For some weeks now, I’m writing a paper about project management requirements towards information systems. So far I was used to use some kind of office product to write the text and manage the literature directory, preferred a version of StarOffice or later OpenOffice. In most cases this kind of office tools are great to work with – you can setup a documents including the format very quickly and just start writing.
In 99% of all cases this is very suitable for writing letters and a short text with not to many pictures and drawings. But when text has a specific length, some more pictures/drawing or special directories (e.g. references, index, tables, literature …) is can get very tricky and you have to do a lot of manual workaround. Until today I did not find a goods WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) office tool which can handle that. And that is the point where LaTeX/ TeX is jumping in.
In my case the requirement is to write a paper with total between 60-80 page with a cover page, directories (chapters, tables, drawings, literature…), specific style for page numbers and special style guide to follow. To avoid going nuts kicking around with not very well placed graphics and taking care about footnotes and the literature directory manually, I decided to investigate into LaTeX.
But what is (so special about) LaTeX?
“It’s simply amazing!” – LaTeX is a system to describe a document based on its properties and than manage aside of the text the additional information like footnotes, literature, graphics on the defined rules. It uses a very smart system for type set and is able to place graphics/drawings on its own at a good spot in your text. The situation that your format can get destroyed by placing a new graphic into a long text like in MS Word or OpenWriter does not exists when using LaTeX. Additionally it has a trizillion features to take care about managing information like literature which is resulting into automatically generated directories and references. The quality of the resulting document has a quality which can be used to send the document directly to a print facility.
The features is very promising for the most persons, but what in general scares them off is the environment you have to work in to create with LaTeX (TeX) a documents. It looks like you need some programming skills, but it looks more sophisticated than it really is. After setting up the basic documents definition and format the need to command will reduce dramatically (in most cases down to 4-6 commands).
I can really recommend to invest some time into getting in touch with LaTeX (TeX) for writing papers of a length over 10-20 pages or if a very strict specific style needs to be fulfilled.
I will continue to publish my experience with LaTeX (TeX) and next time add some examples and screenshots.
An the end I do have some links you may visit to get some more information about it:
Wikipedia => http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaTeX
Kile – a good LaTeX Editor for Linux (KDE) => http://kile.sourceforge.net/
Short (German) Tutorial – very easy to master with examples! => http://latex.hpfsc.de/
Wikibooks Articles/Tutorials => http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX/