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I am quite early in my PhD program, and am deciding on what tool to use to write my documentation, principally my thesis. My prefered tool would be markdown / latex, but my primary supervisor really does not like it, to the point that collaboration with this involves printing the document, hand writing notes on it and me transcribing these notes to the original. My supervisors prefered tool is microsoft word, but I use linux and running a virtual box just to do my writing is a significant drain on the resources of my computer, I am often writing while running computations.

We are currently preparing a paper on the initial work of my PhD, and this is being done successfully through google docs. Would this be an appropriate tool to use for my whole thesis?

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    I have used libreoffice to import powerpoint presentations, and it is no end of trouble to maintain the formatting. I can imagine trying to maintain formatting of a large document that is frequently being converted between word and libreoffice being hard work. – Dave Jun 1 '19 at 12:00
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    Do you have a plan for handling references and citations? – Patricia Shanahan Jun 1 '19 at 12:03
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    Actually, if you read a docx into LibreOffice the default save format is the same, so it isn't quite the same as maintaining two versions. Since you prefer latex I'd think you are already familiar with separating the writing and the formatting. Why bother to strictly maintain formatting until nearly the end? Your experience with powerpoint may not carry over to word, but I can't say for sure. – Buffy Jun 1 '19 at 12:21
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    Does your supervisor use Adobe Acrobat and its ability to add comments/markups? That’s how I use LaTeX in collaborations. The PDF is returned to me, I make revisions, and we iterate. That said, a colleagues used Google Docs for the preparation and collaboration then converted everything to LaTeX just before submitting to the graduate school. – Joel Kulesza Jun 1 '19 at 12:26
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    Have you tried writing markdown and then "compiling" either to word or Latext/PDF, as needed, with pandoc-citeproc? – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 1 '19 at 14:16
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My prefered tool would be markdown / latex, but my primary supervisor really does not like it, to the point that collaboration with this involves printing the document, hand writing notes on it and me transcribing these notes to the original.

This is an excellent way to collaborate!

We are currently preparing a paper on the initial work of my PhD, and this is being done successfully through google docs. Would this be an appropriate tool to use for my whole thesis?

Google Docs is as good as Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, etc. Personally I think they are all awful for academic writing.

Perhaps your supervisor can use Overleaf? You can then use LaTeX/git in the usual way.

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  • Primary supervisor doesn't like LaTeX, though. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 1 '19 at 14:13
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    @henning Which flavour of LaTeX does the supervisor dislike? Maybe they'll consider Overleaf, especially in rich text mode (overleaf.com/blog/…) – user2768 Jun 1 '19 at 17:32
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    Having been a tool fanatic in the past, I have seen the light and understood that falling in love with a particular tool is almost certainly wrong and one should always choose the right tool for the task at hand. In that spirit, Word is an awful system for longer pieces of work (I have seen whole theses being mangled irrecoverably shortly before submission; most unpleasant, even with backup), so if you can get your superviser to use pdf annotation, that would make it easy for him and easy for you. He never sees LaTeX source and you do never have to fiddle with Word. – Captain Emacs Jun 1 '19 at 19:31
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it's a very convenient tool. You might use it for most of your drafts, work, and review. There's many easy ways to get at the docs, and you can name revisions (so that you don't have a bazillion copies).

You may find it doesn't have the layout features needed for your work, or expected of people in your field in order to look professional and similar to your peers and predecessors.

In all cases, you need to make backups in various places, and make those copies regularly. Set a calendar reminder. Google makes errors with google drive. I have lost files. No one will cut you slack. Google owes you nothing for a free service, and only marginally more if you pay them.

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