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

Shirley Zhao

Shirley Zhao
Shirley Zhao is currently an Assistant Librarian (Clinical) at the University of Utah Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library. She consults and teaches workshops and courses on information/data literacy, data management, and reproducible research practices. She supports evidence retrieval and synthesis, including literature searching, reference management, and protocol development. Shirley also consults on issues in scholarly communication, publishing, and research software/tools. Her interests include data science; reproducibility; open science; research impact; and science communication.

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.