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Why PDF?

An explanation for my recent articles in PDF form

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Why LaTeX and PDF?

I have recently decided that, for articles beyond a certain complexity level, I should prepare articles using a LaTeX editor and publish in a PDF (Portable Document Format) final form rather than HTML. Here are my reasons.

For short articles, or articles with little internal structure or references, an HTML page like this is a satisfactory publication medium. But as articles become more complex, and in particular if the article's content requires a multilevel structure or must be meaningfully correlated with a list of references, a more sophisticated publication format is needed.

After writing a few articles that required long and accurate reference lists — example The Trouble With Psychology, with a hand-edited 65-entry reference list — I realized writing such articles with an HTML editor was becoming unworkable. Because of the lack of any coherent resource management in HTML, the simple act of adding a new entry in the middle of an existing reference list became a major undertaking.

It is for such articles that the LaTeX document preparation system was created. Not to oversimplify, but the LaTeX system is designed to separate content from form and appearance. Document issues apart from content are taken care of nearly automatically, without excessive attention by the author, who is free to concentrate on the technical content and let the LaTeX system manage such matters as footnotes, table of contents, reference list and final appearance.

This choice for my more technical articles has some non-obvious advantages, such as the fact that the posted articles, in the form of PDF documents, are self-contained and easy to export — visitors can download copies whose appearance doesn't depend on having an Internet connection or a Web browser for viewing. The articles can also be very easily printed on paper, should anyone care to engage in that archaic practice in modern times.

For readers who spend much of their time browsing the Web and who don't read much technical literature, I should explain that the LaTeX/PDF publication scheme is the medium of choice for academic activities and serious scholarly work. The LaTeX/PDF universe exists alongside the methods commonly used in Web publication, but for scientific and technical content, LaTeX is the preferred method. This is why, when reading a popular Web article about something technical, if the reader should begin clicking links hoping to get to the source of the article's claims, likely as not by the time he's reading the originator's work, it will be in the form of a PDF.

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