writeLaTex for collaboration

I recently began a project that will have a large number of contributing authors, the result of a review of the proceedings of a workshop I recently attended (more on that later). Most of the other participants (think a lot of early career theoreticians) exhorted their dislike of programs like MS Word for writing, with one person going so far as to say they will not read any papers sent to them in Word format. I have been toying with the idea of writing my manuscripts in a more version control friendly format for a little while now. It just seems more logical to me to write up a paper in Rmarkdown (since most of my coding is done in R) or LaTeX. Not only is it a nicer output, but it is far more straightforward in my opinion, with the added benefit of being compatible with git.

This presented me with a perfect opportunity to try out some new tools that others have found very useful for collaborative writing. Because most of the workshop’s participants are at this point spread out across the country again, I thought that writeLaTeX would be very useful to us. WriteLaTeX is a great website that allows you to create, read, and edit LaTeX documents in your browser. It’s layout reminded me of using something like Mou for markdown (when I still had my Mac). One side you have the uninterpreted LaTeX document, and on the other side you have the interpreted output (pdf) that updates in real time so you can see what kind of changes you are making. I think that this is a great way to learn how to write using LaTeX.

Moreover, they made the whole process very easy. I went to the site and created a free account. From there I started out with a new article. You can choose to create a new paper or presentation and they will start you out with a default template that shows you some of the basics, a lot like when you start a new Rmarkdown script. From there I just made some necessary changes, using the very useful help page to learn how to add additional authors and affiliations. The site also allows you and your contributors to archive different versions of the document.

The new paper template.

The new paper template.

Collaboration is made very easy with this site. There is a “share” button you can click and it offers you two options; a link for reading and editing, or a link for just reading. So you can invite people to contribute to your project, or you can just have them take a look at it without worrying that they will mess it up. Each author can edit the document in real time, with changes being made by one person immediately visible by the others. Another feature I thought was pretty neat is that for those who are a bit intimidated by the different LaTeX commands, there is a rich text option, which lets you edit the document in a manner that is very similar to Word.

Apparently this site can be used with Dropbox, so you can more easily upload figures and such I suppose. You can also save/download the pdf with only a few clicks. There is also the option to “Publish” that offers links to various preprint sites, such as PeerJ, arXiv, bioRXive,  F1000, as well as writeLaTeX’s own gallery.

I am definitely looking forward to getting more familiar with LaTeX and writeLaTeX, and I suggest that if you are interested in learning LaTeX, or collaborating on a paper that you take a look at the site.


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