Paper review workflow with Overleaf, git and Google Docs


November 18, 2020

In this blog post I propose a workflow to use the collaborative features of Google Docs to review a paper being written in Overleaf (unless you have Overleaf Pro which has change tracking embedded). The key point is that we paste the Latex source to a Google Document (see an example here) so we can suggest changes and then push it back to Overleaf programmatically using wget and git.


Create first the paper in Overleaf

Next we can configure git access, see more details on Overleaf:

Linking Github requires too much permissions, so better just activate plain Git access, this will provide a link to clone it:

git clone overleaf-paper

Here we can make local changes and push them back to Overleaf (you can configure the git credential helper to store the username and password).

Now the main authors can develop the paper using a mix of local editing and git push or online editing in Overleaf, optionally they could also push to Github.

Review round on Google Docs

When the paper is ready for a round of review with co-authors or other reviewers, the main authors can circulate the PDF and copy-paste the Latex source into a Google Doc. It can also be useful to paste the images, but not strictly necessary, the reviewers can look into the PDF.

Now the reviewers can read the PDF source and make suggested edits and comments on Google Doc, “Review changes” is also available on Overleaf, but just for paid accounts.

Synchronization from Google Docs to Overleaf

As the review progresses, some changes are merged using the Google Docs review functionality, they can be programmatically be merged into Overleaf going through git.

Create a script (Linux, but could work on Mac as well):

wget -O -$KEY/export?format=txt | dos2unix | cat -s > main.tex

it downloads a text version of the Google Doc document, fixes line endings and spurious repeated blank lines and overwrites main.tex. KEY is the key to my document for testing purposes, replace it with yours, it is the long hash in the Google Document URL i.e., the document needs to be public.

This is executed with bash and then reviewed and merged with the standard git workflow. Finally pushed back to Overleaf with:

git push

This is useful for example while the review progresses, we can create updated PDF versions.

Synchronization from Overleaf/git to Google Docs

This is not doable, because writing into Google Docs erases the comments. Therefore it would be better to organize review into rounds, 1 Google doc per round. So we never need to update Google Doc with changes made on Overleaf.

However, while the review is progressing in Google Doc, the main authors could keep working in Overleaf/git and then merge the changes from Google Doc as they come in relying on git. The issue is that it is not easy to propagate their changes to the current round of review on Google Doc.