Monday, August 17, 2009

Google Docs - like in the good old days

I warmly remember writing articles in LaTeX. It was the ideal separation of presentation from context. I would edit the text first, then play around with figure placement, then wiggle the words around a little to make them fit nicely into paragraphs.

Best of all, when time came to submit an article to conference proceedings, the process consisted of taking a style file, including it into the document, and playing around with presentation again to make it really nice (ok, ok, to cut it by additional 4 pages... but the result usually was indeed much nicer).

This capability is not something you can do with WYSIWIG word processors. There is no simple place to access all the style configuration that can be attached onto a document. It is possible, however, with Google Documents, as I have just discovered. Google Docs contains a template gallery, where you are very likely to find a document style to your liking.

But it's more powerful than that. You don't have to choose the style when you start a document and stick with it. Just write the content, ignoring the styling altogether except for marking the titles with Header 1, Header 2, Header 3, bullets etc. appropriately. When you're done, you can apply a style you like in the following way:
  1. Go to the template gallery, find a template you like, and press "Use this template" button. A new document will be created with that template.
  2. Select Edit|Edit CSS in the new document. In the window that opens, select all the text and copy it.
  3. Select Edit|Edit CSS in your document. Paste the contents you just copied. Voila!
  4. You can tweak the CSS to your heart's content. It's really flexible and powerful. You can also copy it to all the new documents you create.
So, how long until conferences send their style templates in CSS?

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