By far, the most useful “feature” of Emacs is Org mode. Org mode is a a project manager and a distraction-free writing environment. Since Org mode lives inside Emacs, you can also leverage all the goodness Emacs has to offer, like syntax highlighting and formatting for your code.

Writing articles

Org mode is a distraction-free writing environment. It has a built-in exporter, so you can let Latex worry about formatting, and you can let the exporter worry about LaTeX. You only need to worry about writing. Like Markdown, Org mode provides a few text-based ways to enter formatting, but otherwise it’s just you and a text editor with a fixed-width font (I use Andale Mono). It is perfect for focusing on your thoughts and turning them into prose.


Org mode has a built-in exporter. I write my articles in Org mode, and export them to LaTeX. Thanks to John Kitchin, who created Org-ref, I can easily insert citations into Org mode and they are automatically correctly inserted into latex. No muss, no fuss.

Task lists

Another essential characteristic of Org mode is its ability to maintain “to do” lists. Org mode creates agendas. A TODO can be entered anywhere in an org file, and the agenda will read the file(s) and “extract” all of the TODOs. Most importantly, I can insert ‘inline tasks’ directly into my article. That way, while I am writing I can quickly jot down distracting thoughts and ideas, forget about them, and keep writing. If you are as easily distracted as I am, that proves to be essential to productive writing.

Project manager

Org mode is also my project manager. Each important part of a project gets a top header, e.g., Paper, Data, Stata Code, R Code, Tasks. That means, my article, Stata code, notes and ideas are all in a single text file. I don’t hunt around for files or worry about keeping a directory clean, and it is 100% portable. Each project has exactly one Org file containing all of my writing, code, ideas, links, tasks, etc.