Document formatting systems for collaborative work
February 13, 2011 3:55 PM   Subscribe

We're trying to set up a collaboration on a textbook-like document, but we're not sure what formatting system to use. Considering LaTeX, but would appreciate some perspectives on how to make it easy for people to make contributions.

My friend and I have developed an 80-page booklet which is formatted something like a textbook, with many lists, diagrams, tables, flowcharts, and graphs. There's relatively little prose. Currently, the booklet exists as two Microsoft Word 2003 documents (first half and second half, since Word didn't handle one large document very well).

We're interested in copylefting the booklet and setting up some type of web-based collaboration for subsequent editions. The idea is that people can submit corrections, snippets of text, new diagrams, etc to be included in the next edition. I don't think Word is the best format for this. We're thinking of translating the document in LaTeX to make it easier to control the formatting. I have extensive experience with LaTeX and I've typeset some booklets in it. However, potential contributors are unlikely to know anything about LaTeX and probably won't want to learn (but perhaps people could just submit their additions in whatever format they want, and we can translate it to LaTeX).

Are there alternatives to either of these that might work well in this situation? If LaTeX (or even Word) is the best way to go, any tips on making this work?
posted by Maximian to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have a look at booki, which is what I'll be using for a similar project.
posted by fake at 3:58 PM on February 13, 2011

Word does not work well for large documents, e.g., book or dissertation.

I will recommend you work with LaTeX and a good versioning system.
posted by jchaw at 4:01 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps a wiki to latex converter? Maintaining a sty file to control formatting might work. Google doc to html to latex?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:12 PM on February 13, 2011

You might consider Docbook.
posted by mmascolino at 5:03 PM on February 13, 2011

I also highly recommend LaTeX + distributed version control (hg or git) for lengthy collaborative projects, but as you point out it raises the barrier to entry for fellow contributors. The meat robot's MediaWiki to LaTeX converter sounds interesting; I wrote a similar one that tried to map the wiki formatting to LaTeX (but it has bitrotted since then). Since MW uses texvc, any math markup is directly compatible.

What's the nature of the charts and graphs? sweave is a great way to embed R code in the LaTeX so that you can ensure that all of your graphs and data are consistent.
posted by autopilot at 5:14 PM on February 13, 2011

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