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Author Topic: Assessing Scribus for long technical document assembly - would like some advice  (Read 4642 times)

FrankB

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Hi Scribus experts,

I'm assessing Scribus for assembling long technical documents and I'd like some advice on the best approach. Scribus consistently appears along with FrameMaker in searches for the appropriate software. Given that I'm not in a position to be buying commercial software Scribus is the only option (other than keeping things the way they are).

I've been reading on this forum and have seen comments about Scribus not being good for long documents, along with discussion on limitations related to TOCs and indexing. These are critical items for me but I am open to finding workarounds.

I must say I've absolutely enjoyed learning Scribus and I really want it to work for me. But I'd also like to know now if it isn't the right tool for the job.

Here's the situation:

Total pages: Over 1000
Documents: Over 20 with lengths ranging from 30 to 130 pages
Content: Text, images, equations, tables and cross-references
Updates: Around twice a year
Workflow: Microsoft Word for all editing, formatting and layout

We've done pretty well with Word; some of our clients even consider our material to be best in industry. However we're pushing it way past its limits. Once I was the only author, now we have around a dozen contributors. Once we only wrote in English, now we translate to a handful of languages. We also encounter problems with Word's proofing and referencing tools, and have version control headaches whenever we hand a fully formatted and laid out document to a translator.

The workflow I'd like to use is:
  • Authors (or translators) collaborate on minimally formatted manuscripts in Word with Track Changes enabled. All text is tagged with the relevant style name.
  • Finalized Word documents converted to LO Writer format, maintaining style names.
  • LO document text is inserted into Scribus document template with matching predefined styles.
  • Layout tweaked for flow.

Knowing Scribus's limitations, here are my questions:

Layout
  • Would it be possible to create TOC text in Word/Writer and then bookmark the relevant items in Scribus to obtain the page numbers? We use four heading levels and only first level text can go in its own frame. The remaining three levels are inline and need to flow with the text.
  • What is the best way to add an equation? Is it via a render frame containing LaTeX code? Or as an image? (not keen on this option)
  • We use small margin icons to highlight certain text passages. In Word we use "Move object with text" to keep them next to the relevant passages. Is there a way to do this in Scribus? Or is it easier to simply wait until the text is fully placed and then only position the icons as the last step?
  • The documents contain many cross-references, although we only reference titles and not page numbers. Presumably the best thing to do here is simply use the text that comes from Word, without trying to recreate the references in Scribus?

Maintenance
  • What is the best way to update an existing document? Is it better to sparingly copy/paste changes from the manuscripts (which will be highlighted by Track Changes), or should I simply blast the original text and replace it all at once?
  • What is the best way to create a translation? The length, and therefore flow, of the text will change significantly when we replace the text with the new language. Does anyone have any advice on how to avoid completely redoing the document? Or is redoing it the only practical way?

If you've read this far then congratulations. :)  This has turned out to be a much longer post than I'd expected and I thank you for getting through it. I like the potential that Scribus offers and I've already been working on redesigning our layout to make it clearer and more elegant. But I don't want to be left tearing my hair out by choosing the wrong tools.

I look forward to your suggestions.

Frank

GarryP

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Hi Frank.

It sounds like you've got a great deal of work ahead of you so good luck in advance with that. I'm also glad to read that you've enjoyed learning Scribus and hope you continue to use it.

I can't answer all of your questions as I don't use many of the processes/things that you want to use but I'll have a stab at some answers which will hopefully set the ball rolling for others to add to.

Apologies if I've misunderstood any of your requirements.

For a multi-document TOC: Scribus can't currently generate a TOC over multiple documents but you could - depending on how complex your documents are - use a low-tech solution. If you generate a TOC for each document, then once everything else is completed, renumber the pages in the second and subsequent documents depending on the last page number of the previous document and regenerate the TOC for those, you could then use a PDF-stitcher to move the TOC pages together. (And you'd have to put the TOCs at the end of each document so you didn't get gaps in the numbering.) It's not ideal but I did say it was low-tech!

For indexing: Scribus currently doesn't do indexing but, looking at the roadmap, it's something that might be in a future release. However this may be a problem if, like you say, it's a critical item for you. I hope someone else on the forum can provide a more upbeat answer on this one.

For equations: I've never used LaTeX myself but if the equation is drawn in something like Inkscape (also free and easy to use) you'll be able to get graphics that are fully scalable and look great - unlike bitmaps which you weren't keen on.

For the margin icons: Scribus doesn't really have a "move with text" feature. I'd probably leave these to the end then put your icons in the Scrapbook and just drag and drop them where needed. It's quicker than inserting image frames then getting the same image over and over again.

For document updating: I'd be very tempted to blast the original text with the new version. Once some text has been proofread I like to "lock it down" as much as possible so that small errors can't creep in by people trying to take shortcuts - especially in technical documents where, as I'm sure you'll be aware, just one character wrong can lead to disaster. (Having said that though it's probably "horses for courses" on this one. Just do whatever gives you the least work to get to the result you want.)

For translations: I'd probably work on the layout and text separately - creating the empty layout in Scribus, then importing the text as above. You can make multiple copies of the empty layout, one for each language. (It would be great if Scribus could link to text in a file, instead of importing it, thereby allowing you to just point the text frame to a different file. But I'd guess this would mean that most of the text tools would be unusable so it's probably not going to happen.)

In general: I'm very reticent to say this but if complex TOC and index generation - with some cross-referencing and other things - are of great importance, like you said at the start of your post, then maybe Scribus isn't what you want for this kind of thing. It's very difficult for me to say that as I've got major respect for the application and its developers, but if it can't do what you need it to do for technical documents that, by their very nature, have to be just right then your current processes might have to continue to be stretched a little further. Scribus is brilliant at what it does but - as with all software - it's no good at doing what it simply doesn't do. (I hope that hasn't offended anyone, it's just a fact of life that nothing can be used for everything.)

Anyway, I know I've not given you all the info you need but I hope I've given you some pointers in vaguely the right directions and other people will chip in with more tips. And I hope you continue to use Scribus where appropriate.

Garry.

dave61430

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For different languages multiple layers might be helpful if other parts of the page stay constant.

FrankB

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It sounds like you've got a great deal of work ahead of you so good luck in advance with that. I'm also glad to read that you've enjoyed learning Scribus and hope you continue to use it.

< snip >

Anyway, I know I've not given you all the info you need but I hope I've given you some pointers in vaguely the right directions and other people will chip in with more tips. And I hope you continue to use Scribus where appropriate.

Hi Garry,

Thanks a mil for the detailed and most excellent answer. Your suggestions are very helpful.

I'm still experimenting with it (whilst keeping the existing production workflow) and each step gets me just that little big closer to having a final solution. We actually do use a pdf assembler to "compile" our documents, but we don't bother renumbering the pages. We cheat by prefixing them with a document number. The prefixes keep them unique even though the number sequence always begins at 1 in each document. The prefixes are static text within each document and are easily incorporated in the master pages.

After reading your responses I think the only real issue I'm going to have is getting page numbers for the TOC. I can easily get the text (and paragraph styles) from the source document. That said, I still have to trawl the forum in a bit more detail -- or perhaps you can suggest how -- to learn about bookmarking page numbers. If that's possible then it means I can still produce the TOC with a reasonable level of automation ... I hope.

I like your idea of using Inkscape for the equations. Learning LaTeX would just add another layer of complexity I think. As it turns out I've been using Inkscape for some technical illustrations but I'd forgotten about its support for text. I thought SVG compatibility was an issue for Scribus, but perhaps I'm thinking of an older version?

I'm having a bit of a hassle with the style names getting mangled when I convert Word > Libre Office Writer > Scribus, which is making it a bit hard to automatically map the style names from source to destination. I think most of the mangling happens from Word > Writer and I'm still trying to pin it down. Unfortunately Word is the only fixed link in the workflow as it's our company standard and each of the contributors needs to collaborate on the manuscripts.

Interestingly the sizes of the documents don't seem to be causing any performance issues. There is a bit of a delay -- around 5 seconds or so -- when I initially open the Story Editor but that's no huge surprise given the amount of text. On a dual screen setup it's easy to keep the layout in one window and the text in the other so I only really have to open the Story Editor once.

We've got a major production deadline for the end of May (for which I'm using the existing workflow), but once that's out the door I'm going to take more time to do a full assessment by reproducing our largest and most complex document in Scribus. I'm sure that will reveal any problems (and successes!), and I'm happy to share my findings with the forum.

Thanks again for your advice.

Cheers,

Frank

GarryP

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You're welcome Frank.

For the TOC issues you could try looking at http://forums.scribus.net/index.php/topic,919.msg4158.html#msg4158 and http://forums.scribus.net/index.php/topic,323.msg1485.html#msg1485. Unfortunately, currently, Scribus doesn't have sophisticated TOC functionality, but that might change in the future. My best advice would be to get what you can from Scribus then manually edit the results at the very end of the production process.

I've had some issues with SVGs in Scribus - warnings that the file contains unsupported features - but they only seem to be where the SVG uses things like transparencies on gradient fills - complex stuff like that. For the most part though, and especially for simple graphics like equations which are usually basic black glyphs, SVGs are fine. (If you have a problem with importing an SVG you can always use Inkscape to export to EPS and put the EPS into an image frame instead, but some people are averse to doing this.) I believe importing SVGs is a recent addition to Scribus but I don't know when it came in.

Unfortunately I can't help much with the Style issues. I only use plain text files which are imported when ready and then "stylised" later. (I don't work with large amounts of text so that's okay for me, but not everyone has that luxury.)

The Scribus wiki suggests that Scribus can't handle large documents but I'd say, after reading plenty of forum posts, that it can handle them just fine. The Showcase section of the forum has plenty of large examples and I'm sure they're just the tip of the iceberg. (I think the story editor is being rewritten so the delay in opening might disappear, or at least lessen, in future versions.)

Anyway, best of luck with your deadline and I look forward to hearing about your future Scribus successes.

Garry.

Nermander

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I believe importing SVGs is a recent addition to Scribus but I don't know when it came in.

Importing SVG to native Scribus entities has been around for a long time (at least since the 1.3.3-versions). But I think importing SVG into an image frame is something new.

FrankB

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GarryP and Nermander,

Thanks again for your very informative responses. Apologies for the delay; I've temporarily relocated to North America and haven't had much time to revisit the forum. With the upcoming deadlines I probably won't get a chance to visit the forum for a couple of weeks, but I'll be back onto my assessment after then.

Frank