Help me get wrapped up in LaTeX
March 9, 2007 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a good LaTeX editor for Windows for writing my dissertation?

So it's time to write my dissertation and graduate. In fact, it's a bit past time since I am planning on accepting a faculty job which will start in the Fall.

All this means, of course, that I need to write fairly quickly. Nonetheless, I have decided to learn/use LaTeX instead of Word. (I really can't stomach wrestling with Word for figure references, etc).

Can anyone suggest a particularly good/friendly/straightforward editor that works on Windows? I would like to end up with a PDF. Do I use miktek or something else? I currently have a lot of references in Endnote. Is there a particular bibtek editor/program/something or other that will work nicely?

Obviously, I don't really know what I'm doing here, so if you have other suggestions, I'd very much welcome them. I think I'm pretty set on LaTeX, and I have a good class file and templete which have the University of California format (and the weird UCSB additional requirements), but I am open to other thoughts and ideas you might have. Thanks!
posted by JMOZ to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to spare yourself the actual coding, but need LaTeX output, you could use LyX. It's not perfect, but will probably save you some time. It should be no problem to get it to accept the UC template, and it works well with lots of different referencing programs too.
posted by dseaton at 9:23 AM on March 9, 2007

I'll second LyX.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:25 AM on March 9, 2007

If you're learning this, make it the double and learn emacs as well. Both will serve you well in years to come, whereas other editors will come and go
posted by bonaldi at 9:31 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: WinEDT is a popular choice for doing (La)TeX editing on Windows. My personal Nirvana is doing my TeXing in Vim.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:36 AM on March 9, 2007

LyX with MikTeX has worked fairly well for me in the past, but if you really want to learn LaTeX, fire up your favorite text editor and code the LaTeX by hand.

There are a ton of resources for learning online, though I found I used this one (PDF) the most.
posted by jjb at 9:39 AM on March 9, 2007

I wrote my thesis in WinEdt. I loved it and gladly paid the registration fee. I still use it on my laptop for papers and talks.
posted by stevis23 at 9:55 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: MikTeX isn't an editor, it's just a particular way of packaging TeX. What MikTeX does for you is simplify the process of managing add-on packages. If you are using Windows, you want to be using MikTeX.

...and then add an editor. I use an older version of WinEDT because I can't be arsed to pay for the newest one. It's fine, and TeX aware. It has some handy functions to input canned math with blanks in the appropriate spots. People also seem to get along with ultraedit.

It looks like Endnote will export a bibTeX file, so that takes care of all the stuff you've input already. Like I said in a recent question about bibfile managers, I honestly favor just using whatever text editor you end up using to just put stuff in manually. WinEDT will put in a blank article or book or whatever with the relevant fields if you want.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:58 AM on March 9, 2007

Another vote for WinEdt.
posted by kaytwo at 10:33 AM on March 9, 2007

posted by null terminated at 10:48 AM on March 9, 2007

Thirding WinEdt, and noting that this thread turned up a bunch of LaTeX resources.
posted by Upton O'Good at 10:51 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: I personally recommend you do NOT attempt to learn LaTeX or especially emacs (or vim) by hand. Both have learning curves that you do not need to deal with right now, when you are writing under time pressure. That's what the graphical tools are for. Of course even in graphical LaTeX editors you are mostly typing it out by hand anyway, but they will offer you a lot more support and take away the burden of remembering the details.

I don't use Windows myself but WinEdt looks like the tool my lab partner used a while back and he was very impressed with it (and he was new to LaTeX at the time).

And LaTeX may be unfamiliar or even daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it you will wonder how anyone could write large technical articles any other way. You have made a good choice.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:53 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: The one thing that's really AUGGH KILL ME frustrating about LaTeX is tables. What I do is gin up the basic table in Excel, and then use Excel2LaTeX to convert a selection to LaTeX. It's free.

Getting pdf is dead fucking easy. There are two ways to do this:

(1) Leave your figures as .eps files. LaTeX the file until it's done, and then dvips it to convert the dvi output to postscript. Then use ghostview (or ps2pdf) to turn the postscript into a pdf.

(2) Convert your figures to .pdf and just use pdflatex. I find that this option usually gives me a wee bit cleaner output.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:59 AM on March 9, 2007

Not to piggyback too badly, but are there any great resources on using latex?

I found the learning curve to be pretty steep and I am not averse to learning text editors at all.
posted by shownomercy at 11:00 AM on March 9, 2007

@shownomercy---try the UK TUG FAQ (that's United Kingdom TeX Users Group). In addition to answering many hundreds of often-difficult TeX (including LaTeX) problems, they've got a pretty good references section.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 11:17 AM on March 9, 2007

There are LaTeX introductions and tutorials at CTAN (the Comprehensive TeX Archive N...something).

Is your thesis going to involve a lot of reactions or math or complex tables? If so, then I'd say go with your favorite text editor. Otherwise, whichever of the graphical front ends feels most intuitive to you is probably the best choice.

Oh, and before you get too far along, with the UCthesis class I would recommend that you also use some or all of these packages: subfig, longtable (with lscape), fancyhdr, and booktabs. Booktabs makes for very pretty tables. Fancyhdr lets you customize the headers (duh). Longtable with landscape lets you turn a big table sideways, over more than one page, with running titles and (importantly) without rotating the page number.

Oh, and some fonts with good math support are here.
posted by janell at 11:34 AM on March 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far!

I guess WinEdt seems to be the editor of choice, which is exactly what I was hoping to find. I've done Emacs and vi back in my linux days, but I don't have the time for that now.

So, besides WinEdt, what else do I need? I know I need a LaTeX compiler. Is that miktex, or is there another/better choice for pdf output? I don't mind producing .eps or .pdf for input figures. Also, do I need a bibtex program? Will miktex (or the other option) include that?

Thanks again!
posted by JMOZ at 11:42 AM on March 9, 2007

The About page at MiKTeX answers most of your remaining questions. A standard MiKTeX install will include the pdf(la)tex engine to produce pdf output; the fonts you need; the YAP previewer; and bibtex for managing the bibliography if in fact you want to do that. It's scarcely worth using bibtex for a single project, though; the main advantage of bibtex is if you want to maintain a separate file of references that will be useful in many different papers.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:48 AM on March 9, 2007

As far as refernces, here's a reference that's handy to have bookmarked: Help on LaTeX Commands. Also, even though I assume you're not doing math, Grätzer's book Math into LaTeX is a very solid reference that you could get a lot of use out of. See if your library has it or will obtain it for you.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:02 PM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: So, besides WinEdt, what else do I need?

The install process looks like this:

(1) Install MikTeX. Life will be easier if you let it go to default directories. I would just do a normal installation, not full, so that when you want to use obscurepackage for the first time, you download a current version. MikTeX makes this dead easy.
(2) Install ghostscript and ghostview for postscript support. Again, life will be easier if you let it go to the default directories.
(3) Install WinEDT.
(4) Configure WinEDT to point to the right places. A lot of this involves setting up your Options / Menu setup / * stuff to your satisfaction.

I know I need a LaTeX compiler. Is that miktex, or is there another/better choice for pdf output?

MikTeX. Or, as wolfdog notes, it's the pdflatex file that's part of MikTeX.

Also, do I need a bibtex program?

BibTeX is part of MikTeX, or really part of any reasonable TeX installation.

Basically you keep a bibliography.bib file somewhere in your /localtex directory tree to be your citation database. It's a plain-text, human-readable file you can add to easily just by editing in WinEDT.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:25 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I wrote parts of my thesis in TeXniccenter, which integrates nicely with MikTex. It also contains a 'real time' spelling checker, which works a lot better than ispell & vi.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 2:34 PM on March 9, 2007

It's scarcely worth using bibtex for a single project, though

Oh, not so, particularly if you're working within the constraints of a style manual. Formatting references and bibliography entries is dull work; having it generated by bibtex is a godsend during holy-shit-here-comes-the-deadline time.

The learning curve is going to be steeper using a text editor (WinEdt in Windows is definitely the preferred choice) over something visual like Lyx. However, since you already have a class/style template rather than having to fiddle with the default classes to create suitable output, I think that's the best option.
posted by holgate at 2:38 PM on March 9, 2007

Response by poster: These answers are all very helpful. (I've marked as best answers the ones most likely to be helpful to someone else in this position, but thanks to everyone!)

I've got things working decently using WinEdt and miktek (using pdflatex). My only complaint so far is that the wrapping in WinEdt is very strange. There are 3 different options, but the descriptions make very little sense. Any suggestions?
posted by JMOZ at 4:46 PM on March 9, 2007

WinEdt with MikTeX worked for my thesis.
posted by number9dream at 5:22 PM on March 9, 2007

As far as learning resources, I bought a book and I don't regret it."A guide to LaTeX"forget the authors
posted by singingfish at 5:46 AM on March 10, 2007

Best answer: It sounds like you've chosen already, but for others, and in case you want to check out something else, I'll suggest Texmaker as a pretty good editor. It integrates with MikTex well, and I really like its interface. Just from looking at screenshots, it looks more beginner-friendly than WinEdt (but I haven't used WinEdt myself). Also, it's free and runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux/Unix.
posted by whatnotever at 7:34 AM on March 10, 2007

There's really no reason to ever code BibTeX by hand. Even if you don't feel like using one of the (by and large pretty clunky) applications that handle it, there's things like CiteULike and Connotea which are easy to add citations to, and trivial to export BibTeX from.
posted by dmd at 12:00 PM on March 10, 2007

Response by poster: Hmm, Texmaker looks pretty nice. Perhaps I'll try that instead of WinEDT, which seems functional but complicated/a bit poorly documented.
posted by JMOZ at 7:48 PM on March 10, 2007

I think WinEdt has a longer learning curve than most other options. For a large project like a dissertation, however, I do recommend it.

I frequently explore the alternatives to WinEdt, but they are never better for my purposes. When I examine alternatives, I am looking especially for features like these, which may or may not be what you are looking for:

* Projects (managing a group of files together, sharing \label{}s etc. between them).

* Automatic tracking of labels and bibliographic references, so that they can be inserted into \cite{} and \ref{} statements without needing to remember their exact names. (In WinEdt, when you type e.g. \cite{}, a list of all bibliographic references in the current project is offered to you.)

* One hotkey previewing; that is, one hotkey (Ctrl-Shift-X in WinEdt) to run LaTeX + BibTeX + Show DVI/PS/PDF file.

* Automatic maintenance of an outline view of the document. (WinEdt can track \chapter{}, \section{}, \subsection{}, etc. commands, and display them in a tree structure to enable you to navigate large projects (even if they are split across multiple files) easily.)

* Customisability. Sometimes I might use a custom chapter command of my own construction: \specialchapter{}. Can the automatical outlining tool be customised to recognise it? Can the automatic syntax colouring be customised to recognise it? WinEdt is very customisable.

* Customisable and easily variable spell-checking options. (Separately enable or disable -ise vs -ize endings, "labeled" vs "labelled", etc.)
posted by hAndrew at 8:08 PM on March 10, 2007

Response by poster: I got everything working and I've been using Texmaker and pdflatex (from the miktex package). In case anyone else is in the same position I was in, I would highly recommend going the LaTeX route instead of Word. The math comes out pretty, figures work easily, and formatting isn't that bad.

So June 1 is the due date for a final draft (for a June 15 defense), so wish me luck! So far so good....

Thanks to everyone for your help!
posted by JMOZ at 8:17 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: As a followup (in case anyone cares), I am done with my draft... Just in time. Thanks to everyone for your help. For anyone who is curious, I would DEFINITELY (still) recommend LaTeX over Word.

TexMaker is nice, but the spellchecking (via aspell, if I recall) is awful. I still used it because it was so much more straightforward than WinEDT. (WinEDT was clearly more powerful, but the interface was too cluttered for me, and I didn't want to spend forever wrestling with it).
posted by JMOZ at 7:52 AM on May 29, 2007

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