Grammar and spelling checkers make our lives easier and improve the quality of our documents. Most of us are used to having a built-in grammar checker in our word processing software. If you’re writing in LaTeX, however, it’s not that easy.
What Is LaTeX?
LaTeX (pronounced law-tech or lay-tech) isn’t a word processor. Rather, it’s a document preparation system that focuses on separating the content from the formatting. Instead of having to format headings, subheadings, etc., the writer uses basic programming (called markup) to denote the different parts of the document, which are later formatted depending on where the document is to be published. Because of its formatting flexibility, LaTeX is often used in scientific and academic papers.
Because of the way LaTeX creates documents, there are no simple, go-to spelling or grammar checking options as there are with word processing software. Rather, three methods can be used: copy and paste, add-on software, and professional service.
The Copy and Paste Method
Arguably the most low-tech method, copy and paste is just what it sounds like. You copy your text from LaTeX and paste it into a word processor that has built-in spelling and grammar checkers. You make note of the suggested changes and then go back and make those changes in the original document.
Microsoft Word has customizable settings for its grammar and spelling checkers. It also gives you the option to select the proofing language. This flexibility is helpful if you’re writing in a dialect that you’re not used to. For example, if you’re a US author writing for a UK audience, changing the proofing language to UK English will flag words with regional spelling differences (e.g., color vs. colour and recognize vs. recognise).
While the spelling and grammar checkers in Google Docs aren’t as customizable as Microsoft Word’s, Google Docs has the advantage of being cloud-based. So you’re less likely to lose your work if the unexpected happens (such as a sudden power outage or an unfortunate coffee spill).
The copy and paste method is easy to use, word processing software is readily available, and most people are familiar with the software. However, copying, pasting, and then going back to correct the original text does add extra steps that can become tedious in a long document. In addition, the presence of the markup (special commands and keywords that are not part of the content but are still in the document) complicates things.
The Add-On Software Method
Software add-ons to check grammar and spelling directly in the LaTeX document are available, but you have to download and then install or activate them.
Language Tool is a browser add-on that works with many LaTeX editors. It color-codes spelling and grammar errors as well as making stylistic suggestions. You can get it as either a free basic edition or a paid premium edition.
TeXtidote is free software that works directly in your LaTeX file. It has the capability to work in multiple languages.
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Since add-on software works directly in the LaTeX document, it allows you to skip the tedious copying and pasting of the previous method. However, you must download and install the software, so some computer savvy is necessary.
The Proofreading Service Method
This method allows you to skip your spelling and grammar checking altogether in favor of having a professional do it. Proofreading services, such as Proofed, employ professional editors who are experienced in working with a wide range of document subjects and formats. These editors will go through your document, correct spelling and grammar errors, and make suggestions for stylistic changes.
This method is the easiest to use and will give you the most consistent results. However, there is a fee to use the service (Proofed does offer a free trial). Proofreading services are also not instantaneous. Depending on the document type, you may be able to opt for an express service, but getting your document back may still take several hours.
So, Which Method Is Best?
There is no one method that works best for everyone. Each method has its pros and cons, and choosing your preferred method depends on several things, described below.
Your Proficiency With English
The copy and paste and add-on software methods both offer suggestions, but it’s up to you to accept or reject those suggestions. Software-based spelling and grammar checkers can and do flag items in error, and they may not catch certain things, such as homophones (bear vs. bare, for example) or words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly. If English is not your first language, this flaw can cause problems.
Your Proficiency With Software
As mentioned, the add-on method requires the downloading and installation of the necessary software. While modern installers make this process easier, you may need to change your browser or computer settings.
If you have a research paper due in 12 hours, you know that every minute counts. The copy and paste method takes extra time for you to go back and forth, and proofreading services have a return time. If you’re skilled with technology, add-on software will be quicker.
LaTeX editors don’t have automatic spelling and grammar checkers, but alternatives exist. Whether you utilize a work-around, install additional software, or have somebody else do the job, you have a choice in how to polish your document to make it as perfect as possible.