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Starting LaTeX

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Starting LaTeX - Common tasks - For linguistics - Bibliographies

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, LaTeX itself, and a text editor.

  1. The command line. You’ve got it already; here’s how to use it.
  2. LaTeX in some form. I use TeX Live, the cross-platform standard. There is a version configured for Macs called MacTeX. The Windows-specific implementation is MikTeX.
  3. 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.

Learning LaTeX

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.

Suggestion: 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.

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.

Reference material

Your best reference is often a search engine: LaTeX users 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.