LaTex worth the effort?

Discussion in 'Mac Apps and Mac App Store' started by inlimbo, Jul 17, 2006.

  1. inlimbo macrumors 6502

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    #1
    Is learning how to use LaTex worth the effort? Im a law student and would like to produce good quality and easy-to-read essays. Would it be worth my while using Latex? At the moment I just use Word. F

    rom what I have read it seems that LaTex is most appropriate for scientific/mathematical reports. My essays will simply be text with headings and footnotes. As a law student I will NOT need to incorporate equations, diagrams or pictures.

    I read that people use TexShop or Lyx/mac. What exactly are these? I have also read about ConTeXt. ?
     
  2. Mitthrawnuruodo Moderator emeritus

    Mitthrawnuruodo

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    #2
    Lyx is a very nice WYSIWYM LaTeX editor for Mac. I've used it, and once it's installed it is very easy to use. Now, the installation, with all its pre-requisitions can be a hassle, but with a little help it shouldn't be too hard... ;)

    LaTeX will give you very pro-looking essays, even if you don't use equations (or write mathematical/scientific reports).
     
  3. MisterMe macrumors G4

    MisterMe

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    #3
    Donald Knuth developed TeX because he was dissatisfied with the poor quality of equations set by commercial publishers. For books and scientific papers, LaTeX is an excellent choice. Professional journals in some fields, such as high-energy physics, require all submissions to be in LaTeX format. However, you are studying law. It is my understanding that WordPerfect is the best editor in your field. Unfortunately, M$ is grabbing an ever larger portion of the legal document business. As an aspiring professional you need to exchange your documents with others. The free opensource AbiWord can read WordPerfect and Word amoung other formats. It can write Word, RTF, and even LaTeX.
     
  4. mward333 macrumors 6502a

    mward333

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    #4
    LaTeX

    My guess is that learning LaTeX would be overkill for you. It is best suited for mathematicians (including myself), scientists, and engineers, because we have lots of equations in the papers we write for academic journals. Documents featuring equations are the only ones where LaTeX is definitely needed (as opposed to word processing applications).

    So LaTeX is probably overkill for your needs.

    (As a side note, however, I do highly recommend TeXShop for anybody's LaTeX needs, by the way. It is very easy-to-use and versatile.)
     
  5. inlimbo thread starter macrumors 6502

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    #5
    Here in Oz it seems that the MS .doc is the standard. All the academics at uni use it. My problem is that it produces pretty average looking (often poorly formatted) documents. I know you can fiddle with the formatting in Word but it is a major pain in the arse.

    Most of my essays will be submitted in hardcopy form or alternatively online. I can submit them online as doc or PDF. I think LaTex allows you to output in PDF doesn't it?

    I read this interesting blog. The author came to the conclusion that his essays typed in Georgia got the best grades. He received lower grades for essays written in the standard tried and tested Times New Roman (fie on Times New Roman!) So this got me thinking more about format and font choice in my written material.

    I work as a tutor. This semester I had to mark 60 1000 word essays. I noticed on some essays that as soon as I turned over the cover sheet I cringed at having to read it. I stuck those at the at the bottom of the pile (to mark later, when in a better frame of mind). Why did I not wish to read them straight away? Often because they [/B]looked[/B] (they were probably within the word limit) long, formatting was poor (no justification, no gaps between paragraphs, no footnotes, etc...) and probably font face and size choice also.

    I don't wont to make similar mistakes. I do take (some) care in preparing my written work but probably not enough. Basicially I do the following:
    * Make sure it is left and right justified.
    * Use a serif font. Usually Times New Roman. (I know how boring). Usually size 12.
    * Use 1.5 spacing. Lecturers usually insist on double spacing but I think it looks terrible. I always use 1.5 and never get any negative comments.
    * Add the page numbers in the footer.
    * Use a header. Just my student number and an underline.
    * When using footnotes I always use Cmd+T to line them all up nicely.

    A well presented essay makes marking a lot easier and increases the chances of getting better marks. Well in my opinion anyway as both a student and a marker. So I was looking at ways of improving my writting without having to feck around for hours on Word reformatting everything.
     
  6. balamw Moderator

    balamw

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    #6
    There are two common ways to go from LaTeX to PDF: pdflatex or the old-style dvi2ps followed by ghostscript or distiller....

    The advantages of LaTeX over Word for you would be that LaTex handles footnotes and references better than Word. In Word it can be difficult to keep footnotes and endnotes etc.. under control, which leads to the availability of various add-on products. LaTeX is far superior, because it really treats each footnote almost like a link to a URL.

    The other advantage is that once you find or make a template to your liking, you can focus entirely on your text and be sure that your desired formatting is being followed.

    B
     
  7. madmaxmedia macrumors 68030

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    #7
    It's not that hard to set Word to use those formatting rules by default for you.

    Alternatively, you can learn a whole new application/ system, feck with it to also produce documents the way you want them, and then create similar-looking documents.

    I'm not saying Latex or Word is better, but the goals you are listing are easily accomplished in Word. There are other advantages to Latex, but it's not that hard to make your documents look the same way on either system. Either way you'll need to configure it to your preferences, but it should only be a 1-shot deal.
     
  8. inlimbo thread starter macrumors 6502

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    #8
    I use the Crossreference feature in Word. It is ok. It does the job though it is time consuming. It does mess up sometimes and you get an 'error! Bookmark not defined'. It usually happens when I delete a footnote which is referred to later in the piece. e.g. foonote 5 refers to footnote 1. If I delete footnote 1 the whole thing goes haywire.

    That sounds like exactly what I want. I just spent a couple of hours messing about with Word and playing with fonts and margin sizes. Its amazing how much better you can make text look. If LaTex will save me having to do this for each and every essay I write then I'm onboard. :cool:
     
  9. inlimbo thread starter macrumors 6502

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    #9
    Yes that it is true. There are a couple of other things that irk me about Word but maybe I just don't know how to use it correctly.

    * Often Word forces text off pages. Often I find a large bit of whitespace on a page and try and backspace the text below it. But often it just won't move. Or it will move but won't do what I want.
    * I hate having to go and change the font and size of all my headings and sub-headings one-by-one. I know I can use 'Styles' but I find the whole process rather irritating and time-consuming.
    * Often tabs and bullets have a mind of their own.
    * I can't figure out how to turn off automatic letterspacing. i.e. to stop Word from varying the space between letters in order to justify a line.
    * I hate having to manually adjust the vertical space between my headings/sub-headings and the next line.

    If LaTex can overcome some (I don't expect it to overcome all my issues) then I am sold.
     
  10. theBB macrumors 68020

    theBB

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    #10
    Latex is very useful even if you don't use equations or diagrams, although those are very significant features. I may not be worth for a 10 page essay, but if you are working on a long thesis or a book, it is still very useful. First of all, you will never get a title for a section as the last line on a page. In Word, I have to manually add a blank line to avoid that and if I add more stuff on to the previous section later, now there will an extra blank line I would not want in the middle of a page between the the title and the previous page. Not a big deal for 5 page paper, but it becomes a headache for long documents.

    Latex also automatically keeps track of your section or figure numbers. If you add another section in the middle somewhere, the later ones change their numbers by themselves. If you have a cross reference to a figure or section and if their number has changed, your sentence, let's say, "As you can see in Fig. 2.3 ..." would automatically change to "As you can see in Fig. 3.4 ..." if needed. You don't have to scan your entire document manually to see if every cross reference is correct. It is easy to create bibliography. Table of Contents can be generated automatically as well.

    I am pretty sure people here will say "Oh, Word can do all or most of that, too". Yes, I know, but first you have to learn how to do it with Word. You will not be in the easy to learn WYSIWYG world anymore. We use Word at my company and even though they have already created a template for us, it still is buggy. Besides, if your document is longer than let's say 100 pages, there is a very good chance it will get corrupted and you will lose a lot of your work. You might as well learn Latex and it will work properly every time.
     
  11. theBB macrumors 68020

    theBB

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    #11
    I think Latex will solve most, if not all of these issues. However, I gotta warn you. Latex will decide the best formatting for each case, let's say about tabs or the blank space on the bottom of a page. I guess these rules are the ones a book editor would use, so I see quite a few scientific books published in English prepared by Latex, cheap and powerful. However, if you have different ideas about how your document should look like, you can find yourself figthing Latex and end up creating different rules for it to follow and it can get quite frustrating.

    If all you want is to vary margins in your pages, that's easy, but beyond that you gotta let Latex handle the formatting and you just worry about the content.
     
  12. madmaxmedia macrumors 68030

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    #12
    Gotcha. I do understand what you're saying about Word- there are a lot of little annoyances that get in the way. My very brief impression with Latex is that it would solve those problems, as long as you are okay that it's not a WYSIWYG system.

    Keep in mind you still have to customize styles and such for headings, etc., as theBB says. No system is going to read your mind or 'automatically' produce beautiful documents since beauty is sorta in the mind of the beholder. But Latex obviously has many other advantages.

    (of course I'm not advocating by any stretch that you stay with Word!!)
     
  13. MisterMe macrumors G4

    MisterMe

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    #13
    The problems that you have identified in your students' papers are more the fault of Windows than it is of Word. This is not to say that Word does not contribute to the problem. It encourages its users to accept its automatic formatting even though the formatting sucks. If you know how documents should be formatted, you are not going to forget just because you use Word.

    As for the other issues that you identified, I have dealt with them in Word and WordPerfect documents from students, colleagues, and subordinates. No spaces after periods? Double spaces after periods? Carriage returns at the end of each line? Spaces rather than tabs? I can go on. The common denominator is Windows, poor quality monitors, and a culture that prides itself on a lack of aesthetic sense.

    LaTeX will eliminate certain Word faux pas, but no word processor or page layout system can turn the ignorant user into a master typesetter. Whatever you use, the most important determinant of the quality of your formatting lies between your keyboard and chair.
     
  14. ravenvii macrumors 604

    ravenvii

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    #14
    Funny, because as I read the thread and read the complaints about Word and it's formatting, I was thinking "why didn't anyone mention Pages?"

    Yeah, Pages. When I first used it, I didn't really like it, but when I decided to use it to type up a paper, I was very impressed. I like the way it handles footnotes and headers, and how you can have it insert a space between paragraphs by default. Pages do put out very nice-looking papers.
     
  15. 2ndPath macrumors 6502

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    Feb 21, 2006
    #15
    If you are writing law related texts without figures, tables and equations latex is also a lot easier to learn, because these are the more difficult things to deal with. For capter and section titles, foot and end notes are usually each just one command to learn. I don't really know how easy it is for law related citations.
     
  16. Ombret macrumors newbie

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    #16
    inlimbo: I have been in roughly the situation you describe, and I have been very happy with my Mac LaTeX experience. The end product is always beautiful, and I do find that readers give my documents more consideration for being LaTeX-formatted, regardless of whether they know it's LaTeX or not. (In biology, no one knows squat about TeX.) Everyone wants to know what font I use, and I can only shake my head... if only it were that simple. I personally get great satisfaction from seeing my work come out nicely, since I do care about typographical issues. And for building bibliographies, BibTeX works as well as one could ever hope it to.

    There are several disadvantages for LaTeX neophytes in general. First, the learning curve is fairly steep, particularly if you aren't very experienced with coding or markup languages. Second, the installation process isn't completely automated, and my understanding is that the most common way of doing it (i-installer) doesn't work well on Tiger. I could be wrong about this.

    In your particular line of work, you may find LaTeX frustrating if you ever have to work together with other authors on a single document. Your coworkers will probably be uncomfortable with the idea of embedding comments in a PDF file and even less comfortable with a marked-up plaintext file. Also, you may find that the layouts that are specifically needed for legal documents (what's up with all those parentheses?) are hard to engineer in LaTeX.

    Bottom line: the software is free and Leslie Lamport's book won't cost you much; give it a try! You will probably like the results.
     
  17. MisterMe macrumors G4

    MisterMe

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    #17
    You three major options for using TeX on the Mac--one commercial, one shareware, and one freeware opensource.

    Commerical: The veteran MacOS 9 (System 7 actually) Blue Sky TeX Systems Textures is being ported to MacOS X. This TeX system is interactive in that it displays the formatted output as the text and mark-up codes are entered.

    Shareware: OzTeX, a veteran MacOS 9 (another System 7) title from Andrew Trevorrow seems to work just fine even if you don't pay the shareware fee.

    Freeware: This is really multipart. You have a choice of front end applications. The most obscure is Qt/Mac 4.0.1-based TeXMaker, which seems to work fairly well. However, it requires that the Qt 4.0.1 frameworks be installed. iTeXMac2 has dropped the intuitive simplicity of iTeXMac for a project paradigm. I have yet to figure out the latter version. TeXshop is far and away the most popular front end. It is wickedly fast.

    Each of these front end applications use the same installation of the opensource teTeX backend. teTeX may be installed using standard Unix techniqes, but it is far easier to use Gerben Wierda's i-Installer. FWIW, i-Installer works just fine under MacOS X 10.4.

    Even teTeX has an alternative. This is the Unicode-based XeTeX.
     
  18. inlimbo thread starter macrumors 6502

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    #18
    Im glad someone else experiences my pain. I also find students indenting the first line of a paragraph (thats fine) but later on in the answer they abandon this and use a line between each paragraph. It has to be consistent. I also find that students have no idea how to impliment footnotes and how consecutive footnotes work. Often they just hand write it at the bottom of the page! I couldn't figure out why and I guess you are right. They just put their faith in Windows. I also find that most faculties at my uni don't push good formatting at all. It the content that matters. I agree with this but I also think presentation is also important. Particularly when the person who is marking your paper has a deadline and stack of papers to mark.

    That is what I was thinking. Footnotes and cross-references are going to be as complicated as it gets. For any written material that we do we use Oxford (footnote) method not the Harvard (round brackets) method

    That is what am I after. Good quality output (content is another thing :)). I have experience with perl so hopefully the learning curve will not be too steep.

    Most of the assignments I have to do are individual. If it comes to a group assignment usually one person types it up so I can still use LaTex.

    I think I will get TeXshop. But what about Lyx that Mitthrawnuruodo suggested?
     
  19. MisterMe macrumors G4

    MisterMe

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    #19
    LyX also uses your teTeX backend. It appears to be a fully functional LaTeX front end. It appears to be a godsend for users who need LaTeX, but prefer visual document editing and formatting. You can find it here.
     
  20. inlimbo thread starter macrumors 6502

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    #20
    Thanks MisterMe

    Is anyone able to post a screenshot or a PDF showing a finished product that was created using LaTex so I can see the quality. I haven't been able to find much by searching around.
     
  21. Compile 'em all macrumors 601

    Compile 'em all

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    Apr 6, 2005
    #21
    You can find my thesis paper at the OASIS XACML ref page. It is the last
    publication in 2006; "Conceptual Design of Identity Management in a profile-based
    access control".
    You can find a linked pdf there.

    I used LaTex + Texshop for that. As a fellow macrumor hinted, if you won't
    deal much with equations and tables then learning LaTex is pretty straight forward.

    And all you read about LaTex and how it will make you focus on content
    instead of layout is absolutely true. BTW, for my thesis paper I was using
    a LaTex template supplied by my university. So the default latex-generated
    pdf will look slightly different than mine.

    If you have any other LaTex-related questions feel free to PM me or just post
    them here. Good Luck :)
     
  22. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #22
    The benefits listed before are only a drop in the bucket. A document in Word isn't as good as one written in LaTeX unless you're strictly writing text. If you add figures, a bibliography, graphs, and math equations, LaTeX is the bomb s***.

    @Mitthrawnuruodo: Thanks for the link to Lyx. I've been using TeXShop and I'm gonna try this Lyx thing. Its much easier than looking up code in my "Not So Short Intro To LaTeX."
     
  23. theBB macrumors 68020

    theBB

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    #23
    A thesis work created with latex and converted into pdf:

    http://baytekin.nfshost.com/thesis_baytekin.pdf
     
  24. Macky-Mac macrumors 68030

    Macky-Mac

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    #24

    In Word, you can set up your formatting and make a template to use so you don't have to do it for each essay.........it's quite easy

    I don't mean to suggest you shouldn't give LaTex a try, it's just that if you haven't taken the time to learn how to format your Word documents to your satisfaction, then why do you think you'll take the time to learn how to do it with LaTex???
     
  25. balamw Moderator

    balamw

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    #25
    The problem seems to be that in Word/PowerPoint most everyone seems compelled to override the style template or just not use it. Drives me nuts. LaTeX kinda forces you to follow the rules and makes "tweaking" the format just hard enough that it's often not worth the effort.

    B
     

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