A Comparison of LaTeX and MS Word

Writing a document in Latex is in many respects different from writing using a word processor such as Microsoft Word.

Clearly, there are matters of preference when one selects one or the other, but beyond just preferences, there are some technical issues that need to be considered when writing a document in Latex.

There are many more documents written in MS Word than in Latex. The reasons is more related to the widespread availability of MS Word than due to any intrinsic qualities. In fact, when we compared the capabilities of these systems, Latex usually comes as the winner in several categories.

To have a better comparison, here are some of the areas where Latex has an advantage over Microsoft Word and related word processors:

Latex can clearly separate contents and formatting: one of the big weaknesses of MS Word is that the same document defines the format and the content. While this is easy to handle for short documents, it is really difficult to maintain for documents that are any longer.

The main issue is that it is difficult to maintain the same formatting. In Word is is really easy to use two different formatting for the same purpose, only because they are very similar. It is hard to distinguish formats visually, so you end up with small inconsistencies all over the document. While this is not a problem in most business documents, it is an issue with technical documents.

For the same reason, Word users need to be careful with formatting all the time, or at least revise frequently. Latex users don't have this problem, because the whole text is stored as an ascii document, and formatting is only applied later.

With Latex, one can concentrate on writing the document, instead of just worrying about the best format.

The other advantage of this usage pattern is that one can easily change the format of a Latex document, even if it is long. With Word is is really hard to change the formatting on a whole document. Most of the time this has to be done manually.


A big advantage of Latex is that is was created with math support. Equations can be easily created. There is no need for a plug in or a special mode for entering equations.

Latex is able to handle all kinds of formats for mathematical material. It has all math symbols imported by default (additional symbols are available as packages).

Finally, Latex has a huge community of users in all areas of technical document creation. Lots of books and manuals are created every year using Latex, without further changes.

Word documents are, with rare exceptions, too low quality to be used to typeset a whole book. Only simpler documents are printed from Word sources.

Disadvantages of Latex

Similarly, there are some disadvantages of Latex compared to MS Word.

Quick formatting is an advantage of MS Word. If a document is simple, it is better to use Word and simple formatting that spending time with writing the document and formatting it later with Latex.

Another issue is that MS Word is available in many places, so it works well as a document exchange format. This is how it is mostly used in Business.

Business users are interested in quick formatting and simple exchange, so that one can easily create reports and derivative documents. This is why in such an environment it is easier just to have MS Word installed everywhere.

On the other hand, if you need a document that is more reliable and with higher quality, you should use Latex and see how easier it makes the life of authors.

Tags: comparison, word, msword, commands, latex
Article created on 2010-09-11 13:32:49

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