๐Ÿ“œ Brief Intro to LaTeX for beginners that helps you use LaTeX with ease. Comments and Contributions are welcomed ๐Ÿ‘
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Begin LaTeX in minutes

Acknowledgement: Everything written below is from my own experience in college and after reading various materials. I am neither a professional nor expert, but a student who has great passion for the language. Anyone can open a discussion in the issue section, or a pull request in case something should be modified or added. If you consider my work valuable, a donation is much appreciated.

Chinese, French, Portuguese and Spanish versions are available.

Table of Contents

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX, which is pronounced ยซLah-techยป or ยซLay-techยป (to rhyme with ยซblechยป), is a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting. It is most often used for medium-to-large technical or scientific documents but it can be used for almost any form of publishing.

Why use LaTeX?

  • LaTeX is free, multiplatform.
  • LaTeX is just a text document (which can be opened by any text editor), readily converted to PDF.
  • LaTeX separates content and style. Style once, then focus on content.
  • The workflow is faster compared to MS Word.
  • LaTeX is widely used for scientific topics.
  • LaTeX is simply the best option when it comes to typesetting math expressions.

LaTeX doesn't come without drawbacks, but is still worth learning.

Set up for LaTeX

You will need the following things:

  1. LaTeX Distribution. I am using MiKTeX for Windows.
  2. LaTeX Editor. I am using TeXMaker for easy editing, although any text editor can create or change a LaTeX file.
  3. PDF viewer. (optional) Any PDF viewer out there is fine. This is for viewing your result.

In addition, you need to choose a compiler. The default compiler of most editors is pdfLaTeX, but if you need support for Unicode or TTF/OTF fonts from your system, use LuaLaTeX.

Or you can choose a simple online solution like ShareLaTeX. Please look at Additional Tools for a wider variety of choices.

First LaTeX file

Let's do the traditional Hello World in LaTeX. If you have installed TexMaker, first create a new file with ending .tex. Then type in the following code below to render "Hello World!" and run "quick build". For other LaTeX editors, it should also be easy to follow the same procedure.

\documentclass[a4paper]{article}

\begin{document}

Hello World !  % This is your content

\end{document}

It should look like this in TexMaker:

A deeper look

๐Ÿ‘€ A deeper look into your first LaTeX file easily shows that:

  • The first line tells the Interpreter that you are working on an article with the size of the a4. Other types of document you might be working with in the future are report, book... and so on.
  • A document is wrapped by the \begin{document} and \end{document}. Think of this as the heart of the document, as the main() in java or C++... without which the document can't be rendered.
  • The part between begin and end ( which, in this case, is Hello World ) is simply your own content.
  • A percent sign (%) denotes your comment, which LaTeX will ignore.

โšก๏ธ Attention โšก๏ธ

  • Looking back at \begin{document}, \end{document}, \documentclass[a4paper]{article}. You may notice the pattern now. These are called Typesetting Commands ( which are usually preceded by โ€œ\โ€ ) and arguments ( placed inside curly braces โ€œ{}โ€ ). LaTeX are basically normal texts, but powered by these commands.
  • While you are following this guide, everything will work smoothly. However, in the future, should there be any problems, don't panic. The error reports are human-friendly and readable. If you can't resolve them, a search tool like Google may be your best friend.
  • Some characters are predefined with special meanings in LaTeX. You may want to use backslashes (\) in front of these characters for proper output.

Multilingual usage

Some languages won't work right out of the box. To use TeX with other languages, you have some options.

โœ… First method โœ…

The first method is including "packages" (You will learn about it later) because pdfLaTeX, the default compiler, is limited to 256 characters and various encoding issues. For example:

\documentclass[a4paper]{article}

\usepackage[T5]{fontenc}
\usepackage[utf8]{inputenc}

\begin{document}

Xin chร o thแบฟ giแป›i. This is Hello World in Vietnamese.

\end{document}

Here we use the packages usepackage[T5]{fontenc} and usepackage[utf8]{inputenc}. This is really simple to understand as the package will import font encoders to display your content correctly. If you are using TexMaker this is what the above code display:

vs without the packages ๐Ÿ“ฆ:

โ˜”๏ธ A tricky situation is dealing with Chinese-Japanese-Korean. Here, usepackage{CJKutf8} with \begin{CJK}{UTF8} and \end{CJK} comes in very handy. Here's Japanese ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต:

\documentclass[a4paper]{article}
\usepackage{CJKutf8}

\begin{document}

\begin{CJK}{UTF8}{min}
ใ“ใฎ่จ˜ไบ‹ใ‚’่ชญใ‚“ใงใ„ใŸใ ใใ‚ใ‚ŠใŒใจใ†ใ”ใ–ใ„ใพใ™ใ€‚
%Thank you for reading this article.
\end{CJK}

\end{document}

As easy as eating ๐Ÿฃ and ๐Ÿฑ:

โœ… Second method โœ…

Another method is achievable if you switch your TeX compiler to LuaLaTeX (or XeLaTeX). Using fontspec and polyglossia, Unicode will work out of the box:

\documentclass[a4paper]{article}

\usepackage{fontspec}
\usepackage{polyglossia}
%\setmainfont[]{DejaVu Serif}

\begin{document}

Xin chร o thแบฟ giแป›i. This is Hello World in Vietnamese.

\end{document}

The default font (Latin Modern) does not support all characters. You can, however, use almost any font installed on your system by uncommenting the \setmainfont line. (TTF and OTF fonts are fully supported).

Lists

๐Ÿ“ It is very important to organize your document well. Thus, let's start by putting your items into a list.
Two common types of lists are unordered and ordered list. Each of them can be handled with ease in LaTeX document:

  • Unordered List
    Unordered list only needs "itemize". (pun intended)
\begin{itemize}
\item Item.
\item Another Item.
\end{itemize}
  • Ordered List
    Ordered list, however, need us to "enumerate" them. (pun intended)
\begin{enumerate}
\item First Item.
\item Second Item.
\end{enumerate}

Here's how two types of list display in the output:

Paragraph and section

๐Ÿ“˜ We begin a section with \section and a paragraph with \paragraph. ๐Ÿ“™ You can also add subsection with \subsection and subparagraph with \subparagraph

Making a table of contents

๐Ÿค˜ It's useful to open sections and subsections with a \tableofcontents

Example:

โ€ผ๏ธ Tips: you can use \newpage if you want to make a new page.

Footnotes

It's as easy as pie to use footnote+label+ref to make all kinds of footnotes you want. For example:

Hi let me introduce myself\footnote{\label{myfootnote}Hello footnote}.
... (later on)
I'm referring to myself \ref{myfootnote}.

๐Ÿ‘‡ ๐Ÿ‘‡ Can you see it ? ๐Ÿ‘‡ ๐Ÿ‘‡

โ€ผ๏ธ Tips: you can use \newline to make a new line.

What is a package?

LaTeX offers a lot of functions by default, but in some situations it can come in handy to use so called packages. To import a package in LaTeX, you simply add the \usepackage ๐Ÿ“ฆ

Here is an example of using two packages for displaying math:

Even more epic is how circuits are displayed:

๐Ÿšง You should Google search more if you want a package that meets your requirements. For example, amsmath is widely used for math and has a lot of extension typeset for math, circuitikz is for circuits designing, etc.. Covering them all would be impossible for this general guide.

Table

A practical example ๐Ÿ’ญ:

\begin{table}[h!]
  \centering
  \caption{Caption for the table.}
  \label{tab:table1}
  \begin{tabular}{l|c||r}
    1 & 2 & 3\\
    \hline
    a & b & c\\
  \end{tabular}
\end{table}

๐ŸŒŸ This is what it renders ๐ŸŒŸ:

Now let's take a closer look ๐Ÿ‘€:

  • For tables, first we need a table environment, which is why we have \begin{table} and \end{table}.
  • You will learn about h! later in the image section. It goes with \centering to keep the table at the center of the page.
  • Caption is for describing. Label is for tagging. You will see these more in image section.
  • Tabular is the most important part. A table environment always needs a tabular environment inside.
    • the part {l|c||r} is where we format the content inside the table. Here we can see:
      • l or c or r means that the content inside each cell will be left-aligned or center-aligned or right-aligned, respectively.
      • the vertical slash | or || is actually the format of the vertical lines/borders inside the table's columns.
    • 1 & 2 & 3 => 1 2 3 are the contents of each cells. the ampersand & is used to separate the content of each cell in a row.
    • a \hline actually adds a horizontal line to separate each row.

โ€ผ๏ธ Tips: You can use a package ๐Ÿ“ฆ called booktabs \usepackage{booktabs} for a visually better table.

Adding images

To add an image to the LaTeX file, you need to use figure environment and the graphicx package. Use \usepackage{graphicx} and

\begin{figure}
  \includegraphics[width=\linewidth]{filename.jpg}
  \caption{What is it about?}
  \label{fig:whateverlabel}
\end{figure}

โ€ผ๏ธ Tips: Put [width=\linewidth] to scale the image to the width of the document. If you want to float the image, then you need to attribute the begin with a certain value. Also, the fig is for later reference so name it with care.

\begin{figure}[h!]

๐Ÿ›‚ Legit values are:

  • h (here) โ€” same location
  • t (top) โ€” top of page
  • b (bottom) โ€” bottom of page
  • p (page) โ€” on an extra page
  • ! (override) โ€” will force the specified location

Here's how the image is rendered:

Insert code into LaTeX

โœ… First method โœ…

One aspect of text compiling that is of the utmost importance to programmers and developers is how to professionally insert codes into the document.

For LaTeX, the process is simple and very professional. We just wrap the code with some predefined content, then we are good to go.

Example:

\documentclass[a4paper]{article}

\begin{document}

Hello world!

\begin{verbatim}
#include <iostream>

int main()
{
	std::cout << "hello world!\n";
	return 0;
}
\end{verbatim}

\end{document}

๐Ÿ’ฌ LaTeX supports syntax for these languages ๐Ÿ’ฌ

As you can see, with the {verbatim} wrapper you can easily insert code without worrying about how the syntax is formatted. Here is how it looks out of the box, clean and professional:

โœ… โœ… Second Method โœ… โœ…

This method gives you more options, including insert code inline, make custom styles code, choose a specific language for code, import code from another file within the same directory.... With this method, you dont use {verbatim}, but include a package ๐Ÿ“ฆ named listings.

Consider the following example:

\documentclass[a4paper]{article}

\usepackage{listings}
\usepackage{color}

\lstdefinestyle{mystyle}{
keywordstyle=\color{magenta},
backgroundcolor=\color{yellow},
commentstyle=\color{green},
basicstyle=\footnotesize,
}
\lstset{style=mystyle}

\begin{document}


Hello world!

\begin{lstlisting}[language=Python]

print "Hello World!"

\end{lstlisting}

\lstinputlisting[language=C++]{hello.cpp}

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet \lstinline{print "Hello World"} , consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.


\end{document}

From this, you can see:

  1. To insert a code block, start with \begin{lstlisting} and end with \end{lstlisting}
  2. To import code from another file within the same directory, you can use lstinputlisiting{name_of_file}
  3. To specify a language for the code, use [language=C++]
  4. To insert inline code use \lstinline
  5. To apply custom styles, use the \usepackage{color} and define your own style then define the listing with your own theme (Please look at code below). You can modify many things with your own style, but you need to read the doc for the correct property name.
  6. Interested ?? More here.

Here is how the code above compiles in TexMaker:

Multiple files in LaTeX

When we use LaTeX, we may face a problem that a document is too long to be handle. Therefore, we should divide the file so that its contents can be easily handled.

Let's look at the example:

% main.tex
\documentclass[a4paper]{article}

\begin{document}

Hello Latex, This is my first part.

Hello Latex, This is my second part.

\end{document}

It's just a normal LaTeX file. Now, let's divide the document into two parts using the \input keyword:

% main.tex
\documentclass[a4paper]{article}

\begin{document}

Hello Latex, This is my first part.

\input{second_file}

\end{document}
% second_file.tex
Hello Latex, This is my second part.

Now the main file looks different, but better documented. Here is the result in TexMaker:

multi_file.png

โ€ผ๏ธ Tips: For readability, clarity and maintenance purpose, it is highly suggested that you divide your Main file systematically, hierarchically and scientifically. Don't divide without reasons or you may get a mess later.

Additional Tools

Distributions

LaTeX Editors

  • TeXMaker Cross platform LaTeX editor.
  • TeXStudio An enhanced fork of TeXMaker with more features.
  • TeXShop and TeXworks (minimal editors)

LaTeX Compilers

  • Most editors will have an option for you to change the default compiler. Here's an example:

HOORAY!!

๐ŸŽ‰ Thank you for finishing the guide. That's basically all you need to know about LaTeX. ๐Ÿ”จ
If you are greatly interested, more on LaTeX can be found here or all over the web, depending on your need.

License

DO WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT TO PUBLIC LICENSE Copyright (C) 2016 Luong Vo Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim or modified copies of this license document, and changing it is allowed as long as the name is changed. TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR COPYING, DISTRIBUTION AND MODIFICATION: You just DO WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT TO.

A beer in your country can buy a meal in mine.