Monday, April 11, 2011

LaTeX Short Course Material Available

For those interested in LaTeX, I've posted the presentation, handouts, and related materials from a recent short course (taught by Emily Naiser and myself) on getting started with LaTeX for both Windows and Mac OSX.  We're teaching it again this summer.

The necessity for this workshop stemmed from our recent move to LaTeX for some of the reports we produce at the Public Policy Research Institute.  Several reports are produced monthly or annually for many different entities (county governments, school districts, etc) and until recently we've always used a combination of (outdated) Word macros, SQL queries, and a lot of student worker man-hours to produce these reports.  Given some changes in MS Word's macro/virtual basic scripting, limitations in the way data could be analyzed and presented, and the error-rate from some hand data entry(not everything could be scripted in VB) in previous reports, we decided to migrate these to an automated system that takes the raw data reported to us (via web survey, scanned/teleform mail survey, and/or telephone survey) and puts it into a PDF document ready for delivery.

The way we do this now is using a combination of Stata (via user-packages like texdoc, texsave, tabout, and estout) and LaTeX.  Within a single Stata do-file we write the template text for these reports, the coding to clean, manipulate, analyze, and graph the data, and the coding to change the text/wording of the document to reflect the data presented (more on this later).  This do-file also writes all the LaTeX code for producing the final document. So, after data is received, we click a single do-file (actually it runs periodically as a cron job) and we get the final reports in PDF minutes later.
If you are doing any kind of data analyses and collection periodically or separate reports for many entities or sub-groups in your data, integration of LaTeX and Stata is a great way to get it done.  Also, literate programming is a great habit.  I'll post an example later, but in the mean time, the materials I've posted present most of the skills used to produce these reports.

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