Monday, 12 September 2011


I have just started to write in LaTeX. using the Kile package. It is an interesting experience. LaTeX makes one focus on the structure of the document. The tree of chapters, sections and subsections that Kile provides on the left hand side of the screen is a constant reminder of where one is in the structure. I do not know whether this will lead to better writing, but there is a good chance that it will. I expect to stick with it. The visible structure very helpfully makes it easy to jump back and forth, filling out a section here and a paragraph there, rather than working through a document from beginning to end time after time.

A question lurks here. The technology of writing has changed enormously since computers came into general use. What difference, if any, has that made to the finished products? Would a book or article produced today, using helpful software to structure, write and correct it, have come out much the same, or very different, if it had been produced using old-fashioned methods? It would have taken longer to produce, but the author might still have come to the same point eventually. And if an author changes from Word, LibreOffice or some similar package to LaTeX, will that change the nature of his or her finished products?

The style of LaTeX brings back happy memories. Commands are distinguished from text to be typeset by starting them with special characters. I came across the same approach when I first used computers, at Cambridge around 1980. I think it was the Zed text editor that distinguished commands by starting them with a full stop that followed a space, unlike full stops in ordinary text (for example .italic, although I cannot remember whether that was an actual example).