How I Use LaTeX

My first brush with a markup language came in the early 1990s with TeX — a typesetting system used extensively by mathematicians and researchers. How someone like me, with few technical or math skills, came to use TeX is a mildly amusing story. TeX gave me the ability to typeset documents without desktop publishing software that I couldn’t afford at the time.

While TeX is powerful, I found that I had to do quite a bit of fiddling to bend it to my will. Then, I discovered LaTeX. LaTeX was a revelation, thanks to its tools (like pdflatex) and document classes that made using an attractive layout easier.

While I’ve been using LaTeX on and off since then, I don’t consider myself an expert or even highly proficient. I know enough to do what I need to do, and maybe a little more.

Here’s a quick look at how I use LaTeX.

A Narrow Focus

Mainly, I use LaTeX to typeset:

There are a few other types of documents that I write and typeset using LaTeX, but I don’t work on them all that often. No matter what I’m working on, though, I use one template or another.

Templates, Templates

My templates include all the settings — like which document class to use, metadata for PDF files (where applicable), and page layout — for what I’m working on. I create a file and start typing. Where needed, I add LaTeX markup. In case you’re wondering, I take advantage of Gedit’s LaTeX plugin to make that easier and faster.

If you’re wondering what one of those templates looks like, here’s a peek at one of the book templates that I use:

An example of a LaTeX book template

What About Converting from Markdown?

If what I’m writing will be in a format like PDF, then I stick to working solely in LaTeX. But if I’m publishing something, like an ebook I’m selling, then I’ll format the chapters with Markdown and convert the book to EPUB and LaTeX using Pandoc. From there, I’ll create the PDF from the LaTeX file.

For the conversion from Markdown, I have a separate template. That template contains all the setting I need, along with a bunch of Pandoc-specific directives that I don’t fully understand. That said, once I have the LaTeX file, I run the pdflatex command to create a nicely-typeset PDF file.

Final Thoughts

A couple of three people have told me that the way in which I use LaTeX is a bit of a waste. That I’m not using LaTeX and its tools to their full potential.

So what?

While I can start with Markdown and go to LaTeX, there are times when I enjoy using LaTeX straight, no chaser. For me, it’s a bit of a challenge but one that keeps me sharp.