This is a short guide purporting to give some tips for converting critical textual editions writen in Microsoft Word to the more versatile and professional (not to mention aesthetically pleasing) system LaTeX.

This is only a limited and somewhat naive approach, but it will be a good start for many editions of a low to medium complexity.

The approach relies heavily on the use of the command line and regular expressions. Especially regular expressions seems at first sight like an archane concoction of magical incantations. We will explain some elements of it along the way, but not everything, and it might require a bit of study to really understand what is going on. Some resources if that gets necessary:


Prelude for the uninitiated

This procedure makes use of the so-called command line (aka Terminal in Mac OS X) for running different conversion functions. If you have newer before used the Terminal application, here is a short crash course.

The terminal is an interface where you can give the computer directions without having to use the Graphical User Interface of windows that you usually navigate through with the mouse.

Open the Terminal application by opening Finder, open the Applications directory and locate the Utilities directory where you will find the Terminal app. Or you can click the Spotlight icon in the top right corner and search for Terminal and press enter.

All in this guide that need to be executed in the command line look like this:

$ terminal command

The "(" indicates that the content is a terminal command. Other code examples (such as LaTeX code) are also shown in the same frames, but unless it is preceeded by the ")", don't put it into the command line.

The content of these boxes must be pasted into the Terminal and followed by Enter.

Sometimes you will need to replace some values in the commands. These variable values are marked with <brackets> in the commands, like so:

$ perl -p -i.backup -e 's/(.+)\n/\\pstart\n$1\n\\pend\n/g' "<file name>.tex"

Original document must be .docx format

If your file is in .doc-format, you can convert it by something like the following:

  • Open the file
  • Choose File > Save as ...
  • In “Format” choose “Word document (.docx)”
  • Save the file

This creates a new file in the same location as the old one.

Navigate to the directory of the document

Use the cd-command in the command line to navigate to the documente directory (you might want to look up the use of cd and other basic commands in a handy guide).

For example, if you want to go to the directory editions/old Word cruft/My great edition in your Documents directory, write:

$ cd ~/Documents/editions/old\ Word\ cruft/My\ great\ edition/

A handy tip: To avoid writing the whole path of the directory, you can just write ~cd ~ in the Terminal and drag and drop the directory you want to go to from the Finder onto the Terminal window, and it will write out the directory for you.

Convert the Word document with Pandoc

The utility we will use for converting the Word file to LaTeX is the incredible library of document conversion Pandoc.

Installing Pandoc

If you have never used Pandoc before, you will need to install it (to test if you have it installed, try running pandoc in the command line, if it returns something like “Command not found: pandoc”, you need to install it).

On Mac OS X you can

  • either install it with a typical installation package from the download page.
  • or install it with the very practical package manager Homebrew. If you have that installed, simply run brew install pandoc from the command line.

Running Pandoc and create a tex master file

With this conversion we don't want to create a standalone document, as that will make all the subsequent transformations more difficult. In stead the created document should then be read by a master tex document containing a preamble.

In the directory of the document, run:

$ pandoc --from=docx --to=latex --wrap=none --output=./output.tex <document-title>.docx

To include this in a master tex file, use the \input-macro:

Create a master file with this structure in the same directory as the output.tex that Pandoc has just created:


% All your preambular material




Alternatively, \include{} can be used in the same way. This adds appropriate pagebreaks before the included document and makes the use of \includeonly{} in the preamble possible.

If you run the master file in LaTeX, it should output a document with your edition.

Setup the document for the critical text

First, include reledmac in the preamble of the master file:

% All your other preambular material




You will probably also need to set the language (if not English) with Polyglossia:

% All your other preambular material




You might also want to move any possible title material (author, title etc.) of the edition from the converted tex file (output.tex) to the master file if you don't want those lines numbered.

In the converted text (here called output.tex) you need to add \beginnumbering before the first text paragraph and \endnumbering after the last. It could be done automatically, but it is simpler to do it manually.

Insert \pstart … \pend and convert headings

For Reledmac to create the paragraphs correctly, they should be wrapped in \pstart and \pend. This could usually be done like this:

$ perl -p -i.backup -e 's/(.+)\n/\\pstart\n$1\n\\pend\n/g' "output.tex"

However, if you have an edition where headings are not marked with a separate typographical class in the Word, your headings will also be part of the text wrapped in \pstart and \pend. If however they can be identified with a unique pattern, we can skip those in this process and change them into headings later.

For instance, assume that the two first levels look like this:

  • Level 1: “<~LECTIO 1~>” (the ~ is a unbreakable space that Pandoc inserts).
  • Level 2: “< Proeomium >”

We skip those in the processing by replacing the above command with this:

$ perl -p -i.backup -e 'if (m/^\\textless\{\}[~ A-Za-z0-9]+\\textgreater\{\}/) {} else { s/(.+)/\\pstart\n$1\n\\pend/g }' "output.tex"

This command is a bit complex, but what it basically says is “for each line, if this line starts with the specified heading pattern, skip it, otherwise wrap it in \pstart and \pend.”

Some short notes on the pattern matching headings:

  • Some charactes have special functions in regex, so if you want to match those, they much be escaped with the "\". This explains "\\", "\{", and "\}".
  • The text of the heading is matched with the "[~ A-Z0-9 ]". The "[" and "]" open and close so-called character classes. This means it matches all the characters designated by the brackets. Here it means "all uppercase letters from A to Z", "all numbers between 0 and 9" as well as all spaces (notice the " " in the brackets) and "~". The subsequent "+" means "one or more times". So any combination of spaces, tildes, uppercase letters and numbers will be matched.
  • The matched text is surrounded by parentheses. This means that the content of the match can be referred in the substitution pattern. The content of each consecutive parenthesis is numbered according to its location in the string. There is only one here, so it will be printed by writing "$1" in the substitution pattern.

So now, let's substitute those headings too.

Different headings

Now we want to convert the headings to receive a heading style in our document. Technically, the best way to do this would be to find all the headings and convert the subsequent \pstart to \pstart[<heading-command>]\noindent, as that is the proper way to include unnumbered headings in reledmac (see §16.1 include the documentation).

But to keep the regex more simple, we will just insert custom macros where we define the heading styles outside of the \pstarts and \pends. In that way, they won't affect the line numbering.

So, to match the first level, we can use the following regex \\textless\{\}~([A-Z0-9 ]+)~\\textgreater\{\}.

If we want the substitution to create a command that we call \customsection{}, we can do like this: \\customsection\{$1\}.

Now we assemble it in the substitution command in perl. The syntax is the following: s/<match pattern>/<substitution pattern/. The initial "s" tells the program that we want it to Subsitute the first pattern by the second.

The complete command thus looks like this: s/\\textless\{\}~(.+?)~\\textgreater\{\}/\\customsection\{$1\}/

To run this substitution from the command line, add perl -p -i.backup -e before the pattern and the filename after the pattern. The pattern itself should be enclosed in quotation marks.

So all told, it looks like this:

$ perl -p -i.backup -e 's/^\\textless\{\}~([A-Z0-9 ]+)~\\textgreater\{\}/\\customsection\{$1\}/' output.tex

This will convert something like

\textless{}~LECTIO I~\textgreater{}


\customsection{LECTIO I}

Important note: If you are at the top of the document (before the main text and the first \beginnumbering that you inserted manually, you should delete the \endnumbering and \beginnumbering that wrap the first headings. They should only wrapt the headings inside the main text.

The level two headings

Applying the same principle to the second level, the match pattern could look like this: \\textless\{\} ([A-Za-z0-9 ]+) \\textgreater\{\}. To make the whitespace facultative, we can add a "?" after it in the pattern: \\textless\{\} ?(.+?) ?\\textgreater\{\}. Notice that we add lowercase letters as a character class.

We will make this a subsection in the document with the following complete command:

$ perl -p -i.backup -e 's/^\\textless\{\} ?([A-Za-z0-9 ]+) ?\\textgreater\{\}/\\customsubsection\{$1\}/' output.tex

Now we have converted the headings, and we can then define the headings according to our layout preferences.

If you run the document, it should build without any errors.

This was then also a short Perl regular expressions 101. For much more on the perl regular expression capabilities, see the documentation.

Convert footnotes to critical notes

A technical aside: This is probably the most tricky part as most of these regular expressions need to take a range of different possible sitautions into account. The resources mentioned at the top might come in handy here.

The apparatus fontium

Now, first we create the apparatus fontium, as the apparatus criticus might catch some of the fontium matches as false positives (as that regex is more voracious).

In the match pattern, the values separated by "|" after "footnote{(" is a list of possible abbreviated authority names that constitute a fontium reference. All footnotes beginning with one of those strings will be converted to fontium entries.

These following expressions are complex. They take the following possibilities into consideration:

  • variable whitespace in different parts of the footnote,
  • punctuation and command characters (.,;:?! and {}[]) following the text. This is moved after the edtext command.
  • In the footnote any level of LaTeX commands will be included (in case the note contains \emph{}, \textbf{} and what not.
$ perl -p -i.backup -e 's/(\w+)([.,;:?!{}\[\]]+)?\\footnote{(Boeth|Arist.*?)((?:\{(?-1)\}|[^{}]++)*)}/\\edtext{$1}{\\lemma{}\\Bfootnote{$3$4}}$2/gi' "output.tex"

The apparatus criticus

Now, we can try to convert the remaining ~\footnote{}~s to critical notes, regardless of whether there is a lemma marker ("]") or not. The assumption is that the lemma of the text is also contained in the footnote.

$ perl -p -i.backup -e 's/(.+)([.,;:?!{}\[\]]+)?\\footnote{\1 ?(?:{\]})? ?((?:\{(?-1)\}|[^{}]++)*)}/\\edtext{$1}{\\Afootnote{$3}}$2/gi' "output.tex"

Note that this conversion does not handle references that are not to a specific lemma in the text. For example, if a witness contains an edition that the editor chooses not to include in the established text, it cannot be referenced in the apparatus. Often that would be solved with a note along the lines of “significante post impositionis add. M in marg./”. These empty lemmata are handled by /reledmac by the following encoding: \edtext{}{\lemma{}\Afootnote{significante \emph{post} impositionis \emph{add. M in marg.}}.

To avoid extra space and lemma markers (such as for instance “]”) after empty lemmata, the following commands can be used in the preamble:

\Xnolemmaseparator[A] % Only applies to the Afootnote-series

If you have many of these empty lemma notes, and they are formatted in a relatively consistent way, you can cook up a regex to handle those situations.


  • Pattern that will substitute long lemmata with <first word> \dots{} <last word> or something similar.


After running these commands, you are not done.

Some footnotes will probably not be caught by the substitution patterns. This might lead to tinkering with the regex's, but it cannot catch unpredictable notes, so don't expect to get everything.

You might also want to update the lemmata of your apparatus fontium entries, as it only refers to the line where the footnote was placed, while you might want it to refer to an extended reference or quotation.

Additional conversions

Some additional transformations might be in place. You might want to distinguish other structural units. This naturally requires some custom regular expressions, but some examples can be given here.

Structural numbering schemes

Let's say we also add some helpful structural numbers in the format “<1.>” or “<1.3.2>” representing different structural levels of a text.

We could convert this to a custom macro called \no{} like this:

$ perl -p -i.backup -e 's/\\textless\{\} ?([0-9. ]+) ?\\textgreater\{\}/\\no{$1\}/g' output.tex

The matched characters will be all numbers between 0 and 9, "." and " ".

Now we just need a custom macro to format these structural additions. Add this to your preamble


Folio numbers

Let's say we mark changes in a witness folio with the following formatting: “| 42rb |”. How do we make those marks into marginal notes?

Converted in Pandoc, the folio mark would probably look (something) like this: \textbar{}~42ra~\textbar{}

We want to convert it into this command \textbar{}\ledsidenote{42ra}.

We match the pattern like this: /\\textbar\{\}~([0-9rvab]+)~\\textbar\{\}/.

folio reference, that is all numbers and one or more of the letters "abrv". There is no reason for risking overcapturing

But oddly enough, Pandoc sometimes marks the non-breakable space as bold (\textbf{}), which we also want to match: /\\textbar\{\}(\textbf\{)?~\}?[0-9abrv]+(\textbf\{)?~\}?\\textbar\{\}/. Here the parenthesis around \\textbf\{ makes it into a demarcated group (like in maths) which the following question mark makes optional.

But we also want to capture the content of the folio reference, and this is also done with the parentheses. So to avoid having to count parentheses that we don't need as match groups, we can make some a parenthesis “anonymous” by adding ?: to its beginning. Then it won't be available as a reference group. Of course, we don't do this with the relevant parenthesis, that matches the content of the reference, so it looks like this: \\textbar\{\}(?:\textbf\{)?~\}?([0-9abrv]+)(?:\\textbf\{)?~\}?\\textbar\{\}.

Finally, we also want to capture those instances of the reference where we were a bit inconsistent ad wrote the folio side and column in superscript. Hold on, because now it gets a bit hairy: \\textbar\{\}(?:\textbf\{)?~\}?([0-9]+)(:?\\textsuperscript\{)?([abrv]+)\}?(?:\\textbf\{)?~\}?\\textbar\{\}.

Although this looks like gibberish, it actually works! For more material on matching and non-matching groups and backreferencing, see the Perl documentation where you can also read about named match groups and much more.

Piecing it together with a substitution pattern, we can do like this:

perl -p -i.backup -e 's/\\textbar\{\}(?:\textbf\{)?~\}?([0-9]+)(?:\\textsuperscript\{)?([abrv]+)\}?(?:\\textbf\{)?~\}?\\textbar\{\}/\\textbar\{\}\\ledsidenote{$1$2} /g' output.tex

And even better, since we distinguished the folio numbers from the side and column, we can make the consistently superscript, if we want:

perl -p -i.backup -e 's/\\textbar\{\}(?:\textbf\{)?~\}?([0-9]+)(?:\\textsuperscript\{)?([abrv]+)\}?(?:\\textbf\{)?~\}?\\textbar\{\}/\\textbar\{\}\\ledsidenote{$1\\textsuperscript\{$2\}} /g' output.tex

Wrapping up

This conversions might not be sufficient for your needs, and it is not unlikely that there is still a lot of work to be done with the apparatus. But at least this will get you started and get your old Word editions into the infinitely more flexible (although maybe also a bit more complex) format of LaTeX.

Of course you are also just getting started configuring your reledmac setup and going through the critical apparatus.

Stiching it all together in a script can be tempting. But we will leave that as an individual assignment.