A new study in PLOS ONE1 concludes that even novice MS Word users perform better than expert LaTeX users in document creation.

I have read the article and I feel like I have identified some flaws in their approach and design but I figured this community would be the best positioned to rigorously evaluate these results.

Based on this study can we conclude that Word works better than LaTeX?

  1. Markus Knauff & Jelica Nejasmic. 2014. An Efficiency Comparison of Document Preparation Systems Used in Academic Research and Development. PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115069


Since the question has been closed, but it's clear that there is interest to discuss the topic, I've set up a chat room for discussion.


I have created a meta question to clarify the reason why this question was closed when other similar questions remain open.


People in glass houses... The article had to be republished a few months later due to publishing errors whilst using Arbortext :-)
see https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0125830

  • 5
    thanks for sharing! To give an answer, I'll first have to read the article... My personal experience (I'd consider myself an experienced user in MS Office as well as in LaTeX): if you want to make custom formatting, MS Word is much more intuitive especially for a beginner, in LaTeX you can loose a lot of time there. I've lost a lot of time and nerves with malfunctions of early versions of MS Word, but LaTeX can also create a lot of headaches (and did that for me) if you try to customize it, and are no expert.. If you need consistent formatting/layout, LaTeX might be more powerful. Dec 26, 2014 at 19:27
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    We discussed this in the chat room a bit. The article is really not very well written in terms of comparison and I think they have a presupposition about LaTeX = mathy stuff. But to be fair, many of us already agree that quick and dirty tasks are better suited for MS Word. So in that sense the article is a tautology with a very bad experiment design. For example, nobody thinks that typing straight into Word would beslower than TeX usage. You don't need an article for that. But document preparation is a delicate business and Word is anything but that.
    – percusse
    Dec 26, 2014 at 20:15
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    I love the idea that what is stopping the efficient use of taxpayer money in terms of research output is the inefficiency of researchers' editing software. Does anybody seriously believe that research would proceed significantly faster if only researchers were able to type it up quicker?
    – cfr
    Dec 26, 2014 at 20:38
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    @cfr IcertainlydothatswhyIeschewallspacesandpunctuationItsmuchmoreefficient.
    – Alan Munn
    Dec 26, 2014 at 20:40
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    I think this is off topic. Or, if you prefer, opinion-based. There can be no “answer”, but only a discussion, which is surely outside the scope of this site.
    – egreg
    Dec 26, 2014 at 20:40

1 Answer 1


This article is an astonishing piece of reckless stupidity. The test was:

The participants were instructed to reproduce the source text within thirty minutes.

So the hard truth is: With MS Word you can better and faster copy off your neighbor than with LaTeX. And the spell checker of Word is better than the spell checkers of the group of LaTeX users was.

The article more or less asks how long the European Union will go on with burning money by letting people use LaTeX.

Why is the setting of the test so stupid? Because LaTeX and TeX are not made to reproduce a given layout of a page or a table. Professionals who use LaTeX, including me, don't earn their living by reproducing different layouts and texts, but write themselves, mostly using the same layouts over and over again.

And the authors had nobody using Emacs -- obviously there wasn't even one professional LaTeX user.

Based on this study you only can conclude that the authors better look for something else to make a living than writing articles. There is nothing more to say about it.


There is a proverb in German, roughly translated: »God punishes minor sins immediately.« It isn't meant seriously. Throw a malicous snowball at somebody who is not aware of it and while throwing, you slip and fall over. Things like that.

And now read, what happened to the »study« about LaTeX, written with something else:

This article was republished on March 30, 2015, to correct the sizing and placement of the figures; none of the article content was changed. The publisher apologizes for the original layout errors. Please download this article again to view the corrected version.

Thanks to KJO for pointing me to this wonderful correction.

  • 4
    I think the article is OK but not very informed, looks at only one angle which the TeX users don't care about.
    – percusse
    Dec 26, 2014 at 20:22
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    Any reasonable "professional LaTeX user" would surely be using Vim, not Emacs. ;-) Dec 26, 2014 at 20:25
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    But you sound like you gave a good damn about it judging by the tone. So I'd propose we just close this one as opinion based because their conclusions are hilarious. So we really don't need to bother
    – percusse
    Dec 26, 2014 at 20:32
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    @percusse Given the battleground that academic publishing has become, it may be useful to have an expert response to the article on this site that others can point to when this paper is inevitably used to undermine LaTeX use in curricula etc...
    – DQdlM
    Dec 26, 2014 at 20:40
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    Doesn't this site cover opinions, too? From How can I explain LaTeX to my Grandma? to Nice Scientific Pictures to Show Off. But maybe this question has been answered already in Why Should I Use LaTeX.
    – DJP
    Dec 26, 2014 at 20:52

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