LaTeX for Secretaries

How to survive without Microsoft Word.

Before you send files generated by LaTeX to a printer or a fax modem, they need to be converted to the right format. Fortunately, all distributions of Linux come with a set of conversion utilities that can handle this job without too much human intervention—you just give them the name of a file and they do the rest:

  • dvi2fax: turns DVI files into fax format, making it possible to send them via a fax modem.

  • dvilj: turns DVI files into Hewlett-Packard LaserJet format. Even if your printer is not made by HP, it can probably still understand or emulate LaserJet commands. All you have to do is switch it into HP LJ emulation mode, which should be described in the printer's manual. Some printers can switch into that mode automatically.

  • dvilj2p: the DVI to Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 2p format converter (similar to dvilj).

  • dvilj4: the DVI to Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4 format converter (similar to dvilj).

  • dvips: turns DVI files into PostScript format, allowing them to be printed on an Adobe PostScript compatible printer.

If you want to print the example letter, type:

dvilj businessletter.dvi
and then:
lpr businessletter.lj
If nothing happens (you did remember to switch the printer on, didn't you?), type lpq and see if the name of your document is on a list there; if you get a “no entries” message, then your machine is probably not set up properly for printing. In that case, ask the system administrator or the service person for help. Sometimes the printer receives the document, but waits after receiving each page for you to press the Print or On-line button. This depends on the printer, but a good rule of thumb is if the Data light is on or blinking and the Print or On-Line lights are off or blinking, then pressing one of them will solve the problem.

Also, on some printers you will need to feed an additional page at the end—it will come out blank, and you can reuse it.

Converting Files between Microsoft Word and LaTeX

So far, converting Microsoft Word files to LaTeX is a bit difficult. There are several strategies, but none of them will make you perfectly happy. To convert a Word file to LaTeX, you can:

  • Save the MS Word file as a TEXT or an ASCII file. You will lose all formatting, pictures, drawings, linked and embedded documents, but you will at least get the text in a format that can be read by Emacs and LaTeX.

  • Save the MS Word file as an RTF file and use either catdoc or word2x command to turn a DOC file into a LaTeX file. (Type man catdoc or man word2x to learn more about their use and options. If man does not work, try info.) You will lose some of the formatting information, but most of it will be preserved, making your job a little easier.

If you need to convert a LaTeX document into a DOC file, try the following method:

  • Use delatex (or detex) to convert a LaTeX file into a plain text (ASCII) file:

        delatex businessletter.latex >\
  • Compare the output with the original file, and if necessary, remove some of the commands and add missing text. These converters do not yet work as we need them to, unfortunately.

  • Open the TXT file in Word; you will then be asked if you want to convert it from a text format. Click Yes, apply formatting as it is needed and choose the Save as... item from the File menu. In the Save as dialog, choose the Word document option and click Save.

So far, these are the most common ways of exchanging files between MS Word and LaTeX, or any other word processor like Corel WordPerfect or Lotus AmiPro/WordPro, even if some of them are available for Linux. There are some interesting developments on the horizon, but none of them can be recommended for use in a typical office yet.

That is just about everything you will need to start using LaTeX in an office. Of course, there is more to learn and I recommend you use the locate 'lshort2e.dvi' command to see if you can find the “Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2e”. It is a well-written LaTeX manual filled with many interesting examples.

All examples from this article can be found on the Internet at the site

If any of the commands or programs mentioned above aren't available on your system, ask the administrator to install them and give you the necessary permissions to use them. All of those tools should be available for any Linux distribution.

Jacek Artymiak is a consultant specializing in helping companies and individuals use Linux as a desktop or personal system for common, everyday jobs. His other occupations include being a writer, journalist, web designer, computer graphics artist and programmer. Readers are welcome to send their comments via electronic mail to or visit



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Life is not fair, is it? You

Anonymous's picture

Life is not fair, is it? You learned how to use Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect, only to find yourself at a job where your boss says you must use LaTeX.

If you think that's not fair, just imagine the other way around, I assure you it is a true nightmare.