How to use Overleaf for collaborative Academic Writing — Part II: working with images, tables, and bibliography

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In the previous article, I wrote about how to get started with Overleaf and start writing using Latex and Overleaf and collaborating with colleagues and students. In this edition, I am going to focus on writing a collaborative piece entirely in Overleaf, collaborate either with yourself or with others and structuring the document by adding bits and pieces. Before we head out to learn more about insertion of these elements (we shall talk about these shortly), let’s take a look at the nature of the work we are trying to get at:

  1. We are trying to develop an academic article
  2. We are more than one author; we are a group of authors.
  3. We can continue to write and contribute to the growing paper.

Here’s a screenshot as to how the paper can grow organically:

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As you can see, the file manager takes all the files that make up the document. In the centre, in the main.tex document, we keep adding the individual documents and we keep writing these documents. On the right hand side, the main document organically grows. So, what do we add to the file manager?

  • Images and diagrams
  • Text documents
  • Bibliography files is a service where you can upload data and in turn can get plots that you can then download or place in other folders. These plots, in the form of png files can be brought in directly off to Overleaf. Here are the steps:

  1. First, visit and add the data
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  1. Then generate a graph like this. Remember to set the graph as “public”, otherwise Overleaf cannot import it.
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  1. Note that this plot lives in plotly. You can use Overleaf to directly get this plot to your paper. To do that, add “Add files”, then select from the drop down box “Plot from”.

Then in the middle box, enter the following codes:

\begin{figure}\includegraphics[write some options here]{type the name of the image}\end{figure}

This is same for all other forms of insertion of images. Just upload the image on the left hand file manager and then link them in the middle box this way.

The easiest way to add tables without knowing how to code in Latex is to use the several table generating sites. Two of them are popular:

You can generate tables in spreadsheets such as Google Sheets that will allow collaboration, and then visit these sites, upload a csv or selection of the cells and then the sites generate Latex tables. You can drop the latex table using the copy and paste function.

As with tables, adding bibliography in Overleaf can be through Mendeley, or with CiteULike, or with indeed anything that supports the bibtex format and outputs a .bib file. Overleaf can directly take in the Mendeley and CiteuLike or Zotero directly. To work with Bibliography, you will need to add two pieces of code in the main.tex file.

\bibliography{name of the file without extension}
\bibliographystyle{name of the style}

Then once you are working in the document, wherever you want to insert a citation, just type the following code:

\cite{id of the paper you want to cite}

Latex will pull in the information and will format a reference list. These simple steps will get you up and running with Overleaf even if you are not much familiar with the more advanced steps of working with Latex. These steps will get you up and running with writing Latex with Overleaf even if you have no experience in writing Latex codes at all.

Note that Overleaf can accomplish a lot more and we just touched the surface here. In subsequent parts of the series, we shall touch on the more advanced aspects of writing everything in Overleaf and getting published. Stay tuned and happy working with Overleaf.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in:

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