LaTeX for people who think they don’t need it

Why not just use Word or some other word processor?Well, there are lots of good reasons.

For people in some disciplines, LaTeX is virtually indispensable.

You’ve managed to get along without it.

But if you give it a try, you may wonder how you got along without it.

It takes some getting used to, and you’ll probably have some problems at first, but it’s not really that hard; simple things can be done very quickly, and there are lots of resources to help.

Once you are used to it, LaTeX is easier to use than word processors; in particular, it makes certain parts of writing scholarly articles much easier.

Most of these articles include bibliographies and LaTeX has tools to manage bibliographies.

Different publishers require different formats, LaTeX has toolsto manage these, and some publishers may even provide their own LaTeX formatting templates, so that everything is set up automatically.

Papers may include figures and tables, and, when they do, they will require cross-referencing, and, yes, you guessed it, LaTeX has tools to handle this as well.

And many papers require revisions, both before and after they are submitted.

LaTeX will renumber everything automatically: references, cross-references, section numbers — everything.

When you want to make presentations, LaTeX has add-on packages which can help create presentations that look good, and can include many options for overlays and navigating through a presentation.

Finally, if you decide to write a book, LATEX can handle books of any length, and can produce books of real beauty (for one example, take a look at [3]).

This article is organized as follows: in section 2, I cover some of the basics of using LaTeX.

In section 3, I give more detail on the helpful things LaTeX can do that I listed above.

In section 4, I show why some of the bad things you may have heard about LaTeX aren’t true.

Finally, in section 5, I give someresources for those who want to learn more.

The very basicsLaTeX is not a word processor.

It’s a document preparation system.

Rather than type words and then format them using drop-down menus, in LaTeXthe formatting is part of the text, all of which is written in ASCII characters.

At first, this seems bizarre, but after a while (not too long a while) you beginto appreciate it.

LaTeX does exactly what you tell it.

You can see what you are telling it; if something goes wrong (and it will) you can try to nd the problem yourself,and, if you can’t, you can show it to others.

You can even e-mail it.

Try doing that with something you did in a word processor; “Well, I was using version9 and I clicked on this, and then on that, then the pull-down menu appeared and I clicked on the default .



then I entered 2”.


With LaTeX, you can e-mail your actual code to an expert, or to one of the help groups listed below.

The LaTeX community is friendly, there are places to go to get help, probably right on your campus.

In my experience, LaTeX experts welcome LaTeX novices.

(Some suggestions of where to get help are in section 5.

)The good stuffSectioningSo, you’re writing a long article.

It has sections.

How to create them?.An example:section*{Introduction}In this article I prove that the key dependent variable in my field is related to the particular independent variables I have available to me, and in just the ways I thought it would be.

section{Methods}subsection{Subjects}A bunch of students who happened to be in my class the day I had a bad cold and couldn’t give a lecture.

subsection{Analysis}I think I tried ANOVA.

section{Results}All my null hypotheses were rejected.

Now they feel bad.

section{Discussion}If this doesn’t get me a big grant, I’m history in this department.

Maybe I canfind work as a LaTeX{} compositor?(Note that you can indent your source however you like).

LaTeX will handle the numbering, the formatting, the spacing, and all that, leaving you free todo the writing and the thinking.

And LaTeX won’t try to guess what you’re thinking, or start numbering sections whenever you type a number, or startindenting like crazy.

Cross-referencingAt some points in your article you want to refer to other parts, or to figures, or tables.

No problem.

At the part you want to refer to you need a label command, and at the point where you make your reference, you need a corresponding
ef command.

Like this:In subsection
ef{SS:section} I showed you how to create sections and subsections.

This produces the following:In subsection 3.

1 I showed you how to create sections and subsections.

A simple tableOK, I admit it.

It can be hard to create complicated tables in LATEX.

It’s hard to create good complicated tables in any program.

But simple tables aren’t so bad.

Here’s an example:egin{table} centeringegin{tabular}{lrr}Quantile & Male & Femalehline0% & 59 & 4450% & 69 & 64100% & 77 & 71end{tabular}caption{Quantiles of male and female heights}label{tab:malefemale}end{table}which produces Table 1:SORRY, MEDIUM WON’T MAKE A GOOD TABLE BUT THE CODE ABOVE MAKES A NICE ONE IN PDF OR PNG OR WHATEVERWhat does all this do?.Well, there isn’t space here to go into everything even for this table (see Section 5).

But for a start:  The egin{table} and end{table} define a table which can be placed anywhere in a document, and given a caption and a label.

Every egin must have an end.

The centering command horizontally centers everything following until the end{table}.

The egin{tabular} sets up a table, and the {lrr} makes it three columns with the first left aligned and the others right aligned.

The ampersands (the & character) separate columns.

A double backslash () ends each row.

The hline adds the printed horizontal line.

GraphicsLaTeX also provides extensive methods to deal with graphics.

For social scientists, perhaps the most useful are ways to directly import .

pdf and .

eps files that are created by other programs, such as statistical packages.

Although the full use of imported graphics can be complex (see Section 5) a basic example takes the following steps:1.

Create your graphics file (e.


, diagram1.

pdf) and store it in the same directory with your LATEX file for the article you are writing.


In the preamble include the following command:usepackage{graphicx}.


At the spot where you want your diagram, putincludegraphics{diagram1}.

If you want LaTeX to move the figure to the closest position where it will fit in your document, give it a label and cross-reference inside a figure, similar to the previous table example.

For instance:egin{figure}centeringincludegraphics{diagram1}caption{This is an example of a figure.

}label{fig:example}end{figure}BibTeXAlthough space here does not permit a full discussion of bibliography creation in LATEX, you should know that there is a package called BibTeX which allows you to create extensive bibliographies, enter the information for each citation in a natural way, and then never have to reenter the information again.

There are methods for formatting the citations to match a wide variety of styles.

The (supposedly) bad stuffLATEX is hard to learnOK, this is partially true, in that, if you want to or need to, there is a lot you can do with LaTeX.

You can create complicated diagrams, write long bookswith complex and beautiful formatting, create multiple indexes, and multiple lists, and on and on.

But the basics of LATEX are not so hard; in fact, you’rewell on your way with what you’ve seen here.

LaTeX can’t be annotatedThis one is simply incorrect.

There are several ways to insert editorial comments into LATEX files.

One is to use the extcolor command to insert comments in a different color.

Another is to use marginparto insert comments in the margin.

You can’t share LATEX files with people who use WordThere are some free programs which attempt to convert LATEX toWord, for example, latex2rtf (http: //tug.



I haven’t tried these extensively.

For Windows, I have found the commercial program TeX2Word to be quite useful; see http://www.


com/ andDave Walden’s articles [4] for more information on this software.

You can’t see the output while you typeWhile technically true, typesetting a le and previewing the result is typically a matter of a single keystroke or mouse click, and typesetting is extremelyfast.

Where to go from hereThere is a huge variety of materials to help you learn more about LATEX: CTAN (The Comprehensive TEX Archive Network) is a repository of TEX macros, packages, formats, utilities, and other goodies, and has lots of material, soe of it for beginners.

Two that I found useful are- For more on graphics, see http://www.



– For a thorough introduction to LATEX, see http://www.



There are numerous other introductory materials there, as well — the above are just my own preferences.

Books, including:1.

Guide to LATEX [2] which is an excellent introduction to LATEX.


Math into LATEX [1], which is particularly useful if you have to type a lot of math.


The LATEX Companion [3].

This is a great reference, but not for beginners; it’s also good for impressing people with the power of LATEX.

If you start using LATEX a lot you will probably wind up wanting this one.

The mailing list for general questions and discussion is http://lists.



There are a number of FAQs and lists of tips and tricks; two I’ve used are1.







de/TeX – LaTeX Stack ExchangeQ&A for users of TeX, LaTeX, ConTeXt, and related typesetting systemstex.


comReferences[1] George Gratzer.

Math into LATEX.

Birkhauser,New York, 3rd edition, 2000.

[2] Helmut Kopka and Patrick W.


Guide toLATEX.

Addison Wesley, Boston, 4th edition,2004.

[3] Frank Mittelbach, Michel Goossens, et al.

TheLATEX Companion.

Addison Wesley, Boston,2nd edition, 2004.

[4] David Walden.

Travels in TEX Land.

ThePracTEX Journal, 2005 (issues 3 and 4).


org/pracjourn/2005-3/walden-travels and http://tug.



. More details

Leave a Reply