Background: I work in a field where the use of LaTeX is common but still far from universal. So far I have been lucky in that all my coauthors in the past have been fellow LaTeX users, so collaboration boiled down to creating a shared Dropbox folder with the .tex and .bib files we were working on. Now I'm starting a collaboration with two colleagues who use Word, so they have proposed to collaborate with Google Docs. There are various reasons why this is a bad idea, the main one being that writing this paper is going to require doing things that are easy in LaTeX but difficult and time-consuming in Google Docs (or in a standard word processor, for that matter) ---e.g., Greek letters for variables, assorted math/logic symbols, trees (in the graph-theoretic sense), or frequent crossreferencing in the running text of numbered examples.

Conflict: One of my colleagues has already said he has no interest in learning LaTeX. On the other hand, I don't want to go hunting through the Google Docs character map every time I need to insert a non-Latin character.

Question: Is there any collaborative writing software that allows including LaTeX tags and environments in a Word-like document? For example, when I'm writing semi-informal things like lecture notes, I can get by with markdown and then generate a pdf with pandoc. I don't know of any online services with similar functionality.

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    What do you mean by "collaborative"? Would LyX in Dropbox be an option? – Federico Poloni May 7 '15 at 12:12
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    It will take your colleagues longer to learn LaTeX than it will take you to stumble through a standard word processor. Welcome to collaboration - I think you just need to suck it up. – user1220 May 7 '15 at 21:19
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    Writing math without LaTeX is like a one-legged kicker trying to kick a field goal. Silly. – Daniel W. Farlow May 8 '15 at 4:08
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    One of the least-bad options may actually be MS Word, if everybody has access to it. Recent versions have a new maths system that allows much LaTeX syntax. – Flyto May 8 '15 at 7:23
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    @user31013: I disagree. The colleagues do not need to learn all of LaTeX. I am pretty sure Koldito can use his LaTeX experience to write up the preamble, plus any macros that might become necessary. At that point, using LaTeX for the body of the document is about as simple as any other markup language. – DevSolar May 8 '15 at 8:01

Excluding LaTeX-focused online collaboration services, such as ShareLaTeX, due to your new collaborators' preferences, I think that you have pretty much two major options, as follows:

Both online academic collaboration services support simultaneous use of LaTeX and WYSIWYG rich text mode, Authorea also supports some other formats, such as Markdown and HTML. Both services (to various extent) offer other nice collaborative features, such as data sharing, version control, revision notes and much more. Due to multi-format support, I would prefer Authorea to Overleaf, however, the final decision should be made upon a comprehensive comparison of both services across all available features and your detailed requirements as well as some testing.

P.S. Just for completeness, I will mention two other options. The first is to use blog engines that support both WYSIWYG and LaTeX (most of the major ones do: from WordPress to Jekyll). It's a decent option, but I would prefer one of the above-mentioned dedicated services, for multiple reasons. The second option is to self-host RStudio Server (or maybe a custom Shiny application), which would allow academic collaborative writing, using RMarkdown, but IMHO this is the worst solution possible, as trying to implement various needed features and solve issues, such as version control integration, would bring you and your collaborators a lot of headaches.

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    With a non-LaTeX collaborator, we just decided to give markdown (not much greek or maths anticipated) + git a try. Our institue policy prefers to keep the evolving documents completely in house, so we use our own git server and cloud services are typically not an option (would need formal approval wrt. data security/privacy - which is burocratic nightmare - and e.g. US based services are unlikely to get approval). – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 7 '15 at 17:16
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    @cbeleites: Thank you for your comment. Yes, Markdown + git seems to me like a sensible solution. BTW, Markdown supports math, etc. via extensions and/or external tools. The most popular one is likely pandoc (of the latter), which I'm sure you're aware of. Many other options are listed on this page. – Aleksandr Blekh May 7 '15 at 17:39

If you're willing to drop "online service" requirement you might consider showing them LyX, which is a WYSWIM/WYSWIG editor that:

  • Compiles to latex
  • Allows one to add basic formatting as in word
  • Allows one to add figures, tables, citations as in word.
  • Allows one to add raw LaTeX code
  • Has super-usable equation editor that compiles code to latex, but you can insert equations without writing latex (you can write it if you want).

LyX window

Lyx is not so good at sharing --- but I've collaboratively worked on Lyx files using Git repository (you might use any other versioned service), and it was a very good experience.

There is a slight problem --- if your colleagures don't use any version control system (or don't know what it is), in this case it is possible to:

  • On windows: use some Git Gui (Tortoise Git). I've seen non-technical people use Tortoise SVN to share documents.
  • On Linux: add some scripts that perform VCS operations.
  • In comments using Dropbox was suggested --- but Git is obviously better choice in terms of feature-set and stability, Dropbox may be easier to learn.
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    Git beats Dropbox even blindfolded on a unicycle, in terms of solidity and capabilities. I suggested Dropbox only because it is easier to use for non-techies. If someone isn't willing to learn LaTeX, I imagine they don't want git either. – Federico Poloni May 10 '15 at 8:50
  • I strongly support that git is better than Dropbox for sharing, as Dropbox easily becomes a nightmare of there are conflicting files. – Thomas Arildsen Aug 1 '15 at 21:44

I worked with someone who didn't use LaTeX, and by the last paper we worked on together, we figured out something that worked for us:

  • I wrote it in word, peppered with things like\cite{CiteKey}, \caption{\label{fig_some_figure}This is the figure caption} and \ref{fig_some_figure} (i.e. all the crossreferencing stuff).
  • The equations (only a handful) were pasted as images from a compiled LaTeX .pdf.
  • The figures were converted to .bmp (word doesn't handle any sensible vector graphics formats, or at least didn't in the version I couldn't be bothered to upgrade from).
  • The contents of the relevant .bib file was at the end.

The figures needed commenting on and only the text needed editing so it worked out for us. We used word's "track changes" tools for the text edits. At the end I just pasted the text into a text editor, added about 3 \emph{}s and compiled. It's a complete hack of a way of working but the extra effort was minimal and all on my side, so a saving of effort compared to writing a paper in word, which realistically was the alternative.

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To address the non-latin character problem you mentioned in the "conflict" paragraph, you should use AutoHotKey (Windows) or AutoKey (Linux) to insert the characters for you when you type in specific sequences of keystrokes. The gif explains what I mean. You type /delta and it automatically gets converted to δ (regardless of application).

enter image description here

Instructions are given here

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    Why is that a forward slash and not a backslash? Is it because of Windows' 'reverse all slashes' policy? ;-) – David Roberts Jan 23 '16 at 0:27
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    It's intentionally the opposite slash so as to not obstruct standard LaTeX commands. I wouldn't want to be writing LaTeX files and have \delta change to a δ – hugke729 Jan 23 '16 at 0:39
  • Makes sense, and I take back my sarcastic remark. – David Roberts Jan 23 '16 at 2:37

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