I am new to this website and I hope this is not considered off topic but how long does it take to format a book in LaTeX?

I understand this is a subjective question but maybe the "specs" of the book can make it less subjective. I do not have a lot of experience with LaTeX other than formatting posts over at math.se. Currently the book is in a .doc format and I am currently using a createspace template. The book is a non-fiction book.

160 Pages
Size: 5 x 8
Chapters 8
Contains few diagrams (maybe 5) Contains very little Math
The book does not have any footnotes

If you need anymore information, I would be more than happy to provide it.

Thanks a lot for your time!

  • Do you mean how long it would take a person to convert the book from .doc to .tex, with all the bells and whistles?
    – Ricardo
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 1:07
  • @Ricardo I'm not sure exactly what "bells and whistles" entails but something along those lines.
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 1:11
  • 2
    Bells and whistles would entail fully functional cross-references, bibliographies, generating graphs where appropriate instead of using external images. All this assumes that you would want a layout more or less identical to the one already existing in Word and that the content is already complete in word. I may be forgetting other things. Would it be safe to say you want a fully working replica of the Word document, within reason?
    – Ricardo
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 1:32
  • 4
    I agree with @Ricardo. LaTeX is not really meant for converting documents. Instead it is meant to implement a document from scratch, using existing "libraries" to implement the style.
    – user10274
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 8:15
  • 2
    Welcome to TeX.SE. I think it is going to really depend on exactly what is the purpose of the conversion, and what do you plan to do with it once you have it converted. Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 8:25

7 Answers 7


I can speak of a real experience with .doc to .tex conversion. The simple rule I have observed is: 5-10 minutes a page, if things go fluently.

What exactly is fluently (and how much more do the non-fluent things take):

  • no complicated math, i.e. no large matrices, no equations to be broken to multiple lines etc. (add 5-20 minutes per one complicated equation)

  • well prepared bibliography in bibTeX, JabRef or similar (add 2-5 minutes for each "bad" bibliography item)

  • printer-ready pictures, i.e. diagrams in vector format, photos in good quality etc. (add X minutes per one, where X is very dependent on the situation)

  • limited in-text formatting, i.e. bold/italic font (not in headers, I mean in the text) etc., biggest problem of this is that you easily miss that during conversion.

  • well-prepared tables, i.e. simple ones, or LaTeX-ready if complicated (taming complicated tables is sometimes a thing for the real masters, it takes up to cca 1 hour per 1 page of tables)

At the beginning or at the end, you have to add extra time if the person who does the conversion is supposed to choose the styles of the headers, captions, titles etc. This extra time is difficult to say. It's less than 1 hour if you don't want anything "fancy", it's many hours, if you want a unique brilliant style that thinks on every detail.

All the above is, moreover, true for someone experienced in LaTeX, who knows what to do, what not to do, how to quickly recognise and sort out compilation errors etc.

  • Wow, so I can expect more than 24 hrs of this for a best case scenario. How would you recommend, I approach this? According to a ehow article, you should separate your chapters into different documents and then work from there. Would you agree? And suppose, I have done everything correctly and everything is fine and dandy in LaTeX, I am able to convert the document into .pdf right?
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 12:48
  • @gekkostate How much do you know about LaTeX? And you are going to convert it yourself?
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 13:15
  • I know how to format equations and formulas in LaTeX and that's about it. The only reason I know this is because of Math.se. I have no formal training and by conversion, if you mean taking my .doc and converting to .tex then yes.
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 13:17
  • 10
    @gekkostate "good, fast, cheap - choose two". If you want it done well and fast, you're probably going to have to pay someone to do it for you. I think your local TUG could help with that. Good and cheap means DIY after learning a fair bit about LaTeX, so it's obviously not going to be fast - in fact your first and second tries will probably require a complete do over. And fast and cheap means forging ahead with minimal preparation. LaTeX has good defaults, so unless you have very specific formatting requirements the output probably won't be awful, but it won't be as good as it could be.
    – kahen
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 14:36
  • 1
    @Kahen hmm okay. Could you give me a few ideas on how to start? A tutorial or something? I'm going to try and format a few essays with LaTeX and see how that plays out and then try with a chapter.
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 15:13

There are a lot of variables that go into this, and they depend mostly on the tools (i.e. editor, etc.) you use. The number of chapter, section and subsection headings will complicate things, but as long as you know what they are called and can search for them, it shouldn't be too complicated to enclose them in the appropriate macro. Most of the work will be mindless copy/pasting (unless you decide to use something like antiword and then you suddenly find yourself with a new, completely different can of worms in your hands).

You will have to retype all the math. I don't think there's a way around that.

Figures and tables are an entire different beast. Depending on their complexity, how different they are from each other and where their data is stored, you are looking at as little as 10 minutes to as much as several hours, or even days, of work for each one. This also assumes you are fairly proficient in LaTeX.

Getting the format just right will also depend on what the original formatting requirements are. However, your first problem still is to get a compilable draft of the document.

Check out this discussion on how to convert from Word to LaTeX: Converting MS Word .doc to LaTeX by command line. It doesn't give you a time estimate, but it should point you in the right direction.


A complex bibliography, many footnotes will certainly complicate matters. If it is just "plain text", most of the job can be done automatically in a few minutes, and the time will go into proofreading the result isn't messed up and doing cleanup. As Svend Mortensen says, mathematics will complicate things, in that it will have to be rewritten almost from scratch (the mathematics handling in Office et al is horrible). Tables will have to be redone, and images might require adjustments (fix fonts to agree with the text, for one).

  • The book does not have a bibliography yet but it will be a simple one that has citations for resources that were used for each chapter. There no footnotes in the book at all.
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 1:40
  • Most of the job can be done automatically, that's true. Still, you have to go line by line and page by page through the text, to do the necessary small modifications that make perfection And this takes significant amount of time, it is quite annoying job and in cannot be done automatically.
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 8:54
  • @tohecz By the way, you could treat that as a general revision, then you don't have to think about going line by line, just reading again the whole document and then use that revision to correct small problems. IMO, (roughly) no extra time, just another revision.
    – Manuel
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 0:25
  • @Manuel Yes, but in non-TeX cases, this doesn't mean things like adding \@ after e.g., treatment of dashed and hyphens, correcting quotation marks etc.
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 8:39

As commenters and @SvendMortensen say, it depends.

That said, if it's mostly text you could consider saving the document as rtf and running an rtf2tex converter - perhaps http://www.ctan.org/pkg/rtf2tex or http://www.ctan.org/pkg/rtf2latex2e. (Google finds others.)

You would probably still have a fair bit of tinkering to do. That could be with some new macros, with tools that automate search and replace, and by hand.

Try one chapter first?

  • so the best option is to convert the .rtf to tex? Where would that take me? As in, will be given a tex file and then I will I can make changes from there? And would you recommend using "write2latex"?
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 2:25
  • I would recommend rtf2latex2e. It is actively developed, see rtf2latex2e.sourceforge.net. I used it successfully some time ago with an older version than available now – there were a lot manual work to do, though.
    – Speravir
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 3:35
  • @Speravir Yeah, after every conversion to LaTeX, there'll be a lot of manual work to do. The question is whether there's more after a conversion by such a program, or after a conversion "by hand".
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 8:46
  • @tohecz, what do you mean by "conversion by hand"? Retyping everything (or copy and paste from Word/Writer to <whatever editor you use>) is a lot of work.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 10:05
  • @vonbrand I do copy-paste from Word in the plain text mode. But it is actually one of the late steps in the conversion, I do a lot of things directly in Word.
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 10:07

It depends---among other thing---on the contents of the book. The time consumption is usually greater if there is a lot of mathematics in the book.

Often tables can take some time to set up properly if you are not used to dealing with LaTeX.

There are other factors too, but I will stop here and go to bed.


You can convert the doc/rtf/odt file to LaTeX and see how it compiles (one option is Save As...LaTeX in LibreOffice.org using a plugin). You may like the results. If not, you can tweak them. You only have eight chapters, so those eight pages need to be formatted. If you have a good template, you could simply do a copy/paste, format the chapter pages, add a table of contents, front matter and you're good to go. Typesetting done either way could take less than a couple of hours.

A lot of the time involve has nothing to do with Word or LaTeX. You may think your Word file is finished, but my experience is that you keep tinkering with the text (not the typesetting) finding copyediting errors, etc. Copyediting a 160 page book is going to take more than one day, this has nothing to do with LaTeX. Also, it may be that you have a problem with the formatting that you have to research and this takes time. Scaling diagrams, for example. Don't confuse the time spent fixing LaTeX or manuscript problems with time spent tinkering with the manuscript, whatever format it's in.

  • When I convert the file, it will output in a standard LaTeX library right? Like {book}?
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 19:50
  • Probably not book, but {article}, depending on the conversion program and settings you've used. But that's easy to change. BTW, there are all sorts of book-type classes that seem to get overlooked. Book, Memoir, Koma-classes, extbook, Netherlands User group, Jurabook, Octavo etc.
    – user26732
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 20:37
  • Yes, I have heard about those but there will be disadvantage if it is converted to {article} right? Instead of memoir or KOMA. Also, is it possible for you to look at my other question?tex.stackexchange.com/questions/100226/…
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 20:58
  • {article} or {scrartcl} presumes that the file will not be in a dual page book layout; {book}, {memoir}, {scrbook} and the other book packages assume dual page. After conversion you can change the LaTex source directly.
    – user26732
    Commented Mar 10, 2013 at 16:54

Very little time ... say a day to typeset, a day to review and then a day to re-typeset ... that's all. LaTeX is a very efficient tool and if you are having all of your contents ready at your hand then it hardly takes a single seating to completely format a book of 200 pages. I just completed a book on LaTeX (100+ pages), may get published in April 2013.

  • 5
    Sorry to say that, but I'd be very much afraid about the quality of a 200+ pages book typeset (or reviewed) in one day. Edit: as well as an answer before editing out so many typos...
    – mbork
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 19:54

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