64

I sometimes need to get edits to my papers from non-LaTeX users. Do you have any clever methods of collaborating with them (or even other LaTeX users) in a productive way?

By this I mean sharing edits. So I have a document I've written in LaTeX, and they want to edit it, correct spelling and grammar, suggest additions, and so on.

  • 1
    Closely related: Advisor likes MS Word, I like LaTeX and How can a Word writer write a manuscript with a LaTeX writer? (duplicate). The answer I'm about to add below is a rehash of the one at that second link – Chris H Jun 4 at 10:45
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    use pandoc and have them edit a markdown or word file. – mb21 Jun 4 at 12:16
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    Working with other people! What a silly idea! – thymaro Jun 4 at 17:20
  • +1, this is the only advantage Word has over LaTeX. Accepting or refusing revisions is very easy with Word, but it's a nightmare with LaTeX. – CarLaTeX Jun 4 at 17:35
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    Pandoc was mentioned in the answers. But if you know about such a necessity beforehand, you might start out with pandoc. You'll get your LaTeX code easily generated, but also Word and what also not for the other persons. In case of directly editing the source pandoc is also easier to digest for non-TeX users. – Oleg Lobachev Jun 4 at 22:28

16 Answers 16

47

Having been asked to provide comments on quite a few documents to which I would not have access to the original, I have adopted the following method:

  1. Request the file in pdf form; it must have either clear page numbers or line numbers (or both).

  2. Reading through the pdf file on screen, open a text file and enter comments in the form
      p.n, col.n, para.n, l.n -- "text being commented on", <comment>
    If a commented item spans more than one page, column, line, then "pp.", "cols.", "ll." is specified. An extensive text can be specified as "XX ... YY", as long as the extent of the text is unambiguous.

  3. Return the comment file by email.

The result has never been questioned, except when I've inadvertently misidentified something. The method has been used for comments on The TeXbook, articles for publication (not for TUGboat, where I do have access to the source), and several books whose sources have been in (La)TeX, Word, or gosh knows what else. It's maybe more verbose than other methods, but it has the virtue of not being able to foul up the original, which is always appreciated.

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    I loved that "gosh"! +1. By the way, I do not agree with your answer: actually there are more sofisticated ways to comment a file instead of txt files. – manooooh Jun 4 at 5:26
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    +1 It’s worth noting that this approach, combined with noting smaller comments (typos etc) in red ink or pencil on a printed copy, is the tried-and-tested workflow of traditional professional proofreading. – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Jun 4 at 8:14
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    @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine -- I'd like also to point out that this method works when the only resource one has available is an out-of-date and somewhat defective laptop. All that's required is the knowledge of what needs correcting; no paper, no scanner, only access (at a later time) to email. – barbara beeton Jun 4 at 16:29
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    @manooooh There are certainly "more sophisticated" ways to comment than text files, but sophistication in a certain area can as often be a bad thing as a good one. Text formats can easily be read in a lot of different ways, and it's very unlikely that someone can't read and write one, regardless of what system they're using. Also, simpler formats such as text may enable more sophistication in further processing; it can be easier to write simple programs to process a file in barbara's format than it would be in a more "sophisticated" format. – Curt J. Sampson Jun 5 at 0:41
37

(Disclaimer: I currently am part of Overleaf's support staff)

For none-LaTeX users one might try to use Overleaf's rich text mode, which should be quite easy to use for standard formattings.

Also the comment and track changes features of Overleaf can be very handy to get input from others (if it's just reviewing tasks).

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    +1 for Overleaf. ShareLaTeX was my gateway to LaTeX and made it so easy for me. – Ian Jun 4 at 15:20
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    But the track changes feature only works properly if one of the authors has a paid account, they disappear in free accounts. – user000001 Jun 5 at 5:33
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    +1. I recently published a paper in a journal which uses Overleaf for coordinating the final editions with the authors, and I was surprised with how well it went. – Jakub Konieczny Jun 5 at 12:51
  • I first used Overleaf as a non-LaTeX user a few years back, and I quite liked it (enough to learn enough LaTeX to fix some formatting problems from my co-authors) – Joe Jun 5 at 16:21
19

When I'm working with other TeX users I tend to use git for collaboration if they are used to working with it. If they are not used to working with git they will be afterwards :)

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    The question is “What ways have you found to get edits from non-LaTeX users?” – Henri Menke Jun 3 at 23:01
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    @HenriMenke and includes the fatal statement "or even other LaTeX users". – Skillmon Jun 3 at 23:01
12

I'm sending occasionally the *.tex file, renamed to *.txt and ask the recipient to change the text, but not to touch anything beginning with "\".

People can work with whatever software and eventually I return a decent PDF.

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    You can even let them go wild and then checked whatever they messed up with a difftool – Vrakfall Jun 4 at 21:12
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    "ask... not to touch [something]" yeah that will work </cynicism> . I've found it well-nigh impossible to get humans to follow directions. – Carl Witthoft Jun 5 at 13:48
  • @CarlWitthoft Well, I'm a lawyer and people pay money to me to get my directions. – Keks Dose Jun 5 at 14:32
  • You should also tell the non-LaTeX users that lines starting with % are comments. Whatever remarks they might have, they should just start a line with % and then start to type. Since you are fluent using LaTeX and probably are using a diff tool anyway, it's easy to see the comments and react to them. – Roland Illig Jun 5 at 18:41
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    @RolandIllig But unfortunately the recipients don't have a decent editor. The second line (or paragraph) of their comment won't start with a percent sign. – Keks Dose Jun 5 at 20:51
9

My preferred answer to the actual question is:

Produce a PDF of your document, and invite them to annotate that using PDF annotation tools (which are standard in Adobe Reader and others). Then you go through those changes and (should you wish) incorporate them into your LaTeX code.

My answer, going slightly beyond the question, is:

If it's a "true" collaboration where all authors are writing major parts of the document, making significant changes, etc (rather than just getting a supervisor to comment on the near-final version), and some authors are not LaTeX users, then don't use LaTeX. Unless the document is very mathematical it's probably easier to just absorb the pain and annoyance and use Word.

When I'm writing a technical paper with technical co-authors, it's LaTeX all the way. When I'm writing something interdisciplinary with social scientists or policy experts, I just use Word.

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    That works, but I've found use of annotation - or even Word's "comment" features incredibly tedious when comparing with Word's "track changes" feature. – Carl Witthoft Jun 5 at 13:50
  • The following is probably my own fault: I don't think that using Word for anything is easier. Each time I try to use Word -- because it's just a small document and/or I'm part of a group with multiple TeX-illiterates -- I end up needing >30min to get something small and easy done, like moving a picture (with then correct captions, references, LoF entries...). IMHO, Word is never easier, for no purpose, again, this might be my own Word-illiteracy. I'd rather spend an hour porting their contents into TeX, than an hour yelling at my computer. – Skillmon Jun 6 at 8:35
  • @skillmon I think it's fair to say that while word is worse at many things, it's also true that not many people know how to use Word properly. It has its own learning curve, but unlike LaTeX's one it's easy to think you're at the top of it when you're actually near the bottom 😉 – Flyto Jun 6 at 17:17
8

Convert them (the non-LaTeX users) to LaTex!

After all, LaTex vs Word is almost a question of religion and the use of the verb to convert actually works fine for both...

Any other way that I have experienced, unfortunately, has a downside: it increases the time lost doing the same job several times, and this grows with the number of active collaborators.

What follows is the evolution of sending them the tex file and asking them to add the correction directly with an editor that is able to color the source code (so that it is immediately understandable even for newcomers what is text and what is not, like comments, reserved words ...), reserving to a holy soul the task of correcting at a later time the LaTex errors introduced (maybe with the help of latexdiff).

The first step

I found effective the use of online collaboration sites on which I prepared in advance the empty model of the article. Then I go to fill it during an audio chat with the not-LaTex colleagues using the ready text that they will review:
with successive copy & paste actions, slowly, block by block, explaining the main details.
It is time consuming, but less then the alternatives, and with the prospect of decreasing the used time.

Thus, they can see the base operations and do the relative text corrections with few or no fear (and mess).

For the first time(s) I prepare some comment (colored) for them at the end of the document; they can copy, paste where it is needed and edit the text inside the braces. {\color{JoeColor} This is a comment from Joe}... having care to define their colors and include the needed packages.

In each moment I, or the other LaTex users, can help/correct their comments and make them LaTex compliant.

Actually searching for a valid self hosted solution that can silence the security and privacy concerns
(probably a ShareLatex/Overleaf mounted on a virtual server with a public or traceable IP).

  • GLWT in a standard business environment (sad face) – Carl Witthoft Jun 5 at 13:50
  • @CarlWitthoft Any suggestion? (perplexed face). Some words more? :-) – Hastur Jun 5 at 18:14
  • "good luck with that" -- at least in the USA, lots of companies are software-paranoid, and the concept of rolling out MikTex + TexStudio, etc. to many users is outside of the IT department's reality. – Carl Witthoft Jun 6 at 12:26
  • Not sure it's legal to convert people to latex. Perhaps you may convert them to latex users though :-) – Luc Jun 7 at 10:09
7

Convert to Word the LaTeX documents, send them that. I use https://online2pdf.com which does a decent job, if there aren't too many figures or strange formatting. However, it involves sending my files to an unknown party that could be archiving them, selling the data, etc. It also often screws up formatting pretty hard, and can take up to an hour to fix that, and once or twice I've just given up. On the plus side, I've never encountered another Track Changes feature as good as Words, as it tracks character by character instead of just highlighting the whole line like diff. Plus changes in font size and whatnot mean you get hypenated words in the middle of paragraphs. Still the most ideal option a lot of the time. This is what I use with a lot of collaborators.

Edit: Moved the other suggestions to separate answers per suggestions in the comments.

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    “I've never encountered another Track Changes feature as good as Word's” git diff -w --word-diff – Henri Menke Jun 3 at 22:04
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    @Canageek Since you intend this to be a big list, it might be better to split each of your sub-answers as a separate answers. This would give a better sense of which methods people use or like best. – Alan Munn Jun 3 at 22:32
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    @HenriMenke I'd opt for git diff --word-diff=color so there aren't any plus or minus signs. – UTF-8 Jun 4 at 12:48
  • You can also do this without git. Install wdiff and colordiff. Then do wdiff file1 file2 | colordiff. – UTF-8 Jun 4 at 12:52
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    Update: My method has a flaw that I accidentally discovered in the meantime. When viewing identical files with itemized lists, I was shown lots of changes. So don't rely on this but it's a nice indication to get an overview over small changes in a long file w/o losing track of where you are cuz the entire file is printed and the colors in an otherwise monochrome text are just super easy to spot when scrolling through. – UTF-8 Jun 6 at 0:09
6

I find the best way to get edits/comments/feedback on any document is by using track changes and comments in Word.

This raises two issues:

  1. how to convert your Latex document into a Word document
  2. how to incorporate Word edits/comments into your Latex document

Here are some solutions.

1. Copy-and-paste

Just copy-and-paste your Latex document into Word and send the Word document along with the PDF. The editor can open both side-by-side and edit/comment the Word document. Copy-and-pasting back into Latex may be problematic in which case you will need to make the changes one-by-one.

2. Convert PDF to Word document using Word

Open the PDF with Word and it will automatically convert the document, however formatting will likely change significantly. The editor can edit/comment the Word document in a WYSIWYG manner. You will have to implement these edits/comments in Latex manually one-by-one.

3. Convert Latex to Word document using Pandoc

J. Alexander Branham wrote an excellent guide to this process. To briefly summarise here: you can use a program called Pandoc to convert Latex into Word. It works very well for documents with minimal use of packages. The resulting document will be much cleaner than the one produced by Word when opening a PDF, meaning edits will not cause weird formatting issues. You can also do some clever things with Git if you have the skills and interest.

Summary

The methods are listed in order of increasing complexity but also increasing functionality. 1 is very straightforward but not very WYSIWYG in terms of the final document. 2 is still quite straightforward, but the formatting could be weird and distracting. 3 will produce the best formatting of the Word document but there are several steps involved. In any case it would be best if the editor could simultaneously refer to the PDF.

4

Frankly I do not understand the purpose of this question. If this is a collaboration on contents, one can just share the information in whatever format is convenient, e.g. emails, data files, pdf files, ascii text. Once you wrap up you need to agree on the document preparation system. From the question I infer that this will be LaTeX.

Of course, if the question is how to jointly grow a document that has cross links, references and so on, then IMHO there is no other way than recommending them to quickly look at a LaTeX intro. They will have to know how to label an equation that they want to refer to later. If you prepared the basic document well, i.e. just use some standard class, basic packages and avoid introducing too many self-written macros, they will be able to focus on the contents and add some text here and there. Just make sure that no one introduces glorious definitions as for instance \def\a{\alpha}. Also tell them that adding references by hand is not an option.

4

I've found back-and-forth conversions to be hopeless, so here's an approach that worked well for me, assuming that there isn't a huge amount of markup inline.

I also assume here that there's a decent reason for the final version to use LaTeX, and that the Word-using co-author (a) is sufficiently important that you can't say "tough luck, we're doing it my way", and (b) needs to edit and not just comment on the paper.

Maintaining a Word file with LaTeX commands (\ref{} and \cite{} are probably the most important) has worked well for me in the past. Images can be imported into Word, even equations can be compiled using standalone and pasted in from a parallel LaTeX document. The body text can be converted using something like pandoc, which can deal with ordinary text quite happily including things like font formatting - though I suggest running it over a stripped down copy of your file. Word's "track changes" feature is useful and requires only switching on, not learning.

4

With a pen. Have them printed then edit them with a pen. Not exactly environmentally friendly, but I know a lot of people who will do this anyway, even if given a word doc with track changes on. However, my girlfriend doesn't own a printer. This is what I use with my boss.

3

Ask them to use some WYSIWYG/WYSIWYM editor, or the most similar you can find, having care to set them to be fully (La)Tex compatible: Lyx, BaKoMa, Scientific word...

3

Send the PDF output to your collaborators and have them add sticky notes using PDF annotations. Viewers supporting creation of sticky notes include Adobe Reader, Foxit Reader, and Okular. Many other viewers support showing sticky notes, like Evince.

2

Have them edit the TeX file even if they don't know LaTeX. I don't get why so many people oppose this, it isn't like the body text has much formatting in it, but they rarely will try this. Reading raw TeX is kinda a pain though, as it isn't formatted for the human eye, and I put one sentence per line, which makes it harder to read.

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    I was imagining sending a raw .tex file to my colleague, the same who has problem in reading a .zip file (on Windows)... – CarLaTeX Jun 5 at 5:48
2

Convert your LaTeX document to Markdown (for example with pandoc) -- or write your original directly in Markdown --- and let them edit the Markdown text file.

0

Having been a primary latex user during my PhD with a latex and non-latex reviewers, I settled on a low-ish tech approach to begin with, which was simply to ask the reviewers to annotate rendered PDFs and send me annotated PDFs. This was a little clumsy because sometimes annotations could get lost (software problems) or the way they'd be collapsed meant it was hard to read/review particularly long comments/discussions.

Later on, seeking a way to develop a pseudo-word style review process, I found the todonotes package, and I incorporated this into my document(s) with a macro for each reviewer -- define a \todobr{} macro for Bob Reviewer and a \todoar{} for Alice Reviewer, and one for myself. Even non-latex users had no trouble being instructed to insert comments by newline \todoinitials{your comment here} and this would result in a document with minimal formatting changes (when runing with todonotes off, changes due exclusively to additional newlines in the prose which wouldn't usually be there) and conversational style todo bubbles inline when todonotes was enabled. I found this really effective for myself, a casual latex user and a complete non-latex user.

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