LaTeX for the Slightly Timid

Are you used to the simplicity of your old DOS word processor, and afraid of the complexity of LaTeX? This article tells you how to write a beautiful letter—and gets you started using LaTeX.
Not Just Letters

You will probably want to do more than write letters. Other document styles are available, as mentioned earlier. This article is not the place to go into all of them, but I find “article” a good style to use in general. You can make a generic template document with the preamble and any other options you like consistently. Then, whenever you want to write a new document, copy that file to your new document, and you will be ready to go with no fuss.

Finally, good luck and have fun! LaTeX is not as difficult as some people make it seem, and the results after a little work can be truly dazzling.

Kim Johnson is working towards her PhD in Mathematics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. When she isn't studying, she is usually reading a classic British mystery novel.

LaTeX Resources
  • A new version of LaTeX, called LaTeX2e, is now available. Most (but not all) Linux distributions today come with LaTeX2e, which is able to understand the older LaTeX version 2.09 format that this article explains (“compatibility mode”), but also has a native mode which is more powerful, flexible, and extensible. This article covers LaTeX 2.09 since both LaTeX 2.09 and LaTeX2e understand the 2.09 format, so no matter what version of LaTeX came with your distribution of Linux, the examples will work.

  • However, if LaTeX intrigues you, you will want to buy a book about it, and the best books available now cover the LaTeX2e format. The differences from what you have learned in this article are not great and are explained in these books.

  • The original LaTeX documentation is LaTeX: A Document Preparation System (ISBN 0--201--15790--X) by Leslie Lamport, the original author of LaTeX. It provides a good basic introduction to LaTeX, but is sometimes frustratingly lacking in details (like this article). The second edition of this book covers LaTeX2e; the first edition covered LaTeX 2.09.

  • The LaTeX Companion (ISBN 0--201--54199--8) describes LaTeX2e in detail. By contrast with Lamport's book, The LaTeX Companion goes into more detail than any one person would be likely to use—and so will usually have the details you want.

  • Since LaTeX is built on top of the venerable TeX formatter, Donald Knuth's The TeXbook (ISBN 0--201--13447--0) provides the documentation for the underlying system, and may be useful if you wish to become a LaTeX expert.

  • The O'Reilly book Making TeX Work (ISBN 1--56592--051--1), by Norman Walsh, provides a different kind of information from the other books mentioned here. It may help you discover how to find, use, and install many of the extra pieces that make things work better in your particular situation and that fulfill your particular typesetting needs.

  • The Usenet newsgroup comp.text.tex provides a forum for discussing TeX and LaTeX.


One Click, Universal Protection: Implementing Centralized Security Policies on Linux Systems

As Linux continues to play an ever increasing role in corporate data centers and institutions, ensuring the integrity and protection of these systems must be a priority. With 60% of the world's websites and an increasing share of organization's mission-critical workloads running on Linux, failing to stop malware and other advanced threats on Linux can increasingly impact an organization's reputation and bottom line.

Learn More

Sponsored by Bit9

Linux Backup and Recovery Webinar

Most companies incorporate backup procedures for critical data, which can be restored quickly if a loss occurs. However, fewer companies are prepared for catastrophic system failures, in which they lose all data, the entire operating system, applications, settings, patches and more, reducing their system(s) to “bare metal.” After all, before data can be restored to a system, there must be a system to restore it to.

In this one hour webinar, learn how to enhance your existing backup strategies for better disaster recovery preparedness using Storix System Backup Administrator (SBAdmin), a highly flexible bare-metal recovery solution for UNIX and Linux systems.

Learn More

Sponsored by Storix