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Education Software

Collaborative Academic Writing Software? 328

Thomas M Hughes writes "Despite its learning curve, LaTeX is pretty much the standard in academic writing. By abstracting out the substance from the content, it becomes possible to focus heavily on the writing, and then deal with formatting later. However, LaTeX is starting to show its age, specifically when it comes to collaborative work. One solution to this is to simply pair up LaTeX with version control software (such as Subversion) to allow multiple collaborators to work on the same document at one time. But adding Subversion to the mix only seems to increase the learning curve. Is there a way to combine the power of LaTeX with the power of Subversion without scaring off a non-technical writer? The closest I can approximate would be to have something like Lyx (to hide the learning curve of LaTeX) with integrated svn (to hide the learning curve of svn). However, this doesn't seem available. Google Docs is popular right now, but Docs has no support for LaTeX, citation management, or anything remotely resembling decent formatting options. Are there other choices out there?"
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Collaborative Academic Writing Software?

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  • Word (Score:3, Informative)

    by nicolas.kassis ( 875270 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:17PM (#27185567)
    Word has version control ;p Seriously, LaTeX is great in part because of the fact that it's quite hard to do anything crazy so people stick with the defaults which look good.
    • Word has version control

      That really made my day! I almost ruined a keyboard with my G&T (I managed to keep it in, gin in Finland is too expensive to spew on a keyboard).
      But seriously, a collaborative wrapper on LaTeX woud be really neat. Nothing handles citations & equations as well as LaTeX.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by koutbo6 ( 1134545 )
        I recently switched to LaTeX after being a word user for some time. the Zotero firefox plugin makes citations easy, but nothing like LaTex. Latex wins hands down

        But I think word (and for that matter) are better at collaboration, mainly because track changes is much more effecient than revision control systems like SVN, git, mercurial ...etc. These systems were designed with programming in mind, they compare files on a line by line basis. If you change a word SVN would replace the whole line which
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by EvanED ( 569694 )

          You can do a diff with an external program that deals with intraline in a less retarded way. ;-)

          I'm actually not sure what there is available for running from the command line (though 'svn diff --diff-cmd' will let you run something other than 'diff', if you can find a command-line replacement), but a lot of SVN graphical front ends also have a graphical diff program, many of which will do this better. (They'll usually highlight the whole line, but then word-by-word changes in a darker shade of red/green.)


        • Word 2007 doesn't do several-people-in-the-document-at-once collaboration.

          This will reportedly be possible next year with Office 14.

          If you are still using Word for whatever reason, and want several-people-in-the-document collaboration in Word today, you can try my plutext collaboration software - see []

          You get paragraph level versioning, and changes tracked properly.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          There is a Perl script named latexdiff (in CPAN I believe) that does color-highlighted diffs of LaTeX files. The output is another LaTeX file, so it must be run through LaTeX. The resulting PDF is useful for showing changes to your collaborators.

          I use Emacs + git + LaTeX + latexdiff. I usually send the LaTeX input file and both the PDF and the diff PDF to my collaborators.

          Word and OOo may show the diffs nicely, but as version control systems they are total disasters. Try using a Word file that has been thro

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          This [] is why

          These systems were designed with programming in mind, they compare files on a line by line basis.

          They would be perfect for the job.

          If you change a word SVN would replace the whole line which might be a whole paragraph. So when you do a diff, both the old and new paragraphs are shown and it gets difficult at times to know exactly what changed.

          And this is simply bull,
          because % this is a comment
          TeX makes it an ideal % maybe 'perfect is better'
          tool % TODO: choose some other noun
          to break a sentence into
          segments % with comments!
          which can illustrate

        • So when you do a diff, both the old and new paragraphs are shown and it gets difficult at times to know exactly what changed.

          What gets shown during a diff operation depends on the diff viewer you use. All the better ones support detection of individual changes within individual lines.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      If you want version control for your LaTeX code use the same tools you'd use for your source code.

  • why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by speedtux ( 1307149 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:19PM (#27185599)

    I think any technical writer that isn't scared away by the syntax of LaTeX should be able to master "svn update", and "svn commit". And if that's too much, there are plugins for Windows, Mac, and Linux that integrate Subversion with the normal file browser.

    • Re:why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by caffeinemessiah ( 918089 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:30PM (#27185755) Journal

      I think any technical writer that isn't scared away by the syntax of LaTeX should be able to master "svn update", and "svn commit". And if that's too much, there are plugins for Windows, Mac, and Linux that integrate Subversion with the normal file browser.

      Exactly. Our lab submitted a collaborative paper that involved five people editing the document. SVN was more than enough for our needs, and all you need is an Apache install running somewhere. It literally was painless because of SVN, just make sure everyone types in descriptive log messages. Bonus: the commit logs can help you determine the order of authors :)

      On the frontend, the best SVN clients I've used are TortoiseSVN [] for Windows and RapidSVN [] for Linux. As I said, couldn't be happier with the setup. IMO, any more functionality is absolutely unnecessary.

      • I believe the submitter is well aware he could use latex with svn, but his whole point was that he was looking for a way to combine version control with some editing software/process more user friendly than latex.

        Though I can use latex, even I prefer using Lyx anyway, as I find I can write equations more quickly with fewer errors than directly in latex. (But then, this might be different if I were willing to add the additional task of mastering some vi or emacs derivative like texmacs or auctex.)

    • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:50PM (#27186869) Homepage

      I think any technical writer that isn't scared away by the syntax of LaTeX should be able to master "svn update", and "svn commit".

      Well, in any scientific collaboration consisting of more then four people, there's most likely someone senior and crotchety who's stuck in his ways doesn't want to completely change the way he works. You'd also have to build a consensus that svn+latex was the best available solution, and that might not be so easy. I've used svn+latex. It sucked, partly because svn sucks. (Git is a lot better.)

      If the goal is to write a scientific paper with a large number of authors, I think the most reasonable thing to do would be to write it in MediaWiki, which is the wiki software used by Wikipedia. In particular, MediaWiki has good support for LaTeX-formatted math. Once all the authors have had a chance to make their edits, and the whole thing has converged to the exact words, punctuation, and math you want, you convert it to LaTeX and you're all set. The conversion is ridiculously easy, because all the math is in LaTeX already, and you can use a script to convert, e.g., ==Procedure== to \section{Procedure}.

      One big win with wiki->latex compared to version control+latex is that although it's fairly easy to learn a couple of the most basic commands of a vc system, it's much more difficult to learn to use it well enough to figure out who changed what, resolve conflicting edits, etc. A wiki is designed to do all that using a web interface, which makes it dead easy. To see what I'm talking about, go to a wikipedia article and click on the history history tab.

      This is all assuming it's a scientific paper, which just needs to be worked on for a certain amount of time, and then it's published and you're not going to mess with it anymore. There's another interesting situation in academic writing, which is a textbook that's going to be edited on an ongoing basis over the years. That's an example where I think the case for vc+latex is much stronger.

      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        There is a PHP library called Text_Wiki which handles conversion from wiki markup to LaTeX and several other formats, it wasn't perfect last time i tried it but it does the job.

      • I personally have not worked with it, but Latexki [] is a Wiki that is basically a latex-rendering frontend for a SVN server.
        So it can do the entire latex syntax, and you can either submit changes by wiki or by SVN.

        What it lacks, and what made me go for mediawiki, were the missing advanced interface features for editing, such as editing only a section of a document.

      • I personally have not worked with it, but Latexki [] is a Wiki that is basically a latex-rendering frontend for a SVN server.
        So it can do the entire latex syntax, and you can either submit changes by wiki or by SVN.

        What it lacks, and what made me go for mediawiki, were the missing advanced interface features for editing, such as editing only a section of a document.

    • The line-oriented diffs of svn are particularly useless for a language in which newlines are often not semantically meaningful. To get anything useful out of this approach, people end up constraining their use of paragraph reflowing, so you end up with crazy hard-to-read .tex files, which is definitely something that should be handled by a revision-control system better.

      It also interacts badly with other synchronization methods between multiple machines. I use a laptop and a desktop, and synchronize them wi

      • by Trepidity ( 597 )

        I should add that as far as LaTeX diffs go, you can get a result almost as good as Word's "track changes" mode via texdiff []. The main reason it's only "almost as good" is that since Word actually saves the changes instead of trying to reconstruct them from the before/after documents, it doesn't screw up quite as much (e.g. misidentifying insertions/deletions versus block moves, especially of shorter fragments of text). But texdiff is good enough for most uses, just not well integrated into SVN's diff system,

  • Gobby to the rescue (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rinisari ( 521266 ) * on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:20PM (#27185613) Homepage Journal

    Gobby [] collaborative editor + LaTeX. It would literally be a living document!

    • Seconded (Score:3, Funny)

      by PCM2 ( 4486 )

      While many prefer his Fantastic Four or the later Fourth World stuff for DC, I think Jack Kirby's early work on the Marvel monster books ranks among his most enjoyable. "Gobby, the Living Document" is a personal favorite -- although "Memo from Vornu" and "I Conference Called Zimvaxx" are also fine examples.

  • by olddotter ( 638430 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:26PM (#27185691) Homepage

    I refused to learn latex when I was in academia. I am shocked it is still around. But the apps I saw that might have replaced it are probably either too pricey or long dead these days. I remember writing my thesis is Word and I had to reboot the PC after every major format change to free up memory. (Days when 8MB as a lot of memory.)

    Seems like someone could write a good gui to support latex and subversion or git.

    • by skelterjohn ( 1389343 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:57PM (#27186123)

      I refused to learn latex when I was in academia. I am shocked it is still around. But the apps I saw that might have replaced it are probably either too pricey or long dead these days. I remember writing my thesis is Word and I had to reboot the PC after every major format change to free up memory. (Days when 8MB as a lot of memory.)

      Or you could have just learned latex and saved yourself the hassle.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mao ( 12237 )

        I concur. It really isn't that hard. I think the most intimidating part is all the preamble stuff like \documentclass \includepackage, etc, etc. So, just get someone else's latex file, and replace whatever's between \begin{document} and \end{document} with whatever you want.

        As you use it often enough, eventually you would know what the things in the preamble are for, and you can streamline your latex file. From a practical point of view, you don't have to make a most streamlined latex document from day

        • I personally find writing equations and symbols in LyX highly inconvenient. Moving my hand back and forth between keyboard and mouse is annoying.

          But then again I am just speaking for myself, who only writes documents on mathematics and not other subjects.

          It sounds like you're doing it wrong. Studying physics, I write a fair number of equations. You can type in commands like \log in math mode just as if editing a tex file directly, and there are keyboard shortcuts for doing most things you might conceiva []

    • I refused to learn latex when I was in academia ... I remember writing my thesis is Word

      There is always one like you. But, then they try to write it Word and become evangelists at using latex over Word.

      Maybe you got through because your thesis didn't require much mathematical equations.

      • I can't imagine writing a thesis in word. I had to write my Masters research project in Word because my supervisor doesn't believe in LaTeX. It was fine for the first 40 pages. After that...not so much.

  • by The Ultimate Fartkno ( 756456 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:27PM (#27185703)

    ...when you stand up and announce "What this group needs is some latex subversion. Excuse me while I whip this out..."

  • The standard? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarthBobo ( 152187 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:34PM (#27185821)

    In 10 years of research in the biomedical field I have never actually seen anyone use LaTex. Perhaps it is the standard in engineering & CS or other fields where researchers use Unix on their workstations, but Word and EndNote remain the lingua franca elsewhere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dumb_jedi ( 955432 )
      Funny thing is, if one uses the styles in Word correctly, you get a WYSIWYM editor, just never, EVER touch the bold, italic, underscore button. And the sad thing is it's much, much easier to do this in word 2000 then in newer versions.

      Warning: Microsoft bashing below

      Micro$oft is so bad, that when its software works, they break it on the next version! ;-)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Funny thing is, if one uses the styles in Word correctly, you get a WYSIWYM editor, just never, EVER touch the bold, italic, underscore button. And the sad thing is it's much, much easier to do this in word 2000 then in newer versions.

        Personally, I find it much easier to do it Word 2003 and later than in older versions, since they have fairly well designed "click and go" style application with visual preview, which puts the structured way more on par with the seductive, but ultimately evil, appearance-orien

      • by MarkvW ( 1037596 )

        The use of templates and styles in Microsoft Word makes everything very easy. VBA allows you do pretty much any text manipulation that you can imagine.

        It can be a pain to keep references intact when using templates to make other templates, and doing large multifile documents in Word is stupid. Other than that, though MS Word is very excellent.

        You start to "get" Microsoft Word when you understand the outline of their object model and realize that you should never try to untangle a formatting problem in Wor

      • Re:The standard? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ByTor-2112 ( 313205 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @07:12PM (#27187889)

        But word is still incredibly stupid about many things. Ironically enough, I have spent this entire week going over an operating manual trying to reformat it for an ISO audit.

        Word has no problems breaking a table across a page where it leaves ONE row at the bottom of a page, then duplicates that header row at the top of the next.

        The sectioning was driving me batty, and so easy to screw up.

        There was no way to "lock in" a style. Somehow I had lines that were formatted as "Heading 3", but were NOT formatted like heading 3. So, choosing "Heading 3" from the dropdown did what... UPDATED the "Heading 3" style instead of CHANGING the text I selected to "Heading 3", wtf.

        Then I had somehow a rogue invisible figure that was throwing off the numbering of all my other figures. Even with all characters revealed, I could not find the ghost number. Ended up having to delete all the captions from all figures and re-create them for the numbers to work out properly.

        It's just so maddening to have to deal with Word because they have to be in a format that everyone is comfortable with editing. Every 5 minutes I'm thinking "I wouldn't have THIS problem with LaTeX!".

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by vistic ( 556838 )

      Could be... I had to learn LaTeX about 5 minutes after I started studying CS.

      It was really good for creating legible formulas. I think Microsoft has a Formula Editor but it still looks pretty poor compared to LaTeX. I started to do all of my math and science homeworks in LaTeX because it actually ended up being more convenient (I also didn't need to copy and paste from Character Map).

      There are a few programs out there (at least for Mac OS X) that let you just type in a formula in LaTeX format real quick a

    • Re:The standard? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Scott Ransom ( 6419 ) <> on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:01PM (#27186173)

      LaTeX is certainly the standard in physics and astronomy. Of course your point about Unix workstations is correct, as most physics, CS-types, and astronomers use Unix/Linux all the time.

    • It's the standard anywhere that complex mathematical formulas need to be expressed.
    • So TFS appears to think that "academic writing" excludes the humanities and other disciplines that don't often find the need to include equations in their writing.

      In any case, is LaTeX worth the learning curve for these disciplines? I recently wrote a 40 pg. paper in Word, using a good template and styles, I didn't run into any formatting issues, and when converted to PDF it looks nice. I liked being able to create the table of contents automatically.

      Facing the prospect of only having longish things to writ

      • I find the Biomedical disciplines also fall into that area. A lot of those people don't or wouldn't use LaTeX either. LaTeX is worthwhile to learn, but getting people to review and edit an electronic copy of the document probably won't be fun.
      • There's a lot to recommend Latex, and it wouldn't be unreasonable. That said, I have a hard time saying, for sure, yes. It probably depends on personal preference.

        I'm a bit of a typography snob, so I like the things that Latex does that I don't know how to get Word to do. For instance, when typing in Word, when the line gets too long, it wraps. In Latex, the line breaks are not inserted by such a simple algorithm; perhaps breaking this line a little earlier will prevent a nasty break later. For more even more snobby examples, see here [].

        Another of Latex's benefits is its programmability; this will sometimes come in handy. If you look at the diversity of the Latex packages out there, it should become apparent what benefits this can have. It also means that it's a bit more complex.

        Latex will do stuff like automatic table of contents too. For citations, there is Bibtex. I haven't used Zotero, but it's at least better than the experience I had of using a really old version of EndNote. Bibtex works pretty slick: you just put ~\cite{some-key} into your document, and it will look through the Bibtex database, find the reference marked {some-key}, put it into your bibliography, automatically number/name everything in the bibliography (using one of any number of styles), and insert the citation into the text of your document.

        Finally, the fact that Latex works really well with version control because you can get reasonable diffs is almost a killer feature for me.

        At the same time, I've also found that getting Latex to do stuff it wasn't built to do can often be a pain.

        Also, if what you're doing is table-heavy, I might recommend you stay away; if you've ever hand-programmed in HTML and had to do tables and found it really annoying, you'll have the same problems with Latex.

        Basically what it boils down to is that I think that Latex would be a reasonable choice for you, but I can't say with any certainty that it'd be a better choice than Word, or that Word would be better than Latex.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by moosesocks ( 264553 )

          You're right -- LaTeX does typography much better than Word. Honestly, I've never quite understood why Word still sucks so badly at so many basic typographic functions.

          In any regard, however, LaTeX's shortcomings (like you mentioned) make it absolutely unbearable in many situations. Donald Knuth might be the god of CS, but his program absolutely sucks at catching and handling errors. Make a typo, or try to do something that LaTeX doesn't like (there are many things that fall in this category) and try t

      • Ask around your colleagues and more senior peers (lecturers, supervisors, professors). See what they use for their collaborative work.

        If you're looking for a longer term academic career, check out what conferences and journals in your fields ask for.

        When I started my PhD I asked around and found out that the students in disciplines that used a lot of mathematical notations, formulae, equations etc prefered LaTeX, but everybody else (the majority) used Microsoft Word. That's still true. People do their 70,00

    • Ditto for chemistry. In fact proposals and manuscripts had to be submitted in MS Word format until fairly recently; ACS, Wiley, RSC, AAAS, and Nature all accept manuscripts as MS Word + EndNote.

      As for the question at hand--is it really that hard to break a paper up in to sections and recombine them before you submit the manuscript? That's how we've always written reviews, multi-PI proposals, and long papers and it works fine. Is there really ever a case where ten people need to make changes to the same p
      • Ditto for chemistry. In fact proposals and manuscripts had to be submitted in MS Word format until fairly recently; ACS, Wiley, RSC, AAAS, and Nature all accept manuscripts as MS Word + EndNote.

        You mean MS Word alone. No journal that I've ever submitted to (including Nature) would ask for an Endnote library attached to the submission!

        And it's a simple and easy thing to convert your manuscript from LaTeX to MS Word. I do it all the time, and it takes me about a minute (Convert to HTML with htlatex, open the HTML in MS Word, load styles from the template of your choice ... done!)

    • I find the trouble with latex is that it doesn't lend itself well to peer-editing. The editable usually contains a bit of markup and requires that it be read in some plain text editor (and most lay people would probably get lost in the markup). The readable source, or the stuff which most efficiently conveys information, is usually in an un-editable format like pdf or gs. Sure, there probably are pdf and gs editors out there, but most people don't have them, nor would they be willing to pick it up just for
    • I work in radiobiology; I'm essentially a physicist who works with biologists and clinical types. All of the physicists, without exception, use LaTeX. All of the clinical people and biologists use Word with EndNote.

    • The social-science-oriented areas like HCI tend to use Word. The engineering- and math-oriented areas like machine learning and theory use latex. The other areas seem to have a mix, to the extent that most conferences feel required to offer both Word and latex templates.

    • In 10 years of research in the biomedical field I have never actually seen anyone use LaTex.

      I'm a postdoc working in the fields of cell biology/molecular biology, and I use LyX/LaTeX for every single paper I write. I can't think properly in MS Word, and the combination of JabRef/BibTeX wins hands down over Endnote.

      Unfortunately, very few biological science journals (with the PLoS journals being a notable exception) accept LaTeX; but the conversion from LyX to MS Word via HTML is quick, simple and straightforward. You just get used to doing it before you submit the final revision. (And most jour

  • Emacs wins again (Score:5, Informative)

    by Eponymous Bastard ( 1143615 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:36PM (#27185841)

    Try out M-x make-frame-on-display

    True interactive collaborative editing with all the Emacs tools for version control, TeX editing and everything else.

    (Don't blame me, I found out about it here on slashdot)

  • by bugi ( 8479 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:36PM (#27185851)

    Latex has an \include statement, so split the sections up into separate files, so they don't have to deal with conflicts. That'll simplify svn usage quite a bit, at least until they start editing others' text, at which point you have bigger problems to worry about.

    If they still can't handle it, then have them dedicate part of their funding to adding revision control to lyx.

    • by Boone^ ( 151057 )

      We used svn + \include. Our 10 page Engineering paper was divided into 6 files, one per chapter. 3 of us sat in the same room on our laptops and used the svn server on my domain. We'd commit & update everytime we'd fix something up the way we liked. I must say it worked really well!

  • by internic ( 453511 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:41PM (#27185901)

    I use LyX to write my LaTeX docs, and it has some support for using version control [] (using some version control software called RCS). I haven't tried it yet, but I've been tempted.

    Thus far, I've been in the position where I just write most of my contribution in Lyx, then export it to plain Latex and sent it to collaborators. From there we just do the collaboration in plain Latex. The problem for me hasn't been the lack of version control but rather the ability/willingness of collaborators to all use LyX. Now, one can import LaTeX into Lyx, but if you do a closed loop (write -> export -> import again) you'll find things are not quite as nice in the end, so this hasn't seemed to be an optimal solution.

    As for people saying that technical writers ought to be able to use technical software: A) in many cases it's a question of willingness to commit the time, not ability and B) just because you're technically knowledgeable in, say, cosmological physics, doesn't mean you're adept with computers. me on this one.

  • In principle this is what I do with my writing. I use this method to not to collaborate, but to back up my files and keep them synchronized between machines.

    The find the learning curve of SVN is setting up the repository and then checking out the initial documents. The GUI, on the mac use svnX, helps out with this initial step, and anyone who can muster LaTex should be able to work with something like it. Also, there are context menu options available.

    What really made things simple for me, on a day to

  • I've been using LaTeX with subversion for collaboration for years. The LaTeX learning curve is much more an issue than the subversion learning curve.

    But if the issue arises at all -- that means you are collaborating, and hopefully somebody in the group knows how to use LaTeX. And that's the best way to learn LaTeX.

  • Easy solution (Score:2, Informative)

    The way I'd tackle this is to setup a central server then install screen. Have each collaborator share the same screen session. That way, every one can collaborate on the same document in real time. The obvious advantage of this is that the fastest typists, which are generally the more experienced coders, will have the best chance of getting edits in place. To tackle the code versioning issue, alias the vi session to something like "cvs commit xxxx". So anytime someone edits a file, it will commit it to CV

  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @04:56PM (#27186105)
    Subversion is awful for detached work: it must speak to the server to record changes. CVS is no better. git could work, since each person's local copy is a full working repository. It is also terrible about allowing you to flush accidentally recorded debris, or out-of-date branches that have had their files copied elsewhere. It is also about tracking changes from another repository, with their history. Frankly, Subversion needs to be entirely discarded except for those few projects that are like CVS and where the master server is critical for the 'trunk' codeline.
    • Subversion is awful for detached work: it must speak to the server to record changes.

      Not really; it can happily work directly with a local directory hierarchy, without any server. On Windows with TortoiseSVN, setting it all up takes just a few clicks [].

  • by localoptimum ( 993261 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:01PM (#27186167)

    Google docs is fine until you start dealing with anything different to a Mail on Sunday article. Forget equations and figures. And if google goes down like it has the last few weeks...

    Apple's new web based system is alright for footnotes and things, and for comments, but for serious collaboration with merging different versions and edits, then you can forget it. (If someone from apple reads this, please add gawdamn ODF support to pages for the love of all things sacred).

    I still end up using latex to render equations and slap them into the document as a tiff file. And last time I used pages to collaborate with M$ office users it messed up the footnote marks for institute addresses and I ended up installing the mac version of office anyway :S So lets rule out apple for the time being.

    Lyx didn't support the styles and bibliography for the physics journals I was writing for last summer (phys rev, elsevier). Lyx is not a bad idea, is it ready?

    Microsoft word + equations = hell on earth. And having just lost 2 weeks of my life dealing with micro$oft's APIs, circular help systems and automatic updates every 3 minutes, I threw the thing straight back at IT and vowed never to go there again. Someone else might be able to tell you how good the M$ online collaboration tools are, but it won't be me! ;-)

    If your collaborators are like mine, they want to see a return to fortran and VMS. My current line of thinking is to try to coerce them into using latex instead of m$ word, and volunteer to be version control. Then use something like git on your own machine to merge all the different branches as they e-mail their changes back to you. For me it's the lesser of all evils.

    When you actually come to submit you'll still have to jump through hoops to please the journal editors with figure file formats and stuff ("we want 4 gigs of EPS files please author") but the process of collaborating on the authorship will be a damn sight easier.

    Good article subject though. You've hit on a topic that has been in my mind for the last few months too (sorry about the long reply!)

    • by stevenj ( 9583 )
      LyX has built-in templates for RevTeX, so it works well with most physics journals. I occasionally run into a journal that uses a custom non-RevTeX stylesheet not supported by LyX, but it's always possible to get it to work with LyX. The easiest thing is to just format it for the journal at the very end, right before submission, by exporting LyX to LaTeX and then switching it over to the new style file (and any minor changes that requires). (It's also not too hard to write a new LyX template to use a new
  • by Councilor Hart ( 673770 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:01PM (#27186169)
    Do you have to work on the document at the same time, or do you mean something like track changes?
  • Perhaps LaTeXiT? (Score:3, Informative)

    by angrytuna ( 599871 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:09PM (#27186265)

    What kind of LaTEX do you need to be writing? If it's just mathematics, and you're on linux or osx, you may want to consider LaTeXiT []. It renders equations to pdf and image formats, one of which I know for sure you can embed in a google document. It also lets you maintain libraries of equations, so you can modify them later.

    I used it recently, in conjunction with Apple keynote [] for the Mac. It was far easier to deal with just the math LaTEX subset [], and only at points where I needed it. I imagine a non-technical audience may agree.

    Laequed [] purports to do something similar for windows. Haven't tried it myself.

  • The post reads: "By abstracting out the substance from the content, it becomes possible to focus heavily on the writing..."

    Abstracting out the substance from the content?

    You're one of those humanities folks, aren't you?

  • check out edukalibre [].
  • You might try Laboratree ( []. We have built a social networking platform off of OpenSocial and created a document and data set management tool that has Subversion like editing. It is used by a couple of hundred groups currently.

  • Much of the complexity of LaTeX can be abstracted away in lighter text-based formats that are compiled to LaTeX to produce print-destined output (ReStructured Text, used in python Docutils, is one example.) If you are concerned about the combined complexity of LaTeX + version control, that could help reduce the overall complexity.

  • gitit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by j1m+5n0w ( 749199 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @05:51PM (#27186885) Homepage Journal

    Main site []

    Demo site []

    Gitit is a wiki that uses a git repository as a backend and exports to LaTeX. I haven't used it myself, and I expect you'll have to do a bit of hand-editing of the generated LaTeX to match whatever template you're using, but it might be worth looking into.

  • Wikis are designed for collaborative writing, and many if not most support version control. I don't know of any that support LaTeX (with rendering), but I would think that it could be added to something like MediaWiki.

    I came across a Wordpress plugin that apparently renders LaTeX:

    Perhaps it's code could be adopted for a wiki. Of course, the user would still have to know LaTeX, but they could copy and paste from their favorite GUI LaTeX editor.

  • LaTex Who? (Score:4, Informative)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @06:12PM (#27187201) Journal

    I've done research and writing at federal institutions, private and state universities and commercial concerns, collaborated with people and labs in a dozen or so countries, and submitted to journals in several different fields. Never once did I hear LaTex mentioned as something available to write with or as a format acceptable for manuscript submission. I happen to be familiar with LaTex due to years of Linux tinkering, and from working with people who also happened to be at least modestly capable with it. Even so I'd use something that didn't require concern with command/control syntax. My brain is better used on the science and language syntax.

    Microsoft Word can track changes according to collaborator. A particular format need only be created once, then saved as a template, many of which are available for download. There are various referencing packages that merge well with Word. I have run across other researchers who preferred something else for writing, but never have I run across one who did not have Word available or was not adequately familiar with it.

    Perhaps there are fields I've not worked in that allow use of LaTex for writing and submission. I'll bet there are none that require it, and Word is acceptable to most if not all. [] is a short article listing LaTex friendly journals. I disagree with the assessments about Springer and Elsevier, as every one of their journals I've written for did not list LaTex as acceptable. That leaves a very short list of journals that do accept it (and two major publishers that do not accept it). The list is a lot shorter than just the list of >35,000 journals referenced by NIH/National Library of Medicine's PubMed, the database I'm most familiar with.

    Mod me down if you must for dropping the *nix flag and waving the enemy's, but these are the observations of a trained observer.

    • It really does depend on the field you're in; you don't say, but from your PubMed mention I'm guessing medicine or biology. In bioinformatics, fortunately, the computer scientists and mathematicians have won this particular argument over the biologists and chemists -- nearly every bioinformatics journal accepts LaTeX, and many prefer it over Word. This includes a number of journals from Springer, Elsevier, Oxford and Blackwell.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by notwrong ( 620413 )

      Which fields? I also am a trained observer, and my observations are somewhat different.

      I have submitted to conferences and journals in two rather distinct fields (cognitive science and natural language processing) and have come across few that did not accept LaTeX, though sometimes in cognitive science it was a bit of an uphill battle.

      Most commonly for conferences (which in natural language processing and some other computer science fields are the main up-to-date research publication avenue) there is a styl

  • TWiki ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by droopycom ( 470921 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @06:12PM (#27187205)

    TWiki has some extension for LaTeX/MathML...

  • Since 1.6 or so, lyx has subversion integration. (File>Version Control). It is not 100% complete tough, as you have to create an svn folder yourself, and it won't update anything but the .lyx document. Yet you can commit you changes and type in a message and update your file. I'd say that you need at least one person in the team that knows svn, and set up the others
  • ... and I've only seen a handful of people that actually used LaTex. That handful definitely swear by it - but a standard? Not even close. It doesn't matter the age of the scientist - most of those I've known are using Word, for better or for worse.

    FWIW the journals Nature and Science are THE giants for many areas of scientific endeavor, and both of them prefer Word-formatted documents. They will also accept ps/eps as well as pdf though.

  • What we use (Score:2, Informative)

    Rather than version control as such, when our group writes at the same time (we use latex), we use SubEthaEdit to write actually collaboratively. It's a serious step up from version control. Requires a little more trust, but that's fair enough in co-writers.

  • I first got turned on to LaTeX here on Slashdot, in my earlier days of being an academic. Some people said "oh yeah, serious journals all use LaTeX."


    I think that what they meant, and what the summary means, is that engineering and CS journals use LaTeX. Never once have I found a journal in linguistics or psychology (the fields I work in) that had even heard of it. Good job that I found it clunky and stupid to work with, bringing no more to the table than styles in any word-processing program, and

  • by YoungHack ( 36385 ) on Friday March 13, 2009 @11:04PM (#27189735)

    I can't tell you whether to use Latex or some other writing platform. Personally, I use Latex. It's what I wrote my (math) dissertation in, and it is what I use for the courses I teach. I recommend that my math students become acquainted with it, because it is the standard in our academic domain.

    What I can say is that if your document is large, you should use version control, whether you have collaborators or not. I used CVS for my dissertation, and I wasn't collaborating with anyone but myself. It made it devastatingly easy to have full revision histories both at work and at home. No losing _my_ work because the building burned down (that totally happened to some English students during my tenure as a grad student).

    Most important though, I wrote faster because I had a history. I knew that if I screwed up my document I could go back step by step and get valid versions. If I gave a copy to my advisor, I could keep working and when he had comments ready for me 3 days later or a week later, I could pull up that specific revision to compare. I can say that revision control was possibly the difference between finishing and not finishing.

    If I were to do the same thing today, I would use git for the same reasons that some of the earlier posts cite. One, it fixes many of the little things that are broken with CVS. But the big thing in my opinion is disconnected work. My pattern of work was usually to write for several hours (often disconnected from the net) and then connect and submit my work. With git you can write and commit work without a net connection, and sometimes you want to commit as you are working (whether there is a net connection or not).

    It is also trivial and fast to make branches and move back and forth between them. Branching at the versions my advisor had is very fast and convenient with git.

    So use revision control of some kind. It has tangible benefits.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears