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1. Introduction

The aim of this book is to introduce LaTeX to a non-technical person. LaTeX is excellent for producing professional looking documents, however it is a language not a word processor[Why is TeX not a WYSIWYG system?], so it can take a bit of getting used to, particularly if you have never had any experience using programming languages.

LaTeX does take a while to learn, so why should you use it? Here are a few reasons but it is not an exhaustive list:

LaTeX is far better at typesetting mathematical equations than word processors. I wrote my Ph.D. thesis back in the days of LaTeX2.09 (the old version of LaTeX) and given the high quantity of mathematics that I had to typeset, it would have taken me considerably longer to write it in a word processor, and the resulting document wouldn't have looked nearly as good. Even Microsoft have acknowledged TeX's high-quality mathematical typography [12].


Here's an equation taken from some kernel survival analysis:

Image showing typeset output (click here for a more detailed description).

(You can find out how to create this equation later.)

That's all very well and good if you want to typeset some equations, but if your work doesn't involve maths, does that mean that LaTeX is not for you? Although I am a mathematician, I have written plenty of documents with no maths in at all, including prose, poetry, newsletters, posters and brochures, but I still opt for LaTeX because using LaTeX ensures consistent formatting, and the style of the document can be completely changed by simply using a different class file, or loading additional packages. This means that I can concentrate on writing the document, rather than worrying about how it will look. It also means that if, after having written a 200 page document, I then find that I need to change all the figure captions so that they are labelled “Fig” instead of “Figure”, all I need to do is edit a single line, rather than going through 200 pages to individually edit every single figure caption.1.1

Serious fiction writers are taught never to remind the reader that they're reading a book. Poor formatting is just as much a reminder of this as authorial intrusion.

LaTeX makes it very easy to cross-reference chapters, sections, equations, figures, tables etc, and it also makes it very easy to generate a table of contents, list of figures, list of tables, index, glossary1.2 and bibliography. You don't need to worry about numbering anything, as this is done automatically, which means that you can insert new sections or swap sections around without having to worry about updating all the section numbering etc. Furthermore, if you use BibTeX1.3 in combination with LaTeX, and you have, say, 100 or more citations, it doesn't matter if you are then told that the citations have to be re-ordered (say, in order of citation rather than alphabetically). All that is required is a minor edit to change the appropriate style file rather than ploughing through the entire document changing all the citations by hand.

When you are editing a document using a word processor, the word processor has to work out how to reformat the document every time you type something. If you have a large document with a great many inserted objects (such as figures and equations), the response to keyboard input can become very slow. You may find that after typing a few words you will have to wait until the computer catches up before you can see what you have typed. With LaTeX you type in your code using an ordinary text editor. The document doesn't get formatted until you pass it to LaTeX, which means that you are not slowed down by constant reformatting.

Lastly, there's the fact that LaTeX follows certain typographical rules, so you can leave most of the typesetting to LaTeX. You rarely need to worry about minor things such as inter-sentence spacing. The default is English spacing, but if you have a publisher who disapproves of this, you can switch if off with a single command. (See §2.13. Inter-Sentence Spacing.)

LaTeX will also automatically deal with f-ligatures.1.4 That is, if any of the following combination of letters are found: fl, ffl, ff, fi, ffi, they will automatically be converted into the corresponding ligatures: fl ligature , ffl ligature , ff ligature , fi ligature , ffi ligature . Note the difference between fl-ligature u ffi-ligature e r (2 ligatures) and fluffier (no ligatures). These points may seem minor but they all contribute towards the impact of the entire document. When writing technical documents, the presentation as well as the content is important. All too often examiners or referees are put off reading a document because it is badly formatted. This provokes an immediate negative reaction and provides little desire to look favourably upon your work.

To give you an idea of what you can do with LaTeX, this book was written in LaTeX.1.5 The PDF versions (including the paperback version) were generated using PDFLaTeX and makeindex and the HTML version was generated using the LaTeX2HTML[Conversion from (La)TeX to HTML] converter.

For more reasons as to why you might want to use LaTeX instead of a word processor, have a look at Why TeX?


... caption.1.1
Sure, you could use a search and replace function, but a sweeping replace-all can have unexpected side effects. For example, your document may include the sentence, “Figures from the last quarter showed improvement”, which would get changed to, “Figs from the last quarter showed improvement”.
... glossary1.2
Glossaries are covered in Using LaTeX to Write a PhD Thesis.
... \BiBTeX1.3
Automating bibliographies is covered in Using LaTeX to Write a PhD Thesis.
... f-ligatures.1.4
Ligatures can be suppressed using the microtype package if necessary
The source code is available at http://www.dickimaw-books.com/latex/novices/, but it really is not the place to start if you are a beginner, as it contains LaTeX and Perl code beyond the scope of this tutorial.

This book is also available as A4 PDF or 12.8cm x 9.6cm PDF or paperback (ISBN 978-1-909440-00-5).

© 2012 Dickimaw Books. "Dickimaw", "Dickimaw Books" and the Dickimaw parrot logo are trademarks. The Dickimaw parrot was painted by Magdalene Pritchett.

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