Today I handed in my Project Proposal, which is the starting point for the massive final year project I am embarking on that will eventually end in my dissertation. The proposal itself was fairly easy to write content-wise (I’m doing something that I’m interested in and had already started the research). Producing the thing in the right format though was a different story.

Essentially, everyone I have spoken to has recommended that I choose LaTeX for writing up my dissertation. Having seen how wonderful LaTeX docs tend to look when cast against the unholy offspring of other options, I thought this was a fantastic idea. Following my recent revelations about how to really get good at using something rather than just trying it and giving up, I decided that there was no time like the present and that I’d prepare my Project Proposal in LaTeX too.

This, ladies & gentlemen, is why writing a five page document just took me 15 hours.

On the one hand, I really wish that this wasn’t my 33rd consecutive waking hour (I had to work yesterday so didn’t start until the evening), but on the other I have learnt so much. I have also discovered that there are some mighty fine bits of software out there that can be really good. So I thought I’d post a little thank you here.

What I ended up using was LyX on my newly installed Debian Sarge desktop (different machine to the server previously discussed). LyX is a WYSIWYM editor that runs off a LaTeX engine and lets you produce PostScript output that prints beautifully.

[Well, it does if your printer is working. Truth be told, I haven’t gotten around to installing the drivers and working out how to run CUPS yet, so I had a slight problem: no way to print out my beautifully formatted Project Proposal. Then I remembered the WinXP laptop had already been set up for the printer, so reconnected it to that and moved the file over to that machine.

Ah, slight problem. WinXP can’t do PostScript. This was when I discovered GhostScript and GSView. They installed in minutes … and they just worked. So Proposal printed, problems sorted and my heartfelt thanks to all the developers and their families.]

Reflecting on the whole episode, this is one of my Linux experiences that has really shone. The LyX package is a really great way to get the power of LaTeX quickly. I know it’s a bit of a cheat and don’t worry, I have ordered the LaTeX bible and will be learning it properly, but it really is a great bit of software. I’d also heard all about how useful BibTeX could be, but then I discovered Pybliographic, which integrated seamlessly with LyX and handled all my citations in a very smooth manner. All in all it all worked very well and I got a much more professional looking document than I deserved, even having put 15 hours into it. Anyone else doing dissertations this year, I’d heartily recommend you look into it!