to ask about the potential of using a Mac with voiceover for academic study for someone who is new to the Mac but a fairly competent iOS user.

So things I’m interested in are:
Managing reading texts, and selecting parts of articles to use in essays
Researching using University databases
Footnoting and bibliography

Just after people’s thoughts and experiences.



Submitted by zeirus-fr on Saturday, July 3, 2021

I am not a Mac user, but i say so:
1. It doesn't depend on what tools you are using, if these tools help you in any productivity.
2. For foot notes and bibliography or any requirements to create a quality academic document you can use latex package for mac.
3. for exploring different databases *it is not important) you can use such tools which help you analyze any data. If you are "talking" with your mac as a professional, then you can use database language like SQL and any script language like in terminal or as for me, python.
In general, there is no problem.
Everything depends on you.

Submitted by Kevin Shaw on Saturday, July 3, 2021

I got my first Mac right before I started my Master's degree. I was a heavy JAWS user at the time and spent time on both systems. The Mac was my notetaker and most of my composition work was in MS Word on Windows. This system of going back and forth was working well, until the dreaded day when I turned on my PC and the power supply began to smoke. After the smoke flared and there was no longer a danger of a fire in my home, I declared the PC dead. Fortunately, the hard drives survived and I was able to recover my data.

Between work and school, I didn't have time to rebuild a PC. I'd burned the boats and had no choice but to move forward with my Mac and iWork. I'd just started writing my thesis and had to figure out Pages PDQ because my academic advisor was waiting for the first draft.

To answer your questions' everything you mentioned is entirely doable with a Mac running VoiceOver. I had access to footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies, my university's LMS, research databases and everything else I needed during grad school. I delivered a polished thesis with a table of contents, bibliography, marked up headings, quoted text and the like.

I never rebuilt the PC and have stuck with Mac for over 12 years now. Bring your questions to AppleVis and this great community will help.

Submitted by Skippy on Saturday, July 3, 2021


I have an M1 MacBook Air, and several Windows computers.

I have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to use preview for viewing pdfs.
I’m starting college in the fall online, & will be studying computer science.
I imagine that most, if not all of my textbooks will be PDF files.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Adobe acrobat pro.
This software works on Mac, PC, and iOS.
I’ve tried adobe reader DC, but not the pro version.
Does anyone know if this software would work with voiceover on the Mac?

Submitted by Voracious P. Brain on Tuesday, July 6, 2021

1. If, by bibliography stuff, you mean management software like EndNote or RefWorks, consider that your University will make certain software available to you for free, in all likelihood, and that software will most likely integrate very tightly with Word. I never cared for reference management software, personally; Ulysses or Pages will do the citation formatting just fine for manual entry.
2. Although Word is technically usable on Mac, see the numerous threads on here for issues and the overwhelming consensus that Microsoft Office is only viable on Windows. It's very sluggish, even on an M1, and the longer the document, the more sluggish it gets. The "Interacting" model Voiceover uses also leads to a lot of unpredictable jumping around in the document and a lot of extraneous verbiage when crossing a page boundary. I'm a professional academic, and I'd never use Word for more than putting comments on a short student paper. Meanwhile, my main reason for buying a Mac was to escape the instability and frustration of Word on Windows using NVDA, but that's because markdown apps like Ulysses exist on Mac (not on Windows). Microsoft does everything it can to lock students and professors into using office, so it's hard to escape at a University.
3. Excel does not announce column and row headers, making spreadsheets kind of no-go on Mac except in Numbers, and Numbers lacks a lot of Excel's advanced features, as well as doing odd irrevocable things to your spreadsheet if you have to export between Excel and Numbers.
4. Professor presentations will be in PowerPoint format often, when they're made available.I haven't tried PowerPoint lately, but it was totally unusable on Mac last time I tried. I also can't get it to work with NVDA on Windows. Jaws remains the least-crappy partner to Microsoft Office in general, though it's been very unstable on my past several laptops.
5. For actual writing, Text-Edit and Ulysses are more usable than anything on Windows. Keep in mind, though, that you may get your paper back with comments that can only be viewed in Microsoft Word. And, Ulysses doesn't support creating tables, so you'd end up either adding those in Word or else coding them in HTML within Ulysses. Also, whatever writing app you choose on Mac, I have to say that nothing at all in the industry comes close to the Microsoft Office spell check quality. This is a source of constant frustration for me as I try to write on Mac.
6. For note-taking, Drafts is more usable than OneNote is on either Windows or Mac, though OneNote (again, you'll have it for free at a university) is cross-platform between Mac, Windows, and IOS. Drafts syncs between IOS and Mac.
7. Learning Management systems should all be usable regardless of platform. Currently, though, Canvas, which is one of the most common ones, has issues with text edit fields on any Mac browser other than Safari, while the HTML view in those edit fields is currently inaccessible on both Windows and Mac. This comes and goes with different Canvas versions. However, Mac is the small minority, and in-house University software tools will be Windows-centric. I've lost count of the instances where something is only doable on Windows for months and months at a time until things are worked out. That's usually a factor for employees more than students, though, since they really release something students can't use on a Chromebook or Mac or tablet.
8. See multiple forum discussions of issues with PDFs on Mac. Adobe products have limited usability, particularly in that there's no standard arrow key navigation by character, etc. My suggestions for coping with PDFs are (a) always download them when doing library research; (b) create an Automator Workflow around the "extract text from PDF" workflow command to turn pdfs into txt files; (c) or open the PDF using Word; or (d) move the pdf to VoiceDream Reader on your IPhone for reading. It may also be necessary to invest in a "proper" OCR program like Fine Reader or IRIS Reader, which would convert the PDF into a text file by re-recognizing all the images from scratch. The advantage there is that font substitutions often garble PDFs when applying the other methods. Spaces will drop out, running words together; blocks of text will sometimes be out of order, etc. Things are much better on Windows in the sense that Acrobat Pro and Acrobat Reader, as well as all the browsers, will allow trouble-free arrow navigation of PDF files. I should perhaps have mentioned that this is critical for academic study in a way that's not so important for casual reading. However, I still end up using OCR software like Kurzweil 1000 or Jaws convenient OCR on just about every PDF document, because of the font substitution issues just mentioned, which will crop up even in Acrobat because it uses a text layer that can be poorly implemented; as well as the fact that I will always want to add additional markup and comments to academic articles I'm reading. On the whole, turning everything I read on a Mac into text and then putting it in Ulysses for library storage and note-taking would be likely the most winning strategy, and that's what I'm starting to do. I went through college and grad school using Word and Word's commenting feature to take notes on my readings, though.
The biggest barrier with PDFs is likely to be e-books that don't let you download, making you dependent on the browser itself. This will be ok using quickNav, though.
To sum up, yes you can do it all on a Mac. There are strategies to be worked out, whether you'r on Windows or Mac. Windows has some significant advantages for remaining compatible with the tools pushed by universities and Microsoft and Adobe. That doesn't mean using any of those tools is always pleasant on Windows, though.