Maybe the fact that nothing is impossible in
LaTeX sets you on fire.
Or maybe you’ve had it with corrupt Word documents. If so,
welcome to the club! This guide is intended for the absolute
beginner. There are four sections so far:
This page (Starting LaTeX)
begins with some regrettably mixed metaphors:
Caution: In my humble opinion LaTeX
is not the best option for everyone. Do you (a) dislike programming,
(b) not have time to learn a programming language, or
(c) frequently need to move columns of tables (like Optimality
Theory tableaux)? As a phonologist, I only use LaTeX
for bibliographies. And recreationally.
You need three things: the command line,
and a text editor.
- The command line. You’ve got it already;
here’s how to use it.
in some form. I use
the cross-platform standard. There is a version configured for Macs
The Windows-specific implementation is
A text editor, because Microsoft Word inserts
special characters even when you tell it to save as text-only.
Notepad, Wordpad and TextEdit don’t
have this problem, but they don’t do syntax highlighting
(automatic colour-coding) which makes a huge difference to your level of
happiness when debugging. Try one of the following.
- Download options: If possible,
get installer versions (rather than .zip versions),
and the most recent stable version for your operating system.
- Ask a friend/mentor for help if necessary —
chances are they had to do some troubleshooting at this stage too.
- LyX (Windows, Mac, Linux)
works like a wordprocessing program. Recommended if you have no
- TeXworks (Windows, Mac) and
TeXShop (Mac, more features)
allow simple and user-friendly switching between code and preview,
and can perform most tasks without the command line.
- AUCTeX (Linux, Windows, Mac)
is good if you’re already an Emacs user.
- WinEdt and
let you click on buttons instead of typing commands. Unfortunately
WinEdt is shareware, not freeware, and TeXnicCenter
doesn’t support Unicode yet (though that’s fine if
you’re planning to type IPA
with TIPA as many people do).
This is an excellent time to ask a friend/mentor
for a tutorial. The introductions below are the best I can find,
but you’ll probably have questions they don’t address.
Use pdflatex instead of latex. It’s faster.
Other common tasks may be helpful too.
At this point you may want to move on to the
other pages in this LaTeX guide:
More advanced introductions
Fuller introductions to LaTeX
are widely available and they’re great if you have the patience
to work through them. I just treat them as reference material.
The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX
(PDF) is widely recommended on the Internet.
I was too impatient to use this as a beginner because it
doesn’t solve basic problems in a hurry, but it does
introduce you to useful options swiftly and systematically.
(website) has excellent introductory chapters on topics like
formatting. I think the Absolute Beginners
section (command line) is the only part that’s oddly
You may be able to get some ideas from
this .tex file of mine, and see if you can
compile it into
this PDF file.
Your best reference is often a search engine:
have asked and answered many questions all over the Internet.
But I’ve often found that the best search results
come from the following sources.
(website) gives clear and untimidating introductions to
cross-referencing, and at least reduces the pain of learning to
cite bibliography and
The Visual LaTeX FAQ
(PDF). Click on different parts of this PDF document to get
excellent explanations from the
UK TeX Users’ Group FAQ
(website) lets you look up the
code for a symbol by drawing it with your mouse. Much easier than
The Comprehensive LaTeX
Symbol List (PDF), which is 178 pages of special characters,
accents, dingbats, etc. (Read the note about
usepackage in §1.1 on Document Usage or
you’ll keep wondering why nothing works.)
LaTeX Font Catalogue
(website) shows off the
fonts. Necessary commands appear under
Usage on each font’s page, but be aware that
you are changing the default font for the whole document.
Computer Modern (the default) and
Times have strong support from other packages like
NASA’s list of LaTeX
commands. Yes, rocket scientists need help too.