LaTeX is a powerful document preparation system. This system is free and is available across many operating systems, such as Windows, Mac OS and most distributions of Linux. A successor of TeX, LaTeX was created in the 1983 by Leslie Lamport. This computer typesetting software was originally created for academic papers in STEM fields, and since has grown in popularity in other fields because of its power to create many types of paper and digital documents common in academic fields. For those who are aiming to write a long text such as a dissertation, thesis or a book, a major attraction to learning LaTeX is its ability to handle large papers and provide uniform, beautiful, and professional formatting. LaTeX handles all the mundane tasks of formatting, so you can focus on writing the content!
Why use LaTeX
For some samples of what you can create with LaTeX, visit the Notes and Work section of this blog. Below are some reasons why you might be interested in using LaTeX:
- Manage large documents by using include directives, which allows for reuse or quick modification of content as well as manage large documents.
- The technique of using multiple files to represent one documents also allows for the flexibility to quickly create of many versions of an assessment.
- Automate citations, bibliographies and formatting of bibliographies. (Quickly switching from numeric style to APA when you transition from math to social sciences, for example)
- Natural to integrate into workflow if you use popular reference management software such as Zotero, Mandeley, Citavi and most others. (Check here to see if your reference manager is compatible with Bibtex.)
- Automate the creation of list of figures/tables/graphs, and the associated numbering
- Automate the creation, sorting and creation of index, acronym and glossary lists
- Typeset complex mathematical formulae, chemical equations
- Create more complicated documents like posters, slides, and double-sided flash cards
- Precise typesetting for many languages, this is especially useful for languages outside of the romantic languages family such as Arabic
Comparing LaTeX with word-processors
There are some contrasts with WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) word processors like Microsoft Word or Open Office.
There are some advantages of using WYSIWYG processors:
- you wish to take advantage of the templates provided by MS Word, such as Resumes or business cards (You can create this in LaTeX also, especially if you choose Overleaf)
- if you’re creating documents that have specific syntax, such as markup language for github readmes,
- and if you’re creating very short files where formatting doesn’t matter (such as notes not meant for publication).
When common word processors attempt to handle large files, any major modifications to the file can break the table of contents, and automatic numbering of the tables/figures/lists are not reliable. Furthermore, for students working in multiple operating systems, transitioning between different operating systems using the same latex code will generate the exact same document – this precision is simply not guaranteed with most WYSIWYG processors.
With the above in mind, if you’re interested in learning about LaTeX as a beginner, I’ll be giving an introductory workshop at LSRI on November 13th, 2019.
- Getting Started with LaTeX: Choosing a LaTeX environment
- Basic structure of a document
- Links to sample latex files
Disclaimer: Featured image source https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX
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