Thursday, 3 September 2015

How to start writing with Latex

I am by no means an expert on Latex, but since I somehow succeeded in writing my phD thesis, which has a total of 171 pages, in Latex, I can at least say that I am proficient enough.  Since I have found the joy in writing with Latex, I have been advocating the use of this software to as many people as possible. This is because Latex has taught me, a self proclaimed technological illiterate, into a firm believer of the power of technology, specifically open source technology (and the internet).

In this post I wanted to share some of the information I found useful when I just starting out with Latex. Hopefully it will also be useful for you.

Learn the step by step of Latex from YouTube

When starting Latex, I watching this video by Michelle Krummel on YoTube on how to start making your first document. Here she also explains what and how to install the necessary Software to run Latex for the first time. Note that the beauty of Latex is that it runs on different platform for free, I can use the same Latex software on my Windows run computer and on my Mac, and I have no problems. Michelle Krummels channel by itself has many many useful videos relating to Latex, so I would recommend you to subscribe. 

There is however yet another channel that I found very useful, which is called ShareLatex. This channel is particularly useful because it has a playlist that is especially dedicated for learning how to write your thesis on Latex, so it has all the major important things that you must know in order to write your thesis. 

From these YouTube channels you can learn a lot already, but I would also like to give you some tips on other useful things that you can use for writing your Thesis (or anything else). 

Making Figures in Latex

When making figures in Latex, we can use the tikz package. In the beginning when I used Latex, I drew all my figures by using coordinates manually. So I actually had to calculate where everything goes, manually and then write the code for it. It took me ridiculously long just to make one figure. So one of the very first figure that I did took me 6 hours to make. You might think that is a ridiculous amount of time to make one figure, but I really enjoyed it, since it looked so beautiful. Realistically speaking though, its impossible to keep doing this for all my figure in my Thesis, so I had to find another way to make figures.
Figure that took me 6 hours to make
So after further investigation, we can actually use a software called GeoGebra, which is actually a very useful free software to make beautiful figures. From this software you can output the tikz code directly and then you can input it on your Latex code. Its easy and simple. With this software, I can make very complicated figures in about 30 -50 minutes.
My latest figure that I made by using Latex.
Geogebra is basically a very useful tool already, but if you want to make diagrams, there is another free software that you can use. This is called Dia, Dia is not as user friendly as GeoGebra but it gets the Job done. From this software you can also simply export the tikz code and then input it to Latex. As you can see from my diagram example, it doesn't look oh-so-fancy but really it gets the job done and it will reduce your over all effort in making your thesis look beautiful.

This is an example of a diagram from my thesis, I generated it with Dia
As for making graphics, I used a special software that was required of me by my supervisor, it is called Kaleidagraph. The software can not directly be used in my Latex, so I had to safe the figures as .png and then input it into my Latex code (also the software is expensive and difficult to use, although it has many other good features). The same thing is also true for excel graphics, you can safe them into .png or .jpg forms and then input them into your Latex. Note here though that you should prepare the resolution to be much bigger than the required A4 paper you will put it in, so that the graphs will look good even if you zoom in. In my case I always made the figure 4 times bigger than necessary so that I can still zoom the pdf in to 400% and have a beautiful figure.

One of the advantage of writing your thesis in Latex, is having an exquisite resolution. So actually making figures with softwares like Kaleidagraph and Excel is somewhat a pity because the resolution might not be as good as Latex generated resolution.

You can however make your graphs with Latex. I did not do this because of my supervisors requirement but if you were serious in making a high quality thesis, I would strongly recommend it.
As far as I know Latex and Matlab work very well together, so I think if you had made your figures in Matlab, you can somehow use these in Latex with ease. Since I have no experience in the matter I can not give advice more than this.

Making Tables in Latex

Just like my figures, I used to make all my tables in Latex manually. But then I learned that there is a very useful adds-in that you can put in excel that can simply convert your tables in excel into Latex code. I really recommend you to use it, the program is called Excel-to-Latex.

Writing equations in Latex

If you were one of the lucky ones to have MathType installed in your computer, you can directly copy the equation from MathType to Latex and it will already be in the form of a Latex code. If you are like me though and don't have MathType installed then you can use an free online converter. You can write the equation here and copy it into your Latex.

Latex templates

If you are now excited in impressing people in your amazing Latex skill, you can bring your Latex game even further by using one of the freely available Latex templates sites. From these sites you can simply download a template for your own purpose, whether for academic journals, curriculum vitae, thesis, etc. These sites include:


So Why Latex? With Latex you can let the program think about how to best present your idea, while you focus on what matters most: content. If you are still not convinced, here are some opinions by MIT and ResearchGate on why Latex is better than Word.

For now I think this is all I can share with you on Latex. Please feel free to ask. 

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