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FLOSS tools for thesis writing

Posted by admin at Feb 26, 2009 12:35 |

I officially started writing up my PhD thesis today, and looked into various FLOSS tools assisting this process (probably to further avoid having to actually write the thing), and I thought I'd share what I found.

I have been using LaTeX for my typesetting for a while, mainly through the Kile editor. For references I use plain BibTex: my bibliography database is a simple .bib file which I edit in Kile. However, there are some standard tasks in thesis writing (spell checking, thesaurus querying, etc.), which I never really had much use for up to now, so I did an investigation of what's available:

Spell checking

For spell checking in Kile, I switched from ispell to aspell, which seems to be superior in terms of suggesting alternatives for misspelled words. Under my Fluxbox/Debian box, I started


and then under KDE Components -> Spell Checker -> Client, I chose 'Aspell'. This affected Kile after its next restart (Tools -> Spelling -> Language).

Dictionary / Thesaurus

The WordNet project seemed an interesting solution. In combination with a dict server and client, it provides quite a powerful english language dictionary. I also installed the dict-moby-thesaurus package:

sudo aptitude install dictd dict dict-gcide dict-wn dict-moby-thesaurus wordnet

So far, I use this stuff from the command line with the commands dict and wn.

Diff and Merge

To compare different versions of two text files (for example to incorporate suggestions by my advisors), I can recommend the


command as a bare-bones command line solution, or meld for GUI-addicts:

sudo aptitude install meld

.tex -> .odt Conversion

A more challenging task turned out to be the possibility of converting from .tex to .doc or .rtf in some sort of way (since one of my advisors prefers to use MS Word to make corrections). I investigates several solutions (usually with some sort of intermediate format involved), but the tex4ht package seemed particularly promising for conversions from .tex to .odt (with another conversion from .odt to .doc then being a piece of cake with Open Office). So I tried

sudo aptitude install tex4ht

and then tested the conversion with

mk4ht oolatex mytexfile.tex

However, this just resulted in an empty .odt document, so I guess I'll have to get back to this later.

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