At no point in the paper is exactly what is meant by a "formatting error" or a "typesetting error" defined. From what I gather, the participants in the study were required to reproduce the formatting and layout of the sample text. In theory, a LaTeX file should strictly be a semantic representation of the content of the document; while TeX may have been a raw typesetting language, this is most definitely not the intended use case of LaTeX and is overall a very poor test of its relative advantages and capabilities.
The separation of the semantic definition of the content from the rendering of the document is, in my opinion, the most important feature of LaTeX. Like CSS, this allows the actual formatting to be abstracted away, allowing plain (marked-up) content to be written without worrying about typesetting.
Word has some similar capabilities with styles, and can be used in a similar manner, though few Word users actually use the software properly. This may sound like a relatively insignificant point, but in practice, almost every Word document I have seen has some form of inconsistent formatting. If Word disallowed local formatting changes (including things such as relative spacing of nested bullet points), forcing all formatting changes to be done in document-global styles, it would be a far better typesetting system. Also, the users would be very unhappy.
Yes, LaTeX can undeniably be a pain in the arse, especially when it comes to trying to get figures in the right place; however the combination of a simple, semantic plain-text representation with a flexible and professional typesetting and rendering engine are undeniable and completely unaddressed by this study.
Of course that approach makes it very simple to reproduce something, as has been tested here. Even simpler would be to scan the document and run OCR. The massive problem with both approaches (WYSIWYG and scanning) is that you can't generalize any of it. You're doomed repeating it forever.
(I'll also note the other significant issue with this study: when the ratings provided by participants came out opposite of their test results, they attributed it to irrational bias.)
No, and they clearly don't mean it in any way that a designer would find intelligible. Let's compare the two in terms of things like kerning, hyphenation, text figures, ligatures . . .
In some sense, it's not even a fair comparison. TeX is a typesetting system, which Word makes no claim to be. You can do some primitive "formatting" in Word, but you can't layout a book or an article to the standards required by contemporary book/journal design.
I have lots of books on my shelf that were designed using either TeX or LaTeX (though InDesign is far more common). I have exactly none that were designed using Word.
Of course you can. Plenty of books are done in Word and many papers and conferences release word templates for paper submissions.
In contrast, authors using LaTeX often produce camera-ready copy themselves.
* Large documents (50+ pages) (I remember having to deal with file corruptions, figures appearing at random places, formatting suddenly has a free will, ...)
* Lots of figures that get updated during the writing process
* Collaborating: merging several documents into one big report, especially if other authors do not follow formatting guidelines etc.
* Citations and references
* The authors mention it in the conclusions, but I think the test should also have included a scenario based on using templates instead of building something from scratch.
Other aspects why I prefer LaTeX:
* Version control with plain text files is rather convenient. And so is collaborating.
* Comparing different versions of the same document(s) is much easier with plain text (diff), although you can do something similar with PDF's
* I agree to a certain extent with the authors that scientific content is more important than the form, but I do prefer a traditional LaTeX look over Word documents. By far.
* I always use templates, and this speeds up the writing process significantly. Ideally, you can forgot about the formatting in those cases.
I think the authors make a good point though. Maybe we should invest in smarter/better/more productive LaTeX editors?
edit: formatting, added citations point...
* large docs can be handled by splitting them into master-child documents. You can format across all child documents from the master.
* figures can be edited in-place or embedded from original source.
* collaboration was possible then with child and shared docs, it should only be better now.
* citations and refs are supported, although I dont know if all styles of citations are.
* templates have been in word from a long time and imo are quite natural because they're prototype-based (ie, you can make any document AFTER you create it into a template. other documents that use that as a template inherit all styles and so forth)
* the visual "View changes"mode in word is quite natural and even allows for some offline discourse with your collaborators as each user's comments and changes are marked with a different color and comments are allowed.
*words symbol editor (which also existed pre-1997) is quite up to the task of most equations (again, imo; i've not done a lot of hairy equations)
word is just a better tool for large documents, and i say this asn ardent anti-ide guy. my preferred setup for code documentation is sublime text and markdown; but when you want to Just write a document, word it is.
Track changes is the pest and its use has actually been banned at all companies I worked for. It only works when you want to show the most recent changes but it actually breaks standard document comparison which means you can no longer compare version 1 with version 3 of a document. I won't even comment on how horrendous the diff view in word is, even on a qhd display the 4 small panes you get are so confusing that I'd rather diff it manually with 2 documents open aide by side.
Given such a visual task, it's no wonder a WYSIWYG editor like Word would make it much easier to get things looking exactly as they were instructed to. In other words, many of the LaTeX users probably spent a lot of time trying to "reverse-engineer" the formatting, something that very very rarely occurs in practice.
Efficiency aside, using LaTeX is expected in fields like physics and math, and if you write your paper in Word, readers will be biased against it (consciously or subconsciously).
On the ArXiv, the vast majority of papers are typeset using LaTeX, and of the non-LaTeX papers, a large fraction of them are low-quality or written by cranks, hence the negative association.
I've found that happens mainly with papers that are not only in Word but formatted a bit weirdly. Those can be avoided by people who use Word regularly, though, and in that case you usually have to look pretty closely to tell if something was done in LateX or Word, if they both use the same template (e.g. the Word vs. LaTeX versions of the ACM paper template).
Telltale "Wordisms" that I run across fairly often, and probably do have a negative reaction to: 1) large spaces due to justification in two-column formats without hyphenation (solution: turn on auto-hyphenation); 2) a paragraph being in a totally different font or font size from those around it (solution: paste without formatting); and 3) PDF title set to something like Paper.docx (solution: set a title when exporting to PDF).
This probably means you were using it wrong :) LaTeX almost always knows better than you, and you should trust it. You are much better off "guiding" the image placement rules than trying to set them manually!
Basically, the study set up a straw man to attack, and it doesn't not have any ecological validity.
That being said, I don't doubt that LaTeX is harder to use and more error prone than Word. Since I find myself frequently writing mathematics-heavy text, I personally prefer LaTeX ...
Also, it came across as two people with an axe to grind. For example, are the LaTeX people using editors with automatic spell checking or correction? Which system was used to come up with the examples? Which system did the person creating the examples normally use?
Also, if the intent is to determine which system should be used to "save time and money", the cost of licensing proprietary software must also be considered.
Personally, after doing several large documents in LaTeX and only then trying Word, I'd go with Word most times.
The point is that a simple text-based source format opens up the possibility for lots of different collaboration models that the Word software monoculture prevents.
Unfortunately, it is a rare occasion that all of the coauthors know how to use git.
Until then I stick to my iA Writer --> Markdown --> pandoc--> Word workflow
I assume you're not aware of Lyx, then?:
My own preference is to edit in Emacs/Orgmode, which automatically exports to LaTeX and processes to pdf. Somewhat similar to what other people have mentioned with markdown and pandoc, except that working with Orgmode allows you to insert LaTeX directly if you want, although you can certainly do an entire document without any LaTeX at all, and it will still export to LaTeX/pdf beautifully. E.g., https://firstname.lastname@example.org/msg04582....
I'd never used LaTex before in my life. But I wanted the book output as PDF and it was important that the book looked professionally produced. I was really quite happy with the results. Before biting the bullet and using LaTex itself, I had looked at pandoc and other technologies which could output to PDF (e.g. python's ReST). But after some initial tests, I realised they were quite limited in their ability to output a complex PDF document.
TexMaker allows one to have the LaTex source and the PDF end result open in adjacent windows. MikTex/TexWorks was another editor which functioned in a similar fashion. With TexMaker I could jump from a line in the PDF to the originating line in the LaTex file (and vice versa). One can go to images.google.com and search for screenshots of LaTex editors to see the variety available.
The only major enhancement I would like, is if the LaTex editor would allow one to hide all the LaTex codes (perhaps colour-coding the text in the editor to indicate that a paragraph section contains hidden formatting codes). I do find the Latex markup distracting as I try to read the text. However, being able to read the PDF output and then jump to the LaTex source does mitigate this to some extent (I have a large monitor which permits me to have 2 A4 document windows open side by side).
On the other hand, I suppose whether Vim is visually pleasing depends on preference.
Was this properly weighted?
The abstract does mention this with a single line:
> however, more often report enjoying using their respective software.
Whereas the results involving usability/functional output accounted for about 90% of the text summary.
"A striking result of our study is that LaTeX users are highly satisfied with their system despite reduced usability and productivity. From a psychological perspective, this finding may be related to motivational factors, i.e., the driving forces that compel or reinforce individuals to act in a certain way to achieve a desired goal. A vital motivational factor is the tendency to reduce cognitive dissonance. According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, each individual has a motivational drive to seek consonance between their beliefs and their actual actions. If a belief set does not concur with the individual’s actual behavior, then it is usually easier to change the belief rather than the behavior . The results from many psychological studies in which people have been asked to choose between one of two items (e.g., products, objects, gifts, etc.) and then asked to rate the desirability, value, attractiveness, or usefulness of their choice, report that participants often reduce unpleasant feelings of cognitive dissonance by rationalizing the chosen alternative as more desirable than the unchosen alternative [6, 7]. This bias is usually unconscious and becomes stronger as the effort to reject the chosen alternative increases, which is similar in nature to the case of learning and using LaTeX."
Ironically, the authors' move to rationalize away this unexpected finding as cognitive dissonance could itself be characterized as an instance of cognitive dissonance. The authors probably started out with a particular belief, and the findings didn't agree; instead of accommodating the data, they attempt to neutralize it.
I actually much preferred using latex, even though it was so comically horrible in many respects (my Makefile had to run pdflatex 3 times, for example, and needed a whole other step to pre-convert PNGs into PDFs beforehand). More upfront investment, but less ongoing bother.
Or cognitive dissonance, perhaps that was it?
This doesn't have to happen that many times to become really annoying...
Even 15 years ago I was working as a systems administrator in a company which still insisted on using WordPerfect because of its superiority. A Microsoft fanboy became the IT Director, and WP was phased out for Word.
The proTeXt website  tells me that "the self-extracting protext.exe file ... is well over 1GB". In fact it is 1.7GB.
Considering Office 2013 Professional Plus x64 clocks in at under 1GB I rofl'd my way out of there straight back to Word. And Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and OneNote.
As a Latex user I would never use it for writing a 30 minutes text. I will use LibreOffice for that.
If the source text is made in Word of course it is going to have errors, defining error as "a different outcome that original word document text generates".
We DO use Latex for writing 300+ pages books, and Latex is great for it:
-It is not proprietary.
-Very easy to program and use different UI programs to modify the same document. We write using mostly voice, we edit it visually.
-Very easy to interface with our own software, for example for creating automatic graphs from sensors.
Write it in markdown/commonmark (possibly with an extension for tables a la knitr).
Pick your favorite text editor and just type away merrily. Use latex ($\gamma$) when you want formulas.
Then compile it to PDF with pandoc (which will deal with the intermediate latex step). Then, resist the urge to endlessly play with the formatting and just work on the simple markdown text.
Has he stated anything about the future between pandoc and commonmark? I imagine support for commonmark is likely, but is pandoc-flavoured markdown then doomed?
(I don't know how similar commonmark is to pandoc-markdown, but when I checked out commonmark at an early stage, it did handle lists differently, so I have reason to believe there would be more differences. [But I actually prefer how commonmark handles lists though.])
I'd love to have a system that actually delivers on the latex philosophy of separating content from formatting.
Quote from LaTeX website:
"LaTeX is not a word processor! Instead, LaTeX encourages authors not to worry too much about the appearance of their documents but to concentrate on getting the right content."
If you are going to write a philosophical article or a big novel, choose LaTeX, if you want to draw charts and graphs choose Word. Cristal clear.