MS Word is hereby banished

[A message to Nexus group members and my students on April 10, 2007]

Hi all,

I have made a decree. I will henceforth no longer accept electronic versions of papers, reports, theses, or dissertations in Microsoft Word format. I have been using the software for far too long, it is a cancer upon our productivity. There are a number of reasons for this.

The format is closed, stylesheets and headings never work right, every document looks different even when it shouldn’t, references are never formatted correctly, track changes leads to crashing, the files produced are bloated, templates don’t work, embedded graphics are not reproduced correctly, it is prone to viruses, the output is ugly, etc.

You may continue with MS Word for your personal use, and of course in anything unrelated to my supervision of your academic or research work. You probably need to continue to have the software available as others will send you documents in that format.

However, when transmitting a document to me, if you want me to read it, but not edit it in detail, you may use pdf. If you want me to edit it (and this applies to all of my TAs, RAs, Post-docs, and research fellows), I would suggest plain text or LaTeX. For academic papers, I will be using LaTeX. LaTeX automatically produces PDF output.

There are a variety of open source LaTeX tools. I use TeXShop on Mac OS X.

The new version of (the non-open source) MathType exports equations to LaTeX format.

I now use the cross-platform (and free) Jabref as a reference
manager, and would suggest using that as well. I believe EndNote
references can be exported to BibTex, the format underlying
references as used in Jabref. Google Scholar can be set to produce
BibTeX formatted references, which is very convenient, as those can be dragged and dropped into jabref.

There are tools to export tables from excel to LaTeX (e.g.
Excel2Latex V2.0 … though be careful with this, it can be
destructive of the original data, so always work with a copy).
I would suggest installing Natbib as well. This allows you to
reformat all of your references with a single command so that it
comports with a different journal standard.

This decree applies to all papers currently under review or under
revision as well, subsequent versions should be reformatted in LaTeX when it is time for revision, for a paper-length document that should take about 2 hours.

The only exceptions to this are when sponsors or publishers require MS Word format.

I understand there may be a learning curve associated with conversion to LaTeX, but I believe the long term reduction in variable costs outweighs the initial fixed costs.

I am not especially happy with Powerpoint either, but that will wait another day.

– dml

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