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LaTeX: Pros and Cons

[Opinion piece, and therefore subjective ...]

I wrote my textbook, most of my research articles (except joint articles initiated by my collaborators, who tend to use MS Word), most of my research proposals, most of my letters, my CV, and the pages at this web site, in LaTeX. One reason is so I can take advantage of the amazing typesetting capabilities and other features of TeX, along with the convenience features of LaTeX and its modern engines such as pdflatex, xelatex, modern font support, and so forth. I refer to these collectively as LaTeX in what follows.

After looking at the table example elsewhere on this web site, for example, you may wonder Why use LaTeX for anything? It looks complicated.

In fact, there are good reasons for not using LaTeX, and sometimes people who like LaTeX put forward arguments for using it that aren’t convincing. A take-down of some of these arguments can be found in this blog post (make sure you also read through the lively discussion of the article). A piece by another author refers to a ‘LaTeX cargo cult’. One of the most frequently given reasons for using LaTeX is that it focuses you on the content of your document rather than its layout and formatting. However, arguments in favor of LaTeX tend to be based on comparing the effective use of LaTeX with a naive misuse of a word processor. For example, modern word processors support style sheets that one can edit, much like it is possible to change the layout and formatting of a document written in LaTeX by modifying the document style and related definitions. The usual arguments against using LaTeX would seem to make that same mistake in reverse, i.e., effective use of a word processor vs. ineffective use of LaTeX. Effective use of a word processor or LaTeX each requires some learning. Regarding content vs. layout, I admit that in addition to content I have probably spent too much time making my documents look exactly as I want. What made me adopt LaTeX in the first place were the beautifully typeset documents it produces, and the seamless integration of text and math. For some examples, check out the author-generated PDFs of some of my review articles elsewhere on this web site, or some of the templates at overleaf.com.

Cons (with some equivocation)



In the end, your decision to adopt LaTeX or not is likely influenced by expectations regarding the learning curve, peer pressure, convenience, and how much you like the results that it produces.

© 2021 – 2022 J. Autschbach.