Help me love working with Latex
May 13, 2010 10:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm using Latex to write my Master's thesis. I love how pretty everything looks in PDF, but there has to be an easier way to do the actual writing, right?

Right now I'm using TeXnicCenter + MiKTex. Here are my questions:

1) How do I separate writing from formatting? Is there a way of seeing what I've written without the Tex commands? I want my citation there so that I don't forget it, but seeing \cite{} at the end of every sentence is kinda distracting. Right now I've been writing in TeXnicCenter and building the PDF everytime I want to proofread. Even worse, I've been printing out my PDF whenever I need my supervisor to take a look at something. There has got to be a better way!

I've thought of writing my final draft in OneNote and then going over to Latex, but I like having my properly formatted figures and citations in the text as I go.

2) What's up with emacs? I've googled enough to know that it's a text editor that's "well-integrated" with Latex, but what exactly does it do? How do I use it? (I'm not afraid of learning to use it, but I do need step-by-step instructions).
posted by snoogles to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered using LyX instead?
posted by mkb at 10:15 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

TeXnicCenter is pretty crude. You might like WinEdt better. On a mac, TeXshop is the way to go.

I write a lot of papers in LaTeX. You just need to get in the habit of compiling frequently, and don't try to assess what you've written from the source.

Why can't you email your supervisor the PDF drafts?
posted by leahwrenn at 10:17 AM on May 13, 2010

I used Kyle in Ubuntu when doing my Master's thesis a couple years ago. I really liked working in its environment, though its spelling dictionary was crap and I had to grab a different one. The formatting was color coded, so you could easily pick out your text against the TeX formatting.

2nding leahwrenn on compiling frequently and reading once compiled.
posted by chiefthe at 10:38 AM on May 13, 2010

Well, it's not going to be a WYSIWYG kinda deal. That's just the way it goes.

As you get more familiar with LaTeX, the code will look very natural to you, like it does in The Matrix. =)
posted by King Bee at 10:40 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: what exactly does it do?

Everything and the kitchen sink. More specifically, AucTeX gives you the formatting shortcuts, the compilation shortcuts, and hooks in to the bibliography, though as leahwrenn says, WinEdt is probably a better next step up if you're working in Windows, though you could get by with LyX if you're working with standard formatting and not doing too much custom stuff. Having proper syntax highlighting that differentiates body text from citations and other markup is likely to help you deal with any distraction, though, and will be much less hassle than copying and pasting between different programs.

I think we need to know a bit more about your workflow: you're working with figures, but are you also using equations or other elements that are heavily reliant upon LaTeX's markup? Because if all you want is a plain text version of your work to pass on to your supervisor, then detex will strip out all the formatting.
posted by holgate at 10:41 AM on May 13, 2010

LaTex Editor might be worth checking out. It has a built in DVI viewer that lets you view your compiled text side by side with the .tex code. You still have to hit the compile DVI button (think it's F5 or F9), but it's faster and more streamlined than opening up the PDF every single time you change a word.

It is kind of a clunky program that is a pain to configure, so I'd suggest using this only if the other options suggested here don't work out for you. I actually didn't succeed in getting my figures to show up in the DVI viewer--just got a big box where they were supposed to go--but it was helpful for making quick changes to the text.
posted by millions of peaches at 10:51 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: I've made the transition over the last year and had the same issues. For me it was a matter of time, now I spend more time pondering the pdf file and then going back to edit the .tex file. A second monitor really helps (if that is feasible) so you have .tex on one side, and the pdf on the other. And, as mentioned, constant compiling of the document after every few sentences.

Another really useful strategy I have found is using the \input{asd.tex}. You can structure your document in a nested way, which I have found really helps my thinking

Also, if you have a Mac, TeXshop is superb and I love bibdesk (with the handy zot2bib plugin for firefox).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 11:06 AM on May 13, 2010

You also might want to take a look at Texmaker: "Texmaker runs on unix, macosx and windows systems and is released under the GPL license ."
posted by bigdamnnerd at 11:11 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: I loooooove LaTeX. I do tend toward the write, build, proof work flow. What is your current problem with doing this? If you're just not sure if this is "the way things should be", it is a fine way to do things. If you're having trouble with long build times interrupting your train of thought, try splitting up your file.

By the way, I'm not sure if you've been using the keyboard shortcuts for TeXnicCenter or not, but Ctrl+Shift+F5 will build and view your current document. You don't need to close the PDF before you build again, so I just leave it open in the background and alt-tab back to my source.

Also, you can select just a page or two to print from PDF in order to show your supervisor something. If you want to e-mail just a page or two, you can use a PDF splitter.
posted by anaelith at 11:13 AM on May 13, 2010

Best answer: latexlab is pretty new, but it integrates with Google Docs and allows you to do your compilation and previewing online. You do have to compile to preview, but you can view your source and compiled version side by side. in your browser.
posted by pahool at 11:13 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Scientific Workplace has some kind of WYSIWYG Latex editor (plus built-in computer algebra system), but I wouldn't trust it for a whole thesis. I've written a lot in Latex using TeXnicCenter, and I agree with others that eventually you just get used to reading it.
posted by albrecht at 11:16 AM on May 13, 2010

Seconding LyX. Very, very hard. It injects just the right amount of WYSIWYG.
posted by DoubleMark at 11:29 AM on May 13, 2010

nthing LyX. LaTeX is a messy, convoluted language, and even as a programmer, I don't particularly care for writing it.

DoubleMark's comment about "just the right amount of WYSIWIG" is spot-on.

Also consider a separate program to keep track of your BibTeX files. BibDesk on the Mac was a lifesaver for me.
posted by schmod at 12:27 PM on May 13, 2010

Response by poster: Great suggestions everyone, thanks! If you have anymore suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

I think I'm going to try out WinEdt first. One of my big problems is having to close the PDF file everytime I want to recompile, and fixing that would probably make the process much smoother.

The second monitor idea is genius, especially since I've been working on a netbook. As usual, throwing money at the problem is the most tempting solution! LatexLab also looks great but my screen is too small to see both the source and the compiled version.

I see where the Lyx recommendations are coming from, but I actually like writing Latex. I've just been getting stuck in the workflow...
posted by snoogles at 1:12 PM on May 13, 2010

If you do get into emacs, you may want to take a good look at org-mode while you're there. It's handy for planning, outlining and drafting and outputs LaTeX which you can then use AucTeX for editing.

(warnings: "handy" is an understatement, emacs is emacs)
posted by wobh at 6:38 AM on May 14, 2010

Try using Sumatra PDF viewer. Here are the settings for using it with TeXnicCenter, although I suggest adding the flag -fwdsearch-offset 20 to the path, so for example

C:\Program Files\SumatraPDF\SumatraPDF.exe -reuse-instance -fwdsearch-offset 20

And changing the line for Forward Search to have a 1 for the fourth parameter, which will give the PDF focus every time.

Command: [ForwardSearch("%bm.pdf","%Wc",%l,0,0,1)]

Pros for Sumatra:
It opens to the same line as you were on in your source (even highlights where that is).
If you double click on a spot in the PDF, it takes you back to that spot in the source.
It's really fast, light, and well-behaved. The people who wrote it aren't evil overlords.

Cons for Sumatra:
Fonts are slightly less smooth when compared to Acrobat, although setting the zoom to ~115% makes things look acceptable.
posted by anaelith at 10:08 AM on May 14, 2010

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