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I am close to finishing my PhD. Some of my peers use LaTeX. Obviously, it looks much better than Word and alike. As I wrote a few papers that go into my final thesis, I however have numerous formats depending on the journal in question. I would like to transform them all into one final document with matching layout. I am OK with TeX, but I'd rather see a professional do it.

I am now considering two options:

  1. Taking my limited TeX-Knowhow to the next level.

  2. Hiring an expert.

My time is limited. I've got a couple more weeks to go and that should be enough for option #1, as I already know a bit of TeX. But I am an external PhD student and I work on the side.

I have two questions:

  1. What factors should I take into consideration in deciding which route to take?

  2. If I decide for an expert, what criteria do I need to evaluate if the expert is any good?

  • 63
    Once I worked (for hire) with translating a master thesis to LaTeX... and I don't recommend it. Even at a low $/h rate it gets costly (LaTeX takes time...) and you would be stripped of the full control. And if you want to stay in science, creating good documents without someone's else help will be an important skill. If anything, I would rather ask/pay only for LaTeX corrections/proofreading than translating it from hand-written notes or Word documents. – Piotr Migdal Sep 8 '15 at 7:13
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    I agree with Piotr that investing your own time would give you a better result now, and useful skills for the future -- especially since you say you're already OK with TeX. However, if you really do want to hire someone else, you might find better answers on tex.stackexchange.com . In fact, something very similar to your question has already been asked there.. The answers to this question may also be useful to you. – Pont Sep 8 '15 at 7:32
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    Please read @PiotrMigdal's comment carefully. In particular, you would be stripped of the full control. Exactly because you have time constraints, you want to do it yourself. You don't want to wait for someone to finalize your PhD thesis the week before the thesis defense. – scaaahu Sep 8 '15 at 7:55
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    @jakebeal (me coming from TeX.SE) I don't 100% agree, I think the relation to academia can be important. – yo' Sep 8 '15 at 13:04
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    @jakebeal This isn't a technical question about writing latex code (which would belong on TeX, but not here). If a question could belong on another site, but is still on-topic for this site, that's not a reason to close it. – ff524 Sep 8 '15 at 17:01

12 Answers 12

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(I will quote a comment by kahen and a chat message by Ulrike Fischer.)

You have got three qualities of the thesis production: good, cheap, fast. You can choose two.

  • Hiring a LaTeX specialist is good (if you find a good one), fast (if you find a good one) but expensive --- typesetting a 100-page thesis can take around 20--30 hours of work, easily more depending on the text, on the person you work with, on the amount of discussion about the appearance, proofreading etc.

  • Making it yourself is cheap. However, unless you are Jarod from the Pretender series or you know LaTeX already, it cannot be both good and fast.

Of course, making it yourself is better in moving your LaTeX skills forward, but I do not think this is crucial for an academic career, surely it is not more crucial than submitting a quality thesis in time. People hire services of all kinds, you get grant-writing, typesetting, conference organization, IT, etc. --- very various kind of out-sourced services for which someone can say: "A good researcher has to be able to do this."

To answer your question about LaTeX services: I doubt universities have, in general, such services themselves. Some have a LaTeX theses class (of varying quality), some even do not have this. However, there are independent LaTeX consults and consulting companies. I can't list any since (1) I don't know them and (2) this is not an advertising site. However, remember that these people are highly specialized, and the prices of their services reflect this.

  • 3
    In particular, getting someone at short notice will be more expensive than if you are flexible with regard to scheduling. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Sep 8 '15 at 10:16
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    I do not think this is crucial for an academic career — Unless your work in a field where most papers are written and published using LaTeX (like mathematics, physics, and most of computer science). – JeffE Sep 8 '15 at 14:37
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    @JeffE It isn't a question of wanting to do it badly. But sometimes, it makes sense to want to do something well enough, without wanting to do it well. Time and attention are short. You have limited resources. You need to jump through a hoop, satisfy an institutional requirement, get a publication.... Since a journal is going to impose their style anyway, how long should I spend worrying about the aesthetics of my submission? I need it to be readable, clear... good enough. Especially if I have to satisfy formatting requirements which undermine typographic quality anyway (e.g. double spacing). – cfr Sep 9 '15 at 12:29
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    +1 for "surely it is not more crucial than submitting a quality thesis in time." – Reinstate Monica Sep 9 '15 at 23:32
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    Actually, people do care a lot about good typesetting, and it is crucial for an academic career in any maths-related subject! Just not all people care consciously. But a well-typeset thesis is easier to read and to remember. If I have two articles with similar results, one with good typesetting, the other with bad typesetting, I'll certainly cite the one with good typesetting. The chances that I've misunderstood a formula because of bad typesetting is too big. – Turion Sep 10 '15 at 14:19
15

This is a bad idea, as others have said. Instead I'd recommend a very simple copy-and-paste job by yourself. Once you have a template configured (I'm using arsclassica, for example), writing LaTeX is for the most part just plain text; 90% of your thesis will copy-and-paste over without incident. Of course, the remaining 10% (tables, references, equations) will be more painful but after a few hours you'll have a great looking document and a decent life skill.

An alternative is to try an online LaTeX IDE like overleaf (formerly writelatex) which some seem to prefer. I wouldn't recommend desktop LaTeX WYSIWYG editors, if you have all your content prepared I'd imagine such an approach would be more of a headache then the copy-and-paste method.

Finally, as yo alludes to, many academics do just fine producing horribly-formatted documents, posters and presentations — it's the content that's important afterall.

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    Can you emphasize using Overleaf more? That is the option I came to suggest. Overleaf at least provides a controlled environment and should take a lot of the configuration headache away. – Phil H Sep 8 '15 at 15:12
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    I don't have much experience with it myself (I'm an emacs guy), just I know of previously LaTeX-unaware PhD students that used it for their theses and likewise were positive about it. – blmoore Sep 9 '15 at 9:58
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The best thing to do would be to practice it yourself and code with the help from forums such as TeX-LaTeX at StackExchange. If your school/university provides the class file for LaTeX formats, then more than half your thesis compilation work is already done for you. The Wikibook on LaTeX is a great start and should have nearly all you need to start typesetting your thesis in LaTeX.

As my University didn't have a standard thesis class (at that time) I had to come up with my own class file for my masters thesis by deriving it from the existing thesis.cls class file. It may take a bit of work for a week or two. But it really pays off at the long run. I never thought typesetting a thesis would be much simpler. I had a much easier time than my colleagues who used Word and was very easy to make from the very minute to the most complex changes without affecting the perfection of the formatting. It is what LaTeX is all about: focus on the content and not the formatting.

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    Thank you, I agree. But I am down to quite a time constraint. I thus merely see a professional service as a quick fix. – Rachel Sep 8 '15 at 7:37
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    How much time do you have left - days, weeks or months? It took me less than a month to learn and typeset my masters thesis. – Ébe Isaac Sep 8 '15 at 7:41
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    The WikiBook is not a great start (IMHO). There are much better choices listed here. – yo' Sep 8 '15 at 9:23
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    I wonder how you managed to leave this until the last few weeks of a PhD program.... – Lightness Races with Monica Sep 8 '15 at 11:45
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: I did not. All my articles are formatted individually (depending on the Journal requirement, some even with TeX). Im Ok with TeX, but I would like the final document to look much more professional than what I did so far. I hence am thinking about a professional touch up. – Rachel Sep 8 '15 at 12:23
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Here's my brief story and two cents, since as recently as half a year ago I was in a similar situation. I was not considering hiring someone to help with LaTeX conversion or typesetting (so I won't be commenting on that aspect), so when I said "similar" I meant that in a sense that I had to choose between mastering LaTeX to a level good enough to produce my dissertation report of good quality format-wise and producing it in Microsoft Word, the format, which I have used for all of the previous iterations of my dissertation artifacts (multiple revisions of idea paper, proposal and dissertation report drafts). While I had essentially relatively much more time than you have now, I still decided against ultimately converting my dissertation into LaTeX format (though I have made some brief attempts, mostly using various software programs that automatically convert some formats into LaTeX with varying degree of accuracy). I submitted my final revision in the Word format, but when it was time to submit the document to my institutional e-repository and ProQuest, I have just converted it to PDF format, using Word's export functionality and the result was good enough.

I have made that decision, considering all circumstances at hand and realizing that it would be more valuable to not jeopardize my dissertation schedules, deadlines and defense, while, at the same time, spend more time on producing better software for data analysis and other tasks. Because I understood the importance of mastering LaTeX for my future career of researcher, I decided to go the gentle introduction route and started learning enough LaTeX and various packages (which involved lots of Internet surfing and some TeX.SE activity), so that I could use some of that functionality in my data analysis software reporting modules (hello, reproducible research!) as well as in my dissertation defense presentation slides (using LaTeX/Beamer).

While most previous answers make sense in various aspects, essentially they all are missing your main point and limitation:

"My time is limited. I've got a couple more weeks to go...".

From my experience, it would be rather naive to expect to master LaTeX and a set of necessary supporting packages to be able to produce a good quality dissertation/thesis completely in LaTeX (even without fully reproducible workflow; that is, if you have some kind of data analysis part). Of course, it is possible, if you have had enough past experience of typesetting documents in LaTeX.

P.S. While I said that I won't be commenting on the hiring external LaTeX expert perspective, I just wanted to warn you that, if you will decide to go this route, it is imperative that you would be absolutely confident in a person, whose help you will use, especially, considering your tight deadlines. It is quite risky, as if something will go wrong (that person will not honor time frames or will have issues with conversion or will produce document of poor quality, etc.), you can imagine what kind of problems you might get yourself into. So, unless some people that you trust would highly recommend someone and assure about their LaTeX mastery as well as easiness to work with, I would stay away from that route for good. Good luck with your thesis and its defense!

9

So here is what I did: I did it myself. However, I used a professional academic LaTeX and proofreading service as a final checkpoint - correcting both grammar/syntax and format/layout. I found numoerous services online and chose for a service offered by a renounced journal in my field. I believe I chose for the right mixture between knuckling down on my own and professional help. Thanks again for all the advice.

8

I agree with the sentiment(s) above. If you are really invested in having a nicely formatted document, learning LaTeX might serve you well. For me personally, using a program like LyX helped me make the transition between WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What you Get") editors like MS Word and LaTeX. I know that some people will disagree with me, but it worked pretty well for me.

Knowing people that already know how to use LaTeX or LyX will probably be your best resource if you are under a time constraint (you mentioned that some of your peers use LaTeX; maybe they have a template you can use). I was also surprised how much a mathematics/computer science research librarian was able to help me.

  • 2
    +1 for the research librarian. I'm always amazed at how little graduate students take advantage of their field specialists at the libraries. – user0721090601 Sep 10 '15 at 2:44
  • @guifa Well, no school I know has any good library service for academic stuff, not speaking about students. The most I have seen is that "they're willing to get an article for you outside the standard university subscriptions. – yo' Sep 10 '15 at 12:17
  • @yo' It's definitely going to depend on university (or even individual employees, really). Out of the four universities I've been associated with, two have had excellent specialists in my field, one did not, and the other I can't judge because I was in undergrad and never tried taking advantage of. Obviously, when you have a 1:10-20 ratio of librarian:faculty, they can't be super specialized so they'll be of less use to faculty, but for students they can be a real boon (especially with the tech side — people with MLSs tend to know as much or more than people with degrees with CS, IME) – user0721090601 Sep 10 '15 at 12:27
  • @yo' The research librarians at the university I got my PhD at were magnificent. Taught me things about finding literature that I didn't even know I didn't know. To the point that the default starting advice for many major projects was "Book an appointment with one of the public health librarians." – Fomite Sep 10 '15 at 18:29
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Evaluating costs and benefits.

This is not a LaTeX only problem, it is valid for almost every decision we make.

Is this a one time thing or are you planning on using LaTeX to prepare other documents in the future? If you would hire an experts once a year, this will be quite costly.
Many people do not like the work with LaTeX, because that little bit of abstract imagination that you need is missing. You got that? Great.
Are you open to the idea of expanding your knowledge? Great.

Getting around the basics should not take longer than a day. Preparation for writing a thesis might take a few days. Once you have a solid foundation, prettyfying your thesis will be easy. If you have problems, you have enough knowledge to post a good and clear question that can be answered within an hour on TeX.SE. You will learn something new and will have fun.


You need this done just once and don't want to invest time in learning something you will never need again.

Looking out for someone to hire ...

How do you do it when you are looking for a mechanic to fix your car or a doctor to fix up your knee? You talk to people, do some research, read some reviews etc.

As already mentioned, there are experts that can do the job for you. There are also non-experts who want to do the job for you, because you have the money. They might think they are experts, though.

Service A has a nice and professional looking web site, whereas service B has a pretty ugly website. Service A charges more than twice the price than service B, of course you have to ask for the prices first.

Who do you choose? Ask a bit around and you will be told, that service A provides rubbish with a high chance; whereas service B will, with a very high chance, do some excellent work.1


In conclusion, you are responsible as an intelligent human being for making a reasonable decision. Will learning LaTeX pay out for me, or should i pay someone to help me?

1 Yes, this is a real case example.

5

Unless your subject is very mathematical and you have lots of equations in your thesis, I would stay away from latex at this stage-just use what you're more familiar with (I believe you're studying economics). Do not trivialise how much of latex you need to know to produce a good quality thesis bearing in mind you only have a few weeks and you're also working on the side. Alternatively, if you're ok with latex then just try it yourself for a week and see how you get on. As already mentioned, you really have to trust whomever you contract your thesis out to at this stage.

You also have to consider whether your supervisors or collaborators would be happy to edit your work in pdf which is the format latex produces-I've been forced to do my work in word because my supervisors prefer to add comments, etc in word. You don't want to do the same work twice!

4

I would strongly advise against making the conversion yourself. Latex hase some nasty caveats which can cost huge amounts of time (creating a double-page table...), if you don't know how to solve them. Combine that with other last minute work, your work and you have a recipe for much more stress than is healthy.

  • 2
    The example problem you mention can be solved in minutes with the help of a simple search. You'll probably find this is the case for any common issue you come across when assembling a thesis in LaTeX. – blmoore Sep 9 '15 at 10:07
  • @blmoore Jep, can be googled. As I have written my thesis in January 2011, I would have needed a time machine... even then, I need the tables rotated and broken across multiple pages. That works, but isn't fun. You can google all thins latex, it costs time - time which can be spent on other topics, especially in the last two weeks. – Christian Sauer Sep 9 '15 at 17:20
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The most time efficient may be to autoconvert it and then fix the resultant markup. Although I started with TeX and was converting to other formats (*.docx and MediaWiki), I have had acceptable results with Pandoc. The main caveat I have is that tables required special attention to fix.

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    jup, see this great Pandoc introduction for non-techies – mb21 Sep 10 '15 at 7:26
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    Hello! The original post contains 2 questions. Please, how do you answer at least one of them? – yo' Sep 10 '15 at 12:15
  • It addresses the first, namely the underlying assumption that there are only two options (diy from scratch vs hire expert). – Tekgno Sep 13 '15 at 1:25
  • +1 I imagine some combination of pandoc and gui-driven latex editors can get a solid foundation going that you can later tweak, or, if you must, hire someone for cheaper than doing it from scratch – Paul Gowder Dec 28 '15 at 22:33
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At my university there was an ancient latex class going around that had been used for years. Some of the comments date back to 1993!

If you know any other grad students it might be worth asking them if they have the appropriate style files and classes etc, with a bare-bones outline of their thesis. That's what I did for mine.

Even if you don't know any other PhD students at your university then I'm sure you could track down an email list and spam it. I think people will help you out because everyone knows that Latex can be a pain.

I would advise taking this approach or just trying to figure it out yourself. I did my PhD in Astrophysics and it had a lot of Maths in. After my viva I had a few corrections, most were very minor but involved fiddly corrections in Latex. If you pay someone it could be tricky to communicate exactly what the examiner is asking for.

If you want I could try to dig out my old classes/style files to get you started, but they are specific to my university.

3

LaTeX is very easy to master in a one or two days. What you need to do is make a list of the non-trivial typesetting tasks. E.g. your thesis may contain equations, tables, figures, pictures etc.. Then you just look up in LateX manuals that you can also find online what the commands are. You then make a test tex file where you put in a template for each of the objects, compile it and then see if he result is what is should be. You can then make a few template tex files containing examples for whatever objects you need to use.

The next step is then to make a master text file containing the preamble and each chapter can be put in separate tex files. So, instead of putting the whole content in one big file, you make a master file containing commands like \include{file_1} \include{file_2} etc.

where file_r.tex contains the rth chapter. This allows you to work on the editing of the chapters separately. If one chapter requires some more studying to get the typesetting right, you can just skip that one and finish work on the other chapters. You can compile the entire thesis without that chapter, so it's not going to be an obstacle to finish all the other work that you can already do.

So, I would advice against hiring an expert. In case you get stuck, you can get help from experts here who help people free of charge.

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    Hello! The original post contains 2 questions. Please, how do you answer at least one of them? – yo' Sep 10 '15 at 12:16
  • @yo' I've included my answer to the second question. – Count Iblis Sep 10 '15 at 16:16
  • I wouldn't say "Master" in one or two days. Become basically proficient in, maybe. – Lyndon White Sep 11 '15 at 6:08
  • -1 - this looks like bad advice to me. Many "nontrivial typesetting tasks" require changes in the preamble; splitting the chapters into separate files does not help with that, and is an added complication (for a non-techie). – Federico Poloni Jan 15 '16 at 14:01

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