Most wordprocessors prove an unsatisfactory tool for typesetting. To my knowledge all wordprocessors use proprietary file types, and therefore create files which are not readily portable. Their typesetting abilities are passable for the average user, but are not sophisticated enough for professional publishing. As I stated earlier, I frequently just turn my documents into HTML to bypass the need for a wordprocessor. Yet, upon occasion it is important to produce a proper print document. In which case I have selected to use a portable program called TeX and its additions and enhancements: LaTeX, BibTeX and LyX.
In 1978 Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth felt it important to begin development on a proper electronic typesetting program. A layout language such as SGML or HTML merely describes the arrangement and presentation of the format. However, a typesetting language and program like TeX goes further and allows the control of the appearance and placement of individual characters; an example would be the appearance and placement of specific footnotes at the bottom of a specific print page. Donald Knuth released TeX in 1982 as public domain software, and since that time the computing community has been collaborating in its further development [vdL94]. It has proven a boon to people within the field of mathematics who need mathematical symbols to be printed and placed in a precise manner. Yet, it is such a very useful program to anyone producing a thesis or dissertation, easily accomodating any university's layout requirements, that its use needs to be spread further than the computing and maths departments.
LaTex is an extension to TeX created by Leslie Lamport. It adds prefabricated styles such as article, book or letter; automatic reference numbering, multi-column formatting, automatic generation of table of contents and more. TeX allows for these sort of extensions; this particular one has become fairly standard.
BibTeX is an extension to TeX which specifically handles generating bibliographies. All bibliographic information can be put into one file, then whenever a particular work is referred to, it can be referred to by a shortened name that the program will recognise and insert the correct information in the bibliography of a particular paper, thesis, or dissertation chapter. BibTeX also insures that each entry in a bibiliography is in the correct academic format. The Gnome BibTeX Editor, which provides a graphical interface for making BibTeX files, is still at a pre-release version. However, I already find it useful.
LyX is a graphical user interface which makes it easier for the non-technical user to apply LaTeX to their documents.
Copyright © 1999 Katherine Phelps