LaTeX is widely used in academia, but outside of that realm, it is less commonly seen. Still, it is useful to know how to use LaTeX, at least at a basic level.
So, what is LaTeX software used for? LaTeX is free software used to create formatted documents (such as PDF or DVI files) for technical writing (such as scientific research papers). When using LaTeX, you create a plain text file with markup tags for things like text in bold or italic, as well as symbols (such as π and √).
Of course, LaTeX uses the TeX typesetting program as the basis for creating formatted files.
In this article, we’ll talk about LaTeX and what it is used for. We’ll also answer some common questions about LaTeX and some ways you can get started or find help with document creation.
Let’s get started.
What Is LaTeX Software Used For?
LaTeX is used for typesetting in technical writing (such as academic papers or textbooks) to publish in fields like:
- Computer Science
- & others
LaTeX makes it easy for anyone in academia or industry to create a nicely formatted technical document, with “source code” (a LaTeX file) that can be edited easily to change things like:
- Chapters & Sections
- Graphs, Charts, & Tables
LaTeX separates the appearance (layout, spacing, font, etc.) of a document from the content.
Is LaTeX Software Free?
Free LaTeX Editors
There are several free versions of LaTeX available, including:
If you have any trouble, you can get help with LaTeX here.
Is LaTeX Software Safe?
LaTeX software is generally safe, as long as you download it from one of the “official” sources listed above. However, there is the potential for viruses in malicious LaTeX files, as detailed here.
So, make sure that you only accept LaTeX files from people you know and trust, or write your own files from scratch (or modify files you wrote yourself in the past).
Is LaTeX A Programming Language?
LaTeX is a programming language, but it is also considered a document preparation system for the TeX typesetting program. However, LaTeX is also a macro language and a markup language, which uses tags.
You must write LaTeX code (in a document) and compile it to create a formatted document that you can read. This is similar to how a programming language (such as C or C++) must be compiled before you can create a program you can run.
A program like pdflatex can create a PDF file from a LaTeX document.
Is LaTeX Similar To HTML?
LaTeX is similar to HTML in that both use tags to begin and end elements (such as a document in LaTeX or a heading in HTML):
Here is some text in LaTeX.
<h2>Here Is My HTML Heading</h2>
However, there are also many differences between LaTeX and HTML. For example, LaTeX is used for typesetting to create static documents (PDF, etc.) while HTML (with CSS) is used for dynamic web pages.
Both file types can be edited at a later time to change the appearance of the resulting PDF, web page, etc.
Why Learn LaTeX?
It is a good idea to learn LaTeX for several reasons.
In academia (teaching and research), LaTeX is useful to create well-formatted versions of:
- Class presentations
- Lecture notes
- Scientific papers
- Theses or dissertations
Being able to use LaTeX to create or edit documents means that you will be able to communicate within academia in a format that is widely used and accepted.
A LaTeX file is also able to produce the same output (e.g. a PDF) on different machines running different operating systems and versions.
Is LaTeX Difficult To Learn?
LaTeX is a little bit difficult to learn, especially if you have no experience with markup languages like HTML. One of the best ways to learn LaTeX is to start by examining a simple document to make sure that you understand what each of the tags is doing.
Then, try to modify the document slightly (for example, change an equation slightly). Then, add a new element (equation, header/section, etc.) and then change the style to suit your needs. One thing at a time!
You can also learn by copying the code for objects (like tables) from existing documents or online sources. Then, you can modify them slightly to get what you want (instead of starting from scratch each time you write a paper).
Also, there are lots of online tutorials available to help you learn LaTeX as you get started.
LaTeX-tutorial has a tutorial series where you can learn about documents, sections, packages, tables of contents, and so forth.
There is also a LaTeX help series on Overleaf.
YouTube has plenty of tutorials if you would rather watch and learn for a while – including this one:
In the short run, using a program like Microsoft Word is easier than LaTeX, due to the “what you see is what you get” nature of Word and the learning curve for LaTeX.
In the long run, you might be able to type up a document faster in LaTeX than in Word, especially if you are using lots of uncommon symbols that are hard to find in Word’s equation editor (or if you don’t have all of the keyboard shortcuts for symbols memorized in Word).
If you are plan to be in academia for a while (or if you plan on publishing scientific papers), then it is probably worthwhile to learn LaTeX.
Is LaTeX Better Than Word?
LaTeX is better than Word for scientific publishing or technical writing. Once you get used to writing in LaTeX, you will likely be able to create nicely formatted documents with equations faster than if you used Word.
However, Word is probably a better choice if you just want to write a simple essay, since no special typesetting is required (no equations, formulas, tables, etc.)
Should I Write My Thesis, Dissertation, or Resume In LaTeX?
It is probably a good idea to write your thesis or dissertation in LaTeX, especially if you will be making extensive use of equations, tables, and so forth.
A thesis or dissertation in Mathematics, Computer Science, and other equation-heavy fields will benefit from use of LaTeX for typesetting.
If you want a nice-looking paper resume to print out, creating a LaTeX file will work great. However, just be aware that a PDF resume created from a LaTeX document may cause problems in your online job search.
A resume created with LaTeX looks good on paper, but an online ATS (applicant tracking system) may not be able to read the PDF version.
This could lead to your application being automatically rejected. When applying to a job online, make sure you create a resume that an ATS can read easily.
There are several LaTeX alternatives, including:
Now you know what LaTeX software is, what it is used for, and why you might want to learn it. You also know the answers to some common questions about LaTeX, along with some of its advantages and limitations.