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Comments Done, Done in LaTeX

FDA comments have finished, so a brief write-up about LaTeX.

Yesterday the comment period ended. So today I am not writing about ecigs. I’ll write briefly about LaTeX.

First, I write these posts in markdown. I’m a fan and enemy of document composition software. I don’t usually write in a word processor, as they tend to have lots of things I don’t use that get in my way. I’ve written in Docbook, an XML format, which was nice except it’s XML, which tends to get in the way. You could probably use a WYSIWYG frontend for it, but then you have two problems.

Markdown is nice and simple. But not very powerful for advanced purposes. So I’ve been dabbling in LaTeX, and wrote my comments to the FDA in it. There are packages for just about everything, and I only ran into minor hiccups. For the most part the TeX macros don’t clutter up too much, and it’s easy to write your macros own for repetitive phrases or words that would be otherwise distracting to the writing process.

And then there’s LuaLaTeX, which even lets you script things in Lua. I didn’t use that in my FDA comments, but have used it in some of the other documents I’ve written.

One of the really nice things about LaTeX is that you can easily break the document up into smaller chunks and edit them separately. One of the not-so-nice things re: documents in a legal context is the lack of a citations package that supports the American legal citation style. Luckily I avoided citing any cases and only a few laws.

As I understand it, the American legal citation style is too complex to be represented in software. Or rather, in the human mind that would need to turn it into software. Oh well.

LaTeX has other things going for it. It renders to PDF quite well, which makes it nicer to read, and automating that rendering gives you an effectively real-time view. You can specify custom hyphenations for words, and some professional journals spit out pre-formatted citations for it.

But my favorite thing is still that, from a document preparation standpoint, I don’t have to stare at XML. There’s just something inherently inelegant about the XML format. Maybe it’s all the pointy brackets. You feel like the imaginary gravity that holds characters on the surface of your monitor could shut off, and you would be assaulted by a thousand points of light.

What about HTML? Most of the editing is done away from the actual markup, and the markup comes in little chunks. Maybe that is an argument for editing Docbook through an editor or better automation of the markup similar to HTML.

Anyway, that’s what I have today. Glad to have the whole FDA thing off my plate. I clocked in at around 65 pages in total. Hope it helps.

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