She’s got the look.

She’s got the look.

When I began writing my master’s thesis, I had a big decision to make: Microsoft Word or LaTeX.  I didn’t like the equation formatting in Word, but I could live with it.  However, I was at the tail end of a campus thesis editor who HATED LaTeX, and so I was told that I would save myself a lot of heartache if I just went with Word.  I also figured that the learning curve was significantly less steep for Word.

I was wrong on both counts, and the equation formatting ended up being the least of my concerns.

As it turns out, writing a large document in Microsoft Word required me to learn to use settings I wasn’t familiar with.  For instance, I had to learn to put pictures in such that they would be recognized by the program as a figure.  Then, I had to make a table giving all the figures and the pages on which they were listed.  There were other things I had to learn, but the figure table ended up being the end of my Word usage.

You see, Word does a nice job of plugging a lot of that stuff in automatically.  It also likes to format things for you, even when you ask it not to.  What happened when my document got to be in the 70-80 page range was that it would autoformat my pictures for me…and move them…after I’d already printed out my Figures Table.  This also left several pages with large blank spaces.  On the first couple drafts, I took care of this by printing out the thesis, page by page, and going back and ‘fixing’ each page if it decided to push my figure to the next page.

By the end of the process, however, I ended up missing one or two of these mistakes – and they are permanently in my thesis.

After that experience, I moved to using LaTeX.  It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought.  I’d spent a few years as a web programmer, and I found formatting documents to be comparable to writing HTML documents.  Admittedly, the set up is a bit more involved, but there is already a lot of infrastructure to help get you started.

Being a Mac fangirl, I use MacTex, but there is also a good distribution for PCs called MiKTex (I’m not sure if that’s a long ‘i’ or a short one).  When I write articles for IEEE publications, I can use the IEEEtrans class documents and templates.  And, of course, there are already templates that people have made for theses and dissertations at various schools.

I’m glad I’ve made the transition to LaTeX.  It’s not nearly as intimidating as I originally thought it would be, and best of all, I really like the way my work looks when I’m finished with it.  I never realized how much I enjoyed having an aesthetically-pleasing document: it makes me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile.

So have you thought about moving away from Word or other Office-like software and using LaTeX?  If so, what do you think of it?  If not, what is holding you back?


LaTeX appeals to the programmer in me, but I’m not sure it actually saves me a lot of time! I study in a field where LaTeX is completely unheard of, so templates and BibTeX styles are unavailable and I’ve invested a lot of time in setting these up.

BibTeX is a bit ridiculous – you need to learn yet another obscure language just to set up citation styles – I remember battling EndNote for hours to get things just right, but it couldn’t possibly have been as difficult as BibTeX. I believe there are some more modern alternatives now 🙂 In the end it was a bit of a waste of time because the journal I was submitting to demanded submissions in Word format anyway. At least my papers looked lovely.

I found LaTeX figure handling a bit fiddly too – this was one aspect where some manual intervention always seemed to be required if you wanted your document to look a particular way, unless you just let it do everything. Journals that ask you to attach figures at the end of documents, one per page, make life a lot easier.

Despite all that, LaTeX is great! 🙂

Totally a LaTeX girl — for long documents, such as theses and research papers, it’s LaTeX all the way. All my group members use it and they all love it. We have PC’s, use MikTeX with WinEdt, and everyone is happy. I think the learning curve is not that steep — what I do is give them as a template one of my lengthier manuscripts that has a variety of environments (figures, subequations, tables, minipages etc) and they can learn from there. Plus there is a ton of online resources, so you can find anything within seconds. I love it that there are very good templates for all society journals where I publish, which is the point — you focus on the contents, someone else ensures it looks pretty.

For shorted documents and sharing with most collaborators I must use MS Word. For proposals — about 15+ pages, few equations, it’s a wash — I have documents in both.

FWIW, I recently had a post in which I lamented that my PhD advisor would not let me use LaTeX, and then a follow-up response to a commenter who asked why program when typesetting.

A former roomate of mine introduced me to LaTeX almost a year ago. I love it but everyone I work with hates it because they don’t know it and are afraid to learn it. I get a lot of “What’s the point?” and “How is this any faster?” and I don’t always know the answer. Why do I use LaTeX? It’s more fun! I’d rather write the paper for the content and let the computer do the formatting for me so I can go off and work on my projects.

BibTeX is nice as well due to having many online sources that I use automatically create the citation to put into my .bib file for me. One thing I have not figured out is how to get the citation to appear under my references if I do not cite it in my paper, not that I’ve really looked into this.

LaTeX, BibTeX, LaTeX, LaTeX!

I’m in a field where half the people always use LaTeX and half always use Word, and neither can believe that the other half exists.

Personally, I’ve been using TeX and LaTeX since long before Word existed. I tried Word for a little while about a decade ago and hated it so much I swore I would never use it again.

Some of the journals I publish in that previously insisted on Word files now gladly accept LaTeX files—some even provide LaTeX style files (though usually somewhat buggy ones). (I never sent word files—if they refused the LaTeX files, I suggested that I could submit to a different journal if they were not competent to handle LaTeX.)

I love LaTeX and have gotten more compliments on papers from humanities professors than I know what to do with.

The problem I’ve run into more recently is a professor that tried LaTeX back in the mid 80’s, didn’t like the lack of WYSIWYG switched to Word some time in the interim, and now he refuses to accept anything else.

Fie on Field Codes!

I remember producing my final report using LaTeX (or something similar) thirty years ago. I think theings have been going backwards ever since.
My job involves me producing datasheets. Our current system means I have to produce the draft in Word (what else could engineers use!), send it to MarCom who distort it into FrameMaker and return it as pdf for correcting.
Who would have thought somebody sat down and decided that was the way to do it. Frankly, I could do a better job with HTML and CSS…

“Frankly, I could do a better job with HTML and CSS”
I can agree with that.

However I will say that I prefer using MS word as interaction with large process plants invariably breaks down to PC and MS. The DCS system data for can be transferred easily to these platforms.
With long documents and MS word I always set upo the document before I start. So for writing my thesis, the first thing I did was formatting which inclusded section breaks and making sure these breaks did not communicate. After that I never had a problem though I had to spend a lot of time learning word to its full extent. But once my template was there, I had little problems.
I also see that with our professional resports. With a fixed template the issues you describe do not come up.
As a sugesstion to your advisor you colud suggest that the department used a fixed template for thesis writing. From MS 2007 and on, you can come templates from older versions to 2007 style if you wish. Whay you need is a standard. Standard! STANDARD!.
In any case the same arguement that I have posted could be used for LaTeX.

For my engineering ‘thesis’ I also had to use Word. My experience was similar to Riven’s. After I the set up the way Word “wanted” me to, it was fine. But I had to be a real hard a** to my teammates to make sure they NEVER manually formatted anything.

I really like the idea of LaTeX, but even on Ubuntu a few years ago it was hard to “check your work” as you went along. I remember every few renderings it would crash or do something else not very nice.

Eventually a roommate recommended LyX (, which is essentially a WSIWYG frontend for LaTeX. It literally made writing equations a joy. I found that I could do algebraic manipulations easier and with less mistakes using LyX (thanks to copy and paste between lines), so I actually did all my homework using it. The longest research paper I wrote was about 15 pages, but I imagine that LyX would be great for documents traditionally suited to LaTeX as well.

I used MiKTex & TeXnicCenter for my dissertation. There was no way I was going to use the equation editor in Word – I had several sections of an equation / equations that would go on for 3-4 pages. Doing that in Word is for masochists.

I use Word for everyday tasks (including monthly reports, because I’m just doing a couple of sections), but I have dabbled in making a class file for the generation of white papers and reports. Anything that is significant in length or has lots of math makes me want to go with LaTeX. Of course, all publications are done in LaTeX.

I tried using Word, and I have labmates that use it and never have a problem, but you have to be REALLY hardcore about always using the correct formatting. I never seem to get it right, so Word eats figures, and rearranges chapters, and gets rid of references with no warning. I got so fed up, I vowed to switch to LaTeX.

Problem is, programming makes my head hurt. Enter LyX, which provides a user interface even I can get my brain around. (So I second Ben on using LyX – it runs on Mac, for those commenters who run on Apple like myself.) There is some learning curve, but well worth it in my opinion. (I had a post on it here:

I use Papers (, which is a Mac software I love for organizing references and which ties right into LyX/LaTeX. Again, BibTeX would do it, but programming makes my head hurt. 🙂

Ugh! I did my thesis in Word, too, and it was horribly suited for the job. I ended up having to manually assemble it from several print jobs, including overprinting two pages because that was the only way I could figure out to get a rotated figure and caption without also rotating the page number.

More recently, I wrote a manual set in DocBook XML and loved it. If you are comfortable with HTML, you will be comfortable with DocBook XML. It took a bit to get used to the XSLT stylesheet language used for formatting, but the result was top quality. (Apparently it is possible to style DocBook with CSS, but I used the freely-available DocBook XSLT stylesheets as my starting point.) Many times I wished I had had DocBook for my thesis!

One drawback to DocBook is weak support for equations. DocBook documents can include any MathML you want, for rich support for equations, but the formatting engine has to support MathML. The one I was using did not.

I’ve been a bit biased against TeX and LaTeX because I find the Computer Modern fonts ugly. I’m sure it’s unfair, because I’ve probably read dozens of beautiful LaTeX documents done in attractive fonts and never knew it. It’s the Computer Modern ones, though, that I can be certain were done in TeX…

I’ve already hounded on this before but I’m another one that’s for using LaTeX for big documents. If it’s in-house and it’s a large doc, it’s the only way to go. Also a requirement for my students to use it for their papers and thesis.

As for smaller stuff, Word is fine because it’s universal available but it’s such a clunky interface. I wish there was a “remove all auto formats” option and then it would be a lot better.

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