Friday, August 31, 2012

Publishing Your Dissertation With LaTeX

I published my doctoral dissertation. As I used LaTeX to write it in the first place the publisher agreed to let me do the typesetting myself. This way I believed I would avoid a load of extra work converting it all to MS Word and all the annoyances that come along with it. While I am happy with the result in terms of typesetting quality, doing it all in LaTeX turned out to be quite a messy process that took me almost a year.

1. Fundamentals: jurabib hacking

Most of the complexity was hidden in subtle problems I had not foreseen. The main obstacle that consumed most of my time was caused by a decision I made years ago, when I decided to use the jurabib package to manage my references. By the time I was ready to publish the dissertation the package was not actively supported anymore. Instead there was biblatex, which looked very promising but did lack one feature I could not live without (support for archival records is essential for historians). I ended up adapting the official jurabib package to my needs (which were not fully covered by the original package), which took me at least 3 months —working in my spare time after my full-time job. Before that I had only been a user of LaTeX. While I felt comfortable using the higher level API, I had to learn La/TeX from scratch in order to do some more serious stuff. I got there mostly by reading parts of Knuth's TexBook and getting hints from the Internets. What I found out about jurabib was not very encouraging. Some implementation details seemed like a hack to me once I started understanding what was going on. My modifications did not help in any way making it look nicer or more robust. I just tried to coerce it somehow to follow my will. The result is probably not worth sharing but it did what I needed it to do.

2. XeLaTeX or LaTex?

I first jumped on to the XeLaTeX train, which seemed to make my life easier because I was able to use the OpenType fonts installed on my system. At same time I had to convert everything into UTF-8 because for some unknown reason I could not get the

switch to work. But the showstopper was that the quality of the typesetting simply did not match the printed books I used as references. The main reason for that is that XeLaTex does not yet support the microtypography features that are available in LaTaX through the microtype package. I reverted back to LaTeX and used fontools' autoinst, which is basically a wrapper around LCDF TypeTools. It turned out to be not hard at all to use my system's OpenType fonts that way.

3. Adaptation to my publisher's requirements

My only guidance as to what the result should look like was an example of another book published in the same series and some general information from my publisher. I used that and Mac OS X's Preview program to get a feel for sizes and proportions of the intended result and used What The Font to identify the fonts. It felt weird figuring out the layout that way. I think this awkwardness was due to the publisher's workflow clearly being geared towards a MS Word centric approach, where all the typesetting happens at the publishing house. I had used KOMAscript to typeset the initial version of the text, which I submitted to my university. This turned out to be the next roadblock. There was a stark dissonance between what my publisher demanded and what the author of the KOMA templates deemed acceptable in an effort to educate his users towards his understanding of typesetting. Again I was reluctant to abandon the KOMA packages completely as they also offered much valued functionality in other areas.

My main difficulty was font sizes where I had to do nasty things like this:

%hacking to 11pt
\abovedisplayskip 11\p@ \@plus3\p@ \@minus6\p@
\abovedisplayshortskip \z@ \@plus3\p@
\belowdisplayshortskip 6.5\p@ \@plus3.5\p@ \@minus3\p@
\belowdisplayskip \abovedisplayskip

I just did not find another solution. If I had had the time, the clean solution might have been to write my own template based on one of the default LaTeX templates instead.

4. Indices

Just one thing: Make sure they are ordered correctly even if you have got words/titles with umlauts in them ...


What does this all mean? Don't do LaTeX? Not at all, quite the opposite! Do it! Apart from the jurabib issue which was really painful, the other points mentioned here were lessons to be learned rather than unsurmountable obstacles. So by all means do it, maybe choose your packages wisely. Using TeX saved me a lot of tedious manual work while preparing indices and managing references and it also gave me professional grade typesetting on top of that.

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