Lyx is really worth introducing people to

Story: A First Look at LyXTotal Replies: 6
Author Content

May 02, 2006
1:01 AM EDT
This was my own experience.

Author is writing for the first time book length documents, 100+ pages. Normal writing has been short papers and letters. The organisation to whom these longer materials were to be submitted had format requirements - headings, sub-headings, layout, table of contents. My author's ability to use the formatting controls in the WP at the same time as writing the content were very limited indeed, and combined with tight deadlines, it was becoming very frustrating and very upsetting.

Half way through the first document, with the deadline looming, something had to be done. I took the WP as written, converted it to text, and took out all the excess spaces and line feeds and other attempts at formatting, using a text editor. Then I imported it into Lyx. I set it up on a 19inch screen with the table of contents on the right and the body of the document on the left, and gave careful instructions and demos on how to use the drop down style menu and update the TOC and navigate. Then I sat within call for the rest of the day.

My author had the faith born of desperation, and got on with writing, which went increasingly and amazingly fast. I had to do the inserts of the graphics of course, and I had to explain several times that how it looked on screen was not how it was going to look in print, not to worry. It took a couple of days to get out of the habit of multiple line feeds for spacing, that kind of thing. I had to help with headings and structure and the bibliograhy. However, it got written with surprisingly little difficulty.

Finally, we did the page setup into pdf and printed a few pages. My author stared at them with open mouth for several seconds and finally said 'Wow!'. And we met the deadline. The second one was written in Lyx from scratch with no difficulties and not a lot of help.

Until you free an author from formatting, you and they can have no idea how much of a dead weight they are carrying around every day, without realising it. Until they experience what Latex typesetting can do for them with no effort, compared to the second rate formatting that they laboriously have been doing with a WP, they can't imagine how easy it can be to get real quality.

You need a couple of days to help get them introduced, but its absolutely worth it. If they are paying you for your time (I wasn't being), at the end of it, they will likely tell you its the best money they ever spent.


May 02, 2006
4:45 AM EDT
I am a great lyx fan as well. I write all my journal papers with it. It is a very stable and versatile application. The developers and mailing list are very friendly and helpful as well.


You might want to add your story here:

May 02, 2006
7:20 AM EDT

I'd love to see your comment fleshed out with full details as an LXer feature story. Even if you don't feel like doing that, thanks for sharing. It was a good read.

May 02, 2006
8:33 AM EDT
As someone who has never used latex or lyx, but has been hearing about it for years, I think that what they could really benefit from more than anything is a clear and detailed explanation of when and why lyx is better than a wordprocessor. That would indeed make a nice feature article.

May 02, 2006
9:26 AM EDT
sbergman, Here's a useful link along the lines you are suggesting:

May 02, 2006
10:01 AM EDT
sbergman27: >"[...] a clear and detailed explanation of when and why lyx is better than a wordprocessor. "

See Alcibiades' comment above. :)

It appears to me that the author in Alcibiades' tale was behind, at least in part, because of worrying about formatting instead of content. Typical word processors do that to you. The idea of WYSIWYG has been well sold and is very useful with short documents. For long documents, a typical word processor wastes your time forcing you to worry about the way things are laid out on the page.

From the Introduction in the Lyx Help menu:

'The Philosophy of LyX

"Uncle Cosmo, why do they call this a word processor?"

"It's simple, Skyler. You've seen what food processors do to food, right?"

--- Jeff MacNelly in "Shoe" '

May 02, 2006
12:12 PM EDT
The thing I found hard to explain was, why in Lyx, hitting the space bar twice doesn't produce spaces. Similarly with line feeds. The way I found to explain it was very liberating.

The problem, as some people have said, is indeed that in WP you can't get out of your author's mind the idea that they are not just writing words, they are also deciding at the same time how their readers are going to see what they have written. It becomes the same thing. Its particularly true for the liberal arts author to whom the aesthetics of page layout are likely to be quite important.

So I said, look, the reason it doesn't put in two spaces (or line feeds) is that it thinks spacing and line feeds and all that stuff is down to it, not to you. So, when you put in a space, it is not seeing a space. It thinks you are telling it, that is the end of a word. So now you tell it again, and it thinks, I already know that. You don't have to tell me twice.

Same thing for line feeds. Its not a line feed, you are telling it that you have just finished the para. You don't have to tell it twice. It will worry about how to lay out your paragraphs for printing, when it and you are ready.

Once you get this across, the whole idea of having footnotes appear in the middle of the page makes sense. Styles in headings make sense. And as I said, once they see the results, how well it does typesetting, all becomes clear and very welcome.

Another way to go about this whole authoring thing would be get them to use a text editor - Kate would be a good one, because of the split screens. But the problem is, you can't compose in a structure if you do that. It is pure text. You don't get to put in outline headings, footnotes, margin notes and so on.

The great thing about Lyx is, you get to write in a structure, but that structure is a logical one, it has nothing to do with page layout. So you get to say which are the chapter headings, the para headings, the footnotes and so on, without having to worry about how its going to look.

I wish Lyx had a bit more in terms of outlining. It would be nice to drag and drop sections around in the TOC instead of go into the text, select, and cut and paste.

But, it works very well even without this.

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