David Guyon's blog

Leave Word and use LaTeX

I remember that day when Mr. Word told me “You’ve got 22 days left”, that’s when I really started thinking that using LaTeX could be a nice idea. Here I am to present you my transition.

Why LaTeX?

You want a report that suits various publications with math equations, tables or something specific because of your working area? LaTeX is a very good choice as you will see in the rest of this article.

If you are looking for a tool to write a short document, if you have the habit to use many different fonts, colors, then maybe Mr. Word is more suitable for you.

Firstly, LaTeX is free. You won’t pay hundreds of euros/dollars/pounds to create a neat document. Nobody will force you to use a specific text editor, you are free to use the one you like. Perhaps you will need to generate a graph or something depending on a particular application ; with LaTeX you will find a way to do it. LaTeX is extensible and plenty of free add-ons are available all around the web, each offering new interesting features. And don’t worry, if you don’t find what you are looking for, or if you just need some tips, a large community is ready to come to your help.


Let’s start from scratch. Say you are using a Linux operating system, you will need some tools so you can start your first LaTeX report.

In fact, you only need two things to start: the LaTeX tool and a text editor. To install the LaTeX tool on Ubuntu, open a terminal and write sudo apt-get install texlive for a minimal installation. For a more complete installation, you would prefer to install the texlive-latex-extra package. For ArchLinux users, write yaourt texlive in your favorite console and select the packages you would like to install. Then you need a text editor. Some of you will prefer to use something with builtin compilation tools and other hardcore users would prefer to use Vim and compile their document with a command line on a terminal. You’re free to choose the way you like. In this tutorial I will suppose you’re lazy and that you would like to use a full features one like texmaker. To install the guy, sudo apt-get install texmaker (yaourt -S texmaker on ArchLinux).

Before we continue, I give you this blog-post.tex file as a sandbox and also the blog-post.pdf so you can see how it looks.

The basics

Here we go. Start TexMaker and let’s write our first article. Open a new document (Ctrl+n) and copy/paste the block below. I’ll explain what it means right after.


% Configuration

Hello world!

Firstly, scrartcl means we’re going to write an article with European rules (A4 paper, etc). To write a report, use scrreprt; for a book, use scrbook; and for a letter, use scrlettr. If you’d prefer to write a document with American rules, use article, report, book or letter instead of the ones I just presented. I usually use 11pt but feel free to try and use what looks better to you.

Secondly, we have the configuration of our document. The inputenc package allows us to encode our file in utf8. The fixltx2e package is used to fix few bugs with LaTeX. I don’t know much about it so, just use it! The xspace package will scan your document during the render to put spaces or not depending on the following character. I don’t know much about the microtype package except that it’s used to make your document neater. We use l2tabu and abort in the nag package to check for common mistakes and get some hints in what to use instead. The fontenc package allows you to use more characters (these instead of only these). And the last one, the lmodern package. It’s like a library of fonts with a good render. It also gives you some mathematical symbols.

Finally, we can start writing our document between the \begin{document} and the \end{document} tags because that’s all we need as configuration so far.

Essential tools

Let’s be cool and use some tools. In this section, I’ll present you a wee bit of all the essential tools you need to master for your first document.

Document title

\author{Jake The Dog \and David Guyon}
\date{January 14th, 2013}
\title{LaTeX Time\\Come on, grab your friends!}

Do I really need to explain that? LaTeX is so clean and so easy to handle. Let’s move on!


You need to write an abstract? Just enclose it with the begin and end abstract tags like this:

Our goal was to become programmers, so we started drinking coffee and staring at our screen but instead we became crazy and blind. How do they do that? In this article, we present you our research about how amazing are programmers and how they will save the world.

Take a moment, to write a comment

Writing comments is pretty easy in LaTeX. Put a percent symbol at the beginning of a line and it becomes a comment! Feel free to use them, they will save your time.

% Sadly we never use enough comments :/


In LaTeX, a title is used to declare a section and also represent a hierarchy. Here’s the list of available titles from highest to lowest hierarchy:

\section{Main title}
\subsection{Less important title}
\subsubsection{Baby title}

Bold and italic

\textbf{Quick} and \textit{clear}. 


Need a bulleted list or an enumerated list ? Use the itemize or the enumerate tag and add as much items as you need.

\item First item
\item Second item

\item An enumerated item
\item Another one


Add the multicol package in your header, \usepackage{multicol}, and then use it like this in your document :

The theme song of the TV show Adventure Time sounds like this : "Adventure time, c'mon grab your friends. We'll go to very distant lands. With Jake the Dog, and Finn the Human, the fun will never end. It's adventure time." This is the kind of song which could stay in your head a whole day and could freeze your mind because of its addictivity.

Greek symbols

Sometimes you’ll need Greek symbols in your document. Some of them are already available but you could, as I did, need some which are not implemented. My solution to this problem was to use the textgreek package. Add this line to your configuration, \usepackage{textgreek} and then use it like this:

\textsigma = \textrho\textOmega + \textPhi

If you don’t like the font, you can choose between three different fonts (cbgreek, euler and artemisia) by defining it during the import : \usepackage[euler]{textgreek}.

For mathematics

To be able to use mathematical equations in your documents, you need to import this package : \usepackage{mathtools}. I won’t explain how to use this package because it would take days and also because I’m clearly not the one who could give you advices about it! Just for the fun of it, an example:

E \neq m c^3

E = m c^2

c \approx 3.00\times 10^{8}\,\mathrm{m}/\mathrm{s}

A \xLeftarrow[under]{over} B

\begin{bsmallmatrix}a & -b \\ -c & d \end{bsmallmatrix}
\begin{bsmallmatrix*}[r] a & -b \\ -c & d \end{bsmallmatrix*}

French documents

You’re probably french and I know I already bother you by making you read an english article so, at least, I’ll give you the only tool you need to write french documents: \usepackage[frenchb]{babel}. Try the following example with and without the import:

La 1\iere fois que j'ai écrit un document en \LaTeX, la température était de 22\degres C. En France, on écrit les noms de famille en majuscule comme ceci, \bsc{Guyon} David et nous n'utilisons pas "ceci" mais \og cela \fg. 

Specific application

For programming languages report

Remember that time when you were writing a report with Mr. Word and your teacher wanted you to put the source code in the report? Always tricky and awful to accomplish! That now belongs to the past thanks to the listings package. Put the following code in your configuration:


Let’s try this out!

\begin{lstlisting}[caption=Interface \textit{Command}]
public abstract interface Command {
  public abstract void execute();

For a report about semantic

Give a smile to your teacher with a neat semantic equation thanks to the semantic package : \usepackage{semantic}. Here’s a quick example:

\inference[Séquence ]
{ $< c, $\sigma$ > $->${*} $\sigma$'$ }
{ $< c; c', $\sigma$ > $-->$ < c', $\sigma$'>$}

Write your CV in LaTeX

It’s probably the thing I like the most with LaTeX. You can actually create your whole CV very easily, with a professional design without doing anything rather than filling blanks for you personal information, your studies and professional experiences.

This section should be written soon…


PS: if you think that something is missing, wrong or incomplete, please, tell me. And if you would like me to talk about something specific, it would be a pleasure to do so.

On January 21, 2014

Tags : LaTeX.

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