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?