When your paper is ready for sharing with others, you should turn it into a PDF file. Most publishers require a PDF version of your paper, as well as the editable source (word processor docuemnt or LaTeX file).
Why not Word files?
Why share a document as PDF and not as a Microsoft Word file? Publishing Word files suffers from the following problems:
- Not everyone uses Microsoft Word (I don't). Even though it's possible to open most Word files with other programs (such as OpenOffice, which is what I use in such cases), the formatting is often unpredictable when the file is viewed by a different program.
- Pagination in Word files is not fixed. If someone tells you they disagree with what you wrote on the 3rd line of page 12, you want to be sure that what they see as page 12 is identical to what you see; but pagination may change even if the reader has a different printer or different default page size.
- Not everyone has the same fonts installed, so some text might look different on other computers. The problem is especially serious if you use any special symbols, such as mathematical or logical symbols or the phonetic alphabet: when you send a Word file with such symbols, you just don't know what your readers will see.
In contrast, PDF files are read-only, don't require any special software except for what can be downloaded for free, and always looks exactly the same on every computer.
Sending Word files only makes sense if the recepients are expected to make changes to the file, and you know that they use Word. Even then, I think there are better alternatives, such as sharing a file on Google docs.
Software for creating PDF files
There are many ways to create a PDF file. In the past, this required buying the commercial Adobe Acrobat package (which is not the same as the free Adobe Reader). Today there are, however, many free or inexpensive alternatives for creating PDF files:
- If you use LaTeX, you get PDF files 'for free'. For more information, see this page.
- If you use any other program on Windows, you can create PDFs with a free program called PDFCreator. After installation, you simply use the regular "Print" command in any application to create a PDF file — just choose PDFCreator as your "printer". Other similar programs are pdf995 and PrimoPDF.
- Use the free LibreOffice (or its ancestor OpenOffice) instead of Microsoft Word; LibreOffice allows you to export your files into PDF directly, without installing any additional software. You get PDF files that include bookmarks for jumping directly to any section (assuming you format headings using heading styles and not by just messing around with font size etc), hyperlinks, and much more. Other word processors, such as the commercial Corel Word Perfect and the free AbiWord, also have the option to export to PDF; which makes you wonder why Microsoft Office doesn't let you convert your files to PDF. It seems that Microsoft doesn't want its customers to realize that there's a simple alternative to Word files for distributing documents electronically; after all, their monopoly is based on the myth that "you must have MS Word in order to be able to share files with others".
- On the Mac, if you're using Mac OS X, you already have everything you need: just select "Print..." from any program, then click "Save as PDF" (or click and hold the "PDF" button, and then select "Save as PDF").
- Use an online service like PDF Online or doc2pdf to convert Word files into PDF.
Software for reading PDF files
This is not really part of the publishing process, but if we're on the topic of PDF files, there are many free programs for reading them, in addition to the familiar Adobe Reader. Some of the better ones are:
- For Linux:
- Evince, KPDF or Okular
- For Mac OS X:
- Skim or Preview (which comes with Mac OS X itself)
- For Windows:
- Foxit Reader
Publishing on the web
There are many different ways to build and managae a web site. Personally, this is what I do:
- Use a text editor called Geany to write plain text files using the simple Markdown syntax (actually, an extended version recognized by Pandoc). For example, here is the source for this page.
- Convert the Markdown files to HTML using Pandoc.
- Upload the HTML files to the server using sitecopy.
- The whole process of converting from Markdown to HTML and uploading to the server is automated using a Makefile, so after changing a Markdown file in Geany I just press a single key to update the HTML files on the server.
- The design of my site is based on a single CSS file, which means that I can focus on the content without bothering with formatting every time.
The process involves several tools that require some learning, but now updating my website is really trivial — which is important, because a website that requires an effort to update will quickly become obsolete.
A simpler option (which is very similar to the process that I use, but it automates much of the process without requiring a Makefile) is to use the very nice web site generator jekyll.