In my last post I talked about how to use MS Word properly for reports. However, for any report more than than a few pages long with a few references, equations and pictures MS Word starts getting cumbersome to use. Placing pictures in a huge report is generally very irritating. It never stays where you want it and sometimes it just disappears from the page altogether.In fact, the difficulty in putting in figures is the best reason to not use Word. Refering to specific chapters or sections or figures can be difficult. Restructuring the report messes everything. And in a report of a reasonable size , this is bound to happen.
Much more importantly, when you write a report in Word, you’re constantly thinking of how things should look and where they should come, the fonts to use and the styles to use. If you don’t, you’re most likely going to have to restructure a lot after you’ve written everything and this will lead to the same problems I said earlier. Also, while most people do have office, or at least some software like Pages or Writer that converts the docx files to a “usable” format, a “usable” format almost never looks like it does in Word also there are (increasingly) a lot of people who don’t use Word.
LaTeX is an alternative I’d suggest. Firstly, Latex isn’t for everyone. It’s plain irritating to use if you’re new to it and just writing something small. But for anything like a thesis or your final year report or your dissertation, LaTeX is the way to go.
In latex, you simply write the text in a generic text file called a .tex file and typeset it using Latex to get a PDF file. The tex file can be opened anywhere on any system since it’s simply a text file. You don’t care about the content and placement, you simply write your content and put in references for images. Latex takes care of putting images properly and getting your references to figures correct. Writing equations is made easy and the equations look beautiful. In fact your whole report looks beautiful and very very professional. Page numbers, tables of content, bibliographies, etc. can be generated with a single command and their formats and styles can be changed easily. Most conferences specify their prefered style and to change styles is as simple as writing a single command or copying a few lines from the specified format.
I won’t go into details here since there are a lot of resources online for this. But I would just like to ask everyone with at least some time to spare to try it. Most resources on setting up latex are just a google or bing search away. Do contact me if you want any help/advice on starting using latex or if you want a few templates to get you started (I’ll upload them anyway, when I get a little time). A few resources to get you started:
http://www.osnews.com/story/10766 : An excellent , slightly long article on why you might want to use latex and also provides a hello world and other basic stuff in latex…
http://www.stdout.org/~winston/latex/latexsheet.pdf : a cheat sheet for latex necessary for anyone using latex regularly.
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX : A comprehensive and detailed wiki about everything you might want to know in latex.
http://ftp.itb.ac.id/pub/CTAN/info/lshort/english/lshort.pdf : A not so short introduction to latex.
http://www.ats.ucla.edu/stat/latex/ : A bunch of links for latex.