This is also not a Word vs. LaTeX piece. But I would like to unpack what seems to be a fundamental missunderstanding made by many of the pro-Word ‘Word vs. LaTeX’ folk. LaTeX is not a word-processor. I will say that again to aid retention: LaTeX is not a word-processor. Trying to compare LaTeX vs. Word is not even like trying to compare apples to oranges–at least those are both a type of fruit–it would be more like trying to compare a symphony orchestra to a kidney. Or something. I’m having trouble coming up with a good analogy since there is little analogy between Word and LaTex. The point of this post is to help increase awareness that the monolithic word-processor model is not the only model for document preparation, and it isn’t even a particularly good model for many modern needs. This highlights the real problem with the so called word-processing wars: the assumption that a monolithic word-processor is The One True Way of document preparation and the tendency to conclude that any tools that do not fit The One True Way are somehow less “efficient.”
I’ve recently been thinking more about workflows and tools for writing since migrating from Electrical and Computer Engineering where the LaTeX workflow was fairly ubiquitous to Engineering Education in which the ubiquitous workflow involves MS Word or similar. This is not going to be a LaTeX vs. MS Word piece. There are plenty of those out there, though this post was inspired by one in particular (with a bit of an inflammatory title) by Alex Bond who made a ostensibly pragmatic argument as to why he chose to stick with MS Word (for now).
Recently while on vacation I found myself in a conversation with a friend about language and word use, specifically how certain words can elicit a strong emotional response in some people, and how that response is dependent not only on the word itself, but the context in which it is heard. This lead to thinking about the more imperfective scenario of environments in which subtle use of language can affect how welcome one feels. For example, the classroom.
Those of you who know me know that I’ve been ostensibly working on an
Ph.D. MS degree for a very long time. Some might say too
long. Others would say just the amount of time I needed to figure out
where my passions lie and make appropriate mid-course corrections to
my career trajectory. Now that I have made appropriate corrections I’m
faced with finishing up a MS thesis paper and defending it in a couple
of months so I can start a new chapter with a clear conscience (and
the satisfaction of actually finishing something). Despite all the helpful
advice to “just get it done, you’ll be so much happier!” I have found
“just getting it done” to be incredibly challenging. Recently, Ennis
suggested that I “write in public” as motivation.