Since a few years ago, all the major astronomical journals accept compuscripts: manuscripts of papers, prepared by authors by means of the `computer typesetting' and `document processing' systems TeX and LaTeX, which are submitted on computer media or through the networks.
Currently, every major journal provides its own (La)TeX macro package, by means of which authors are supposed to prepare their compuscript for a particular journal. The macro packages serve two purposes: one is to obtain the specific layout for a particular journal, and the second is to provide mark-up tags for astronomy specific constructs (notably symbols), which are not available in standard TeX and LaTeX. The extra tagging facilities differ from one macro package to an other, so the author needs to be aware, from the outset, to which journal he will submit his paper.
Only the American Astronomical Society provides a general macro package covering several journals, with additional macro packages taking care of the (mainly typographical) fine details of a particular journal. The AAS claims that their LaTeX macro package allows an author to concentrate on the contents of his paper, rather than on its layout, by the concept of generalized mark-up. However, every macro package based on LaTeX, including the one provided by Astronomy and Astrophysics, largely adheres to this concept, because it is inherent to LaTeX.
End-Users would benefit considerably from the development of an AstroTeX package, which combines the astronomical tagging constructs required by each individual journal, and allows the typographical requirements of individual journals to be met by additional or optional macro packages. They would then only have to concern themselves with the tagging requirements of the common AstroTeX package, while the additional packages would allow them to see what their paper would actually look like (layout) in a particular journal.
The development of AstroTeX would also allow for a considerable improvement of user support. Currently, the support of astronomical (La)TeX macro packages is left to local system managers and TeX `Gurus', who have to familiarize themselves with the different packages, and cope with their anomalies and other shortcomings. When AstroTeX becomes a project, supported by all astronomical publishers and organizations, on-line `help desks' could be set up to which individual astronomers could then refer for support.
In 1994 a new LaTeX version, [4,5], was released. Maybe this release is a good moment to start working on AstroTeX, and combine in it the efforts, that would be required from the various publishers and organizations anyway, to upgrade their individual macro packages. At the same time, proper BibTeX macros could be developed for the efficient compilation of lists of references. The WWW, combined with systems like WAIS, allow for the setup of a distributed database of astronomical references in BibTeX format, from which every astronomer could benefit.