Word processing

Word processing in linguistics

In this section and in the departmental style recommendations there are hints on the use of special characters, layout of examples and glosses, example numbering, diagrams, and so on. Transfer between Mac OS, Windows and Unix-based systems needs care.


For actually typing IPA symbols with a suitable font, see under Word processors below.

  • Doulos SIL Font (Summer Institute of Linguistics)
    This Unicode IPA font can be downloaded from SIL for use on any computer (it is pre-installed on University cluster PCs); latest version 28th August 2014. Doulos SIL matches pretty well with Times (Mac) or Times New Roman (Win). See also the section on font embedding in Word documents. SILDoulos IPA93 is no longer recommended.
  • Unicode
    Unicode is a standard for computer representation of text which assigns a unique code to all characters in all currently used writing systems in the world. Many important programs and systems are already ”Unicode compliant”, including in particular Microsoft Office and the major browsers. See The Unicode Consortium for more information about Unicode, including complete character charts.
        The above paragraph is adapted from The Uniqoder Website, which offers a freeware add-in for Word to allow processing of Unicode characters. The LINGUIST site has gone over to Unicode in a big way and recommends the full information on this site.

Word processors, readers and add-ins

  • Microsoft Word
    These notes apply to Windows implementations of Word (97, 2000, 2002=XP, 2003, 2007, 2010, etc.,), though menus are arranged differently. Most will apply to Mac versions too.
    • MS Word is reasonably effective at providing automatic numbering of linguistic examples and automatically updated cross-references to those numbers. As a complex paper gets edited, with examples added or subtracted and blocks of text moved around, this facility is essential. Click on the link for a step-by-step how-to guide to numbering (in PDF format, with screen-shots from an old version of Word).
    • The equation editor can be used for formulas, and the drawing tools are not bad for tree diagrams. Click on the link for a rudimentary example of a Word tree diagram translated into PDF. Some external tree-drawing editors are mentioned below.
    • For graphs and charts, the best way is to create a graph or chart in MS Excel and paste it in. You can also create graphs or charts in the statistical software R. For advice on what kind of chart to use, Andrew Abela has posted a useful flowchart to help you decide. (Tips courtesy of Lifehacker.)
    • For phonetic characters we suggest the Doulos SIL font to blend with Times/Times New Roman. (This font should be pre-installed on all university PCs.) Note that most Old and Middle English characters apart from yogh are available in ordinary fonts like Arial and Times New Roman (see Insert | Symbol). If you use special characters in Word you must decide whether or not to embed the font(s) in the file, and if so, whether to embed only the characters in use (see under Tools | Options | Save). Embedding fonts or characters means (in principle, anyway) that other people can read and print the file correctly even if they don’t have the fonts installed themselves, but the effect on file size is strange, sometimes doubling it, sometimes shrinking it.
  • Typing IPA symbols
    • The TypeIt web pages allow you to select common IPA symbols (or accented letters for French, German, etc.) and then copy and paste into another application – handy for occasional use.
    • The characters in this IPA chart act as a keypad when clicked and get entered on a copyable scratchpad on screen (Weston Ruter).
    • NB. The characters in this IPA chart play the relevant sounds when clicked (University of Victoria).
    • For Mac users only:
      Brian ‘Moses’ Hall is ‘pleased to announce the availability of a free Unicode character palette input method for the International Phonetic Alphabet. This palette is compatible with the Hiragino font shipped with Mac OS, the Doulos IPA font supplied by SIL, and other IPA Unicode fonts. The software enables point-and-click character entry into Unicode-compliant software under Mac OS X. I hope linguists will find it easy to process IPA symbols using it. The software, its source code, and documentation are available: http://www.blugs.com/IPA/ ‘ (LINGUIST 16.1672, 18 May 2005).
    • These pages give full information on using the IPA in Unicode (John Wells).
    • For general help on typing accented letters and other non-standard characters in a variety of programs and on a variety of platforms, visit the Keyboard Help website (Irene Starr, UMass Foreign Language Resource Center).
  • EndNote
    • Bibliographic database, fully integrated with MS Word for automated insertion of citations and production of bibliographies. Also very useful for organising papers you have downloaded.
    • A ready-made template (EndNote style file) for the unified style sheet in linguistics can be downloaded by clicking the following link: Unified style sheet.ens (last updated 9 August 2013). This style sheet is used by an increasing number of journals and is fully compatible with recommended departmental style for essays and dissertations.
    • Free EndNote licence from IT Support for University staff. You can now download version X6 from the University’s Electronic Software Delivery System if you are connected via the VPN; you need to download Microsoft VirtualCD at the same time, or use an equivalent image loader.
    • Students can either buy their own copy of EndNote or register to use EndNoteWeb when off-campus (but with an internet connection). Take care to keep your remote-stored bibliography and your local one synchronised.
  • PDF files
    PDF (‘portable document format’) files allow precise rendition of phonetic fonts, linguistic formulas, tree diagrams, and so on. They are very useful for sending to others or publishing on the web. There are many utilities for reading and writing pdfs.
    • Adobe Acrobat
      The full version of Acrobat can read Word and other file formats and produce pdf files from them. It allows editing of pdf files. (It will refuse to process WordPerfect’s proprietary phonetic and non-Latin fonts, however.) The free Adobe Reader only reads pdfs. These huge programs are sometimes slow to load.
    • PDFCreator
      An efficient Windows add-in which acts as a pseudo-printer and converts documents to pdf format when ‘printed’ from applications like Word and Excel. Free download. (There are many such add-ins available; this is the one installed on University cluster machines.)
    • Foxit Reader
      An alternative to the Adobe Reader both within a browser and as standalone pdf reader, also free, vastly quicker in use, and easier both to install and uninstall. (A full version that writes pdfs as well is available as trialware.)
    • PDF-XChange Viewer
      Another fast, free PDF reader and browser plug-in. This one is British, reliable, and with an excellent help/manual if needed; it is very full-featured (e.g. a ‘typewriter’ function lets you add plain text to a pdf) and was recently voted best pdf reader. Paid-for versions add further features, including full pdf editing and writing.
  • LaTeX
    ‘LaTeX is a high-quality typesetting system, with features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation.’ See also LaTeX for Linguists maintained by Doug Arnold at Essex. Several LEL staff members use LaTeX – feel free to ask.
  • TreeForm Syntax Tree Drawing Software
    ‘TreeForm Syntax tree drawing software is an open source Linguistic Syntax and Semantics tree drawing editor. Designed for WYSIWYG n-ary tree drawing, reorganizing, saving and printing, this tool greatly speeds up the process of producing Syntax trees. TreeForm also lets you make .pdf (with Acrobat professional or MAC), .jpg and .png trees. This Java program works on MAC, Windows and Linux machines.’ (from LINGUIST 17.695)
  • phpSyntaxTree
    This software runs on the web.  It claims ‘… drawing syntax trees made easy’.   You ‘enter a phrase using labelled bracket notation. Click “Draw” to create a syntax tree graph for the entered phrase. You can right-click on the generated tree image to copy-and-paste it into your documents, or left-click the tree image to download it.’
  • S-curve graphic
    A small GIF file to put in a document. [Any other graphics commonly needed in linguistics?]
  • R
    One claimed strength of this free software for Win/Mac/Linux, discussed more fully under Statistics, is ‘the ease with which well-designed publication-quality plots can be produced, including mathematical symbols and formulae where needed. Great care has been taken over the defaults for the minor design choices in graphics, but the user retains full control’.

Page last updated 10th January 2017.

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