Making reports more easily
May 21, 2010 8:23 AM   Subscribe

[LaTeX-Filter] Are there latex document styles that can be used for professional reports?

I'm interested in using LaTeX for documents outside the academic sphere, as an alternative to InDesign. I frequently use LaTeX to write papers, (and have used it to make my resume, based on a beautiful layout) but I would like to use it for non-academic reports. The types of reports that I am thinking of, have distinct visual themes (horizontal/vertical bars with color) and fairly standard image location, so it seems that it would be possible; the question is if they exist.

If they don't exist, is it worth the effort to develop them from scratch? (not being super-familiar with class styles, etc). I'm not sure if it is practical to do this, but I thought I would ask the hive-mind for their views.

posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It would really help if you could provide visual examples of the types of reports that you're thinking about.
posted by anaelith at 8:56 AM on May 21, 2010

Response by poster: Here are some examples: 1 [4.35 Mb pdf], 2 [2.1 Mb pdf]
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:09 AM on May 21, 2010

Best answer: Your examples look a lot like they had personal attention from a graphic designer. It strikes me as unlikely that any combination of a canned document style with whatever content you have in mind would make you happy without about as much customization as doing it from scratch.

You probably know about searching CTAN for document classes; you might also check out what's available for ConTeXt, a LaTeX alternative (also based on TeX.) My impression has been that the (small) ConTeXt community has a higher average concern for design than the (large) LaTeX community. There's probably a larger absolute number of LaTeXers passionately into design, but the ConTeXters are all on the same mailing lists and may be easier to find.

If you're going to be producing a lot of reports intended to have a common look and feel, then it's definitely possible and useful to do what you're imagining.
posted by Zed at 9:29 AM on May 21, 2010

Best answer: I think many of the standardized design elements of those documents would be doable in memoir, with pgf/tikz doing graphical elements (see especially overlay mode). But, at least for the first of those documents, I think a lot of the design time went into developing the infographics, and I'm not sure you would want to offload this to latex (though you _could_ do them in tikz). I also think a lot of the page-by-page stuff in those documents wouldn't be automatable as some kind of standardized/canned design regardless of the layout software, so you'd have to be familiar with a lot of LaTeX formatting tricks.
posted by advil at 9:34 AM on May 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far. I spent more time searching based on some of these ideas, and I saw this interesting thread, which has a link to a Tufte book document style, which looks very nice.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:58 AM on May 21, 2010

Wow. Those are pretty complicated-looking reports. My first place to investigate would be the memoir class. It's got an extensive manual. All the graphics, presumably, would be created elsewhere and included in: do you know how to do that?
posted by leahwrenn at 10:58 AM on May 21, 2010

Best answer: The real strength of LaTeX, the thing it does better than other typesetting systems, is automatic page layout. The more you're interested in positioning things manually, the less of an advantage it has over other programs. Just as an example, for LaTeX to do an optimal job on a document with lots of tables and images, it needs to be able to reposition them pretty freely. In particular, it needs to be able to shift them onto the next or previous page if it can't "figure out" a way to make them look good on the current page. You can tell LaTeX, "Put this table at the top of the current page NO MATTER WHAT" — but the more often you do that, the worse its built-in line- and page-breaking routines will do, the more manual tweaking you'll have to do to compensate, and the more you'll wish you were using InDesign instead.

Now, some of the design elements in those docs you linked to would be totally doable in LaTeX. Tables with colored rows are easy — I use the colortbl package, but there are others out there. Same goes for boxes with colored backgrounds. Custom headers and footers are straightforward too, and incorporating something like a colored stripe into each header wouldn't be too hard. Something like the Tables section of your doc #1 — pp. 32–40 — would really play to LaTeX's strengths. Pages 14–21 of the same doc, on the other hand, are an example of the sort of thing that would be a real bear to do in LaTeX. Flowing text around an oddly shaped image (and making it look good, and making sure all the text ends up on the same page as the image it refers to, and avoiding awkward hyphenation or line breaks) is possible in LaTeX, but only in the same sense that it's possible to cook a gourmet meal on the engine block of your car.

You might want to look at the ACL style files for inspiration. It's a solid multicolumn layout that, in my experience, copes pretty when you throw a lot of tables and images at it. With different fonts and maybe some color, it could be made very attractive. But again, for best results, you'd have to relinquish a lot of control over where exactly the images and tables go, or else spend a lot of time tweaking and fiddling with things by hand. The Tufte style is also good, and because it reserves space in the margins for images/tables/notes/whatever, it does better than most styles at keeping those on the same page where they're first referenced.

One more thought: are you familiar with XeTeX? It's a TeX-like engine that uses "normal" fonts rather than METAFONT. Font installation is trivially easy, and you get straightforward access to fancy AAT and OpenType features. (Nearly) any LaTeX style or package will work with it. (The exceptions are those that rely on PStricks; if you don't know what this means, it probably doesn't affect you.) As far as I know it still won't run natively on Windows, but for OSX or Linux it's a great way to get out of the METAFONT design ghetto. (In fact, it looks like you can use the ConTeXt macros with the XeTeX engine, which might be ideal. But there you're getting beyond the limits of what I know....)

Long story short, this is an interesting challenge — which is why I'm still writing about it instead of working on my thesis like I should be — but depending on your needs, it could really be a challenge.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:09 AM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know but the folks on typesetter forum certainly will.
posted by lapsang at 1:29 PM on May 21, 2010

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