If you are thinking about whether you should use LaTeX, this article talks about all the key pros and cons of using LaTex to help you make that decision.
LaTeX as we know it was created around the early 1980s by Leslie Lamport when he made a set of macros to handle more easily the typesetting language called TeX created by Donald Knuth in 1978.
TeX allows extreme control of the layout of the document, but more options mean more complexity to the users, and Leslie needed to write TeX macros. This resulted in LaTeX (“Lamport’s TeX”), with it Leslie allows a simpler approach to the creation of documents, which you can control independently both content and style.
LaTeX is what people call the LaTeX markup language, the content is written in plain text and you can use commands to “order” how things should be displayed. To use LaTeX you need an interpreter or editor, who reads the LaTeX file, compiles and renders it into a final document. Therefore we have a document preparation system and document markup language.
Although this was created many years ago, people still use LaTeX for many many things and reasons; maybe you already have stumbled upon articles/documents created with LaTeX, and thought “I want to try it too”.
But as with anything new in life, there are some points you need to know before jumping straight into LaTeX. Here we will present to you the most key arguments regarding whether you should or should not choose and learn LaTeX in the near future.
First, let’s highlight some of the best parts of LaTeX.
Benefits of using LaTeX
Pro #1. Beautiful Output Made for Science.
You might like LaTeX if you like organized, well-presented, and aesthetically beautiful documents organized. LaTeX is primarily designed for science-oriented fields, but not limited only to it, so you will fall in love with its capabilities to create any mathematical notation, mathematical equations, or symbols you can imagine.
Pro #2. Easy Management of References and Citations.
It allows you to label any piece of information you would like to use later for citations or as a reference, only requiring you to remember the label, and the best part LaTeX handles everything.
Pro #3. Save time writing with some commands.
LaTeX has the capability of inserting footnotes and figures, creating tables of content, and even plotting your raw data directly in LaTeX with few commands. Huge time saving and organized from top to bottom
Pro #4. Don’t worry about Bibliographies.
If you are not careful you will create a mess with a bibliography and referencing it, but LaTeX has a couple of tools that help you a lot. BibTeX is one of the most popular, it helps you organize the sources and it is compatible with many databases.
Pro #5. In a hurry? Then use a Template.
LaTeX has been around for quite a while and many people have already created beautiful layouts and formats of all kinds. The best part is that you can use them as templates to save time and effort, especially when a deadline is around the corner.
Pro #6. Focus on Content and worry about style later.
In case you one day want to work only on the content, and another day only on the style of the document, LaTeX is the answer. Its flexibility lets you focus on one thing at a time since both are independent of each other, saving time and resources while writing your document especially if one day you are feeling off to work on the content or the style.
Pro #7. Organized and Structured out of the box (Structured Files).
Most people do not like to work with a messy document especially if they are still in the creation and writing process; That is why working with LaTeX gets you a structured and tidy document from the beginning, avoiding complex or confusing sections in the documents, reducing unnecessary headaches in the future.
Pro #8. Slaying the dragon together. One section at a time.
LaTeX allows you to work on each section of the document independently and then insert the sections into one final file. This helps to focus on one section without worrying about other sections and their content.
This feature is great if you usually work with a team of 3-4 people, where each one can write different sections at the same time.
Pro #9. Many Libraries/Packages, many possibilities – and save time.
With LaTeX and the open-source community, many people created libraries.
These libraries help other people with specific tasks or content to insert or write in the documents. Otherwise, you would have to create anything from scratch, thus libraries are HUGE TIME SAVINGS. If you can imagine some symbol in LaTeX, probably someone already has a library for it.
Pro #10. No trouble scaling or printing.
All of the outputs created using LaTeX are already vectorized, especially if the letters and the images or plots are created with LaTeX. If you need to print your document in different scales you avoid the pain of adjusting everything to different printing formats.
Pro #11. For those who like to twist all the nods (Customizable and Flexible).
The nature of LaTeX allows you to create anything you can imagine and gives you complete freedom to do so, you can create your own document style, format, and layout. This freedom is perfect if you do not like the standard stuff and would prefer your own style.
Pro #12. Smooth sailing after the threshold.
Once the basics checklist is well understood-importing libraries, the document workflow, using styles and layout, creating references and bibliographies- the next steps of learning and perfecting LaTeX concepts will be easier.
The frustration will decrease and you will slowly improve over time; here practice makes perfect and the best advice, focus only on one aspect at a time.
Pro #13. Need a presentation for a conference or class?
LaTeX has many types of documents and within that vast ocean of styles, it has some that are exclusively for presentations you can (and definitively will want to) use in a conference or a classroom, including all the customizable options LaTeX can offer you.
Pro #14. You are not alone.
LaTeX is used most of the time in math, physics, or computer science fields but it is not limited to them. Your collaborators and peers probably will use it and they will appreciate you for using it too since it is common to submit scientific papers and articles to journals in LaTeX.
But once again it doesn’t matter your background, even a historian can use LaTeX and even some books are written on LaTeX, your skills will be helpful no matter what field you are in.
Pro #15. Scripts in LaTeX = Less work to do
LaTeX is what computer scientists call “Turing completed”, thus if you want to and have the time, you can create scripts to help you automate procedures and the creation of styles in the documents and reduce the workload.
Pro #16. It is free and available for everyone and everywhere.
The LaTeX distribution is available on all OS Windows, macOS, and many Linux distributions, and the best part is that it is costless. You only need an internet connection to download and start working with it.
Disadvantages of using LaTeX
Now everything is not good all the time, with the advantages come the disadvantages, and LaTeX is not a stranger to these. Let’s see some of the reasons you have to consider if you want to or are already working with LaTeX.
Con #1. Frustration for beginners.
LaTeX is not quite easy to understand at first glance, and it does not help either with many options and things to learn. The learning curve can be quite steep at the beginning, and you can have a hard time especially if you are not familiar with the coding environment and you are not patient, if that is the case better think again about LaTeX.
Con #2. Large tables mean large headaches.
Tables in LaTeX are easy in theory, but in practice can be extremely stressful.
If you have a huge amount of data or content you want to be tabulated in rows or columns be aware, as it may cause problems with the layout and format. This is due to the content oversizing and overfitting the margins of the page.
Pay attention to the size of the margins and the max capacity of rows and columns you can fit within the limits of the page.
The bigger the table the more complex it becomes, and thus you have to worry more about the layout and format, not to mention that it can misplace the text near the tables.
As a rule of thumb: small tables = easy tables; large tables = complex tables.
Con #3. What you see is not what you get.
LaTeX is not a member of the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor family, all you see is the “code” with all the bluff inside of it (content, structure, commands, libraries, etc.). There is no preview unless you constantly compile and generate the output to see the work.
This can lead to confusion about the final format and layout of the document. It is time-consuming, especially for beginners.
Con #4. Not all publishers use LaTeX.
LaTeX is NOT the dominant editor for the scientific publishing world.
In fact, some publishers hate LaTeX.
So, know your audience before submitting an article.
Most of the time publishers will provide you with a template, format, or instructions of their standard to ease their task of reviewing the article.
Con #5. More (options) is less (efficiency).
LaTeX has infinite numbers of libraries/packages to choose from. But, sometimes having a lot of options can cost a lot of time and energy to go through them.
This is true even for experienced users.
If you are a beginner you WILL feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the vast selection and options there are distracting you away from writing your document.
It’s like a professor telling you there are 300 ways of saying “Hello” when all you need is to greet the person and get on with it.
Con #6. Learning a new library/package can be time-consuming.
Just as everything is new you have to learn the basics from the beginning. Learning libraries and packages is the same, reading pages and pages of documentation just for a few commands can be stressful and if you are in a hurry this is no good, so be careful choosing an easy or complex library/package.
Con #7. It’s easy to get distracted by the freedom of customization.
LaTeX gives you full freedom to change the layouts.
That freedom ain’t free. It won’t cost you money. But, it will cost you more.
If you want to change something in a layout, embrace yourself to go down the rabbit hole and spend countless hours twisting and trying different things, only to see a small change in the final layout.
Con #8. It is the opposite of quick and easy.
If you just need to write a quick note, stay away from LaTeX documents.
LaTeX is not fast in terms of preparing the document. So if you are in a hurry, use another word editor.
Con #9. It may feel like you are learning Latin – a language that few speak.
LaTeX is not for everyone.
Even professionals in science-related fields choose not to use LaTeX files.
You want to remain flexible when working in multidisciplinary groups or working on a group research project.
Con #10. Keeping a log of changes is not easy.
LaTeX does not feature a change log in the documents, in case you want to keep track of all the changes done in the document you will have to either use third-party software or sites. If you are working with multiple people better be organized and communicative about changes done from the beginning.
Con #11. No spelling check.
No, LaTeX does not offer spell check, but the editors available for LaTeX have this feature. Sadly sometimes you will have to download the dictionaries and set the language for the spell check in a couple of clicks.
If you want to change the language of the spell check with a click, LaTeX fails.
Final Thoughts – LaTex may be a dying art that fewer and fewer people can master.
So, should you learn LaTeX?
If you have the time, the dedication, the patience, and the motivation to put an effort into learning LaTeX, go for it.
If you need a presentation for a class, a conference, or a paper to someone, a poster, or even an instruction manual LaTeX can help you typeset beautifully.
Its huge customizable options, the possibility to generate any output file as a pdf file, create any document format, and many features that we already mentioned, make LaTeX a very solid choice against other word processor software/editors.
Just as learning to program can be time-consuming and difficult, learning LaTeX can also be a challenge. However, many people find it worthwhile to learn LaTeX in order to have more control over the formatting and style of their documents. There are existing software options that can help you achieve similar results without having to learn LaTeX.
If you usually work with little documents that mostly text with images or your coworkers or peers don’t care about the style and format, then you’re not in a hurry to learn LaTeX. You can stick with traditional word editors -if it works already, then let it be – unless you want to learn LaTeX just for the fun of it.
You should also consider your end game here. LaTeX can be powerful like a bazooka. But if all you want to do is to kill “small flies”, then you might want to think twice about your “weapon of choice”.
Finally, based on my personal experience, if you are a) working with a big idea, and b) you foresee that you will produce at least 3 master pieces from this, then think about how LaTeX might scale your writing operation.
We hope this article helped you to make the choice of using LaTeX.
Thanks for reading us, and until next time.
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1 thought on “27 Pros and Cons of Using LaTex for Scientific Writing”
I was about to start arguing with the cons, but having seen your website, I decided to skip it. You’re just not worth my word – if I know something about real science publishing… Good luck.