Software tools for productive studying & writing

Below is a list of tools I find invaluable for studying and writing. Many of the tools are useful for managing large PDF collections.

Beeline Reader

Beeline ReaderBeeline Reader is a tool to make reading text on a monitor or screen easier. It colorises text using a gradient system, which is designed to guide your eyes along, reduce re-reading, and so on.

It comes in the form of a bookmarklet or extension for your browser. It works on pages behind password protected websites, and you can save the colorised page using the browser’s Save as… function. (Saving the HTML can result in a huge file, so sometimes saving as PDF is a better option.)


Briss PDF trimmerBriss performs two useful tasks which make reading PDFs on-screen easier. First, it allows you to remove all the padding from a PDF file in one go. Second, it allows you to change a 2-up PDF to a 1-up PDF, also in one go. It presents a preview which all the pages superimposed over each other, you then drag around the real pages and it extracts them into a series of pages. Invaluable, as reading 2-up pages on-screen is a nightmare. It can also be used to fix 2-column text as is sometimes found in older journals which is equally annoying to read on-screen.


Reference manager, project organiser, note taker, all round useful software. Some screenshots in this blog post.


Everything is a very quick desktop search engine which allows you to find files using any portion of the filename, using both wildcards and regular expressions:

Screenshot of Everything search engine


k2pdfopt is a program which converts and re-flows PDF files such that they can be easily read on Kindle devices. It has both a GUI mode and runs from the command line so it’s easy to script. I’ve got a Powershell script which sends runs a PDF through k2pdfopt and then automatically emails it to my Kindle personal documents email address.

PDF Cropper

Similar to Briss in functionality, but it is able to run from the command line so you can script it. I have a Powershell script on a right-click menu which allows me to easily crop and rename any PDF:

PDF Cropping functions and Kindle convert on right click menu

PDF X-Change PDF Viewer

An alternative PDF viewer/manipulator with some valuable features:

  • Add/remove bookmarks in a PDF file
  • Remove surplus whitespace from a PDF file
  • Annotate and mark-up PDFs with a variety of tools, highlighters, etc
  • A million faster than Adobe’s bloatware PDF reader


Tool for manipulating PDFs via command line; most useful function is the --decrypt option which decrypts PDF files which have been secured by the publisher. Secured PDFs are very annoying as you can’t add bookmarks or annotate them, so this is a great little tool for dealing with such files.


Rationale is a piece of software which allows you to map out arguments or debates in diagrammatic form; it’s not designed specifically for the study of Philosophy but is obviously very relevant. Here’s an example which maps out Fischer’s responses to Kenny’s counter-examples to a Transfer Principle concerning the ‘can’ of ability (click image to zoom-in):

Fischer on Kenny's counter-examples to the Transfer Principle