How to write technical documents with LaTeX

Have you ever found yourself writing up a technical document in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint and found it cumbersome typing up complex formulas for a technical paper? Let me introduce you to the LaTeX language. LaTeX is a document markup language and document preparation system that allows you to focus on getting the correct content without taking too much time on the presentation.

A math expression example using LaTeX

Below I’ll guide you through typesetting a simple to a more complicated mathematical expression so you can see one of the many features of LaTeX.

For example, how would we typeset the following?
x = \sqrt{x} + 2

It would be done like the following:

$x = \sqrt{x} + 2$

The dollar sign indicate a math expression. Let’s try a more complicated formula to show you the power of LaTeX. Below is the output and the code.

\sum_{i=1}^{\infty}\frac{1}{i}

$\sum_{i=1}^{\infty}\frac{1}{i}$

If you think the notation is difficult, it really isn’t. On the other hand, once you get used to writing in LaTeX you’ll never spend more time than you should making things look right and whenever you need help figuring something out simply Google it and you’ll find a solution (that’s what I did to obtain the previous formulas).

Some notable features of LaTeX

But what else can LaTeX do? Below are some features that I love about LaTeX.

  • LaTeX allows you to create a structure using concepts such as chapter, section, subsection, figure, table, label and it will take care of the presentation. For example, it can automatically generate a table of contents for you.
  • Using the Beemer class and templates you can create slideshows as well.
  • You can also include graphics with labels and references that you can refer to in the content of your document
  • It can also generate a bibliography from all your references automatically.
  • And so much more since there are hundreds of packages available developed by the community!

An example of a presentation

LaTeX is extremely popular amongst scholars in academia because of the high quality of typesetting achieved by using LaTeX. You can export to many types of formats with PDF being amongst the popular ones.

How to get LaTeX

So how do I start? Well, first of all you simply need to download an integrated LaTeX environment for the platform of your choice. I currently use TexShop on my Mac and TeXworks on Windows and highly recommend them.

After you download them, all you have to do is simply create a new document from a template and start typesetting away.

How I use LaTeX

I’ve used LaTeX in numerous occasions. For example, I started using LaTeX when a professor asked us to typeset a document for homework. After falling in love with its ease of use and ability to produce papers, presentations, and even books I started using it to create handouts, homeworks, and even user manuals.

In other words, if you are ever found writing any sort of technical paper, you must try LaTeX out. The best way to learn is to simply open the template files and start typesetting away.

References

Below are some things of interest you might want to take a look at if you are planning to try it out. Don’t be discouraged by the verbose documentations out there, most of the time you simply need to figure out where the thing you are looking for is at to get you going in your document.

If you used it before and have sample documents, feel free to share them below and I could add them to the references.

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