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I'm going to write my master thesis in Computer Science, regarding Operation Research, (in Italian). I have about a month and a half to collect the results and write everything down.

I have had a good deal of experience with LaTeX, but I can't say I'm "enjoying" it as much as it was the first time, when everything was new and looked cool. Now I know LaTeX's shortcomings and ugliness, and it somehow lost its "beauty" to me. This may seem a stupid remark to do on a typesetting language but it's still reasonable in my opinion.

So I'd be curious about what I could get if I changed for change's sake, i.e. try something new, possibly better. The best candidate for this "adventure" would be ContTeXt. I'm fairly sure ConTeXt won't require me to cut&paste my favourite "preamble" into my thesis, as I did with every other tex file instead, and it may allow me to get fancy effects in an easier way than with LaTeX, or get me a more readable source. The cons are obviously the learning curve, having to convert it back to LaTeX if I get to write an article out of it, or lose time to get things done.

So, I'm wondering if you had compelling arguments to make me either switch to ConTeXt or stay with LaTeX?

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I think you should read: Why should I be interested in ConTeXt –  zeroth Feb 27 '12 at 21:26
    
Already read it. The question wasn't specific enough for me tough. There the user was considering learning ConTeXt in no particular time for an unspecified task. I'm considering learning it now in short time to write a thesis. And thus I'm more interested in the short-term benefits of using ConTeXt for a thesis, while I often read ConTeXt excels at using precise formatting for self-published books or forms. –  user881430 Feb 27 '12 at 21:53
    
How about LuaLaTeX instead? –  Emre Feb 27 '12 at 22:13
    
Hmm... what advantages would it have? UTF-8 works just fine for me with plain latex –  user881430 Feb 27 '12 at 23:03
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6 Answers

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Compelling argument to stay with the "better the devil you know".

I have about a month and a half to collect the results and write everything down.

ContTeXt, is an excellent format, but has a steep learning curve. I don't think a month and a half is adequate to master it never mind "collect the results and write everything down."

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Given that I'm not trying to convince all the potential users, I can try to persuade you to use ConTeXt MKIV with the following points:

  1. I'm using ConTeXt from more than 10 years
  2. I'm italian
  3. I'm an IT engineer
  4. I've found that MKIV is fun to program (NOTE: 'fun' is not 'easy')
  5. I've found that is funny to interface a C library with ConTeXt MKIV (see here) --- can be useful if you need to program in C for your thesis. You can even "push" this idea and say "my this thesis is the program" --- ok, the old literate programming concept, but how many thesis have you seen that can say this ?
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Out of curiosity, how do you manage to employ TeX derivatives at work? I have the impression that Word is used a lot outside of academia instead, even for tasks TeX ought to be better suited. –  user881430 Feb 28 '12 at 19:10
    
Database publishing (see wikipedia) with pdftex is a competitive entry level solution, and can become a stable solution. Luatex add more power, and ConTeXt is well suited for these task.See also de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database_Publishing , dante.de/events/dante2012/Programm/Vortraege.html#Gundlach , de.wikipedia.org/wiki/DocScape –  Luigi Scarso Feb 29 '12 at 5:29
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I am not sure if you are asking a real question. It is more like you are seeking an advice so here it comes...

As somebody who spent most of my adult life in academia, I would very strongly advise you that you focus on the content of your master thesis as oppose to waist your limited time learning new fancy tools for writing the thesis. So unless the ConTeXt is the part of your thesis research stay as far away as possible from ConTeXt for the next month and a half. I would give you the same advice even if the only tool you had to write your thesis was a pencil and a paper.

How you spend your time after you complete master thesis is entirely up to you and your potential employer. I would encourage you to try as many things as you have time for. So make learning ConTeXt your #1 priority after you graduate.

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I have about a month and a half to collect the results and write everything down.

I have written a couple of CS theses and have been supervising a lot more of them. Oh, I know your attitude ("I have to write my thesis in short time. Let's try a new tool!") well, too well. It is so common among CS students, especially among the better ones. We love challenges! We love learning new things! We love cool tools! We love...

It is an utterly wrong idea!

While I do sympathize with the wish to make "thesis writing more fun", you are in fact asking us for allowance to procrastinate from it. It is not about LaTeX vs. ConTeX! Ask yourself about your real motivation.

Believe me: Six weeks already is pretty short time for a good masters thesis!

Use the tools you are used to and start writing today!

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A good argument for staying with LaTeX: good theses normally result in one or more publications, or at least conference proceedings. Nearly every journal that I know of accepts LaTeX and not ConTeXt. Therefore, it is quite likely that you are going to need to copy-and-paste a large part of your thesis into a LaTeX document.

(Incidentally, the same argument applies for the question "should I write in English or in my native language?", which you might have asked yourself).

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Though I won't speak about ConText, I will (as Federico Poloni did) of LaTeX. My DPhil thesis supervisor is almost completely computer illiterate (e.g., she doesn't "do Skype" as she's afraid of "virtual reality"). She requires me to send her Word files, so she can add comments and use track-changes. Thus, I began writing it using the infernal Word. After a couple years, I decided to switch back to LaTeX---a relatively well-known territory for me, where I could decide exactly (with the help of experts from this and other forums) how things ought to be: cross-references, multiple bibliographies, and so many other goodies.

But notice I have been using LaTeX for some years now, so I did not have to learn a new language. I'm often tempted to use XeLaTeX for my thesis (in humanities), due to its beauty, but I have refrained (as to-day) from doing so---it has several mysteries still (uncompatible packages, to name one), and so I don't want to un-XeLaTeXise my final manuscript one week before handing it to my comitee.

You may wonder what I did to avoid the Word requirement from my supervisor. I use TeX4ht to convert my .tex files into OpenOffice, and from there to Word is no problem. (I still have to tweek a few things in the .docx, and then I have to introduce my supervisor's all-too many comments and changes.)

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