Word and Google Docs do save revision history, but they slow to a crawl when you have a document with a lot of pages, to the point of being unworkable.
In general, plain text is great because it's explicit. In contrast, word processors store some odd chain of objects. The steps to rebuild a document from scratch that leads to the same representation are not totally obvious. Sometimes it's a bit stochastic even!
XML formats improved the situation, but still plain text wins IMHO. With plain text you can have a toolchain where components for version control, edition and transformation can be replaced seamlessly. New stuff can be introduced at will. In e.g. Word you're mostly locked-in, or at least it's far from trivial to break out.
As much as I like vi's interface, I think emacs implementation is superior, and org-mode invaluable.
Why use org-mode as a format instead of Markdown? Internal cross-references. Org-mode feels just as light weight to me as Markdown for the most part, but it has fewer cases where you can't make things work. Worst case in org-mode, you mix in LaTeX.
I think I still prefer to just write it in markdown. Word can't come close to the typesetting ability of LaTex.
I think the biggest difference there is that a document is "static". It is not supposed to process something else like code is.
Thus what you want to avoid at all costs is "boiler plate" bugs. Bugs that are not caught at compile time because it is semantically correct, but that end up producing wild results once a certain kind of data is introduced.
Microsoft Word's binary format (.doc) stored the document's text as a block in the file, making data recovery simple.
But version control tools are designed for code, i.e. showing which lines have been edited. With English text one would rather want to see which sentences have been edited. Are there tools for this? (Except MS Word's track changes feature.)
Well, one could write one sentence per one line, but that makes a pretty ugly txt document, when viewed raw.
Many of the tech writers I work with advocate exactly this.
In my stuff, I just hard line wrap the text. Diffs do tend to have more spurious whitespace changes because of this than I'd like, but that's still miles better than a completely opaque binary format like Word.
"Easy to edit," to take a phrase from your first link, is key.
:) I think you just made the case for bringing back the two spaces after a period rule!
Ha. You might be right.
Not exactly sentence-level, but perhaps good enough for some...
Probably today I'd want to use Markdown, since I ended up doing something similar anyway to put in my footnotes as I was going. The worst part was always the hour or two of futzing around in Word to format everything for PDF export and printing, since it never came out quite the way it looked on the screen in Word 2003.
can edit anywhere. even on a dumb phone.
revision control (i provided two scripts to the right click context menu to pull/push)
and the killer one: output to several standards. iso, abnt, eu-whatever... even automatic html formatting for the blog if a smaller article is not accepted anywhere.
though that happened before markdown et al became popular. so latex it is.
This makes me wonder how old you are ;-)
Also... you should look into BibTeX for citation management. This is much easier than the examples given in the article -- especially with Google Scholar citations pre-prepared in BibTeX format.
 Considering the definition of "plain text" very loosely, since markdown and LaTeX include rendering cues.
Really, the idea of writing journal articles in Word brings shivers down my spine!
I think it is completely normal for several fields, probably more common than using LaTeX.
Just googled "latex pdf" and looked at the very first pdf on offer, and indeed the fonts look horrible to me, like there is no anti-aliasing applied -- jagged and inconsistent weighting of stems.
Am genuinely confused here, and wish I had an explanation of why my perception of Latex output is so different from the majority.
There now are TrueType versions of these fonts, that are default in modern TeX distributions, but not everybody uses them. (Especially older papers.). There are some scripts out there to do substitution in ps files, but not PDF.
But throw on something like Sabon with a proper microtype config, use some nice large chapter/section headings, and LaTeX will give you the paper equivalent of world class latte art.
The bulk of it is stuff you don't need. Most folks probably don't need anything more than the format for the journal they're submitting to or a couple standard formats for books or articles. But your article format and mine might be different, either by aesthetic preference or technical requirement (maybe I'm publishing something on ancient Greek, and you're publishing a paper on some number theory topic).
However, by using a common language/environment we get things like CTAN which help to spread the features we added or allow us to discover features we want so we don't have to reinvent the wheel (though it still happens). It's also probably so large because it's been around so long. LaTeX dates to 1984, with TeX being released in 1978. So we have 31 and 37 years of community contributions to these tools.
For anyone who appreciates Typography, there are few things out there that can produce aesthetic results as pleasing as LaTeX.
It does have its downsides though, no question, including a steep learning curve, unintuitive error msgs etc.
Org-mode tables are pretty cool, bordering on being a spreadsheet... It's worth watching a demo, even if you never use it.
At the 2014 TeX conference one speaker gave out a MacTeX distributions (that's based on TeX Live) on a 8GB USB stick. Personally I wonder whether putting a lot of effort into creating stripped-down versions is worthwhile.
Just writing plain text would help with that... I was thinking of switching to Markdown because of this, but looking at pandoc again is interesting, because of the footnote support. But it's basically "Pandoc's Markdown", essentially...
Too bad we can't seem to standardize Markdown properly... maybe the IETF will save us there? (rimshot)
Update: I was half-kidding here, but there is actually two markdown standardisation efforts underway. The IETF actually has something going on, but only for mimetypes: https://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-appsawg-text-markdown...
And then there's Commonmark: http://commonmark.org/
And of course: https://xkcd.com/927/
Those times When I need something to be in Doc format, I use libre office - https://www.libreoffice.org/ It used to be called "openoffice". It's free. You can verify the documents look right in the free word viewer provided by Microsoft if you're planning to mail it to someone who will open it in Word.
OpenOffice.org still officially lives as Apache OpenOffice - http://www.openoffice.org/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LibreOffice#End_of_OpenOffice.... & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_OpenOffice
LibreOffice was forked from OpenOffice.org back in 2011.
And there are plenty of articles summarizing their similarities and differences - https://duckduckgo.com/?q=openoffice+vs+libreoffice
 - https://lwn.net/Articles/637735/
First: not all uses of Word can substitute other tools. In particular, if you're writing for business or publication and are working with organizations using a Word-based workflow and tools based around it, you may well find yourself stuck with Word. Charlie Stross has vented spleen on this recently:
Secondly: Microsoft updates its software from time to time. It has also, generally, updated its document formats correspondingly. Old software doesn't work with new formats. Retaining access to both old and new works means stepping onto that upgrade treadmill. And because the software doesn't run on old operating systems or hardware, upgrading your word processor means upgrading your OS and hardware as well.
That does add up.
Oh, and you've got to update all of it. At the same time. Use a desktop, laptiop, and mobile device? That's a threefold hit.
Which adds up even faster.
Contrast with textfile-based tools. Not only are most free, but you don't require your build environment on every platform. Just the editor and whatever bits are necessary to sync.
> One of mine is adjusting the “look” of a word processing document.
I find that editing text in a WYSIWYG word processor distracts me from the content and makes me tinker with the formatting. Like other commenters suggested, I switched to using LaTeX and never looked back. Sadly though LaTeX is not for the faint of heart.
I still end up doing this in LaTeX, only now there's a time lag.
When I write notes, or a blog post, or an essay, etc... I use Sublime and markdown. I can easily convert that to LaTeX with pandoc. For more complex rapport I have a script that do the translation from several .md files to one .tex file.
If I write a technical paper I just use LaTeX.
I will only use word for a quick and dirty rapport.
I am going to write my Master Thesis in AsciiDoc. It's about modular work-space awareness features in single page applications. The proof of concept app is a online AsciiDoc editor with live-preview and eBook/PDF generation, where I want to write my thesis in.
As much as I love plain text and LaTeX and its wonderful typesetting (especially with the Microtype package, XeLaTeX, and pro fonts), I stick to Word because it is the status quo in the publishing toolchain: doing otherwise is swimming upstream.
I would welcome to hear about solutions to this conundrum.
What if you kept the source in plain text, then did reviewing in a WYSIWYG program with any collaborators, proofreaders, and editors that require a WYSIWYG program?
After consensus is reached, convert WYSIWYG versions back to plain text, then use a tool to diff+merge changes back into your source. Using source control, you could track coarse or fine changes as desired. I use Pandoc, Vimdiff, and Git in this manner. Vim automates much of the "back porting" pain (never mind the pain of actually learning Vim, which I've already endured).
However, that's probably still too much for the majority of academic writers and editors, and you can't blame them because they're too busy specializing in other fields.
Also by his definition 'plain text' seems to include other markup, including LaTeX. Many academic books and articles are written this way.
Am I missing something?
The article addresses a particular area in which Microsoft Word is the dominant status quo choice, and lays out why the author thinks that "plain text" is a desirable alternative.
It does not, either explicitly or implicitly, suggest that Microsoft Word is the only alternative to plain text, or vice versa.
> Also by his definition 'plain text' seems to include other markup, including LaTeX.
I think its reasonable to describe a format where what you see if you load the file in a text editor is the same as the text you actually work with as an author as a "plain text" format.
> Many academic books and articles are written this way.
The author doesn't claim that it is unique, though he does suggest that there is resistance, particularly in his field.
> Am I missing something?
I would say it seems like two things:
1. The explicitly stated point of the article ("I want to focus on the specific, idiosyncratic reasons why I wanted (and still want) to write this way, using nothing more than a text editor and Pandoc."), and
2. the implicit target audience of the article (academics in history and similar fields).
I then mark up with ddoc, and the result works just fine in [github](https://github.com/D-Programming-Language/dlang.org).
I'm looking forward to increasing support for things like figure labelling (Automatically linking figure numbers and labels e.g. see figure 1.2) at the moment I handle this manually.
A few years late studying my Batchelors in Molecular Biology, we got access to a room full of computers, mainly Macs. Most of the students found this fairly novel and typed up essays spending ages in the process. We were told that 5% of the mark would be given for presentation. At the time I found Word really frustrating (Trying to type 1 / 2 which was part of my address would always reformat it to a single character half). I gave up quite early on and went back to focusing on content. To this day I avoid Word, or fancy markup in favour of text when I can.
On another note, just found this web text editor via an old comment on linked article. I like it, seems like it's been around for awhile...
It just still feels weird to me, using apps that output files, in a web browser. I'm a developer so shouldn't feel strange, but web browsers just seem inappropriate to run even a text editor, regardless of the strength of the web app. I need to get over this mindset.
It seems the OP uses markdown too. I wondered how he did footnotes in plain text, he just uses a markdown-style syntax.
It is an excellent approach with benefits over LaTeX. It has better separation of appearance and content, the content tends to have less visual clutter, and there are pleasant tools for distraction free writing, which I personally like. I wrote my thesis and academic papers in LaTeX, so I have used it a lot.
The downside (for both LaTeX and markdown) is dealing with proofing at a publisher. This is minor the first time, but getting a corrected manuscript back from the editor when you need to work on a second edition can prove very cumbersome.
I personally use gedit (gnome) and markdown to write my tutorials and articles. Less distractions, content focused.
Nowadays, when most people being digital natives or being accustomed to use a computer, it makes more sense for people to move away from analog metaphors to proper computer-designed tools.
Disclaimer: I'm the author :)
Kick that crap to the curb and swore never to use anything more than bold/underline/italic for notes again. Plus checked export options on everything...
Title Compiler construction for digital computers
Author David Gries
Publisher Wiley, 1971
Original from the University of California
Yes, but note that he was using the special upper AND lower-case chain on the 1401, which made it at least vaguely readable.
That said, the Office 365 apps run very well on my mobile devices but I only use them ocasionally.
The requested URL /bitstream/handle/1911/64493/mcdaniel-shear2012.pdf was not found on this server.
Or better yet, a quill and parchment, to totally withdraw from the confines and entrapments of modern technology.
(While these books, of course, are written for use with dip pens, and frequently taken up by users of fountain pens today, the methods described do work with ballpoints, rollerballs, gel pens, pencils of not too hard a lead, nearly whatever you have lying about.)
Of course, retooling is almost certainly not worth it for you, unless you're dying for a break from computer screens (the only reason I ever write by hand anymore). But I'll leave the link in case anyone is curious, either for their own work or just to know what people used to do with a pen, and why writer's cramp was not as serious a problem before typewriters and computers as we might suppose it was, by how frequently we tend to induce cramp on ourselves.
Once I have an idea of the structure, I can decide which tool to use. Often markdown but equally often LibreOffice. Sometimes Inkscape.
Yes: I also use a fountain pen (I haven't used a goose feather for some decades now, but we did have dipping pens at primary school).
With the new Android text input recognition tool, I am seriously considering the purchase of a cheap tablet and stylus.