Creating a Book with LaTeX

Writing a book is or dissertation is a big endeavor. An author has to spend thousands of hours to finish a good book, and most of this time is spend in front of the word processor. If you use a common word processor such as MS word, this may represent a huge amount of time fighting against formatting problems, instead of concentrating on your work.

This article describes the main advantages of creating a book or dissertation using LaTeX, instead of a traditional tool.

What You See Is What You Mean

Most traditional word processors use the what you see is what you get philosophy. While this may be a helpful method of creating small documents, such as fliers and letters, it is very inneficient way of composing long documents, such as a book. The reason is that WYSIWYG implies that you need to format each part of the document before it reaches the required level of presentation. In a long document, this can be tedious and error prone.

For example, suppose you want to apply a uniform formatting to a book. In a traditional word processing tool you most probably need to go through each chapter and change the pages and paragraphs as necessary. You may even do this once, but if another change is necessary it will become very painful to go through the whole document again just to do mechanical changes.

The LaTeX way

LaTeX uses the what you see is what you mean methodology. This means that you don't see the final output while typing the document, but you you determine the meaning of each part. For example, if you are creating a book, you will define sections using the command

\section{My Section}
This will tell LaTeX that My Section is a special part of the document that will be formatted as a section heading. You don't need to specify the exact look of the section headings yourself.

The real look of the document is then determined by the style you will use. There are hundreds os styles for LaTeX documents that are available for free. Usually, changes are as simple as typing

This will tell LaTeX to create the document using the style named styleName. Even if you want to make small changes to the standard styles, you can use commands that will make the change to the whole document, and not just part of it. For example, if you want to change the width of the page for the whole document, you can use
to set the text width in the whole document to 10cm. This is much easier than going through each page and changing the width of the page, as you usually have to do in MS Word.

Where to Start?

To start using LaTeX, you first need to download the software, which is usually free. For example, for Windows you can search for MikTex, a standard distribution of LaTeX for PCs.

Then, it helps to read a few introductory texts, such as Leslie Lamport's LaTeX: A Document Preparation System. You can also use the web as a great resource to learn about LaTeX. Also check other page about LaTeX at in4mationFlow.

Article created on 2009-01-13 09:24:13

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