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I work on a research team of four people. However, different members use different tools and this makes working together more challenging. I'm wondering if there are any solutions to this problem (besides insisting everyone use one set of tools, angering at least some of the team members).

For example, two of us use Zotero and two use Endnote. Likewise, two of us use Word and two of us use LibreOffice.

The challenge is that those who use LibreOffice were sick of Word and do not want to go back. However, others are comfortable with Word and do not want to change away from something they know and works well for them. Another challenge is some use Linux and Word on Linux is less simple than Word on Windows or Mac.

It is not as simple as "LibreOffice can edit Word documents" because of the way each handles reference links.

The same problem exists with reference managers. For example, Endnote does not run on Linux.

What we end up with is someone writes 10,000 words in Word and Endnote. Then someone else edits it down to 7,000 in LibreOffice and Zotero. When the original author goes in to make some additions / edits, things get very messy and it requires significant efforts to go back and fix everything. Sometimes, when the first person re-opens the document (which was edited in LibreOffice) in Word, the in-text references will actually be missing.

Has this problem been solved (other than mandating the tools to be used)?

Is editing papers online (Office 365 / Google Docs) a workable solution (do any work with reference managers)?

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    Just to answer your final question: yes. Overleaf exists, and has access to BiBTeX and the like, so can be used as you desire (albeit with the added cost of having to learn LaTeX if you don't already know it.
    – Sam
    May 6, 2021 at 6:36
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    @Sam if the Word users find learning LibreOffice too much work, what do you think is the chance they they want to learn LaTeX? My prior would be 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 May 6, 2021 at 8:15
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    And that number came from the fact that that was the number of characters I had left on that comment. My real prior is much smaller than that... May 6, 2021 at 8:17
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    Go out into the courtyard and sort it out the good old way. Seriously, however, it sounds like you should be editing online. Dropbox has an online Word processor. The advantage is that you can edit the document on dropbox directory with your local tools, but they are available for edit online, too. So, for references or anything nontrivial, use your local tools, for everything else, use the online tool. Is that an option? May 6, 2021 at 15:24
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    @Sam I think there are more journals that won't take LaTeX than do. May 7, 2021 at 19:36

2 Answers 2

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I have worked in similar cross-platform teams. Mine in the past was more Latex on Linux with bibtex versus Microsoft Word on Windows with Zotero. In that case, we were working on multiple papers together, so our policy was that everyone went along with the tool that the first author preferred, so we all got a lot of cross-platform experience. That worked for us, but it sounds like what you labelled as "other than mandating the tools to be used".

That might not work in your situation, since your team members seem more inflexible about using tools that other people prefer. In that case, I would suggest something like this:

  • Everyone should use Open Document Text (ODT) format, not .DOCX format. Both LibreOffice and Microsoft Word can handle this format just fine, and I think that they can work together (though I have never actually tried this).
    • Although LibreOffice can edit the original version of DOCX, I understand that the current (as of 2021) version is not the open standard version, and so it could probably get messy if people tried to work on the same DOCX document with both LibreOffice and Microsoft Word.
  • For reference management, only one team member should edit references. Whether that team member uses Zotero or EndNote, that is for you all to decide (though I have the impression that Zotero might work better on ODT documents; I'm not sure how good EndNote's support is).
    • Whenever any other team member wants to add or modify a reference, they should leave a comment instead that contains the full reference; then the team member that handles references should format it later.
    • This might sound awkward, but it worked quite well on teams where I have done this, due to Zotero versus EndNote member preferences. It is simple and clean to say that only one person is allowed to modify references directly.
    • Of course, if more than one member uses exactly the same platform setup, there should be no problem if they are all allowed to modify references (e.g. Zotero on LibreOffice for Linux only).

I hope one of my above solutions (either everyone just follow the leader, or use ODT and only one reference-handling team member) works for you. In any case, be sure not to let technological tool flame wars burn an otherwise great research collaboration team!

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  • Thanks for this. My whole goal is "be sure not to let technological tool flame wars burn an otherwise great research collaboration team!"
    – earthling
    May 7, 2021 at 8:26
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I would (and have) take the answer of Tripartio a step further.

Invest all of the actual formal writing of the paper in one or two people who agree to use the same tools whatever they are. Everyone else suggests updates/changes as needed, providing their comments in any suitable format. When changes are distributed to the team members they might also be provided with something like a PDF, along with an "active" document, to assure that everyone sees the same thing.

For some changes, the "editor" just needs to cut and paste. For others, they need to do more, but that needs doing in any case.

When I was part of such a team, the "editor" was also the best writer on the team as evidenced from past work. He was empowered to accept/reject suggestions and we produced a very nice product. I don't even remember what tools he used. My choice was LibreOffice.

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  • Nice addition. Thanks Buffy!
    – earthling
    May 7, 2021 at 8:28

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