Should I learn to use LaTeX to write up a History Masters Thesis?

So I reviewed the "What are the advantages or disadvantages of using LaTeX for writing scientific publications?" question on this forum and am sitting on the fence at the moment whether or not to use LaTeX to write up my masters.

I get the feeling that it is best suited for Scientific work but my MLitt is in History. I have searched my university website about LaTeX and most results come back from the maths department.

I am a part-time research student so my thesis with be approx. 50,000 words. At the moment I am using Libreoffice (I'm a Linux user -Ubuntu distro) to write up each chapter as a separate document which I was going to bring into a master theses document. I am using Mendeley to manage all my footnotes and bibliography.

I'm going to be meeting my supervisor over the next couple of weeks and would like to discuss the matter with him as to if I should use LaTeX. I'm sure how familiarity or usage of LaTeX within the History department will impact on my decision but would also like to prepare my thesis in the best possible way.

Edit 10/04/14: After a meeting with my Supervisor it appear that the History department has no preference on software for writing the thesis. Only requirement is that final thesis before defence is printed in ring-bound cover and the (hopefully!) accepted thesis is a hardback bound copy. My last written piece to my supervisor was done in LaTeX, using Texmaker on Ubuntu then exported to pdf, and other than some tweaking we need to do to the citation styling he was quite happy with the output. His advise was to use whatever software I was comfortable with (although he had never heard of LaTeX).

I would be grateful for answers from people who have used LaTeX in Humanities area so as to be best prepared for my own decision on whether or not I would like to use it.

(Edit 10/03/2014) Just based on some of the answers, especially in relation to the learning curve with LaTeX, here is some more info that may be useful. Probably about 95% of my thesis will be text but I shall also need to insert some images (maps and photos) and will probably be entering some tables with stats. As stated above I use Mendeley for my refernece manager and have read some blogs where this is compatible with LaTeX so I think I would continue to us it if I go the LaTeX route.

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To be fair, how many of the authors of answers suggesting LaTeX have used a recent version of MS Word including its advanced bibliography and auto-numbering features, for more than a couple of weeks? As a LaTeX user, I only have a pale remembering of how it all worked with an older version of Word, but one would have to be proficient with both worlds to write a fair unbiased answer. –  Federico Poloni Mar 10 '14 at 8:49
I occasionally have to use the most recent version of word. (Mainly when trying to submit an article to a journal that doesn't accept pdf submissions.) My $0.02 is that LaTeX still > recent Word. Although, I admit that MS are adding some nice features, esp on the bib management side. – shane Mar 10 '14 at 12:20 The biggest concern for you should be the references, footnotes and cross references, if you can do that seamlessly and painlessly while splitting the document in several pieces with whatever you are using (e.g. Libreoffice) then no need to switch. The second biggest concern is version control and file corruption, as long as you can handle this for your purposes again no need to switch. Switching is an investment (time and effort, it's free), it makes sense iff the ROI is positive. – Trylks Mar 10 '14 at 13:56 One other thing to consider might be to use something like MultiMarkdown with its LaTeX exporting feature. You write more or less plain text, and then its postprocessor converts your text file into a LaTeX compatible file. – aeismail Mar 10 '14 at 22:02 Don't loose time with LaTeX. Trust me, LO and mendeley work fine. They are not as great as M$ Word, but they do the job. And to all the WYSIWYG haters: when you are writing, you only want to focus on the text and not on stuff like \emph{something important}. You also do not want to have to compile every two minutes. Moreover, losing the track changes option where your promoter can manually change things, saves so much time! Definitely, I moved away from LaTeX for writing in the humanities and I only go back when I have to impress someone. I use a LO plugin to convert to LaTeX if needed. –  my.back Mar 12 '14 at 13:21

I'm finishing up a PhD in philosophy that I've written in LaTeX. Here's some suggestions:

• make sure your advisor is ok with leaving you comments in pdf. I suspect he or she will not understand the question and will not be able to give you any feedback unless you submit chapters in word format. This is a deal breaker. Don't make any more problems communicating with your advisor than absolutely necessary.
• lots of academic journals in the humanities still don't accept submissions in pdf or latex source form. If you are planning on submitting your stuff to a journal, you might save yourself writing in word format.
• there are some tools available to convert latex to rtf, html and other tools. texht is the best.
• If you do decide to go LaTeX, don't get lost in the minutiae of learning how to tweak everything. It's easy to lose lots of time learning new packages and stuff when you should be writing, writing, writing. Use the wikibooks latex guide as your quick start guide when you need to learn how to do something fast.
• Especially if you're on Ubuntu, don't get the LaTeX distributed through Canonical's repositories. It's usually out of date (haven't checked in a while). Just go on and get the vanilla TexLive 2013 distribution from CTAN.
• The tex.SE site is really, really good. Like ridiculously helpful.
• If you are familiar with version control programs like git, mercurial, or svn you can actually keep a very precise idea of exactly how your thesis has grown over time. You can roll back changes, etc. This is kind of advanced stuff for LaTeX, so I wouldn't spend like a lot of time learning this stuff if you aren't already familiar with it, but if you are, it can be really helpful. EDIT: Per @henry's comment below, see the following guide by Roger Dudler to get started with git.
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Ubuntu 13.10 ships with TexLive 2013, so installing by hand shouldn't be necessary. –  Federico Poloni Mar 9 '14 at 16:44
There are only 2 or 3 people in my dept who use latex. This has actually made it a little hard, since LaTeX has a little bit of a learning curve and it's nice to be able to pop down the hall and ask a quick question. Still, it isn't impossible to learn on your own. I did! –  shane Mar 9 '14 at 17:22
+ $\inf$ for git. I used it for my thesis in LaTeX and can't stress enough how helpful this was. –  Eekhoorn Mar 9 '14 at 17:46
@biologue Nitpicking, but $\inf$ is LaTeX for the infimum operator. You're looking for $\infty$. –  David Zhang Mar 10 '14 at 6:01
"The tex.SE site is really, really good. Like ridiculously helpful." Seconded. Where else can you find TeX experts falling over themselves to answer your questions? They are very friendly to beginners, a trait which, unfortunately, is not common on tech sites, including those that form part of the SE network. Also, if you can't find something by searching on the site, they don't mind if you ask in chat. Maybe someone can point you in the right direction. An example of their good attitude - downvoting is generally frowned on past -1. –  Faheem Mitha Mar 10 '14 at 17:56

When my husband did his master's, he used LaTeX to write his thesis even though his supervisor preferred Word and everyone else in his lab used Word. He encountered some pros and cons.

Pros of using LaTeX:

• Word gets very slow and buggy once your documents are past a certain length, say forty or fifty pages. One of my husband's friends spent a day renumbering all of the figures in his thesis after the numbers mysteriously disappeared. I'm not sure if this issue exists with LibreOffice, but it may.
• You mentioned breaking your thesis into smaller documents and combining them later. This is easily and commonly done with LaTeX; it would be considerably harder with LibreOffice. [Edit: derobert pointed out that LibreOffice supports this through a "master document" feature. I wasn't familiar with it.]
• It's much easier to change the formatting of the document at the last minute if you discover that, e.g., your margins don't match your university's specifications or your references are formatted incorrectly. It's also easier to keep the formatting consistent.
• The results are more aesthetically pleasing, if you care about things like ligatures and kerning.

Cons:

• LaTeX has a much steeper learning curve, as others have mentioned. If you don't need to use it after you're done your thesis, it may not be worth the time investment.

My recommendation: use LaTeX to write up something short that you need to write anyway to see how it works. Then play around with some of the features you'll need for a thesis: add a footnote, a reference, or a figure. Try the \include command, too. That should give you a sense of whether it's something you want to continue with.

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Track changes is possible in latex: trackchanges.sourceforge.net –  vadim123 Mar 9 '14 at 15:26
A more sound alternative for tracking changes is a version control software (such as git or mercurial) + latexdiff. Of course, this doubles the steepness of the learning curve for you initially. –  Federico Poloni Mar 9 '14 at 16:48
@FedericoPoloni Version control is great, I agree, but it doesn't help with editing if gman's supervisor doesn't know how to use it. For example, I use git, so my supervisor compares drafts with git diff --word-diff. gman's supervisor probably doesn't know how to do that. –  user6782 Mar 9 '14 at 22:48
@gman Even better then: printing pdf's and receiving hand-written comments is a workflow that translates perfectly well to LaTeX. It would have been way harder if your supervisor used advanced Word commenting/multi-author features. :) –  Federico Poloni Mar 10 '14 at 8:51
If you do write a large document in Word, it's much more stable if you use styles everywhere instead of inline markup. Word headings, captions, numbered lists, etc are all done using styles; if you change formatting using the bold/underline/etc toolbar buttons instead of creating/editing styles you're mixing inline markup into the document. Mixing the two ways of format will turn large documents into unstable messes. Large numbers of tracked changes can cause similar problems; unfortunately there's no easy way to only mark old changes read unless you play games with your track changes name. –  Dan Neely Mar 10 '14 at 15:06

I'm sure how familiarity or usage of LaTeX within the History department will impact on my decision but would also like to prepare my thesis in the best possible way.

I would say that it should impact your decision strongly. You should prefer a tool that is used by your colleagues and supervisor to one that is slightly better intrinsically. They are the people who know what you need to do, and how to accomplish it with the tools they know.

I personally prefer LaTeX to LibreOffice, but I would guess that the combination of LibreOffice and Mendeley have all the features you need. (One in particular that I'm going to call out is change-tracking. Enable it as soon as you start, or you'll wish you had before long.) But the advantage of knowing your tool and having colleagues who know your tool outweigh most of LaTeX's advantages.

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I didn't know about the change tracking, was going to use comments. Just enabled it and have being doing some writing and its great. Thanks for the tip. –  gman Mar 9 '14 at 15:04
One of the biggest problems with word is that when putting the finishing touches to the document (i.e. formatting everything) you really can work on one and only one computer. It's basically impossible to keep the exact same formatting when sending word docs from one PC to another (and don't even think about mixing versions). That's a pretty big downside in my opinion, ignoring all the other problems with word (Word 2010 still can't justify text reasonably, no idea if they got that one fixed in the newer versions). –  Voo Mar 11 '14 at 0:09

I recently made the mistake of writing a novel with each chapter as a separate document in LibreOffice. When I needed to combine them all into a single document, it wasn't pleasant. So that might be a consideration, depending on how many chapters your thesis has. As Imi mentioned, LaTeX definitely has better support for combining documents.

You might be interested in LyX. It's a word processor that uses LaTeX as a backend. You can get almost all of the abilities of LaTeX, but the learning curve is a lot shallower since it has more of the standard word processor features. It's a big help in following shane's advice not to get caught up in the minutiae of LaTeX. I use it for linguistics, where it seems to be pretty widely known. (Linguists have some of the same typesetting challenges as the math people). Newer versions have change tracking, as landroni mentions in the comments. Also, if you do decide to use source control, LyX can help you manage it, although it might take some coercion to set it up. LyX uses its own file format by default, but you can export to LaTeX.

As shane also mentioned, there are tools to convert LaTeX into other formats. Pandoc can even convert LaTeX into Word or Open Office format. Both LyX and Pandoc are available for Ubuntu.

So what I would probably do in your situation is write in LyX or LaTeX, then use Pandoc to export that to docx or odt for your advisor. You can read your advisor's comments in Word, make changes to your original, and export again. It sounds convoluted, but I do think you'll gain a lot in flexibility and tool support over using LibreOffice.

EDIT: Yes, you probably will have to put in some extra work to make the docx files generated by Pandoc usable. On the other hand, LyX and LaTeX can also save you a ton of time that you might have used struggling with LibreOffice's primitive support for pictures and formatting. (And special characters, not relevant to the OP's case, but very much so if you're doing linguistics or math.) If you're not sure, try testing your workflow on a small document: write something in LyX or LaTeX, convert it to odt or docx with Pandoc, and do the work to get the odt or docx file into a usable state. See whether you think it's worth it for what you're doing.

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lyx is a nice halfway tool. Thanks for pointing it out. I originally started with lys and eventually decided I wanted to see what was going on "under the hood" and after a while I just preferred to write the code straight. –  shane Mar 10 '14 at 12:16
LyX DOES have Change Tracking. It works well as far as I hear. –  landroni Mar 11 '14 at 15:45
For info, exporting from LyX to ODT via pandoc is more of a hassle than it may seem at first. If you need ODT as the final output, for a novice you may as well stay with Word-like clones. –  landroni Mar 11 '14 at 15:47
@landroni: You're right, I was looking at outdated docs. Sorry about that. –  tsleyson Apr 6 '14 at 0:24

For some people, the crucial features of LaTeX are portability and permanence. With LibreOffice and (especially) MS Word, you are essentially at the mercy of whether developers decide to make all future versions backwards compatible (I have a couple of papers I wrote in grad school that are effectively inaccessible until I find a machine with MS Word 98 for Windows). In contrast, with LaTeX, the source file is just plain ASCII text, so it will be forever readable and editable in any computer, regardless of operating system.

If your advisor is not LaTeX-friendly, you can have a look at this other question, the answers to which provide a number of tools to strip all LaTeX tags from a file, so you are left only with the plain text. From my experience, that is an acceptable compromise to most people.

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It's not entirely true. Even with LaTeX, packages change and you may not be able to reproduce the exact same result with a later version. You can always recover the text, that's true, but the same holds for Word: a .docx is just a zipped xml file. –  Federico Poloni Mar 9 '14 at 23:31
@FedericoPoloni: With TeX archiving your whole environment (including all used packages) and using exactly that two decades later is easy while the same will be extremely hard with *Office. –  Martin Schröder Mar 10 '14 at 7:38
@MartinSchröder Still not convinced. How do you archive your whole environment? Is it easier than installing an older version of Word in, say, a virtual machine? –  Federico Poloni Mar 10 '14 at 8:42
@FedericoPoloni: With TeX you can easily archive all input files (i.e. the complete TeX distribution). And since it's open source and portable and stable, you can archive the sources for the binaries (and if you want the operating system (Linux, BSD)) and recreate them later. It's still much simpler than with closed source software like Microsoft Office or complex free software like LibreOffice. –  Martin Schröder Mar 10 '14 at 8:52

To answer the question with a clear yes or no would be to oversimplify things. LaTeX is used for much more than just mathematics so I would not hesitate from that point of view. Learning something new is always useful so again, no argument there. What you need to ask yourself is if you are interested in learning LaTeX. this may depend on whether or not there are others using it in your neighbourhood. Being completely alone is tougher than having some other persons with whom to work when learning. Another question is to what extent LaTeX is used in your field for journal publications etc. So, try to assess how much use you will have in your field from learning it. Since LaTeX can be used for writing papers, books and reports as well as for making presentations (a la PowerPoint) and posters, it includes bibliography handling, it is a very useful tool for any field for scientific writing.

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Very valid points Peter. I would be interested in learning something new but as a part-time student it can be hard to get time to interact with groups that may be learning. That's something I'll have to check out in my university if there is a LaTeX group. –  gman Mar 9 '14 at 15:17
@gman TeX.StackExchange and the LaTeX section in Wikibooks are both excellent resources. –  Moriarty Mar 10 '14 at 1:33

It is quite likely your advisor has never heard of LaTeX, so don't expect too much from discussing it with him.

LaTeX has a fairly steep learning curve but it is good for working with references and great for working with math. Since you don't need the latter at all, it may not be worth the effort for you.

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Just for grins, go up to your advisor and say, "I'd like to write my thesis in Lahtech with PDF output." If he gets that deer-in-the-headlights look (very likely), you'll know you're out of luck. On the other hand, he may only want a hardcopy of the thing, in which case you may be free to use whatever you want. Most likely, you will be required to supply at least the finished result, if not the original source, in some specific format that your department uses. That may relieve you of the choice... Certainly play with LaTeX ahead of time, but don't invest a lot in it yet. –  Phil Perry Mar 13 '14 at 18:08

If you're considering other software besides just Microsoft Word or LaTeX, then I would put a vote in for Scrivener, which I switched to halfway through my Masters (submitted in December).

Scrivener is a bit LaTeXy in that it separates the composition from the formatting, with the latter done as a single rendering process at the end, but it also allows a high degree of style and formatting while you write, however this should be viewed as a 'preview' rather than actual formatting.

It was originally designed for novelists, but there's a growing community of academics using it going on the posts in the forums. I found it great for handling things like numbered lists such as figures and tables, and, particularly important for linguistics, example sentences.

The basic workflow is that you compose in Scrivener and then 'compile', which will format the entire document and apply formatting in a single hit, then you can either print directly, or if you need further post-processing (like Endnote), then output as a useful format for you and take it to whatever program you need. My workflow was to go into Word and run Endnote, plus a couple of other small tasks, and then print. For a 50,000 word document, my time spent in Word was about 3 hours (including proofing). Scrivener also supports compiling to a LaTeX document using MultiMarkDown syntax.

Anyway, some dot-points:

Pros:

• Great hierarchical sectioning support, in fact this is key to its organisational structure
• Secure in terms of text data, which is stored in individual text files (one for each section/subsection)
• Much easier to learn than LaTeX
• Support available from the forum from the developers, and very quick response from them (I once suggested a feature and it was rolled-out two days later)
• Good support for multiple independent numbered lists (tables, figures)
• Good support for cross-referencing to chapters and sections
• You can output to .doc or .rtf and have track changes, but see last Con.

Cons:

• Not free; $40 (PC)$45 (Mac) once-off purchase (free 30-day trial, free for Linux)
• Originally designed for Mac, and other operating systems are still catching up on features. There is a Linux release but it is in beta (however the features that are missing only affect the compile process, so you could conceivably write in Ubuntu and compile on Mac)
• No support for Endnote apart from mapping ctrl/cmd-Y to open Endnote, that is, scrivener does not insert formatted bibliographic citations either in-line or as endnotes (but if you work using raw field codes, then pass them through to Word, it works great)
• Formatting presets in Scrivener do not map to 'styles' in Word (although again, there are workarounds)
• Not intended to be a complete typesetting program, but a writing program. You should expect to have to post-process your document in another program.
• Importing from Word is not very good. This will affect what you do with track changes and supervisor's comments (you'd have to incorporate them yourself manually).

Sorry about the plug – I do not receive any kind of support from the makers of Scrivener; I just think it's the best writing software I've used, and since you're trying to weigh up the benefits and costs of switching to LaTeX, I definitely think you should consider it since it is compatible with LaTeX anyway, and is much easier to work in.

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Yes...unless...

You will have references, many of them. Managing references is a complete pain without the facilities provided by LaTeX or one of the often expensive tools for word (there may be something free for libreoffice, and it may be good). It may be a little easier with the citation styles typical in humanities/social sciences than it is for physical sciences, but still not easy. So unless you have access to a good tool for managing your citations in your wordprocessor, just go for LaTeX.

Cross-referencing between sections and to figures/tables is also much easier.

You may find a tool like LyX suits you - or you may like the freedom of just getting on with it in a decent text editor. This list may be helpful in that regard.

I can thoroughly support the view expressed above that you should start on a smaller document.

When it comes to commenting by your adviser, such as for a dissertation, pdf comments on your work, or handwritten comments are fine, but for collaborative writing of a paper with non-LaTeX users things become a lot harder unless you're in charge.

Using LaTeX to Write a PhD Thesis by Nicola Talbot is well worth a read, it's from a CS background but don't let that put you off, it's clear and well written.

On the other hand, if you start writing in a word processor, you will end up sticking with it, which is fine, plenty of theses get written that way, but nobody ever finds the time to switch from one system to the other.

Also note that if you use libreoffice and you work with people who use MSoffice (or even for different versions of MSoffice) change tracking is rather fragile.

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I would say it is worth your time and effort, not that the effort required would be great, as other have said first off talk to your professor and ask if he has any opinions on the matter.

I wrote the paper for my B.Sc. in LaTeX and to do so I learned it mostly by myself, with some help from some post grads but those were for issues you will not hit when writing an historical paper, in the spare moments between actually writing the code my paper was about.

Like yourself my paper didn't involve large swathes of mathematical formulas with lots of Greek letters but it did require almost swiss-like precision and I felt that with my limited command of Word I would be better of just starting from scratch with LaTex and knowing exactly the cause effect relationship between my actions and the document's presentation (I was and still am weary of loosing all your formatting in Word due to a slip of the mouse).

Some of LaTex's strongest points in it's favor is the ease with which it can handle citations for you as well as index your pictures, give them captions and etc.

The fact that you use Linux already is also a factor as setting up a good LaTex editor on Ubuntu seems much easier than on Windows to me, I highly recommend Kile as the editor it's not WYSIWG but it will keep you from making syntax errors due to it's large amount of snnipets available and it also simplifies the "give a pdf from all this mark-up" process.

Another point in LaTex's favour is the very friendly and responsive community at the Tex exchange

I have to be honest that it was very easy for me to pick-up LaTex because I already had experience with HTML which is also a mark-up language, but in my opinnion if you understand what happens when you bold a word on a stack exchange site (see the * * and their effect) then you can understand LaTex.

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Yes I also have a little experience of using html as have done some website work in my spare time. Good to know this would help with LaTeX. –  gman Mar 10 '14 at 12:05
@gman It will help tremendously. –  George Bora Mar 10 '14 at 12:32

All mentioned pros and cons are valid, but... LaTeX is written by smart people for use by smart people. Word is written by smart people for everyone, including dumb people. Take your pick. For me, 5 dissertation years spent with LaTeX as an everyday companion was thoroughly enjoyable.

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You should definitively learn LaTeX.

MS Word is slow, is instable, and the document is just, if you are not a guru at Word, ugly. You need a lot of expertise to control the blank spaces between words, to get a line break correct, to avoid orphan lines, etc., not to mention more advanced things related to type setting.

The ease to use of MS Word is not real ease. It just makes any secretary think he/she can use it. For a two page document this might be OK, but actually it requires a lot of experience to get a document right.

I don't agree that LaTeX has a steep learning curve. There are tools which make LaTeX pretty much WYSIWYG. Read the first two or three chapters of an introductory LaTeX book, install miktex and simatra PDF viewer on your windows, use EclipseTex for editing, it's pretty easy, and it does not required you to be a rocket scientist to type set documents that are nice to see.

You'll love LaTeX once you started using it. You'll wonder how it is ever possible to use Word any more.

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YES... and why not use both!

The learning curve for using LaTeX (with a good template) is actually relatively small, and will save you time/headaches in a large document such as a thesis since the formatting is automatically taken care of, and probably looks much better too (especially equations). Just paste your text into a .tex template, and create a .bib file.

My process is to write the draft (unformatted text) in LibreOffice with each chapter as a separate document, referencing with tags only, and storing the figures in a separate folder. The reason is that I find it easier to think/edit in WYSIWYG. Once I am happy with the draft it takes minimal effort to transfer it to LaTeX: I just go through and create a .bib file from copy and paste EndNote entries whilst I am inserting reference tags.

The end result looks perfect and I have saved time, avoiding the formatting problems that plagued my MS word undergraduate thesis.

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Definitely no.

This may sound like a flippant response but it's actually grounded in experience and much thought.

I'm in a STEM discipline where LaTeX is considered by faculty to be the ONLY way to do word processing so I've had time to really formulate my viewpoint here.

Note: I use Word here but I assume LibreOffice is of the same quality/functionality.

1. Latex used to be better than Word in terms of controlling your document with precision and with things like formatting, bibliographies, and equations. Now that word has evolved to it's current state there is no advantage to LaTeX unless, as someone has already mentioned, you are into kerning and typography-type stuff. You can easily adjust margins, bibliographies, styles, equations, etc in Word these days. It's just which you learned the idiosyncrasies of first and more thoroughly.

2. Word is easier and more universally accepted. Everyone knows what to do with a docx file. What would a older professor who may not be a tech person in a history dept know what to do with .tex, .cls, .bib, or .ttf files? If you wanted to get feedback you'd have to put it into pdf and then getting comments would be annoying as others have mentioned.

3. I just used LaTeX for the first time to write 2 papers in the past couple weeks. I used the ShareLatex site and a template from an academic journal in my area. Without ShareLatex I could not have done it in a timely fashion. It does automatic versioning the entire time(at least for the time I used it). So every single time you make a change it keeps a copy of the document before the change. You can share it with others as the name implies and it will function like Google Docs in this regard. You can specify which compiler you want to use and some other options. It also lets you upload any and all files you might have associated with your document including fonts, images, template class files, etc. The only issue is when fine tuning formatting things make sure you look at the pdf because the little preview display isn't as high fidelity.

4. Inserting figures can be annoying. Especially with various file types. I had to convert all my figures to jpeg's to avoid issues I had with png's. They don't always go where you put them. LaTeX puts them where ever it sees fit. Yes there are settings to try to force LaTeX to put them where you want instead of where it wants but do you really need to be having a fight of wills with your word processor???

Summary: There is just absolutely no reason I can see to use LaTeX for the average person who is not OCD about kerning, ligatures and pristine fonts. Yes, it's fun at first playing with all the options and features but after awhile you just yearn for the simplicity of Word. In past years before the current state of mainstream word processors maybe LaTeX had it's advantage but now I get better results using Word and it's equation editor and formatting tools than with LaTeX. If you don't have equations and scientific things to display, as I suspect you might not, I would just write it in Word. If you want to play around with LaTeX for the typography aspects then copy what you've written into a .tex which you can then experiment with the nitpicky font details and see that when it's all said and done... the difference in output may be imperceptible.

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Didn't downvote but this seems slightly biased. Some of the TeX problems you mention sound more like a lack of experience. –  Marc Claesen Mar 9 '14 at 22:09
This may sound like a flippant response but it's actually grounded in experience [...] I just used LaTeX for the first time to write 2 papers in the past couple weeks. That's the problem. LaTeX has a steep learning curve, no one here is denying it. You can't expect to use it for two weeks and know enough about it to brand it as useless. How long have you been using Word in comparison? –  Federico Poloni Mar 9 '14 at 23:28
Word has actually been quite powerful when it comes to doing things that academic papers require for quite some time (I remember doing this stuff in Word 6.0 and it working very well). The problem is that those features actually have a bit of a learning curve, so much so that people don't use them. –  fluffy Mar 9 '14 at 23:46
To summarise the answer: "LaTeX is harder and the same things can be done in ___Office". This is only true for when you are stuck on the learning curve of LaTeX. But when you get more experience and you get to appreciate the power of user-contributed packages like pgfplots, tikz, siunitx, booktabs, longtable, as well as the various styles, fonts and bib packages ... you see what they can offer that no ___Office can! And after you immerse yourself in LaTeX for a while, you see that the typographical differences are not at all OCD but rather a greater appreciation for clear layout. –  badroit Mar 10 '14 at 1:28
I still have problems on my country to open a docx file... just saying. –  Braiam Mar 10 '14 at 18:09

I think using dynamic documents is the only way to ensure your work is reproducible. Latex is an important tool in my workflow that helps me achieve this aim, and I view it as a necessity. Word documents are simply not reproducible.

You can read about the issues with Word here, here, here and here.

If you adopt latex you should also use Pandoc, which I don't think anyone mentioned here. Pandoc allows you to convert a document to range of other document types with a simple line of code. I'm imagining the person who tries to cut and paste from the latex generated PDF into a Word document because that is what their advisor wants. Pandoc will make your life easier.

Scrivener is also another nice option that will allow you to write in markdown, it converts to latex on the backend and then converts the latex to pdf. Scrivener is also a great companion for long-form writing.

To the person that said: "You should prefer a tool that is used by your colleagues and supervisor to one that is slightly better intrinsically." I'd argue that you should use the tool that gets the work done most efficiently for you. Latex is going to save you so much time in terms of formatting the document. So, please explain to me why anyone expect that I use a tool that's going to require me to needlessly spend hours out of my productive schedule to tweak the formatting of the document over and over again? Your whole statement is anti-progress.

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To be fair, I have spend hours tweaking the formatting of a document in LaTeX, too. –  Federico Poloni Aug 26 '14 at 22:49

protected by aeismail♦Mar 10 '14 at 21:56

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