Document Processing

A common computing task is to produce a document that will look nice when printed on paper. To do this you will need to use one of the following document processors. There are also spelling checkers.

  • TeX/LaTeX – modern typesetting programs
  • nroff, troff, groff – older typesetting programs
  • StarOffice – contains a word processor
  • LyX/TeXmacs – graphical front ends to TeX
  • spell, ispell – spelling checkers


Research papers and other documents can be put in typeset form, with equations, figures, and other fancy stuff, using the typesetting software available on fisher. There are also spelling checkers.

There are three kinds of typesetting programs:

  • text formatters (e.g. LaTeX)
  • “What you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) word processors (e.g. Microsoft Word)
  • “What you see is what you mean” (WYSIWYM) graphical front ends to text formatters (e.g. LyX)

Text formatters

A text formatter reads a file containing text and special formatting codes that determine how the document will look. The text formatter outputs a file that can then be viewed on the screen or sent to a printer or manipulated in some other way.

Text formatters produce excellent printed documents and are the preferred programs to use for producing documents with mathematical content.

There are several text formatters on fisher: TeX and its offshoot LaTeX, as well as the much older nroff, troff, and groff.

Word Processors

Programs like MS Word and WordPerfect are word processors. A word processor consists of a text editor with a built-in typesetting engine. The user enters text and commands, and the program attempts to display on the screen more or less what will appear on printed paper, hence the term “What you see is what you get”, or WYSIWYG.

In an academic environment, word processors have two serious flaws.

  1. They were not designed to create complex mathematical documents.
  2. They inhibit the sharing of information because the files they create cannot be read by others unless they spend money to buy the same software that you did. This flaw is mediated somewhat in that most word processors are capable of viewing documents produced by other word processors.
    On fisher there is the office suite StarOffice that includes a WYSIWIG word processor program in the spirit of the popular MS Word and WordPerfect programs.

Graphical front ends to text formatters

Some people prefer the superior documents produced by text formatters but do not like having to use a text editor to enter their own formatting codes.

There are at least two programs, LyX and TeXmacs that allow the user to see a polished version of the document on the screen as they type. Symbols and special commands can be entered using the mouse. The underlying typesetter is TeX.

Spelling Checkers

You can check the spelling in a document with the spell program. Invoking spell on a text file will list all the words that spell didn’t find its dictionary of correct spellings. Unfortunately, this will likely include various proper names, technical terms, and so forth, as well as actual mis-spellings.

There is also an interactive spell checker ispell that can allow you to fix the spelling errors. It also has the advantage of having an option to ignore (La)TeX formatting commands. When you invoke ispell on a file, the program will display each misspelled word, offer a list of suggested correct spellings, and allow the user to select from the list.

It is possible for you to maintain a local dictionary in your home directory that can supplement (i)spell’s default dictionary.

Detailed information

TeX and LaTeX

How to start

tex filename

latex filename

where filename.tex contains the (La)TeX source.


TeX, and its offshoot LaTeX, are the most popular typesetting programs at U of T, and in other academic environments.

Getting help

There’s enough to say about TeX and LaTeX that it’s all on a separate TeX and LaTeX page.

troff, nroff, groff

How to start

troff filename
nroff filename
groff filename


The old Unix typesetting programs nroff and troff are still available. See their man entries for details. There is also a GNU version of troff, called groff. You would be much better off learning the de facto math industry standard typesetter (La)TeX, but there may be an occasion where knowing one of the roff’s might come in handy.

Getting help

man troff
man nroff
man groff

Many Unix books have a section about this family of programs.


How to start

soffice filename


How to quit

Click File and select Exit


StarOffice is a large office suite that contains a WYSIWYG word processor. The first time you use StarOffice there is an elaborate setup procedure.

Getting help

There’s enough to say about StarOffice that it’s all on a separate StarOffice page.

LyX and TeXmacs

How to start

lyx filename

texmacs filename


These two programs provide graphical front ends to LaTeX.

Getting help

Click on Help

spell and ispell

How to start

spell filename

ispell filename


Two spell checking programs. spell outputs a list of mis-spelled words that the user must then find and correct using a text editor. ispell is an interactive program that allows the user to correct each spelling error in turn.

Getting help

man spell
man ispell

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