Science and Microsoft Word

At the time of writing, a lot of people (even in bioinformatics) uses Microsoft Word to write their papers. I personally think it’s not a good idea, and not just for the file formats (like Microsoft lobbying semi-legally to get OOXML approved by ISO), but because for scientific papers the WYSIWYG paradigm is not appropriate.

Scientific papers describe content, and a scientist should not be concerned with formatting, spacing, and similar things. The same applies to handling references (I still see a lot of people who label them manually!). Not to mention the problems with using a binary format which changes between releases and is not interoperable with non-Windows OSes (90% of our bioinformatics people, me included, uses Linux).

The solution? Using a document preparation system which handles all the formatting and the author needs only to focus on content. Personally I’m rather fond of LaTeX despite its seemingly odd syntax. Some critics may say that “it’s like a programming language” but that’s  no excuse: programs like LyX (which wrap LaTeX around a GUI) make LaTeX much more user friendly and are useful also to less computer-savy people. LaTeX also handles references to tables and figures, numbers them automatically and handles the bibliography using text-based bibliography files (and unlike Endnote, it’s free). The output is a high-quality PDF that can also be supplied to most journals without hassle. I’m using LaTeX to write my fiction books and also for my Ph.D. thesis.

So why keep using Microsoft Word? People who do science should not be scared of trying something new, especially if  it will increase their productivity.
*[WYSIWYG]: What You See Is What You Get

Dialogue & Discussion