ShareLaTeX – a collaborative LaTeX editor

Author(s): Patrick Ausderau

Affiliation(s): Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Finland

Date of publication: April 15, 2016

The Educational Problem

How to easily, and without extra costs, support virtual collaboration for writing quality technical, scientific, academic, multilingual, etc. papers, articles, books, theses, presentations, etc.

The Solution

ShareLaTeX is an online collaborative LaTeX editor. LaTeX is a typesetting system following the WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean) paradigm for editing a structured document.

In a text document, within the content, authors will indicate document structure (title, chapters, sections, etc.), meta information (authors, date, languages, etc.), formatting (bold, emphasis, lists, etc.), or bibliographical citations and cross-references (e.g. to a figure, table, other chapter/section, page,  glossary, list of abbreviations,etc.).

At any time, users can compile the LaTeX text file to produce an output file (usually PDF or DVI) suitable for printing or online distribution. In ShareLaTeX, by default the user get a parallel view with the tex source and the generated PDF. By double clicking in the PDF, the tex source will scroll to the corresponding code. When multiples writers work at the same time, they will see each others’ edits in real time (limited to two collaborators in the free version). The development (test) version offer a way to add comments similar to google doc; anyway, it has always been possible to have a comment in the tex source.

With the pay version or if the tool is installed in one’s own institution server, ShareLaTeX offers file history with an option to roll back the changes to an older version or to merge back some previous changes without losing newer edits. It also offers an option to synchronize with Dropbox and GitHub, thus allowing working offline and merging back the changes once back online.

Key Experiences

The author uses ShareLaTeX mostly when supervising students during their thesis writing. It allows the students to concentrate on content and structure and not be distracted by styling. It makes it easy to follow the work in progress and to write comments/advises directly in the text and when there is a need to collaborate in real time.

The author also uses Authorea which is a similar tool. It offers advantages like unlimited editors for a document and synchronization with GitHub with the free account. It also has a nice built in tool to get the bibliography reference directly from DOI or to search from author/title/keyword. The following article is an example how Authorea was use to write an essay.

Materials and Links

Links to full original document: