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Haverford College
Department of Mathematics
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Student Resources: Writing Mathematics with LaTeX

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a document preparation system for mathematics and other technical material. It's the world standard for producing papers in math. Learning to use LaTeX is essential for Haverford Math majors.

Overview of using LaTeX

The usual process for producing a document with LaTeX is as follows.

  1. You use a "front end" program to create and edit a file that contains the LaTeX code for the document. Let's say this file is called mypaper.tex. It consists of a mix of English and LaTeX commands. The recommended front end programs are TeXworks for Windows and TeXShop for Mac OS.
  2. Once you have typed a sufficient fragment of mypaper.tex, you press a button in the front end program that invokes the "back end" programs (LaTeX and TeX) which produce a typeset output file called myfile.pdf. The front-end program also launches a pdf viewer so that you can see the output file.
  3. Return to Step 1 to continue work on the document.

Where to find LaTeX on campus

The computers in the following computing labs are set up with a complete LaTeX system.

  • KINSC H204 (IITS lab). Windows computers. Front end: TeXworks, available in the Start Menu in the folder MikTex 2.9.
  • KINSC H012 (Math Department Lab) and H215. Macs. Front end: TeXShop.

Getting LaTeX on your own computer

The following TeX distributions provide a full LaTeX system by bundling together front-end programs with all the back-end programs and support packages you'll need.


The standard TeX distribution for OS X is is MacTeX. It includes the TeXShop front end in the folder /Applications/TeX. The installation is straightforward: simply run the MacTeX installer package. For further information, see the LaTeX on Macintosh page.


The standard TeX distribution for Windows is is MikTeX. Under normal circumstances, you should install the "Basic" MikTeX system. This installs the most commonly used TeX packages; more exotic packages will be downloaded automatically as needed. MikTeX includes the TeXworks front end. (Look under MikTeX 2.9 in the Start Menu.) See the LaTeX on Windows page for further information.

Linux, etc.

The standard TeX distribution for Unix and Unix-like operating systems is TeX Live. The easiest way to get Tex Live is to find it in the package repository of your OS distribution. The TeXworks and Texmaker front ends are available for Linux. It is also possible to use your favorite Unix editor to produce LaTeX source files; for example, GNU emacs together with the auctex package (already included in many emacs distributions) provides a full-featured front end.

Learning LaTeX

For beginning users

  • One of the best ways to learn LaTeX is to examine and modify a sample LaTeX source file.

    Here is Curtis Greene's sample file:

    • LaTeX source file: papershell2010.tex.
    • PDF output file: papershell2010.pdf.
    • Sample graphics file: myfile.pdf. To see how to embed a pdf graphic into a LaTeX document, download myfile.pdf, put it in the same folder as papershell2010.tex, and then typeset papershell2010.tex.

    And here is Elizabeth Milicevic's sample file:

  • Beginning users should consult the The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX, or George Graetzer's Short Course. Web videos to accompany the "Short Course" are here.

For users with some experience

  • The LaTeX Wikibook is a good source of information.
  • LaTeX and TeX are mature programs that have been around a long time. (They predate the internet, if you can imagine that!) Yet, they have also changed significantly over time. Thus, there is a lot of obsolete information about LaTeX and TeX on the web. Unfortunately, when you do an undirected web search to get information, this obsolete information often comes up. It helps to know about the following authoratitive web sites:
  • The document An essential guide to LATEX 2e usage: Obsolete commands and packages is an excellent guide for discriminating the "right" and "wrong" ways to do something in LaTeX.
  • If you are looking for the command to produce a particular symbol, try one of the two resources below.
    • DeTeXify is a web service that finds LaTeX commands matching any symbol that you sketch with your mouse. It's the quickest way to find the right command for that tricky symbol you are looking for.
    • The Comprehensive LaTeX Symbol List contains over 5900 symbols. Start with Section 1.2, "Frequently Requested Symbols", and then search the index.
  • Various books are available in the Math Lounge and the Math computer lab, including Math Into Latex by George Grätzer.

For all users

David Lippel is available for LaTeX consultations during his Computing Office hours, and at other times by appointment.


You can make sophisticated slides for presentations using the LaTeX package called beamer. More information to come...

Last modified: Thu Jan 22 16:19:32 EST 2015 by David Lippel.