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reproducible papers

A "framework" (Makefile pattern rules + conventions) for fully reproducible academic papers. Even though no figures or computational results are committed to the repository, anyone can generate an exact copy of your published .pdf with the following steps:

git clone paper_repo
cd paper_repo
conda env create -f environment.yml
conda activate paper_env

Capturing the dependencies between LaTeX, figures, data, and code in a Makefile and storing computational results on disk ensures that the paper always reflects changes in the data and code without requiring a full rebuild for every change.

A few other convenient features are included:

  • Generate abridged and extended versions from the same .tex files using environment variables and conditional compilation.
  • Strip comments and generate a .zip file for arXiv upload.

† We assume a Unix-like system with Anaconda and LaTeX installed.

Getting started

To use this repository as a starting point for your own project, click "Use this template" above. Or, you can git clone it, then rm -rf .git and git init to start your own repo with a clean commit history.

Directory structure

This is a low-tech solution using directory layout conventions and Makefile pattern rules. The hand-written portion of your project is laid out like:

input/   : Data sets from "the world" -- not your own computational results.
src/     : Source code for computations, figures, and generated LaTeX.
tex/     : Hand-written LaTeX code for the paper.

The computed results are laid out like:

build/   : Final .pdf file and .zip file for arXiv.
data/    : Computational results, optionally using /inputs/.
figures/ : Plots, produced from files in /data/.
tex/     : LaTeX generated from /data/ is added alongside hand-written files.

Rules for generating figures and LaTeX

The Makefile pattern rules for figures implement the following dependency structure, where .data is your chosen data file format and .img is your chosen image file format:

                         src/ --,
src/ ---,                      |
                 |                   ,--+--> figures/x.img
 input/ --ANY--> data/ --+
                 |                   '--+--> tex/x_gen.tex
    <nothing> ---'                      |
                      src/ --'

Figure- and LaTeX-generating scripts always look for the corresponding file. We support three cases:

  1. Program-generated data: If the script src/ exists, make will use it to generate
  2. Data from the outside world: If input/ exists, make will copy it to data/
  3. No data needed to make figure/LaTeX: If neither of the above conditions are satisfied, make will run the figure/LaTeX-generating script anyway.

Command-line arguments

Figure-generating scripts should take the input and output paths as command-line arguments:

python src/ data/ figures/x.img

LaTeX-generating scripts should take the input path as the command-line argument and print to stdout:

python src/ data/ > tex/x_gen.tex

Intermediate data

It may also be useful to generate data files from other data files, for example:

  • Saving intermediate results in very slow computations.
  • Building several plots/tables from one experiment.
  • Parameterizing a data generation process, with parameters stored as input data.
  • etc...

With data-to-data scripts there is no formula to derive the input file name from the output file name. The user must write the rule manually in the Makefile. This is demonstrated by the example

List outputs explicitly

make will apply the figure- and LaTeX-generating rules in an "opt-in" way based on the lists figs and texs in the Makefile. You must edit these lists whenever you add a new figure or generated LaTeX file.

Controlling figure and data formats

The figure and data formats are controlled by the variables FIGEXT and DATAEXT in the Makefile.

Data is precious

All files in data/ are marked as .PRECIOUS in the Makefile, so they will not be deleted even though they are intermediate files.

Abriged/Extended versions

The included tex/preamble.tex implements conditional compilation based on the environment variable ABRIDGED. See the example tex/reproducible.tex for usage.

The default make target is the unabridged/extended version. To build the abridged version, run make abridged_build/reproducible.pdf. It will set the environment variable ABRIDGED and store the result separately.

.zip generation for ArXiv

To package the source code for upload to arXiv, run make build/ The unabridged version is zipped. The LaTeX source files are passed through arxiv-latex-cleaner to strip comments. The zipped package includes only the .bbl file generated by BibTeX instead of the .bib files, so only the references you used in the paper are included.


Overall, there are six kinds of recipes this Makefile will run. We provide examples of each:

Input Output Description Example
--- Data Data generation
--- Figure Figure generation
--- TeX TeX generation
Data Data Processing
Data Figure Visualization
Data TeX Tables, etc.


  • If your project contains a lot of source code, it may be better to create a separate library-like repository and include it as a git submodule in src/.

  • To help decouple the computation and plotting stages, we suggest storing all the data you think you might need in the "tidy data" layout. Plotting tools designed to consume "tidy" data make it easy to select and combine data to generate many different kinds of plots.

  • For deterministic results, remember to seed random number generators with a constant.


Automate computations, plotting, and LaTeX with Makefiles.






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