Writing complex documents

I have been using LaTeX for most of my more advanced writing needs for so many years, that I tend to forget that there are so few other good options out there for writing what could be called “complex” documents, i.e. book-sized documents with a good portion of notes, pictures, links, etc.

I just had to help out in trying to create a large document based on 30+ individual documents in MS Word. Word offers the possibility of creating a ”master document” for embedding multiple individual documents. This (in theory) makes it possible to create one large table of contents, internal links, etc. However, in practice this turns out to be a nightmare of dimensions: styles change, links disappear or stop working, the table of contents finds most things, but with wrong styles, page numbers don’t get updated properly…

I’m glad I don’t rely on MS Word for such things, and I feel sorry for everyone that has to go through so much pain to create a large and complex document. Unfortunately, the rather steep learning curve of LaTeX makes it difficult to suggest it to people that are not inclined for writing code themselves. But what other options are there? OpenOffice might work a little better, but it is based on the same idea of mixing content and layout as Word. Layout programs are usually not particularly good for writing text, not to say footnotes, bibliography, etc. Scrivener is good for structuring large portions of text, but lacks most other thing required in scientific writing (and it is OSX only). Adobe FrameMaker could have been a solution, had it not been Windows only and fairly costly.

Any suggestions for other software would be welcome, and I will pass them on to the next unfortunate Word user I meet.

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.

2 thoughts on “Writing complex documents”

  1. Interesting thoughts about an age old problem. You probably know Lyx (http://www.lyx.org)? It’s an easy access to Latex functionality, and still shares the philosophy that content and layout should be kept apart.

  2. Yes, I use LyX sometimes myself. Unfortunately, the LyX editor is somewhat unstable on OSX (crashes too often on my system, at least). I also think that it may be difficult to use LyX without knowing LaTeX, since many of the more advanced features would require you to actually write/know the the code. But I agree that it is an entry port into the world of LaTeX.

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