# Seeking review on a document with people unfamiliar with TeX

I am a great fan of TeX, LaTeX and LyX, but recently I wrote some minutes and then tried to send them off for other people to review.

There was no way I could send a TeX file; no-one would know what to do with it. In the end I sent a PDF, but most people were unable to work out how to annotate it (or had an old version of Adobe Reader that didn't allow it).

Some people said they were annoyed that I hadn't just sent it in Word so that they could put their corrections in with "track changes". I suspect they thought that I had used TeX to confuse them, to make it harder for them to make corrections.

My question is:

How can I use TeX with other people who are not TeX literate so that they can make reasonable corrections to text, without me ever having to explain to them what TeX is? If possible, how can I allow them to produce and distribute a finished document after they have changed it (without any further intervention by me), like one would a Word document?

P.S: I want to stress that I am trying to avoid being annoying for people. An ideal solution would have to involve nothing novel for anyone to be confused by, or think I was being awkward. I realise this requirement removes rather a lot of my options.

• This link about converting latex into MS Word might be helpful. – Peter Grill Jun 15 '11 at 21:03
• Honestly, if you are low in the relevant power hierarchy, this may be a fight that isn't worth fighting. That is, I don't really think this is a technical problem, but rather a political one: the problem of advocating a not-so-easy-to-learn technical system to people who have established practices, who sound like they may be resistant to change, and also who have power over you. And depending on the context, what goes in the minutes can be a very sensitive political issue. As such I don't think there is a technical solution that will solve the real problem here. – kgr Jun 15 '11 at 21:10
• @Patrick: I think this might be a duplicate question to tex.stackexchange.com/questions/4489/… ... is it? Your question focuses a bit more on the "annoying people" part. I do agree that LaTeX doesn't really have anything great that could compete with Word's revision feature. The crocodoc mentioned in one answer sounds interesting, I haven't tried it, though. – doncherry Jun 15 '11 at 22:08
• If someone thinks you are annoying only because you have sent a PDF file instead of a DOC one, you can seriously ignore their opinions. On the other hand, if they politely ask you to convert it because their skills disallow them to handle the file properly, do it. A specific case is when you have to follow rules that explicitly state the allowed file formats. Then there is no space for protests. Anyway, it is far worse when a person kindly ignores MS Office and receives loads of DOCX files. – Harold Cavendish Jun 15 '11 at 22:37
• @Harrold This is all very well to say, but as kgr points out correctly, if the majority of people use MSWord for certain kinds of documents, and they have the power, it may well be unwise to ignore their opinions. If it's generally accepted that everyone adds their changes/comments to a document, then PDF is not a good format for this sort of reviewing. I would bet that most of us who are not mathematicians interact more often with Word users; we're in the minority here, so you really have to pick your fights. I certainly wouldn't pick this one (and I'm not even low on the totem pole either.) – Alan Munn Jun 15 '11 at 22:53

If everyone has Word, you can edit your Latex source directly in Word, allowing you to please your colleagues by using Word's change tracking, which is still the best out there.

Using source highlighting can make this editing more pleasant. I describe a workflow for this in another answer. Because change tracking highlights (not altogether consistently) Latex, it is fairly easy for people not familiar with Latex to identify which parts of the document are text and which are markup.

It's kind of sad that the best solution to change tracking for Latex is to import it into Word. The above workflow can be used with any editor that allows you to use change tracking on HTML, which includes Open Office Writer and supposedly Lyx, but I've had trouble with both of these. Word also has a rather good spell checker.

• If the other people aren't familiar with LaTeX, this is a nonstarter, surely? They aren't going to want all this \usepackage \begin{document} nonsense getting in the way... Unless they happen to have LyX installed... – Seamus Jun 16 '11 at 11:23
• @Seamus: Not if you can say "Just look at the black text, don't worry about the rest, it's for the typesetting program". It's possible to be more sophisticated about this: shrinking and fading commands to light grey; Word 2007 even introduced a facility for hiding text on the main view, but in my experience this isn't needed. – Charles Stewart Jun 16 '11 at 11:47

There was no way I could send a Tex file; no-one would know what to do with it. In the end I sent a PDF, but most people were unable to work out how to annotate it (or had an old version of Adober Reader that didn't allow it

A great collaborative service to share and annotate pdfs is http://crocodoc.com/. It does not get simpler than that!

As for TeX/LaTeX if you keep on sending them reports etc, they will eventually be begging you to help them learn TeX!

• +1 for crocodoc, it's a great tool. It even has an API usable with curl. I've added a crocupload rule to my Makefiles to type : make clean && make && make crocupload when I generate my PDFs. – ℝaphink Jun 16 '11 at 6:38
• @Raphink That is a very good idea. – Yiannis Lazarides Jun 16 '11 at 6:48
• @Yiannis: the only issue is that you can't replace existing documents, you have to upload new ones instead. For that reason, I've made myself my own interface using the crocodoc API. When I upload a document via my Makefile, I retrieve the resulting json and upload it to my website, where I use it to retrive the latest uploaded ID and display the corresponding document. – ℝaphink Jun 16 '11 at 7:00
• @Raphnik: That sounds pretty cool. I would love to see more details (the make rules and scripts) as another answer! – Daniel Jun 16 '11 at 7:20
• @Daniel: github.com/cc-translators/calvinisme/blob/master/Makefile is one of my Makefiles. My crocodoc API token is stored in ~/.crocodoc.conf and ~/.ncftp/cc.cfg is the FTP config file for ncftp. – ℝaphink Jun 16 '11 at 7:57

I personally prefer LyX for collaboration with "non-TeX-literates". LyX is a "WYSIWYW" (What You See is What You Want) text processing system that uses LaTeX as back-end and has a user interface that is close enough to "normal applications" so that "normal users" are able to use it effectively.

Moreover, LyX has a built-in change tracking system. It is not yet as good as Word's but works reasonably well. I used it quite a bit when sending my thesis to people for proof-reading and it was a pleasure to integrate (or reject) their suggestions.

It's also possible to have mark-ups for the changes in the PDF output:

Regarding interoperability with LaTeX: LyX uses LaTeX as back end, so you can always get from LyX ⟶ LaTeX. However, the internal document format is different. For the LaTeX ⟶ LyX route the converter scripts work pretty well with the standard classes, but may require some manual overwork if you use many own macros or "fancy stuff". However, all this works a lot better than any LaTeX ⟶ RTF/OO/DOC/HTML ⟶ LaTeX route.

• However, all this works a lot better than any LaTeX ⟶ RTF/OO/DOC/HTML ⟶ LaTeX route. - Not in my experience! Converting Latex to Lyx can be very time consuming. See an unsolved question of mine. – Charles Stewart Jun 16 '11 at 11:12
• @Charles Stewart: Not in my experience! Converting Latex to Lyx can be very time consuming. Yes, if you use "fancy stuff". However, this has been compared to the other suggested options: Is in your experience converting RTF/OO/DOC/HTML back to LaTeX significantly less time consuming? I doubt it, but would love to have a good solution for the latter. – Daniel Jun 16 '11 at 11:25
• I've regretted trying to convert Latex to Lyx more often than not, while working with texts converted to HTML really is unproblematic. I've done this quite a bit: I'm a self-employed copy-editor, and have plenty of Latex-using clients. I'd like Lyx to work in this case, since it is a part of our Tex culture and Latex-using clients generally would prefer not using Word, but my patience with its faults is low. – Charles Stewart Jun 16 '11 at 11:41
• @Charles Stewart: So HTML is the least painful format to deal with external editors, I see your point. Thanks for sharing these insights! – Daniel Jun 16 '11 at 13:51
• @CharlesStewart Have you filed any bugs regarding your problems with LyX? If you file a bug that is reproducible and you give clear steps for how to reproduce, there is a good chance it will be fixed. I imagine that you're experiencing several shortcomings at once and not just one bug so it won't solve your problems immediately but you can help improve LyX little by little: lyx.org/trac – scottkosty Apr 7 '13 at 4:37