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Phillip Helbig <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mailing list for the LaTeX3 project <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 1 Oct 1997 15:38:22 GMT
text/plain (199 lines)
I would like to get some hopefully productive discussion going.

Help improve LaTeX macro packages for scientific journals and publishers:

This page is itself just an attempt to generate some attention (and
contains, among other things, a link to the text after my .sig) and
hopefully will evolve into something more useful.  Of course I'm very
interested in similar activities elsewhere!

Phillip Helbig                          Email ... [log in to unmask]
Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories   Tel. ..... +44 1477 571 321 (ext. 297)
Jodrell Bank                            Fax ................. +44 1477 571 618
Macclesfield                            Telex ................. 36149 JODREL G
UK-Cheshire SK11 9DL                    Web ....

My opinions are not necessarily those of NRAL or the University of Manchester.


The need for a rapid upgrade and standardisation of LaTeX macros for
the preparation of scientific manuscripts.

During the last several years, a major change has taken place in the way
that manuscripts are prepared for many scientific journals and books:
TeX, usually in the guise of LaTeX, has become the form in which
manuscripts are written.  This has many advantages, too many to detail
here, and few if any disadvantages.  It is definitely a practice which
should continue well into the future.  One major advantage is the time
saved by the authors (and potentially by the publishers as well,
depending on how they make use of TeX internally; this is of no concern
here, however), but if the present state persists, time spent doing
unnecessary things will increase and further progress will be halted.

There are two major problems, which I will discuss in turn.  The first,
and most serious, is the fact that many journals and publishers still
use macros based on LaTeX2.09, rather than the modern LaTeX2e, which has
been in existence since the middle of 1994.  The second is the useless
incompatibility of various macros.

LaTeX2e offers many useful advantages over LaTeX2.09, the previous
stable version.  This includes many things of particular reference to
the area of using macros to prepare manuscripts to be published
elsewhere, such as changes in the way fonts are selected and the
inclusion of graphics.  There have also been changes in the internal
structure of LaTeX, in particular to facilitate the construction of
packages, use of macros etc so it is particularly ironic that this has
been neglected by the many of the providers of macros.

Although LaTeX2e can process LaTeX2.09 documents, this so-called
compatibility mode is intended EXCLUSIVELY for documents which contain
NO new LaTeX features.  Thus, the continued use of outdated macros,
style files etc presents the writer of the manuscript---typically the
author himself whose main concern is not (or at least should not be) the
preparation of manuscripts but rather the production of their
content---with a serious dilemma.  Either not to learn new LaTeX
features, which could considerably improve efficiency, remaining
intellectually frozen with an outdated and imperfect LaTeX mindset, or
else to constantly switch between LaTeX2.09 and LaTeX2e.  Both are
obviously bad.  Since most authors have their own macros as well (the
use of which incidentally is greatly improved in LaTeX2e), they must
either not use them with one of the versions of LaTeX or maintain two
sets of macros.

This problem is also related to the other problem, which I will discuss
below, but first I discuss the second problem on its own.

Obviously, and with good reason, various journals and publishers like to
have their own look and feel.  LaTeX presents an ideal manner in which
this can be achieved, with the author concentrating on content rather
than presentation.  There are two basic ways in which this can be
achieved.  One is by redefining LaTeX commands, such as to alter the
manner in which a section title appears.  This presents no problems, as
the author need only be concerned with where to begin a section, and not
with the appearance of the manuscript.  Another method, sometimes
necessary as not everything can be achieved merely be redifinitions, is
to introduce new commands.  There are three potential problems with

The first is that the author must learn additional commands, whose use
moreover is usually less well-documented and less well-tested than the
standard LaTeX commands.  This places an additional burden on the
author, although it is necessary to some degree.  The second problem is
that these commands can conflict with the authors own commands (unless
they are given very peculiar names, which introduces disadvantages of
its own); every time a new set of macros is used, there is the
potential need for the author to revise his own.  Thirdly, there is the
problem of different macro sets using different commands to accomplish
the same thing, or using the same command (perhaps with (different)
options in one case) to accomplish different tasks.  ALL THREE of these
problems would disappear if there were a COMMON set of journal and
publisher macros, distributed with the standard LaTeX distribution, to
which all journals and publishers would adhere.  Flexibility in the
definition of these commands would still allow---in fact, would
encourage---each individual macro package to redefine them to achieve a
unique look and feel.

It is important to realise that parts of manuscripts---especially
figures, tables and reference lists---are recycled.  Electronic
preparation of manuscripts has made this much easier, and much less time
is wasted.  Also, it sometimes happens, for various reasons, that a
manuscript is submitted to a different journal or publisher than that
which was originally intended.  Ideally, the author of the manuscript
should only have to change ONE line in the manuscript, namely that
specifying the macro package used.  (I am talking about format and
appearance here; of course, submission somewhere else might well involve
changes in content as well.  The author should be concerned with
content, not presentation.)

An area related to additional commands (as opposed to redifinitions of
standard commands) is that of different typographic conventions, such as
the type style of foreign words, the use of periods in abbreviations,
spelling etc.  These can be handles efficiently by making all variable
constructions commands which are defined appropriately by the
appropriate macro package.  This is especially relevant in the area of
reference lists and, to a lesser extent, citations in the text.
Fortunately, this problem can ALREADY be solved by the use of Patrick
Daly's natbib.sty and custom-bib package.  Since this is IDEALLY suited
to the problem of variation in citations and references, it should
actually be REQUIRED by all journals and publishers who use LaTeX at

In principle, an author could construct his own set of meta-macros which
would be appropriately defined for each macro package used.  In fact, it
was when considering this (after I upgraded from LaTeX2.09 to LaTeX2e
and started to use BibTeX) that the thoughts leading to writing this
text began.  Besides the unnecessary work involved (it would be much
easier for it to be done ONCE and made available to all), the fact that
the construction of such meta-macros is MUCH easier in LaTeX2e led me to
abandon any desire at all to support in any form any provider of macros
still based on LaTeX2.09.

What can be done about all of these problems?

Some journals and publishers already support or even REQUIRE LaTeX2e, so
there can be no question of there being any real reasons why this would
not work for ALL journals and publishers.  It might even be a good idea,
when there are alternatives, to boycott journals which do not support
(require?) LaTeX2e, sending manuscripts to the competition instead and a
letter to the journal/publisher which otherwise would have been
considered stating that until LaTeX2e is supported (required?) the
author will not waste his valuable time mucking about with outdated

There should be a concerted effort, including at least the LaTeX3 team
and LaTeX-knowledgeable representatives from ALL journals and publishers
who use LaTeX, to construct a common set of additional commands AS SOON
AS POSSIBLE.  The current situation is so pitiful that I see no reason
to wait until an almost-perfect version is attained; distribution with
the normal LaTeX source, which is updated twice a year, seems like a
good idea, with the first version coming AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  Again,
the distribution of this common set of additional journal/publisher
commands with the normal LaTeX distribution is essential.

As I mentioned above, the two problems are related.  It would be a
mistake for each macro package to be upgraded INDEPENDENTLY to LaTeX2e,
with a view to harmonisation later, since a combined effort would save
work and create better compatibility. Similarly, it would be a mistake
to do the harmonisation in LaTeX2.09, since macros based on LaTeX2e will
be different anyway and the writing of macro packages is much better
organised in LaTeX2e.  Thus, the two goals must be pursued
simultaneously in a coordinated fashion.

On a related topic, although most journals and publishers don't simply
`print the PostScript file' but rather produce camera-ready copy, it
would be highly desirable if the production of this camera-ready copy
took place in a matter as similar as possible to the author's own
manuscript production.  For example, rather than submitting printouts of
PostScript files, one should submit the files along with the TeX file,
especially since the inclusion of graphics has now been standardised in
LaTeX2e.  Whatever method is used to turn the text into camera-ready
copy can process the PostScript files as well.  There should be no need
to submit paper versions of manuscripts, except for reference (as
opposed to production) purposes.  In particular, the author should be
able to depend on the figures being produced as in the accompanying
reference version, that is at the same size (one- or two-column width,
for example) and in the same aspect ratio.  I have even heard of authors
submitting figures on paper rather than electronically because in the
former case it is less likely that the aspect ratio be changed or the
figure printed in a size other than intended.  (Of course, this depends
on the reference version being correctly formatted, but this could be
made a requirement for acceptance of the manuscript.  Also, there might
be the normal LaTeX changes in the position of floats etc if a different
font is used and so on, but the manuscript should not depend on these
anyway.  However, the text and column widths are known to the author, so
it should be possible and be encouraged to prepare the figures

Help improve LaTeX macro packages for scientific journals and publishers: