School of Mathematical Sciences

University of Adelaide

South Australia

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LaTeX Topic

Why LaTeX?

LaTeX is arguably the premier typesetting package in the world. Knuth and Lamport have distilled for us the accumulated wisdom of generations of printers.

Why take my advice?

Here I distill recommendations from over 30 years experience of use and abuse of LaTeX. Most importantly, as the founding editor of the electronic part of ANZIAM Journal, I have copyedited a thousand LaTeX articles written by hundreds of authors. From this experience I distill for you the core flexible LaTeX methods that will serve you well.

The golden path: use LaTeX logically.

Further, I base my recommendations to you on reading of many authors of writing and typesetting skills including books by Higham, Strunk, Barrass, Day, Zobel, Anderson, Wheildon, Knuth, Lamport, Gratzer, and the Australian Government Style Manual.

LaTeX has many strengths

  • The LaTeX system typesets documents with line and page breaks to maximise readability and appeal by avoiding as far as possible poor breaks and hyphenation.

  • The defaults of LaTeX implement best practice for readability of your content, see for example Instructional typographies using desktop publishing techniques to produce effective learning and training materials

  • LaTeX is simply the best package for documents containing mathematics. TeX can print virtually any mathematical thought that comes into your head, and print it beautifully. [Herbert S. Wilf, 1986]

  • LaTeX is free on virtually every computer in the world.

  • LaTeX is portable---stick to the standard commands and everyone can read and exchange documents.

  • Your source file is purely alphanumeric so the source can be read by eye or posted by e-mail with no problems associated with different versions or binary files.

  • Logical LaTeX source empowers easy generation of many different manifestations of the content: your style, a colleagues style, slides for seminars, a journal style, and abbreviated versions, in reading formats of pdf, postscript, html, even epub.

  • LaTeX has the reputation of being hard, but it is effectively the same as HTML!

  • Weakness: LaTeX is not usually WYSIWYG (although you can use LyX).

Note that the 'X' in LaTeX or TeX is pronounced as a hard sound as in the 'ck' in 'teck'.

In a document of this size it is not possible to include everything that you might need to know, and if you intend to make extensive use of LaTeX, then you should subsequently refer to a more complete reference. Instead this is a carefully selected introduction to the basic elements and philosophy of using LaTeX.

Online is a fairly complete LaTeX2e reference (162k,html), suitable for browsing, searching or access via its index. This reference document is the most useful thing to keep handy on your disk while you become more proficient with LaTeX.


Use the menu at the top-left to navigate to the following sections.
  1. A quick and dirty start

  2. Environments

  3. Cross referencing

  4. More mathematics

  5. Figures, tables and seminars

  6. Write right for readers

  7. and possibly more, but not yet.

Other useful information sources