The editors and typesetters at my organization are not very computer savvy, so I don't think they would be interested in editing in LaTeX or XML directly. However, we are interested in pursuing a structured format on the front end since Microsoft Word is a real pain to work with.

Our current workflow goes something like this:

Author            Editor             Converter -> Typesetters -> Export -> Ebook formats
Microsoft Word -> Styling in Word -> XML       -> InDesign    -> XML    ->

                                                              -> Export -> Printer
                                                              -> PDF    ->

What are some good options for providing a front end for our editors/typesetters that is structured (XML, DocBook, LaTeX), but not difficult for someone without a lot of computer knowledge to get a handle on?

It's imperative that it be very reliable. There are way too many solutions that only work some of the time.

  • 1
    Markdown (see e.g. Wikipedia) might be an option, which you can convert to LaTeX using Pandoc.
    – doncherry
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 19:20
  • I've actually looked at markdown and the extended markdowns like Kramdown, but they don't necessarily have all of the features that we need. Particularly it doesn't do poetry that well. Pandoc is awesome as well, I love that its written in Haskell; but again it's almost as if we need a syntax specifically tailored to book production.
    – user19446
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 20:38
  • It looks like you already know more about Markdown than I do :). I just knew that these tools are out there -- I've never really used them -- and wanted to throw them in as an idea.
    – doncherry
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 20:54
  • 1
    Have you seen this Aditya's post: randomdeterminism.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/… ?
    – mbork
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 22:13

4 Answers 4


I would like to suggest the use of LibreOffice together with Writer2LaTeX. The converter works extraordinary well, produces nicely structured LaTeX files, handles properly mathematical formulae, images, headers, footers, special symbols and so on. And LibreOffice has a good (although not perfect) compatibility with Microsoft Word .doc files. Better download the very last version (currently, 3.6.1).

  • LibreOffice looks like a promising choice, I'm looking into it, thanks for the suggestion.
    – user19446
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 20:43
  • Ah, how time passes... LibreOffice is now in version 5.4. From 5.3 onward, there has been greatly improved handling of some typographic features.
    – user139954
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 15:09

My answer is based on two simple assumptions:

  1. Authors should not provide styling and should not rely 'heavily' on features specific to MS Office (at the moment I can only think of VBA macros and embeddings of other MS Office objects).
  2. The job of an editor is mainly to check the content and structure of a document provided by the author, and to produce a new structured document in LaTeX, HTML, OpenDocument, etc.

In this case my suggestion is to use LyX. It is a stable document processor developed since 1995. For authors, it provides a simple way to structure content. An author can mark text as title, section, subsection, ..., enumerations (also nested like A.1.a.), references, tables, etc. By default it provides a poetry style called "verse". Furthermore, the author does not need to, and is actually discouraged from, specifying page breaks or line breaks, font types, section/paragraph skips etc. (This is considered the job of the typesetter!)

Of course, a short introduction for new users to LyX is needed. (Here's a light tutorial covering the important aspects in about 30 pages. E.g. spacing is handled differently in LyX. You cannot hit several times to create vertical space—there are other ways to achieve that.) In summary, LyX is made to keep the document structure consistent.

  • 1
    However I don't like LyX, you're quite right that it might be a good choice here!
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 14:10
  • You might want to mention change tracking: The one thing that many author–editor couples really love in Word is its change tracking mode. And LyX has as a similar feature. This is IMHO one point where it really excels over using plan LaTeX with diff, latexdiff, and so on.
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 13:56
  • Well, why not just use LaTeX together with git or hg?
    – mbork
    Commented Mar 19, 2013 at 14:38
  • 1
    @mbork That are great solutions, but maybe not so much for the less computer-savvy.
    – marczellm
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 19:34

I can endorse LyX. Especially since LyX 2.0 it has the ability to replace Word for this kind of application. (Spell check was built in better and many other usability tweaks added.) For the papers I write (PhUSE mainly) I have used only LyX since 2009. I have nothing against text editors and raw LaTeX - I am a programmer and use text editors every day. But when I am writing I want to just to see my words.

What may not be clear from the tutorials etc., is that LyX is great for document editing - it has many features for use that are simple but brilliant - e.g. the "go back" button. It goes back to the place of your last change. Application: I want to insert a biblio item but what year is it? Go to doc rend read biblio entry, back. Ready to edit. Another great thing is the way it handles images - so easy to scale on import to fit the page exactly. Using LyX is a bit like the draft mode in Word. No pages are shown but headings etc. are rendered and images shown.

And there are packages/classes for slides like beamer. There is a LaTeX package for poetry books/pamphlets called poemscol.


If you do not like LyX, and I can see why you might not want to add to your workflow, you could use markdown as suggested above.

What is not noted there however is that with pandoc you can create also icml which is an XML format used by Adobe to import directly into InDesign. This would make your workflow like this:

Author            Editor -> pandoc Converter -> Typesetters -> Export -> Ebook 

, in an easy way allowin automatic style conversion etc. markdown -> check markup -> ICML             -> InDesign    -> XML    ->

                                                          -> Export -> Printer
                                                          -> PDF    ->

There are many tools for markdown (e.g. Byword, MultimarkdownComposer,...) and MMC supports tables, images, references and footnotes.

This method gives you much simpler document editing, and review and also the possiblity to store your documents in distributed VC systems with all the advantages that has (workflows, drafts, comparisons versions for different markets etc.

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