You might have come across the term LaTeX before when typesetting a paper or dissertation, or maybe one of your lecturers requires you to submit all coursework in LaTeX. I started using LaTeX a few years ago when working on a report for a 2nd year project, and I got the best advice for it: in order to learn LaTeX, you need two things: a paper that you want to write, and patience.
So what is LaTeX? It is a typesetting tool that uses a simple markup language to layout papers, books, journal articles, reports, presentation slides… If you are familiar with markup languages like HTML, LaTeX will be fairly simple and quick to learn. There are some WYSIWYG editors for LaTeX code that seem to make it easier, but tend to produce hideous code. Once you’ve written your LaTeX document, you can easily compile it into a PDF
And why should you use it? Well, here are my top 10 reasons to love LaTeX:
- It makes all your documents look fantastic – the predefined standard templates hardly ever need tweaking.
- You don’t have to spend any time worrying about typesetting your document according to some university (conference, journal…) standards.
- Universities and CS department often have their own LaTeX templates for dissertations.
- LaTeX is also the standard for academic publications at conferences or workshops – style templates are provided.
- With BibTeX, typesetting your bibliography takes exactly one line of code – choose your favourite predefined bibliography style (such as IEEE, alphabetical, numerical…) and you’re done!
- Free editors such as TexMaker, TexShop, JabRef and BibDesk are a great help and make the write-compile-check PDF process quick and efficient. Of course, there’s always the command line…
- Your document looks the same, on every computer and operating system. No more messing about with different versions of Word 97/2000/XP etc.
- And thanks to point 6, several authors can work on one document without the danger of unintentionally changing the formatting.
- Typesetting mathematical formulas, greek letters, equations, arrays and every symbol you could possibly imagine is super easy – that’s what LaTeX was developed for! And with tools like this visual “LaTeX Symbol Classifier”, it can even be entertaining 🙂
- It’s free! No need to worry about licenses or illegal software.
If you want to get started with LaTeX, I can recommend the LaTeX Wikibook – it contains all the important information on installation and first steps. Happy TeXing!