John A. Kinsella
John.Kinsella at ul.ie
Thu Nov 30 09:56:51 GMT 2006
I recently (again in UL) had to produce a large report (say 200 pps) as
part of a Quality audit (don't ask).
I was told that I had to use Word though I would have much preferred to
It (using Word) was a nightmare. Clashing style sheets when
contributions from different people were merged. Wierd errors that
no-one could figure out.
Even what *should* have been easy - inserting spreadsheets and graphics
from MS Office components like Excel - was extremely fiddly.
We actually had to pay a "technical writer" - a Word guru - to sort out
our probs. And this despite the fact that our Dept secretaries have 10
or more years experience with Word.
I will never willingly use Word again...
I regularly produce large docs with LaTeX - outputting pdf docs usually
- and the production process is straightforward while the result is
vastly more polished and professional.
As to the learning curve being steep; if you just want to produce a text
doc with sectionning you can get going in an hour. The secret is to have
some carefully chosen examples to work with.
Gavin McCullagh said in an email sent on 30/11/06 09:41 that:
> On Wed, 29 Nov 2006, Cian Davis wrote:
>>I'm on the research training committee in UL, which is trying to define a
>>training schedule for researchers. There is a Word training session as
>>well as managing large documents.
>>I pointed out that Word is shite, particularly for large documents and
>>tables etc., and suggested LaTeX. Of course the question was, do you know
>>anyone who could teach that?
> I think that's over-stating things a little. I would be a LaTeX advocate,
> but I recognise that MS Word or OpenOffice are perfectly capable for many
> people's day-to-day word processing needs. Most of my colleagues did their
> theses in Word without any grave incidents.
> I'd be a little cautious about advocating LaTeX as an alternative to word
> processors for everyone. Non-technical people will probably have used word
> processors a lot and LaTeX will seem rather arcane.
>>So starting out, it would be the basics and then working forward with a
>>particular emphasis on using it to write a thesis. Remember that will
>>there will be IT research students, there will be Humanities and the
>>likes as well - so they would need to be able to teach to both :-)
> The IT research students probably shouldn't need such a course, but it's no
> harm to offer it to them and it might get them moving quicker which is
> good. They will also benefit from LaTeX's excellent math support and the
> learning curve will be relatively low. For them, this course is a good
> Most humanities people are likely to need support if they are to use LaTeX.
> If the support's not there, you'll likely get a >97% drop-out rate who will
> go back to word processors. You may be happy that they gave it a try, but
> forever more, they'll have a bad view of LaTeX. Will the cost of the
> course have been worth it then?
> First up they're going to have to get it installed on their own computer.
> This is not hard, but it's not trivial for someone who may not be used to
> installing software. Then they'll need to choose an editor (Winedt,
> WinShell, Emacs, etc?) or a Wysiwyg thing like LyX (which if you ask me is
> not that much of an improvement over a word processor unless you know how
> to edit the LaTeX where necessary). Then they need to get started with a
> first document. After about 5 minutes, they'll try to compile with a
> missing } and they'll get an error. If they persevere, they'll try to do a
> table, insert images (pdf, png or eps only), etc. These simple tasks will
> all seem very hard. These people have probably never programmed or written
> HTML. Who will create an appropriate style file and install the extra
> fonts they need?
> When they submit papers, they may be allowed submit them in PDF, but they
> might also be required to be in Word format (I know it's silly but it's
> true). After all that, if they leave that college and go out into the
> work-force or another college, they'll be told to use Word and have no
> support for anything else.
> I supported LaTeX part-time in a humanities research institute for 4 years.
> It made perfect sense when the support was there -- we typeset our own
> books in-house to a level of quality and reliability that Word could not
> even approach. But without support, almost nobody could have done it. Even
> with the support available, a substantial minority insisted on using Word
> for everything anyway.
> Sorry to be negative, but most people will go for low learning curve over
> reliability and quality every time,
John A. Kinsella Ph: +353-61-202148 (Direct)
+353-61-333644 x 2148 (Switch)
Mathematics Dept. e-mail: John.Kinsella at ul.ie
University of Limerick FAX: +353-61-334927
IRELAND Web: http://jkcray.maths.ul.ie
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