[OS X TeX] Getting students to use LaTeX (and apa.cls)

Bruno Voisin bvoisin at mac.com
Fri Aug 18 22:42:26 CEST 2006

Le 18 août 06 à 12:23, Nick Black a écrit :

> I guess some people aren't willing or dont see the benifit in
> investing time in the short term, so people like MS make inferior
> products that are quick (not easy) to use.

There's another factor which may get people want to use WYSIWYG word  
processors instead of LaTeX: the lack of flexibility of LaTeX  
regarding layout.

Several times in the past couple of years I had to write non- 
scientific documents (i.e. specifications of web site design, first  
with general site layout and navigation and then page by page for  
page organization and layout). This had to be written very rapidly,  
and needed to use a certain layout in order to make the content  
immediately usable by its intended audience (i.e. web programmers).  
Whether the layout of the document was typographically optimal or  
simply correct was minor in this respect, the usability being the  
definitive criterion. Ultimately, the document was finally presented,  
and written, more or less as a collection of separate cards.

The first version of the document was written with LaTeX, and it  
turned out to be a nightmare: every ten lines or so I stumbled onto a  
page or list layout which had to be different from the standard LaTeX  
one, or wanted to get a tabular layout distinct from the standard  
LaTeX one. Hence the need to identify, in the LaTeX internals, the  
definitions responsible for these layouts, and to modify them in the  
document preamble. As a result, the preamble for the final document  
was several hundred lines long.

Such a time investment, which turns out to be precisely adverse to  
LaTeX's philosophy: concentrate on matter, and forget about  
presentation. This was exactly the opposite: because of constant  
interruptions for tweaking LaTeX's defaults in order to get the  
intended layout, it was very difficult to write the matter  
continuously. Probably also because I didn't know exactly which  
layout I was needing before actually writing the document; this  
layout sort of grew in the making.

And using external packages isn't much better in this respect: with  
packages you don't have to study LaTeX's internals, somebody has  
already done it for you and make the required redefinitions/ 
enhancements. But because there are generally several packages  
offering nearly equivalent functionality, you first have to study  
each of them to see which one suits your needs better and select it;  
then you have to learn how to use this package, and sometimes find  
bugs and report them, turn to comp.text.tex, etc. Again, a  
significant time investment interrupting the workflow.

Finally for the subsequent versions of the document I turned to  
iWork's Pages, and didn't regret it: for sure the result wasn't as  
typographically satisfactory as it would have been with LaTeX, but it  
was obtained much more rapidly, with less stress; eventually it was  
more efficient, in that more attention had been paid to content in  
its preparation and less attention on presentation.

Sorry to have been so long, but I hope that may exemplify a situation  
in which IMHO a WYSIWYG editor is better suited than LaTeX for  
focusing on content vs. presentation. On the other hand, there is a  
situation in which LaTeX is unbeatable: when you are using a LaTeX  
class written by someone else (typically when you are writing for a  
scientific journal, and and provided a home-brewed class by this  
journal). In this situation, you can totally forget about  
presentation, and only think about content. Which is exactly what  
LaTeX is about.

Bruno Voisin

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