Have you used LaTeX to write your thesis, in a department/field where everyone uses Word?
September 3, 2012 3:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm due to start writing my PhD thesis very soon, and am agonising over whether to use Word or LaTeX. What did you use to write your thesis, and did you come to regret your choice part way through? I would particularly like to hear answers from people who are not in one of the normal LaTeX-using disciplines (maths, computer science...), but all opinions are welcome! More info after the break.

So I am a physical geographer, about one or two months away from starting to write up my PhD thesis, and in my department, no-one has ever heard of LaTeX. Microsoft Word is the go-to program for writing PhD theses (and anything else).

I am having great difficultly in deciding whether to use LaTeX or Word. The issues/pros and cons I have are as follows:

- I have already tackled much of the fairly steep learning curve involved with using LaTeX. I decided to write my 20,000 word, end-of-second-year "Thesis Outline" document using LaTeX, as I figured that learning to use a new thing is rarely a bad idea, and I was keen to see whether I could master it. This involved multiple chapters, referencing, figures, tables, lists of contents, figures, tables and acronyms, equations, etc. I found it logical and pretty satisfying when I got my document to look how I wanted it. I used JabRef to manage my references and I found that referencing, in particular, was much better than anything I've ever used in conjunction with Word.

- I really like how my document looks and how TeX handles the things I mentioned in the previous point. In particular, I like not having to worry about where my figures are going to go and whether my tables are going to run over onto another page and look terrible. Having produced a fairly sizeable document already, I guess a lot of the stuff like structuring the document, setting up a database of references, doing all the acronyms, and so on, is already taken care of.

- I still haven't got used to the fact that you can't see the changes happen as you edit your document, as you would with Word. I find that this slows down the writing process quite considerably, and I don't know whether this will be improved with use, or whether I'll always be thinking "ugh, I can't tell what's going on with all these codes everywhere".

- I work on a Mac at home and a PC at university. While this is no problem for LaTeX, or Word more generally, the only Word-related referencing software we have at university (RefWorks) is very messy when constantly swapping between Mac and PC. I guess I could get around this by taking my Mac to uni or installing Windows on my Mac.

- Once I start writing my thesis I don't want to have to stop and change from one approach to the other. I know of LaTeX to rtf converters but they aren't perfect and the further through I get, the more work it will be to change approach, in either direction.

- I won't have very many equations or formulae (probably fewer than 10) and while I like how LaTeX typesets them, Word is likely to be fine for my requirements.

- I won't have any help from inside the department if I go down the LaTeX route, although there are potentially people who use TeX in other departments in the faculty. However, my SO used TeX to write his thesis so will be on hand and is happy to help (although I don't want to be constantly asking for help). I've generally found that people far cleverer than me have found or devised solutions to most problems and that a small bit of googling will usually reveal the answers to most things.

- In relation to the last point, I like how genuinely helpful LaTeX users seem to be. People are happy to post their solutions to problems on forums and blogs, and those who really know what they're doing can understand how it all works and get TeX to do pretty much anything they want. This is not the case for Word and every now and again it will do something weird and unpredictable (not to mention the dreaded repaginating, which I think will become an issue in a 50,000+ word document).

TL;DR: I can use both LaTeX and Word. I find Word to be less pleasing, but everyone in my department is scared of TeX, and I do find that not being able to see the words as I type them slows down the writing process a little. What should I use to write my PhD thesis?
posted by lizabeth to Computers & Internet (35 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Ordinarily I would warn people away from using LaTeX - it's overkill for most purposes, there's the learning curve, Word will do for most thesis work, supervisors can't as easily mark up revisions as they would in Word - but I'd say you're the exception. You already know it, you've used it in anger before and you're in a technical field. So, go for it.

The one sticking point is your bibliography. I'd strongly recommend exporting your references to Bibtex and using that. If you're using LaTeX, may as well use the whole toolchain.

Not being able to instantly see what you're doing can be a problem. But since a thesis is mostly slapping words down on paper and less fancy formatting, it's not so bad. I would write for long stretches and then process the source to pick up the mistakes, so I didn't get distracted by formatting issues. You could also use LyX to get a WYSIWYG experience.

And get yourself a decent TeX environment like TeXShop. Makes the workflow easier.
posted by outlier at 3:17 AM on September 3, 2012

The goal of writing a thesis is to please your department.
posted by Phssthpok at 3:28 AM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you already know how to use LaTeX, your only serious concern is collaborating with other people in your department: they may want to use Track Changes/ Word comments, or just plain balk at anything they are not used to. Tell your supervisor you are thinking of using LaTex - if they cringe, it's probably a bad idea.

For me not looking at what my text will look like when printed is a feature, not a bug: I am forced to think of the content and structure instead of the formating, and avoid being tempted to mess with things I shouldn't be messing with.

Using LaTeX has another benefit you may not be aware of: sane version control. Pick a version control system ( the cool kids have moved on to things like git, but svn is perfectly ok for your needs ) and bask in the hapiness of being able to tell who did what to your your document and when without wading through hundreds of pages of crossed-out red text.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:34 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ask your advisor. LaTeX is not the most common word processor out there. If there's any possibility that someone other than you is going to want an electronic version of your thesis, there's a very, very good chance that said someone is going to want it in Word format.
posted by valkyryn at 3:55 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use LaTeX for every document that's longer than one page, so consider me a fan. When I started using LaTeX I too missed the WYSIWYG of Word (or other word processors), but I got used to it - I had no choice because my computer was always too slow to re-typeset the document after every tiny change.

Nowadays my laptop is fast enough to do that, and I usually have two windows open side by side: I type into the editor window on the left, hit command-s and command-t (on a Mac) and see the results in the window on the right that displays the current page of the pdf LaTeX creates.

If there's any possibility that someone other than you is going to want an electronic version of your thesis, there's a very, very good chance that said someone is going to want it in Word format.

If someone wants a digital version of the finished thesis, a PDF would work just as well, and if you need to send a digital copy to your advisor to look through and add notes, that is possible with a PDF as well - I did this with some of my (senior high-school) students.
posted by amf at 4:06 AM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a physicist and wrote my thesis in LaTex on a Mac. Word drives me crazy even for a three-page report, so my personal recommendation is against that. The one guy I know (also a physicist) who used Word for his thesis regretted that he did. The reference handlers that are supposed to work well with Word also often don't in my experience. The one reason I can see for doing it is if your supervisor insists on giving his comments using Word functions rather than on paper. I think you'll have a nightmare with that though, with a thousand different versions getting emailed back and forth and mixed up.

I think it's crucial to have the "infrastructure" set up in a good way: If you enjoy using your tools and have your files in good order, it's easier to get started at times when the writing itself feels slow. This is what I used and was happy with:

TextMate for LaTex editing. I tried several, and this is the only one I really liked. It's clutter-free and has good LaTeX and SVN integration.

SVN for version control. You need this! It will do so much for your peace of mind, knowing that whatever you delete or change, you can always come back to a previous version. If you can have a repo on a server, it will also make it a lot easier to swap between different computers.

Illustrator for figures. Some figures were originally Matlab plots, some were drawings. I put all of them in a single Illustrator file, each on a separate artboard. That made it easy to ensure sizes and typefaces were consistent, and to copy elements between figures. When you save, you can have each artboard in a separate .eps file. I found this very convenient, although the file became quite big in the end.

Mendeley for references. It's nice with an online handler if you work on different machines, and it's BibTeX support is ok, if not perfect. For my bibliography to look nice, I had to use biblatex to exclude some BibTeX fields that Mendeley insisted on including.

Make a few macros to include figures and generate labels, so your figure's label and file name always agree. Feel free to MeFi-mail me if you want to know more details.

On preview: I don't think you should worry about valkyryn's comment. In every case that I know of, PhD theses have been distributed in PDF format.
posted by springload at 4:22 AM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it's only the track changes issue that's a possible problem, from what you say. Back in the day, my supervisor was OK with printed copies of chapters to comment on.
posted by cromagnon at 4:56 AM on September 3, 2012

So I am a physical geographer, about one or two months away from starting to write up my PhD thesis, and in my department, no-one has ever heard of LaTeX. Microsoft Word is the go-to program for writing PhD theses (and anything else).
There you go. Use Word. You're going to have enough things to worry about over the next year or so.
posted by caek at 5:05 AM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Agreeing with caek here. The one crucial thing about writing a PhD thesis is your ability to share your work easily with your advisor. Using a non-standard or unfamiliar platform is going to impede that. Use Word for your thesis; you can use LateX for any independent papers you write subsequently.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:15 AM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: We are apparently in the same city (different uni). I've just started my PhD, but I'll be using LaTeX/am using LaTeX, and my only worries are about how much difficulty I'm going to have with the officially required layout spec, which I know I won't be exactly conforming to (but for reasons!). I used it for my UG diss (in a department that had never heard of LaTeX) with no difficulty, got into computer problems late in my masters and switched over to Word halfway through for ease of life in a very fraught time (hated it, but no crazy Word meltdowns, and that was really the least of my problems at the time).

The only things to watch out for are formatting criteria, set by your school/dept/equivalent, and sending chapters to your supervisor for comment. People get antagonistic pretty quickly when they can't switch on Track Changes and send you back comments that way. For me it's worth it to do a fair amount of cutting and pasting and giving things to people unformatted in Word for comment, or if they can edit PDFs or are willing to work off a printed copy, that solves that problem.

For me, for how my brain works, for my workflow, I find LaTeX to be incredibly helpful at organising and getting words on the page. Also I'm dogmatic about pretty, and I use Andre Miede's classicthesis package and it makes me happy. (I can't link cos I can't get his page to load, sorry.)

I think it comes down to how you feel best composing (you can always compose in Word for the wysiwyg and cut and paste your paragraphs into your LaTeX editor, if that helps - plus that will give you the Word version you might need to send to your supervisor/etc. for comments), and what is most likely to make you throw your computer out the window, and possibly what your time-investment threshold is for defending this choice. Add me to the list of other people in the area willing to troubleshoot.

And jeez, if you're already set up in JabRef and you submitted your 'thesis outline' thing in LaTex - seems like you've already done such a lot of the foundation-building... shame to lose that.

(I'm also surprised to learn that physical geographers don't do LaTeX.)
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 5:15 AM on September 3, 2012

I had no problem with Word (OSX) myself. I usually wrote in Outline mode and came to really appreciate it. The key for me was managing my references. I used EndNote. I may have been overkill. I ended up with a library of over 700 entries. I was able to customize fields and had linked .pdf's for each. I usually automated a download from ProQuest to populate fields. It was nice. I'm now using Sente because I like it's syncing with an iPad for review and notes.

I might look at Zotero now. With it's integration with Firefox, it makes reference collection pretty easy.

Paper's is another reference program.
posted by rryan at 5:18 AM on September 3, 2012

You can easily create a PDF from your latex doc and your department can give you notes that way. I think PDF annotation is better than word annotation anyway.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:19 AM on September 3, 2012

This is a minor point, but do you have any expectation of hiring outside editing help? I am an academic copyeditor. I'll happily work on PDFs or Word, but working on PDFs takes significantly longer (worse editing tools) and then when I send the changes back, it takes the author longer to implement the changes than if he/she were just accepting/rejecting in Word. So it's more expensive for the author to hire me to edit TeX documents, both in my fee and in their time. I'm aware of some copyeditors who will just plain refuse to edit PDFs.

That said, depending on your school's rules, you might not even be allowed to hire an editor. So probably not the make-or-break issue, just something for thought.
posted by Stacey at 5:57 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing that folks have only hinted at: institutional formatting requirements for your thesis. Even though my doctoral university no longer prints paper copies of theses, they still had onerous demands--I spent ~12 hours before my initial submission and another 12 before my final submission to correct mistakes that the folks in charge found. I think most institutions have templates for these rules--mine had them for both Word and LaTex, but it is definitely worth confirming.

Also, I really would run this by your advisor and/or committee or anyone else who expects to read drafts. Yes, it sucks to be at their whims, but you really truly are at their whims and you don't want to do anything that might annoy them and make them be harder on you out of spite (says the voice of experience--keep your committee happy!)

Also, if you have problems in those final 12 hours, do you have someone who can help you on a deadline when you're freaking out? My husband ended up tweaking one of my figures in Illustrator because Word simply wouldn't do what the formatting requirements said had to be done. It might be worth making some friends in math or physics who are willing to be your local LaTex support.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:39 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are going to be an academic for the foreseeable future, pick the tool you like and stick with it, because you'll continue to use it even after you've jumped through the hoops at your current institution. On the other hand, if this will be your last big paper, do what makes it easier for the others who have to evaluate it. It doesn't matter so much in the long term, so you might want to make others' lives easier in the short term.

I use LaTeX, and I have to collaborate with psychologists who all use Word. If I'm the first author on a paper, everything is LaTeX. I send them a PDF, and they annotate that. It causes no problems.

I work on a Mac at home and a PC at university

If you want headaches when things don't turn out the same across platforms, then use Word. If you don't want those headaches, use LaTeX. Since you've already learned LaTeX and like it, why not stick with it?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:24 AM on September 3, 2012

What does your advisor use to make comments? If s/he uses track changes, go with that.
posted by k8t at 7:29 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like someone else said, you probably need to compile more.

If you haven't figured this out already, one trick (to save compilation time and to make everything a little less unwieldy) is to use \input or \include (see here for the difference--it's a matter of taste which would work better for you, really) to keep your chapters (or even parts of chapters) in separate files and have a master file that puts them all together. (I use two 'wrapper' files. One that has all the sections included and one that I use for compiling only a piece. I suppose that's one way to make sure you don't forget a section.) Even though loads of people I know don't do this, it's something that I really like about using LaTeX (okay, I'm in math, it's not like I'd not use LaTeX, but still).

I think most institutions have templates for these rules--mine had them for both Word and LaTex, but it is definitely worth confirming.

If nothing else, the math department will have solved this problem. There are definitely universities with sizeable math departments where the people who enforce the formatting have no idea what LaTeX is or that people are using something other than Word.
posted by hoyland at 7:35 AM on September 3, 2012

I have been down both roads (I wrote my Master's thesis in Word and my PhD thesis in LaTeX) and don't have anything to add to the good advice already given about choosing one over the other. If you do end up choosing Word, the couple of things I would add are:
  • Spend some time learning about Word styles and how to use them correctly. Styles are a key feature for editing large documents in Word
  • Ask around for predefined styles that match up with your university's thesis formatting requirements. If this isn't already officially supported by your university, at a minimum, some other PhD student will have already created all of the styles for you.

posted by kovacs at 7:58 AM on September 3, 2012

When I wrote my dissertation, one of the nicest things about using LaTeX was that to get all the truly diddly thesis formatting requirements implemented, all I had to do was compile with the thesis class file created by the university.

The dissertation office had ladies with rulers checking dissertation formatting.

As to non-WISYWIG, I compile every few sentences. You should too, so that missing $ don't get lost.

BibDesk is great. You just don't have to worry about citations.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:44 AM on September 3, 2012

I wrote my PhD in Word and I wholeheartedly agree with Kovacs - I spent a couple of weeks early on learning about styles and all the clever things that Word does pretty well and it was amazingly straightforward. I left a full week at the end to sort out formatting and references and I did the lot in 4 hours including converting to PDFs etc.

I couldn't have used anything other than Word because I had two supervisors and numerous other collaborators/advisers commenting on my writing at various stages and they all wanted to use track changes in word.

The way I kept my experience positive was to write each chapter in a separate document but have a consistent format and style right from the start. All figures were properly automatically numbered and linked to where they were referenced in the text. All references were in Endnote. I checked my university's style requirements before I started. I left time at the end in case word didn't like me putting it all in one giant 265 page document, but it didn't seem bothered.

For me, I knew I was leaving academia so it was incredibly important that my supervisor etc had an accessible document after I left. Almost all my PhD research has been written up for publication, as it should be as it was funded by a research council, and a lot of it used my words/figures etc. If I'd written it in latex then I would have had to convert it to word so they could work with it after I'd gone. Of course you may be planning on doing this yourself, in which case it doesn't matter.
posted by kadia_a at 8:54 AM on September 3, 2012

in my department, no-one has ever heard of LaTeX. Microsoft Word is the go-to program for writing PhD theses (and anything else).

This contains your answer. My PhD was written (well, is still being written) with Word, Endnote and judicious use of properly formatted headers right from the start to ease in the creation of tables of contents. No problems for me.
posted by modernnomad at 8:55 AM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: Nthing the advice of "do what people in your field do." I love LaTeX, but the main advantages that I see with it (i.e. typesetting equations and using standard style files) seem moot for your needs. Honestly, it seems like the only reason that you want to use LaTeX is "because it's cool" -- which I totally agree with, but it just doesn't make sense in a situation where you're not doing tons of equation writing and everyone else in your field uses Word. Word gets a lot of flack from science folks. Some of that is totally justified, but I think a lot of it comes from those folks not really understanding what is possible in Word.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:13 AM on September 3, 2012

I wrote my undergraduate thesis using Scrivener. It wasn't perfect but it was SO MUCH preferred to using Word. It sounds like it would fit your needs pretty well, I am surprised it has not yet been mentioned.
posted by masters2010 at 9:24 AM on September 3, 2012

If your advisor is okay with LaTeX, and you have a style file available for your university, and you have already done the heavy lifting of learning how to use it, I would say go for LaTeX. If any of those ingredients is missing (you've got the third one, but the first two could go either way) then Word.

Version control (particularly distributed version control) works powerfully for LaTeX in a way that it is hard to explain to people who have only used "track changes". If you do use LaTeX, it is worth putting in a little effort to learn a VC system as well (I'll throw in a vote for git and GitHub), because that will allow you to back up your complete document history to online servers maintained by other people, thus decreasing the likelihood that a lost flash drive will set you back months.
posted by pmb at 9:49 AM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having written large documents (but not academic theses/dissertations) in both, I would say, either one.

But whichever one you choose:
- version control (don't just save often, save with a different name often and keep everything)
- off-site backups
- if you go with Word, write first and format last. Formatting a wall of plain text might take you days or weeks of tedious drudgery. But how much time is fiddling with your formatting all along costing you, when you see a chart go in the wrong place, spend a bunch of time fixing it with custom spacing/page breaks/text boxes, etc. Then your next change breaks it again, and at the end you have to dig through the whole thing with "reveal codes" turned on and essentially reformat the whole thing anyway? Even when I use Word, I only use the styles (title, headingX, etc.) for formatting and don't worry what they actually LOOK like until the end. So much easier overall.
posted by ctmf at 11:12 AM on September 3, 2012

An "in-between" option would be Lyx: http://www.lyx.org

Cross-platform, latex back-end with a sort-of WYSIWYG front end. The nice bits of latex without (most of) the horrible bits.

But it makes sense to be able to send work to your supervisor for editing. If that can only happen with Word, then use Word.
posted by FrereKhan at 11:24 AM on September 3, 2012

Use LaTeX only if you need its flexible and granular formatting abilities. If what bothers you about Word is all the extra stuff on the screen, that's easy to turn off using the View menu. You can almost get to WordPerfect's blank screen with a blinking dot.
posted by KRS at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2012

"If someone wants a digital version of the finished thesis, a PDF would work just as well"

Well. I would not bet on this.

Me: "Hey, I put the thesis in your mailbox for review."
Professor: "Ah, ok, but just send me the word file."
Me: "Word file? Well, I can send you a PDF File..."
Professor: "Why don't you just send me the word file?"
Me: "Well, I used Latex to write it..."
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:40 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: This involved multiple chapters, referencing, figures, tables, lists of contents, figures, tables and acronyms, equations, etc. I found it logical and pretty satisfying when I got my document to look how I wanted it. I used JabRef to manage my references and I found that referencing, in particular, was much better than anything I've ever used in conjunction with Word.

In that case, this is really a question of what your advisor is willing to deal with, as others have said. If he's completely inflexibly wedded to the idea of using Track Changes within Word, then humor him.

The opinion of people other than your advisor really doesn't matter at all. For someone READING a document, it genuinely doesn't matter whether it's a PDF or a Word doc. (Five or ten years ago, there were a significant number of people out there who actually didn't have PDF reader software and thus couldn't handle PDFs. Now, as far as I can tell, the number of people in this category is essentially zero.) The only people for whom it will make a difference are collaborators, and your advisor is sorta-kinda-basically an uncredited collaborator here, which is why his opinion does count.

I still haven't got used to the fact that you can't see the changes happen as you edit your document, as you would with Word. I find that this slows down the writing process quite considerably, and I don't know whether this will be improved with use, or whether I'll always be thinking "ugh, I can't tell what's going on with all these codes everywhere".

One thing that helps with this: LaTeX code can include comments (lines preceded by the % symbol). If you have e.g. a table or an equation that's unreadable in the source code, include a comment explaining what it is. Then when you're reading through the source code, you can skip the unreadable gibberish and just glance at the comment.

Also, if you're really gonna be doing an extended bit of reading -- like, looking over a whole section or chapter at a time -- you might as well read the PDF output and not the source code, it's easier on the eyes.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:55 PM on September 3, 2012

Yeah, check the university for a pre-specified LaTeX template for phd theses. But do your supervisor a favour and send them drafts in a format they want.
posted by cromagnon at 1:26 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: LaTeX!

I'm in a similar situation in mechanical engineering. My advisor doesn't like LaTeX. The main journal we publish in does not accept anything except Microsoft Word submissions.

Now that cheap/free/easy PDF mark-up is a reality, my advisor has mellowed towards LaTeX.

I wrote my masters thesis and I am writing my PhD thesis in LaTeX because it handles citations, figures and formatting better. If you change any plots or illustrations, a routine re-compile will handle the update. Page numbers, figure numbers, equation numbers just work.

If you get a decent TeX editor (e.g. Texmaker) /PDF viewer (e.g. Sumatra) combination you will be able to jump to PDF sections from TeX code, or jump to TeX source from the PDF. Also, you can have a live-updating copy of your PDF if that's your speed.

I have a few other LaTeX tips if you decide to go that route. A few packages, markup hints and online tools to make your life easier.
posted by KevCed at 1:55 PM on September 3, 2012

I think most of your problems with Word stem from the fact you do not feel very in control of your Word document. This is a pretty common thing, but I believe you can get past this if you spend some time (1) learning the styles, and using them appropriately on EVERYTHING (2) showing/turning on ALL the formatting marks so you can see what Word is doing (3) ALL figures and tables and captions IN LINE will prevent those dreaded things from jumping around (4) using section breaks for any places with different page numbering... there might be more but that's the best I can think of now. As for references, buying Papers and using their Magic Manuscript feature helped me immensely; just throwing that out there. I just ask that you tackle these things before making up your mind.. :) And as others noted, it's really up to your advisor(s).
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 3:34 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to write training manuals a few years ago and I got the company I worked for to invest in FrameMaker but during the time we did use Word, I discovered a lot of things that it can do that are simply commonly not known or understood, as mentioned above.

Word is initially so easy to use we often get a sense that we know how to use it but like most software, taking the time to get to know how to use it and customize it to your needs makes for a very different experience than the standard all for one default tool set and settings.

It's been awhile but:

Create or get the layout/template before you start.
Use styles as much as possible.
Make each chapter its own file.
Link to images rather than embedding them.
Remove items in the interface you don't use.
Look up writing a thesis in Word with your search engine of choice.

It would be great to use what we preferred but that is not always an option.
posted by juiceCake at 5:48 PM on September 3, 2012

Best answer: I used LaTeX in a field where most people don't. Fortunately one of my supervisors does (he was the only one in my dept who did), so I got some understanding from him. From other supervisors I got constant requests for "editable" i.e. Word files, so they could annotate them with comments. Now that pdf annotation is more common that might not be such an issue.

But the biggest issue was when it was all done and time to find a publisher for the book version. NONE of the publishers in my field allow LaTeX submission. So I had to convert to MS Word. And oh. my. god. NEVER AGAIN.

Automatic conversion tools get 90% of it, but the 10% of the formatting that you have to redo by hand is such a pain in the ass. And of course all the automatic references (bibtex) break and have to be re-added in some other reference management system, or you have to accept that any updates you make will need to be done by hand (and you will end up with inconsistencies).

I would discourage any student of mine who plans on an academic career or has any other reason to think s/he will publish the thesis from using anything but sad old Word.
posted by lollusc at 8:29 PM on September 3, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. I'm still not 100% decided, but it sounds like the consensus is to go with Word. I will be sure to get my styles sorted out first, and use Endnote for referencing.

FWIW, I have only ever sent my supervisor (and anyone else) pdfs of my work anyway, and he always prints things off to make comments on them. I will talk to him about this when he gets back from leave, because I really do prefer LaTeX, and if he is totally happy with me using it, I may still go with that. Obviously if I collaborate with my supervisors on any papers, it will be Word all the way.

TeX people, thanks also for the tips on Mendeley, LyX Illustrator, version control, inputting/inserting chapters/sections and finding a template from elsewhere in the university.

I think the answers to my question have basically told me that I can use either one and be absolutely fine. I just have to decide which niggling aspects of either approach I find most acceptable!
posted by lizabeth at 3:23 AM on September 7, 2012

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