While collaboration platforms such as Google Drive and Dropbox have greatly enhanced collaborative possibilities, including co-editing a document, the Word-or-Latex schism still poses a serious challenge. I've had to migrate to Word (and suffer) in some collaborations, while in others I convinced my co-authors to move the document to LaTex, but then I was the one receiving text bits to incorporate back into the document and share the compiled PDF (via Dropbox that's easy).
For someone used to LaTex, Word is quite awkward: handling different document components such as bibliography and sectioning is cumbersome; journal templates are easier to use in LaTex; writing formulas is much easier. For Word-users, LaTex usually seems intimidating, as it is not WYSIWYG (you must click a button to compile the text and then see the resulting PDF in a separate PDF viewer).
One solution is the open-source Lyx package, which has a graphical interface with LaTex "under the hood". I personally found it unsatisfactory, as it is "not here nor there"...
So what to do if you're a LaTex junky and want to move a project from Word into LaTex? Let's start with the initial migration. Here are a few useful tools that I discovered:
- Tables: To convert a table from Word into a LaTex table, copy-paste into Excel and then use the Excel2Latex tool. Simply download the xla file and open it in Excel. It will add an add-in menu. Choose the table, click the convert button, and you can choose either to copy the LaTex code or to export it to a .tex file.
- Bibliography: To convert a Word Bibliography file into a LaTex bib file, use the neat Word2Bibtex tool. Download the bibtex.xsl file and follow the directions. Note: the tool will only work if you have administrator privileges on the computer, as it requires copying a file into an "admin only" folder.
- Figures: unlike Word, where you copy-paste images, in LaTex you'll need them as separate image files (png, jpg, eps, etc.). If you only have a few, right-click each figure in Word, then "Save as image" and choose png or jpg. If you already have a bunch of figures in the Word doc, save the doc as "filtered HTML". This will create a separate folder with all the image files (if they are saved as gif, you'll have to convert them to png or jpg).
Now, to the co-editing of the tex file. I have still not completely resolved the problem of the non-LaTex collaborators editing the file. I always get the question: "can you send me a Word version so that I can edit it?". Here are some options:
- They can annotate the PDF file using highlighting and sticky notes.
- They can copy-paste from the PDF file into Word. Figures can be copied using Acrobat Reader's Edit > Take a Snapshot, but they are usually not needed for editing.
- They can open the .tex file with Wordpad for editing the text.
- It's also possible to convert back to Word: The Latex2rtf tool should do that (it actually clashed with my TexStudio editor and erased my tex file!)
Another solution is to use a cloud LaTex platform, such as ShareLaTex.com. The advantage is that there's no need to install software and the editor + viewer are nicely set side-by-side with a big green "recompile" button. The free version allows collaborating with one free user. The paid versions are more generous (I like the "coming soon" integrations with Google Drive and Dropbox!).
- Catch #1: you must be online to compile.
- Catch #2: long documents such as books can take substantially longer to compile online compared to locally.
- Catch #3: if the non-LaTex collaborator uses some tex-unfriendly text (such as a $ sign to denote USD), the compilation will fail. So, basic tex knowledge is needed - or babysitting by the LaTex-head collaborator.
Would love to hear from others tackling these collaborative issues and have found good solutions.