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Thread: Academic Writing in the Humanities

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    Academic Writing in the Humanities

    I am a graduate student writing a dissertation in modern history. More than half of my computer work takes place on a word processor. I take notes, make outlines, and then write drafts of papers, chapters, presentations, etc. I regularly have to share these files with others who use operating systems other than Linux. I have just switched from OS X (after 5 years and half of using Mac) and I am still figuring out how to write my next dissertation chapter in Ubuntu.

    There seems to be no consensus on what is or what are the best word processing softwares -- especially for academic writers -- in Ubuntu or Linux for that matter. I have read a number of posts on various forums and I find them either dated by several years or not dealing with the problems I am facing: namely writing a serious, book-length academic work in the humanities and desiring to work with a user-friendly and fast word processor that would also be powerful enough to accomplish most or all academic tasks such as footnotes, style change, bibliography, accessibility, etc. There are people who suggest using LaTeX (LyX, Kile, etc.) but it seems to me that they're mostly based in the exact sciences and benefit from the math and science features that exist in LyX or another LaTeX editor. LaTeX is moreover not very accessible to those who do not know the LaTeX language or do not have an editor and work primarily with a word processor: meaning that when I share a LaTex document with my colleagues they have difficulty editing my work. See for instance this discussion which took place 5 years ago on this forum:

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=98120

    I wonder if those of you who are in similar fields (i.e., humanities, social sciences, law, etc.) could chip in and talk about your experience as academic writers working primarily from a Linux (specifically Ubuntu) platform. What are the word processing applications you use to write your serious papers? What are the advantages and disadvantages of OpenOffice.org Word Processor, Kword, and AbiWord? How easy or difficult is it to share your documents with others who do not use Linux? In what format/s do you share your documents? Can others easily modify and edit your texts? Do you use LaTeX at all?

    Opinions may vary with respect to discipline, so if you would please mention your field, that may help others who are reading this discussion and trying to figure out which word processor to use for writing their articles, dissertations, or books.

    My own personal experience with OpenOffice.org has not been very positive. It's pretty slow and has problems with multiple language input. Switching from Nisus Writer Pro and Mellel (both OS X softwares), OpenOffice.org Word Processor seems also not very user-friendly. It seems to follow the design of MS Word (or what MS Word used to be) and feels above all *cluttered.* I am however trying to like it as I understand there's probably no other word processor better than OpenOffice.org in Ubuntu. Am I correct to assume this? I also downloaded Kword which in terms of interface and egronomic design seems quite nice. It is also a bit faster -- although I don't know how powerful Kword is at the moment and whether it can accomplish all that my academic work requires from a word processor. I have also read somewhere that AbiWord is really not all that powerful. It is meant to be a fast but "lean" word processor which would do basic things quickly.

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    Academic Writing in the Humanities

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    Last edited by ron177; December 21st, 2010 at 08:52 PM.

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    Academic Writing in the Humanities

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    Last edited by ron177; December 21st, 2010 at 08:53 PM.

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    Re: Academic Writing in the Humanities

    I'm a MA student in Biblical studies, so I do a fair amount of input English, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic a bit of German, as well transliterated Akkadian, Hittite, Ugaritic, and so forth, and I haven't had any problems using OpenOffice. It handles the languages beautifully for me, but I did have to get the right fonts, and mess with preferences, and add some more dictionaries. It can be a bit sluggish on my old computer when working with larger files,especially those that contain a lot of vocalised Hebrew, for some reason I've yet to discover. However, my newer (but very low end) computer handles it just fine so far. I've also managed to get my diagrams to turn out quite well.

    On the other hand, I don't believe I've written anything on it longer than forty pages or something like that, so I can't say much about how it handles organising higher volumes of information. Being that OpenOffice is one of the more extensible word-processors out there, I'm sure faculties have been created to handle this kind of thing. I would ask on the OpenOffice forums if I needed it (which I will, at some point).

    As far as sharing my files, I always go with PDF if I can. I use a specific font for everything (Linux Libertine) because it has full support for all of the scripts and diacritics I need (which is saying something), and it also has a small caps font which is useful for certain conventions used when writing the name of God, as well as the transcription of Sumerograms in Akkadian and Hittite. Most people do not have this font, so some characters may not display correctly in formats besides PDF.

    If they need to be able to edit the document, I prefer to send it in odt if I can (OO's native format), or in docx as a second choice. docx is Word's XML based format, and it seems to convert particularly well. From there, I just cross my fingers and hope they have a font that supports all the characters I use. If they have problems, I send them the link to download my font.

    That usually works just fine, though a little formatting may get mangled here or there in conversion, especially when charts and graphics are involved. That's why I do PDF whenever possible; I know that it will look exactly like what's on my screen no matter where it's opened. OpenOffice also creates table of contents in the PDF, which is nice.

    Obviously you're talking about something a little heavier than what I'm doing (though I doubt it is more demanding in terms of languages, unless you are working with logo-graphic and syllabic scripts, or scripts written vertically).

    If it were me, I would ask around about your difficulties in the OpenOffice community and see what sort of recommendations you get.

    [edit]

    As far as *clutter* goes, I'm not sure exactly what you mean, but if you are talking visual clutter, the work-environment is very customisable, and I run it with no visible rulers, and a single custom toolbar that has only ten or so tools that I use most often, and I have the colors changed to white on dark blue (which is only in my program, and I can switch all back immediately with one control), which tends to help me calm down and focus. The menus and dialogues can be somewhat overwhelming, it's true, but not once you've learned them. But you're right that OpenOffice is more or less based on Word, and it has some of the same problems. There is a branch project called libre-office which is trying to take the OO base in a different direction, but it's still in beta at the moment, and at any rate the shifts will be gradual, so that's not a viable solution right now, or at least not any better than OOo.

    OOo just takes time to learn, like any software (except Apple software, seemingly, which is usually mind-bogglingly intuitive).
    Last edited by ninjaaron; December 21st, 2010 at 08:21 PM.

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    Re: Academic Writing in the Humanities

    Please don't create multiple threads on the same subject, I have merged your three threads.

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    Re: Academic Writing in the Humanities

    Quote Originally Posted by cariboo907 View Post
    Please don't create multiple threads on the same subject, I have merged your three threads.

    Apologies! I didn't know where exactly I could post this to have the relevant people see it.

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    Re: Academic Writing in the Humanities

    Quote Originally Posted by ninjaaron View Post
    I'm a MA student in Biblical studies, so I do a fair amount of input English, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic a bit of German, as well transliterated Akkadian, Hittite, Ugaritic, and so forth, and I haven't had any problems using OpenOffice. It handles the languages beautifully for me, but I did have to get the right fonts, and mess with preferences, and add some more dictionaries. It can be a bit sluggish on my old computer when working with larger files,especially those that contain a lot of vocalised Hebrew, for some reason I've yet to discover. However, my newer (but very low end) computer handles it just fine so far. I've also managed to get my diagrams to turn out quite well.

    On the other hand, I don't believe I've written anything on it longer than forty pages or something like that, so I can't say much about how it handles organising higher volumes of information. Being that OpenOffice is one of the more extensible word-processors out there, I'm sure faculties have been created to handle this kind of thing. I would ask on the OpenOffice forums if I needed it (which I will, at some point).

    As far as sharing my files, I always go with PDF if I can. I use a specific font for everything (Linux Libertine) because it has full support for all of the scripts and diacritics I need (which is saying something), and it also has a small caps font which is useful for certain conventions used when writing the name of God, as well as the transcription of Sumerograms in Akkadian and Hittite. Most people do not have this font, so some characters may not display correctly in formats besides PDF.

    If they need to be able to edit the document, I prefer to send it in odt if I can (OO's native format), or in docx as a second choice. docx is Word's XML based format, and it seems to convert particularly well. From there, I just cross my fingers and hope they have a font that supports all the characters I use. If they have problems, I send them the link to download my font.

    That usually works just fine, though a little formatting may get mangled here or there in conversion, especially when charts and graphics are involved. That's why I do PDF whenever possible; I know that it will look exactly like what's on my screen no matter where it's opened. OpenOffice also creates table of contents in the PDF, which is nice.

    Obviously you're talking about something a little heavier than what I'm doing (though I doubt it is more demanding in terms of languages, unless you are working with logo-graphic and syllabic scripts, or scripts written vertically).

    If it were me, I would ask around about your difficulties in the OpenOffice community and see what sort of recommendations you get.

    [edit]

    As far as *clutter* goes, I'm not sure exactly what you mean, but if you are talking visual clutter, the work-environment is very customisable, and I run it with no visible rulers, and a single custom toolbar that has only ten or so tools that I use most often, and I have the colors changed to white on dark blue (which is only in my program, and I can switch all back immediately with one control), which tends to help me calm down and focus. The menus and dialogues can be somewhat overwhelming, it's true, but not once you've learned them. But you're right that OpenOffice is more or less based on Word, and it has some of the same problems. There is a branch project called libre-office which is trying to take the OO base in a different direction, but it's still in beta at the moment, and at any rate the shifts will be gradual, so that's not a viable solution right now, or at least not any better than OOo.

    OOo just takes time to learn, like any software (except Apple software, seemingly, which is usually mind-bogglingly intuitive).
    Many thanks for writing in detail about your experience. I am very appreciative of your input. I wonder if you could tell me how I may install the appropriate fonts for different languages. I type in French, Turkish, and Persian -- besides English. I also have had troubles with the layouts of the keys for these languages: I seem to have problems finding the right layout that I am used to: hence I have to search for different keys when typing in French or Persian. Also where do you get the right dictionaries? Do you search in the software center?

    About sharing and accessibility, you mentioned odt being one of the formats you use frequently. I wonder if it is completely accessible to not only MS Word users but also those in other platforms. I always assumed that rtf is the most accessible of all formats. No? Does OOo export or save in rtf pretty neatly?

    Finally I would love to hear your experience with other world processors. Have you tried Kword and AbiWord at all? What do you think of them?

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    Re: Academic Writing in the Humanities

    Re: fonts

    I have specifically downloaded a number of font packages but it seems that I have not added them to OOo. How do you add the fonts that you have downloaded from the software center? How can configure Times or Times New Roman on OOo?

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    Re: Academic Writing in the Humanities

    zotero plug-in for firefox is a helpful tool for research citation and web-based notetaking.
    -------------------------------------
    Oooh Shiny: PopularPages

    Unumquodque potest reparantur. Patientia sit virtus.

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    Re: Academic Writing in the Humanities

    Quote Originally Posted by ron177 View Post
    Many thanks for writing in detail about your experience. I am very appreciative of your input. I wonder if you could tell me how I may install the appropriate fonts for different languages. I type in French, Turkish, and Persian -- besides English. I also have had troubles with the layouts of the keys for these languages: I seem to have problems finding the right layout that I am used to: hence I have to search for different keys when typing in French or Persian. Also where do you get the right dictionaries? Do you search in the software center?
    Well, there are a lot of different layouts. One of the layouts is the default US keyboard layout in OSX. I believe it is called "USA Macintosh," and all the diacritics needed for French are there. It is not the same as the "US International" keyboard layout on Mac, which I loved. I personally work with a custom keyboard layout that I designed for the easy inclusion of all the diacritics needed for the transliteration of semitic languages. This was based on the 'USA Macintosh' layout which was already in my computer. Unfortunately, there is not any GUI tool yet for the creation of custom keyboards.

    However, this site is very helpful when it comes to that, and it is not difficult to understand the config files you will be editing, though they may look intimidating at first sight.

    If you want a 'real' French keyboard, there are a lot of them out there, with different variants for personal preferences and national differences. I believe there is "French Macintosh" as well, if that is what you are used to. I always like the Swiss keyboard layouts, since they all the accents are easily accessible, but the layout is overall much closer to English.

    As far as Persian, I don't have a clue, but you can always modify one of the preexisting layouts in the computer to suit your preferences.

    Fonts:
    Their are many fonts available in the software center. That seems to be the easiest way to install them, and they should all appear in OOo automatically. I use mostly Linux Libertine, and it is there, though I don't know if it supports Arabic characters. I'm sure there are some nice Arabic fonts there that support the special Persian characters, but I really have no experience with that.

    There is a package in the software center called "ttf-mscorefonts-installer." This will get you the basic fonts that come installed on an MS system, including Times New Roman. You can be sure that any Windows user has these fonts.

    Now, if you want to install a font that you downloaded yourself and isn't in the software center, it can a little more of a pain. When you double click the icon, it opens up in a font viewer, and you have th option to install. When you click install, it copies the file to the appropriate place in ".fonts" inside your home folder (the period at the beginning of the name makes it invisible most of the time. If you want to see all of your hidden folders, you can toggle them with ctrl+h. You can also create hidden files and folders yourself, simply by starting the name with a period).

    The problem is that not all programs check the user fonts when they load, and some of them only open the system-wide fonts which are stored in "/usr/share/fonts". I don't remember if OOo was one of these programs or not, but it may have been. I know GIMP was one. In any event, you will have to put any fonts you want system-wide in the correct folder in this directory (usually the Truetype folder, if the extension is ttf). This is kinda a pain, since it's a system folder, and you need root privileges to modify it's contents (which is a good thing, but it makes the whole process more difficult).

    to do this, hit ctrl+f2 to open the gnome command prompt. From there, you type:

    Code:
    gksu nautilus /usr/share/fonts

    "gksu" allows you to preform a command with root privileges, and opens a prompt for the administrative password. "nautilus" is the name of your file browser, and the last bit is, of course, the target folder.

    I actually have a custom menu item with the command "gksu nautilus /" so I can access admin privileges more quickly from the gui.

    BUT, be very careful when using the windows that this pops up. Anything you delete is deleted forever, and you can now modify all of your system files, which is generally not something you want to do. You can seriously jack up your computer from here. Also, you don't need admin privileges to open and copy files from system folders into your home folder, and it is not a good idea to do so, because they all get copied with root-only permissions when you do that, which is not what you want. Use a normal browser for that stuff.


    Anyway, once you are in /usr/share/fonts, move the font file into the appropriate folder, and it will be accessible in every program and to every user. I install every font that is not available from the software center this way.

    As far a dictionaries (and I mean spell-check dictionaries), OOo extensions can be gotten here, and that includes dictionaries. There will doubtless be many options for French spell checking (and thesaurus), as there are for German. I don't know about Persian, but I found two for modern Hebrew, so I guess it ought to be there. They are generated by the community, so I guess it depends on if enough Persian speakers use the program. Of course, if you are talking about Old Persian or something like that, I doubt you will find anything. I haven't had any luck with Aramaic or Akkadian either .

    If you mean dictionaries where you look things up, there are obviously always on-line dictionaries, and there are several decent off-line dictionary programs for Linux. I happen to like one called "GoldenDict" which supports most open source dictionary formats. It still can be difficult to get modules for less common languages, however. I found some good stuff for Arabic and Latin, but no Hebrew. Again, I can't say about Persian. That't not really OOo's thing, however.

    About sharing and accessibility, you mentioned odt being one of the formats you use frequently. I wonder if it is completely accessible to not only MS Word users but also those in other platforms. I always assumed that rtf is the most accessible of all formats. No? Does OOo export or save in rtf pretty neatly?
    OOo handles rtf just fine. The question is whether rtf can handle OOo. rtf is basically one step up from pure text. You can do text formating and images (now, I think), but I don't believe it supports more sophisticated paragraph formating needed for footnotes and bibliographic entries (at least not Chicago style). I'm not sure it even supports double spacing. It definitely doesn't do table of contents or things like that. It's just formated text.

    [edit] I played around with RTF a bit because of your question, and it seemed to do a pretty good job, actually. My diagrams didn't show up, but everything else looked great. Perhaps it's worth giving a shot to see how it works for your needs.

    If you don't need any of that other stuff for your shared documents, then rtf will be fine, but if you do, it doesn't matter which program you use, because it's not part of rtf, or at least it wasn't a few years ago when I was playing with it.

    OOo usually does a pretty good job exporting to .doc formats, especially docx, and those retain pretty much all of the complex formating. You would just have to find out if any of the specific formating you use gets lost in the export.

    A final note here is that you have to turn on right-left text formating for it to really work properly, which I guess you will need for Persian. you have to go to Tools>Options and then you will get a dialogue. In the menu on the left there is a place for "language settings" and under that go to the entry called "languages."

    At the bottom there is a check box that says "Enabled for complex text layout (CTL)."

    Check that box. Then, in the section that says "Default languages for documents," you can go to CTL, pull down the menu, and there is an entry for Farsi.

    If you restart the program, you should have text direction selectors in your formating toolbar. They look like the "beginning of paragraph" symbol with little arrows next to them. This allows you to change the text direction of the paragraph and all the punctuation behaves as it is supposed to. If the icons don't show up, you can add them quite easily, but I think they show up.

    You can open the options again, and this time there will be an entry called "Complex Text Layout" with a few nice options (one that lets you change the cursor behavior form logical to visual, for example).

    On the options dialog, there is also an entry for "OpenOffice.org Writer," and there will be two entries for basic fonts. One is for western languages, so you can choose whatever you want for you defaults, and the other is for your CTL font. Here you will choose whatever font works best for your Persian.

    Finally I would love to hear your experience with other world processors. Have you tried Kword and AbiWord at all? What do you think of them?
    I haven't used Kword, but I know some people like it. I know OOo is more powerful, but perhaps Kword is sufficient. I really don't know. Abiword is fast and slick, and it does footnotes, and I can also usually get my bibliography right in it. But, as far as indexing styles for certain types of text, and generating a table of contents, I don't think it does that kind of stuff, at least not the last time I used it.

    One thing you might consider if sharing documents is very important for you is using Google Docs. While Docs isn't quite as powerful as Word or OpenOffice, I think it is better than Abiword, and your colleagues will definitely see exactly what you see, and be able to edit documents and all of that. I believe that it supports user-defined styles to some extent as well, but I'm not sure. Zoho also does on-line document editing stuff, and they might be better, but I haven't tried it. Google docs can export to doc, odt, rtf, pdf, and some others as well, but I am not sure how well it does it. I know it has some difficulty importing odt and doc format.

    Of course, that doesn't matter if you just do everything in Google Docs. The trick is that you must be on-line for it to work. I think, one day, when there is Internet everywhere, and the Google Docs platform has been developed a bit more, it will be the way we work with shared documents. It's already pretty great, since anyone with a browser can use it, it looks the same in every browser, the multi-lingual support is already there, and Google's spell-checking is some of the best out there.
    Last edited by ninjaaron; December 22nd, 2010 at 05:10 PM.

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