LaTeX: what is it and where can I find help?

Shirley Zhao
Data Science Librarian, NN/LM Training Office

Do any of the following statements resonate with you?

  • I want my document to look professional (e.g. like a textbook or journal article).
  • I want to focus on my writing and less on the formatting.
  • I want an easy way to typeset mathematical formulas and equations.
  • I want a table of contents that automatically updates.
  • I want my tables and figures labeled so I can reference them in text, and any changes are automatically updated.
  • I want all my bibliographic references and citations to update automatically when I make changes in the text.

If yes, then LaTeX is for you!

What is LaTeX?

LaTeXLaTeX is a typesetting program that produces beautifully formatted documents (e.g. books, articles, presentations, posters, graphics). It is especially useful for technical or scientific writing and publishing, but it is not a word processor.

LaTeX encourages authors not to worry too much about the appearance of their documents but to concentrate on getting the right content. [It] is based on the idea that it is better to leave document design to document designers, and to let authors get on with writing documents. [1]

Unlike Microsoft Word, typing a LaTeX document is akin to writing a webpage in HTML with the appropriate markup. You don’t see your final document until the code is compiled. There is a bit of a learning curve (like with all programs and tools), but the payoffs are enormous (especially in time).

Where can I find help?

We have a subject guide to help you get started:

Periodically, we will post tips on using LaTeX and BibTeX (the bibliographic management piece). In the interim, if you have any questions or would like to request a private consultation, please contact us through chat, phone, or email.


[1] An introduction to LaTeX.

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