[texhax] Plain vs. Latex

Barbara Beeton bnb at ams.org
Wed Oct 28 15:21:07 CET 2009

michael barr writes,

    I would like to add my 2c to what Pierre MacKay and others have said. Let me
    begin by pointing out that nearly all of plain can also be used in latex.
    There are exceptions, but not many and mostly not important and you can
    always add them to your own file of macros.  This is not true of amslatex,
    incidentally, which has gone to a lot of trouble to make it quite difficult,
    although not impossible, to use plain macros.  I don't understand their
    philosophy, but then that was why I quit the organization 40 years ago.

although i personally prefer plain tex,
at least partially because i learned it
first, there compelling reasons for the
adoption of latex by ams.  this is a
production shop, publishing many thousands
of journal pages a year.  in order to
make this a successful enterprise,
uniformity is needed, and the ability
to process as much as possible with as
little human intervention as possible.

the philosophy is that human effort is
best spent on ensuring the mathematical
accuracy and intelligibility of content
as opposed to fine-tuning idiosyncratic
macros submitted by authors.  the latex
packages spoken of provide the necessary
uniformity while enabling generation of
identical versions in both print and
electronic form, the latter with full
hyperlinking provided by hyperref.

with books, more flexibility is possible,
and authors can submit their files using
ams-tex (a structured interface to tex
more closely aligned to plain tex) or
latex, or even plain tex, preferably
using an author package that provides
the "look" of the particular series in
which the book is to appear.  as the
person who has the duty of answering
tex-related questions for authors, i
definitely appreciate it when authors
follow our guidelines.  we do receive
a number of books that have been written
to some latex document class other than
one from ams, and it usually requires
many hours of technical effort to adapt
these styles to the local requirements,
which include such basic things as
making sure the text block fits in the
specified margins so printed material
isn't either cut off at the outside
trim or made unreadable in the binding
gutter.  (the number of authors who
modify the page size to fill a sheet
of letter paper is truly staggering;
i know many authors refuse to read
instructions -- they're brazen enough
to say so -- but if they just looked
at a copy of the journal or book
series to which they're submitting
their manuscript, it should be obvious
that a text block that fills a letter
sized sheet just won't fit withint
the trim of the target publication.)

more time spent by the publisher means
higher cost.  while it may seem shameful
to push this work onto authors, it's a
fact that an author understands the
material better than any editorial
person or texnician, so a careful and
responsible author can help to ensure
both a valuable document and an
affordable price.

the bottom line for the person who originally
asked is, choose plain tex or latex as you
find you prefer, but if you're submitting
a manuscript for publication, please read
what the publisher recommends and follow
these instructions.
						-- bb

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