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LaTeX for SOPs?
July 7, 2011 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Resources for learning LaTeX templating for SOPs?

I'd like to revisit how we currently handle SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) in a business environment. Right now it's all Word documents, and it's a huge disaster for the usual reasons Word is a disaster: hard to edit, different versions, fighting Word's "features", difficult to maintain a consistent style, etc.,

It looks like LaTeX may be a great solution to some of these problems because of the separation of content from presentation, and the ability to use plain-text files.

I've found dozens of sites with LaTeX templates for academic environments, but very few for corporate environments. Our needs are really very simple, but I'd like to avoid re-creating things if possible, especially as I'm new to LaTeX.

What are your resources for learning LaTeX? Are there existing business templates for SOPs? These types of documents are fairly straightforward, requiring consistent headers, footers, a TOC, a signature listing, and some other generic components.
posted by odinsdream to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I used the memoir class to write a couple of reports. The class's documentation is written with the actual class, and is full of examples.
posted by stereo at 8:48 AM on July 7, 2011

For what it's worth, I highly recommend the Not so short introduction to Latex. I don't have many classes to throw your way, but at least this will get you started.
posted by virga at 9:20 AM on July 7, 2011

I remember using this site a lot when I was first getting into LaTeX as a mathematics graduate student.

But really, the best way to get familiar with LaTeX is to just start using it. You learn the commands and stuff as you go, and find out what's useful to you. This probably isn't helpful advice (especially in a corporate environment where people will originally be resistant to any change that requires them to spend more time writing up their reports). Some people are really uncomfortable with a text editor which is not WYSIWYG, and you can't really change their minds about that.
posted by King Bee at 10:44 AM on July 7, 2011

FWIW, I'm looking at using LyX for the actual report process, which is a pretty friendly way to interact with LaTeX behind the scenes.

Where I see this being potentially very powerful is in creating the initial template. I'd greatly benefit from resources along these lines.
posted by odinsdream at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2011

I would guess that you'll eventually want to check out the TeX User Group website, but not immediately. It might be useful to search CTAN (Comprehensive TeX Archive Network) for styles, though.

A more general suggestion about building your initial template: do it around an existing, already-typed-in, document. I find trying to plan/build the macros before having the text to be a frustrating and mostly pointless effort. (This comes from typesetting one book, two theses, several papers, and many short notes in LaTeX.)
posted by joeycoleman at 12:41 PM on July 7, 2011

joeycoleman; thanks for the resources. This is definitely an idea in the very early stages, but it seems like if I can overcome the initial hurdle of designing the document to match our desired SOP style, other people can simply re-use it with ease.

I had hoped that someone out there had such a style already defined that I could modify. SOPs are fairly simple, generic documents, but they do have a specific style.
posted by odinsdream at 12:43 PM on July 7, 2011

odinsdream: Could you post a sample of what they need to look like? I'm just getting into LaTeX, but I can't see a simple document being too hard.

I've been using the wikibooks guide quite heavily. There are also many useful articles on the PracTeX journal, which sadly looks dead.
posted by Canageek at 8:03 AM on July 8, 2011

One thing about LaTeX is, it actually doesn't enforce the separation of content and presentation any more than Word does. So f'rinstance LaTeX does provide commands for section headers, but the lower-level font-size and font-style commands "leak through," and if some dipshit wants to create their section headings by writing things like \Huge\bf Section three: more poorly organized text \normalfont, you can't easily stop them.

(On preview: LyX helps with this some, but you still need to train people to hit the "new subsection" button and not the "boldface" button or whatever. People who are used to WYSIWIG will not necessarily get that two things that look the same can still have different structures, and that the structure is the important part.)

That said, I'll second the recommendation for the memoir class, which makes document-design-type stuff (how wide are the margins? what size are the section headers? where do the footnotes go?) much easier and more intuitive than most other LaTeX classes. It also makes indexing and headers and footers less painful than base LaTeX or plain TeX, though they're not entirely pain-free. But so if you just have a specific visual style you need to recreate, and nobody has created a class that does it for you, memoir would be a good starting point.

posted by nebulawindphone at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2011

Good point, nebulawindphone, that it really isn't like CSS/HTML, but it does seem a hell of a lot better than Word (not to make this into a thread about Word's weaknesses any more than it needs to be).

Things like generating tables of contents, references to appendices, inclusion of documents (i.e., I can make a single file that includes a set of other files, then just print that directly to PDF, easily).

There are so many things that would help us, and training people to pick the right menu item in LyX is the easiest part.

The other huge thing is that, being text files, we can stuff these into SVN and actually get version control diffs that make sense, rather than the binary DOCX formats.

That being said, I'm really feeling hopeless about this, since it seems like such a mess from the documentation side. There seems to be no consistent way to determine if the documentation is current or relevant. Some of these 12-year-old methodologies seem to be widely used today, while others are being actively debated and developed right now. It's really a huge hill to climb, but I'm not quite to the point of giving up yet.

Could you post a sample of what they need to look like?
Here's one from Kaiser Permanente with the general feel. The important points are: box header and footer, logo in the header, revision date and other important information, signature and approval on some title page, an actual title page, revision history table, and table of contents.

Honestly, the actual content isn't really that big of a deal - LaTeX can clearly handle the content part just fine, in terms of paragraph and list styles and formatting. Word sets a very low hurdle here.
posted by odinsdream at 6:55 PM on July 8, 2011

Alright, the only hard part at all would be the header: gives an overview on how to do it. The only hard part will be getting the logo to show up exactly where you want- You may have to use PStricks to do that. Try it with graphicx first though.

Avoid LyX- You'll be much better off just learning the code, it really isn't that hard.
posted by Canageek at 12:36 PM on July 10, 2011

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