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Word processing with pictures - how to not go mad?
May 24, 2014 9:16 PM   Subscribe

I've recently started studying again and am now writing essays with many pictures. Attempting this in MS Word and LibreOffice is turning me into a cranky murderous person, are there alternatives that actually work?

For whatever reason neither Word nor LibreOffice can manage text followed by picture followed by text without making bizarre automated design choices (No I do not want the picture to continue over the footer. No, I do not suddenly want the picture superimposed over another. Yes, when I turn word wrap off I mean it...) I think my needs are fairly simple, at this stage I'll settle for no word wrap and linear structure, I just need it to work. I also need headers, footers and a table of contents. Referencing would be lovely, but I'm kind of just managing that manually at the moment anyway. That's about it.

More advanced Word users than I just nod their head and say "yeah, it's crap". LibreOffice is possibly worse. So without trying every little open source project out there, what do you people recommend?
posted by deadwax to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Once your layout needs go beyond what mainstream word processors offer you're looking for either desktop publishing software or, if your needs are really exact, a specialized page-description and layout typesetting language like TeX.

The thing is, neither is really optimized for the "writing" part -- programs that excel at layout are generally specialized in that, not in composition.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:24 PM on May 24

if your needs are really exact, a specialized page-description and layout typesetting language like TeX.
iirc, Lyx is a good gui frontend/implementation of LaTeX for newbies.

It's free, runs on Mac/Win/Lin, and generates really nice-looking documents.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:49 PM on May 24

This isn't an alternative program, but here's a trick that I use in Word to get around the text flow problems - format areas (or even the whole page) as a giant table with the pictures and text in different cells. You can adjust the widths and heights of the cells and adjust how the images sit in the cell as well. Making a little sketch of how the page should look can help determine the number of rows and columns you need. When you are pleased with the layout, just turn off the border of the table - under "Borders and Shading" for the table, click on the box that says "None" for the border.

LibreOffice is terrible. I appreciate wanting to put out a free office software package, but I think I'm too much of an Office junkie to get over that things are just in different places. Good luck with your studies and your homework!
posted by Calzephyr at 10:12 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Well, if you're skilled in Adobe CS you could use InDesign, but (and this is coming from an artist and graphic designer who works with text and images together professionally) I'd still vastly prefer to use Word for this type of document.

Word, when you know the software well and particularly if you're using a more recent version, is actually fairly versatile with images and is really straightforward in terms of consistent text, leading, margination, footnotes, etc.

I'd just go into the Picture Tools tab on each image you place (or right click on the image) and change the Wrap Text to "Through" and then drag the picture to where you want it in the essay, and hit your "Enter" key a couple times in the text if you want clear lines around it. If "Through" doesn't work for some reason, you can always mess with the wrap points yourself or choose a different wrap style that fits well with your layout.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:36 PM on May 24

I do image-heavy layout in Pages (Mac only) because Word is a murderous beast when it comes to images. If you are dealing with a lot of images, Word chokes because it embeds them as full size, so slimming them down (use a batch image resizer app) ahead of working with them helps a lot. Also, if it's all tables I have had luck doing the tables with images in Excel and inserting that as a spreadsheet into the Word file.

InDesign is worth it if you have very large files with lots of images and layout control matters. It's not that hard to learn the basics and the student edition is cheap. It is shitty for endnotes, okay for footnotes.

But if this is something you will be working on every day and it's going to end up involving footnotes, endnotes etc, it is very worthwhile mastering something like Lyx. Put a weekend into learning how to mark-up on something reliable like that and you will have far fewer headaches.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:22 AM on May 25

I've had limited success with creating a text box, and then putting the image in that. With the image in the text box, sometimes Word behaves a little better than if the image is just plopped into the document by itself.

I'm fed up with the same problems, and will definitely watch this thread.
posted by Guess What at 7:55 AM on May 25

This sort of "page layout light" is what I use MS Publisher for. At least it wraps text around pictures in a sort of OK way. It's not real desktop publishing software though.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:20 AM on May 25

There's something to be said about placing images/ tables etc. into an appendix.
posted by oceano at 11:44 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]

Scrivener would work for you, if I understand what you want. I use it and like it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:42 PM on May 25

My wife uses TeXShop, which looks like it's Mac-only. Her windows-based colleague uses MikTeX. One of her students found Lyx a bit annoying five years ago but that's very dated information and it may be solid software now.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:41 PM on May 25

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