8

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?

  • 3
    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
  • 1
    Do you have a plan for handling references and citations? – Patricia Shanahan Jun 1 '19 at 12:03
  • 3
    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
  • 4
    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
  • 3
    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
10

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Primary supervisor doesn't like LaTeX, though. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 1 '19 at 14:13
  • 1
    @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
  • 10
    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
9

I just successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis, which was written entirely in Google Docs.

But I was able to do that because it worked well for my particular situation. I'm in bioinformatics, and my thesis didn't include any complex equations. So LaTeX didn't offer much of an advantage. And honestly I've tried it in the past and found myself far less productive. I'd often spend more time fiddling with markup than writing. This is consistent with research that suggests LaTeX is less productive than a GUI word processor when you're not using LaTeX for its strength (complex equations). For a while I wanted to move to LaTeX so I could track changes with source control like git. But then I realized Google Docs' edit history takes care of that in an arguably better interface.

But perhaps the most important factor is that my thesis advisor uses Google Docs too. That's what really made it a good idea to use it to write manuscripts and my thesis. If your collaborators don't use the same platform, you'll spend a lot of time doing conversions back and forth, and lose out on a lot of the advantages your platform offers. So remember to weigh that in. Maybe your preferred platform offers so much that it's worth the cost, but if your coauthors don't use it, that'll really raise the bar.

| improve this answer | |
  • 6
    The study actually says that LaTeX is less productive if you do not use it for its intended purpose. "LaTeX users in our study attained better performance in the typesetting of mathematical equations, and it is not surprising that LaTeX users are typically in disciplines where mathematical formulas are frequent" – Anonymous Physicist Aug 17 at 1:03
  • 2
    There are some issues with that research as well. When they work out the continuous text copy rate they don't appear to account for past experience transcribing text. For example it may turn out that what they broadly showed was that people who don't use mathematics in their scholarly work (and thus less likely to use latex) then people who use mathematics in their scholarly work (and thus probably use latex). I doubt my copy/error rate would change between latex and word, but (being a physicist) I won't be able to copy text as well as a lawyer, who needs to precisely copy options from book. – N A McMahon Aug 17 at 8:49
3

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.

| improve this answer | |
1

It is perfectly acceptable, if both of you agrees. My recommendation is to try to find a citation manager that can work with Google Docs, though. It makes life a lot easier.

On the other hand, you can also give online Microsoft Office (office 365) a try. Many universities provides free access, some Microsoft plans also. That could be a good trade-off as well.

| improve this answer | |
1

If you do have a strong preference for Latex, you might have a look at Pandoc. It allows you to convert from Latex to Microsoft Word documents and back again.

It's not perfect (can get a bit tricky with bibliography etc), but I've found it pretty good for collaborators who refuse Latex. Best used if the conversions are infrequent (since it does require some troubleshooting), and if the person is commenting but not adding substantially new, formatted content. It sounds like this might match your use case though!

| improve this answer | |
0

This really depends on your stakeholders: it is more a people problem than a technical problem. If your advisors / readers are set in their ways (MS-Word Client vs Web-Collaboration tools) then you are in all likeliness fighting an uphill battle that will prolong your tour in academia.

Only you know whether your advisor will support your bid to use Google-Docs or a particular tool. If your advisor has said "no", you would be well-advised to either use the prescribed tools or find another advisor.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.