When I mention that i’ve become a great supporter of LaTeX, many of you might wonder if I have gone bonkers in the head. However, i’m not referring to the stuff you put in cracks in the wall or the tight suits some women like to wear ;-). LaTeX, as it is correctly capitalized, is a professional type setting for scientists or students and researchers in general. It can be used as an alternative to MS Word or any other ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ word processor. You can do much more with LaTeX then word processing however. For example, you can create posters, presentations and even render raster graphics.

It is
often compared to MS Word for being much more professional. The reason
being is that LaTeX does all the document formatting for you.
However, that does not mean you cannot influence how you want your
document formatted. A few lines of code will tell LaTeX all about your
preferences for page margins, title fonts, structure, image placements
and more. Or instead you may simply use the default settings. Different template styles, for example one that defines the layout of a journal article, can be applied in a matter of minutes. In MS Word you’d have to reformat the whole article manually bit by bit.

Here are some reasons why you should give LaTeX a try:

  1. It forces you to structure your document, article, thesis, etc.
  2. Citing other works and cross-referencing figures, tables, equations, chapter sections has never been easier
  3. Equations, no matter how complex, are quick and easy to create
  4. No hassles with formatting (alignment, font properties, etc.)
  5. Almost quirk-proof debugging after compiling your document into a pdf
  6. Professional support for different document styles and for journals. Almost instant transformation!
  7. Easy table and figure placement with captions
  8. Figures can be scalable vector graphics in eps format. No more ugly, low resolution, figures!
  9. Efficient word processing and easy editing
  10. Many journals accept manuscripts written in LaTeX. Really!

course with so many benefits you may wonder why the whole world does
not use LaTeX. The reason being is simple. It requires some time for
you to get familiar with it. Typing documents in LaTeX is a bit like creating websites. You have to think logically. The document is then processed or compiled using the TeX parser and a beautiful pdf document is produced. 🙂 This is why I have set up a wiki / website / forum on the ANU university server in an attempt to create a community to share ideas and teach students to use it.

For an easy introduction to LaTeX I suggest you give the open source software LyX a go. Go to the website here: http://www.lyx.org/ to download the programme. It will also tell you what else you need during the installation. The website itself is also worth browsing through for information on LaTeX and LyX.