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Some journals (specifically on biology or chemistry) accept only MS Word files as manuscripts, while many journals on mathematics or physics prefer LaTeX. Even Science prefers MS Word.

Why do they insist on proprietary MS Word, instead of accepting PDF + plain text? I don't think they typeset papers on MS Word.

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    I don't think it's 100% accurate to call Word a proprietary format. The format is publicly documented well enough so that non-MS developers have been able to make their own implementations, including open-source implementations such as the one in LibreOffice. – user1482 Oct 18 '14 at 14:58
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    @BenCrowell But only Microsoft can decide what the format looks like and, every time you open a nontrivial Word file in LibreOffice it says, "Hey, I couldn't quite get this right but I did the best I could!" That's a proprietary format. – David Richerby Oct 18 '14 at 15:25
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    I once asked an editor if they would accept a LaTeX submission. They said no, and the reason was nobody had ever asked before. This was a mediocre STEM journal. – Anonymous Physicist Oct 18 '14 at 18:13
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    @DavidRicherby: That's why I put in the qualifying phrase that it was not "100% accurate." every time you open a nontrivial Word file in LibreOffice This is not my experience, at least not within the last few years. I don't own a copy of Word, and I almost never have a problem opening Word documents from work. I still find it a nuisance that people use it as a file interchange format, but it basically works for me almost all the time. Of course MS is evil, and there is a long history of their silly shenanigans trying to embrace and extend by using Word, etc. – user1482 Oct 18 '14 at 20:46
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    I feel sorry for those journals – seteropere Oct 18 '14 at 22:58
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I cannot answer for all journals but can provide insights into a few. One issue concerns the authors rather than the journals themselves. If a community has little need for equations then the need for LaTeX is also perceived as small. Hence a journal would not implement something that they think has no use.

In my own field of Earth Science, the usage of LaTeX varies between sub-disciplines. In Glaciology, being a quantitative subfield, a majority use LaTeX while in other more descriptive subfields no-one uses LaTeX. It is easy to see that this is also reflected in what formats the journals accept. Since the editors of the journals usually come from the sub-disciplines their journals cover, the editors are used to using the same authoring tools as others which further cements the existing structure.

On top of that the individual publisher may add capacity to journals. Elsevier, for example, has a LaTeX-class that can be used for their journals, while Wiley, for example, do not. This can help journals take the step to also include LaTeX contributions even though editors may not be users themselves.

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    I don't understand. The editors just have to read the document. Presumably they know how to open a PDF or PS file? The people who then do the the galley proofs for the journals do need to be able to work with LaTeX, but I would be surprised if that's an issue for the publisher. – Sasho Nikolov Oct 19 '14 at 2:00
  • I'm not sure how this answers the question. It addresses why some journals accept MS Word files, but not why they prefer the format. – E.P. Oct 19 '14 at 17:08
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    @SashoNikolov The division of labour between editors and publishers is not always divided as you think. Editors are the contact for the author visavi the journal. If there is a problem with submitted files it will be the editors, not the publishers who will deal with the problems. So, it would be difficult for someone who knows nothing about LaTeX to handle such articles in some systems. – Peter Jansson Oct 19 '14 at 17:36
  • @E.P. The dividing line is between LaTeX and other word-processor files. Many journals accept rtf-files which do not have to be authored by Word. Word is dominant in many disciplines so when, really, any word-processor file that is compatible with Word would be fine, the journal will likely ask for Word-format files. So in essence the preference is a format compatible with Word, hence not LaTeX. – Peter Jansson Oct 19 '14 at 17:41
  • In my experience editors did not handle tex files ever. After acceptance I am usually in contact with a copyeditor who works with me on getting the final proofs. But I suppose some journals might involve the editor in this. I wonder why they would do that. It could be a budget issue, but I am sure Science has ample funding. – Sasho Nikolov Oct 19 '14 at 17:48
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The main divide that I notice in preferred input format is between journals that routinely reformat your paper and those that do not.

  • Journals wanting Word generally ask the author just just send a pile of text and figures, which they will stitch together to look precisely how they want it to look, with special fancy styling, etc.

  • Journals that want LaTeX generally ask the author to send a PDF file looking almost exactly as it will for publication, plus the LaTeX so they can recompile with the right page and issue information.

The first is essentially a leftover from the days before computer formatting, when a journal would be getting a bundle of paper, which would need to be typeset by hand in any case. These days it is most likely to be preserved in either high-end journals that can afford a significant paid staff or else in subfields that simply haven't made the cultural transition. Word is then a "lowest common denominator" that, unfortunately, the world has generally settled on for styled documents (though some places will also accept non-proprietary formats: for example, PLoS ONE also accepts rtf)

LaTeX lets a journal run much more leanly, since it places more burden on the authors. When something goes wrong with LaTeX, however, it's likely to go much more problematically wrong because it's possible for authors to include some awfully fancy programming in LaTeX (I know a person who wrote a piece of database management software entirely in TeX). To handle that, you need a much more programming-savvy journal staff, or else a large and well-maintained automated backend like IEEE's PDF eXpress to help you detect and manage the problems that come with freedom.

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    But if the arrangement is entirely done by the Journal, why Word rather than plain text? – Arno Oct 18 '14 at 13:39
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    Because plain text can't express any formatting at all. You can't do italics or bold or footnotes or equations, etc. The formatting that is within authorial discretion definitely needs to be supported somehow. – jakebeal Oct 18 '14 at 13:46
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    Ok, good point. And why Word rather than pdf? – Arno Oct 18 '14 at 13:49
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    Why not PDF? Because you can't necessarily copy text cleanly from PDF. Consider, for example, that most scanners will happily produce PDF that looks like text but is just a pure image. They need something you can copy text from, and Word is an easy default. – jakebeal Oct 18 '14 at 14:04
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    Another example for "why not PDF" is that if you render your PDF from LaTeX, you'll get some hyphenation which is rather difficult to de-hyphenate accurately should the text need to be re-flowed. With Word, that's not an issue at all. – Mike A. Oct 18 '14 at 15:24
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It is much easier to find copy-editors with Word skills than Latex skills. I am aware of two journals that used to accept submissions written in Latex that switched to Word-only because they could not find editors with the skills needed for Latex, and of another that is considering this switch.

There is a big problem with Latex as an authoring format, which is that it is a sophisticated and not terribly readable programming language, one that encourages people to hack up idiosyncratic macros for use in their articles. If you have 10 papers to be edited into an issue of a journal, life is much harder if each of the papers defines its own macros to do roughly similar things in incompatible ways, with possible and hard to deal with namespace collisions. This also means that the skills needed for editing in Latex are higher than those needed for editing articles written in Word.

That said, journals that can handle this problem gain freedom from vendors in their publishing operations. It is no accident that Latex is more popular with smaller publishers than with the giant publishers.

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  • This doesn't really need to be true any more, given the emergence of a number of WYSIWYG LaTeX editors. – jakebeal Dec 9 '14 at 18:25
  • @jakebeal - Graphical support for Latex does not make the task of editing someone else's Latex any easier. Graphical UIs for Latex are easily flummoxed by typical user-supplied macros. Lyx has the best support for various conference styles, but chokes on many Latex files; see tex.stackexchange.com/a/2966/175 – Charles Stewart Dec 9 '14 at 20:52
  • My point is that you can now use latex effectively without ever having to learn a difficult language or be encouraged to create nasty macros. A WYSIWYG editor greatly reduces the incentives for both, as has been seen with HTML editors. – jakebeal Dec 10 '14 at 1:06
  • @jakebeal Sure: it's easier to get into Latex than ever before. But that is not why many journals in highly numerate fields don't accept Latex submissions. – Charles Stewart Dec 10 '14 at 9:51
  • @krnk - Minimalist formats are great when you don't need advanced content: they force separation of content from presentation and they give complete freedom of choice of publication format: Pandoc allows publication to Word's docx, Latex, Context, several e-Book formats and MathML formats. But often authors need more sophisticated representation of content than truly portable formats can provide. – Charles Stewart Dec 10 '14 at 9:55
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Similar to jakebeal, Peter Jansson, and this https://forums.adobe.com/thread/1046940 website. I would propose the reason for format is usually based on the end goal, which determines why someone prefers a format. Some journal or conference that uses professional graphic designers or wants the comfort/freedom of an easily formatted manuscript may want to use inDesign (one of the standards for making book layouts).

Even if inDesign is not the end point, it could just be easier to layout a microsoft template, or could just be easier because the typesetter for a journal is accustom to those options.

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