Crash Course in LaTeX

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Why use LaTeX?

Fact: It is easier to create structured documents in LaTeX than in Word. A structured document is a paper, article, book, or thesis with clear chapters, sections, subsections, appendix, table of contents, index, etc. Chapters and sections are often numbered sequentially, have running titles in the margins, are listed in a table of contents, etc. When you make changes, all of the references have to be updated. All of this is trivially easy in LaTeX.

If you don't want to think about formatting and just want the software make things look good, use LaTeX.

Fact: It is far easier and faster to type math symbols using LaTeX than using MS Word or WordPerfect.

Fact: Too many pages of formulas will crash MS Word. Hundreds of pages of formulas won't crash LaTeX.

Fact: LaTeX typestetting is far superior to that of any word processor; it just looks more professional.
Check out these two (Acrobat PDF) files as an example:

How does this work? Dario Taraborelli explains why LaTeX output looks better than word processor output more clearly than anyone else I've read.

Fact: LaTeX can be used without being a programmer, but if you think like a programmer you can do some extremely cool things in LaTeX.  For example, I type notes for students of my Web-based classes.  When I want to warn them of a particular common mistake, I put it in a command I created called "caution."

\caution{Don't distribute exponents over addition!}

This shows up with a boxed exclamation point in front of the text in italics.  However, I can change it to a stop sign and make the text bold by changing where I defined the command -- just one place -- and have the change take effect throughout my notes.

If LaTeX is so great, why doesn't everyone use it?  Well, it is harder to learn than Word or WordPerfect. However, thanks to this site, you will be up and running in no time!

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