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I often use LaTeX for general writings, as well as for my Lab and lecture notes. (Often, but not always via LyX). A large portion of this is RPG homebrew.

One of my friends (who wouldn't know what LaTeX was if asked) often comments that it looks like Lab notes. "It looks like like my lab manual. That lab manual is a particularly good looking lab manual, but it still looks like it." He is right.

What can I do to remove that technical writing feel? My first attempt was to change to san serif, but that just reminded him of a different set of notes.


I'm looking for answers like:

  • "Don't use numbered headings, they always feel technical"
  • "Use San Serif for Headings and Serif for body, this will invoke a more causal feeling"
  • "Center Headings"
  • "Use(/Don't use) columns"
  • "Don't use Computer Modern, it will always invoke memories, instead use ..."
  • "Use this package X" eg wordlike"
  • "Use the memoir DocumentClass"

This may seem like a open ended question, but I've tried to close it down.

It might belong on the Graphic Design SX

EDIT: Clarification (thanks to vaettchen) I'm not trying to imitate the output of a word processor. I'm trying to go for the appearance of a non-technical book, rather than feeling like something your university professor has handed you. I want something that looks like what I might make in InDesign. (but without the manual work of using something so WYSIWYG focused)

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Ulrich Schwarz, Heiko Oberdiek, lockstep, m0nhawk, Count Zero Jul 4 '13 at 9:40

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Use Comic Sans? –  Loop Space Jul 4 '13 at 6:52
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@vaettchen: I never said anything about a word processor. I want something that looks like what I might make in InDesign. (but without the manual work of using something so WYSIWYG focused) –  Oxinabox Jul 4 '13 at 7:28
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\usepackage{wordlike} –  Daniel Jul 4 '13 at 7:28
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Use Paulo's document setup: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/63732/cute-document-in-latex/… –  David Carlisle Jul 4 '13 at 8:39
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It is a design question for sure but I think there's merits to treating it as a TeX question too so people can make TeX-specific suggestions like saalk referring to classic-thesis below. –  Bristol Jul 4 '13 at 10:04
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As a general suggestion, I'd say pick up a book of the kind you want your document to look like and go through the points you listed and the ones I mention below.

The first thing you'll want to look at is fonts: whereas Times New Roman/Arial screams "MS Office" at you, Computer Modern seems to shout "lab manual" at your friend. In plain LaTeX you can't pull in all ttf/otf fonts on your computer directly (XeTeX, ConTeXt, LuaTeX etc. can) but as ChrisS mentioned there's a list of TeX-supported fonts and you can get your usual Times/Arial if you'd like or try something more original - it really depends on your document. The serif/sans question can be debated to death but most books use serif so if that's what you want a document to look like I'd recommend serif. I've been using Linux Libertine successfully recently which neither looks like Times nor Computer Modern.

The next big difference most people will note (if perhaps not consciously) between your average document and TeX' defaults is the line lengths. As Knuth and the not-so-short introduction will tell you, TeX actually follows guidelines that professional typesetters have known for ages in not making lines too long and thus the whole document easier to read. One difficulty that you'll run into is that most non-technical books are set not just with shorter lines than "Office default" but also as a consequence printed on smaller paper sizes than letter/A4 (when did you last read a novel in A4 format?) whereas academic papers seem to come mostly with book-sized lines on document-sized paper leading to enormous amounts of white space on the pages which might be something that your friend noticed.

However, if you want to, load fullpage and chip away at the margins. You could also consider increasing the line spacing or in TeX-speak \linespread{1.3} which will get you better readability in a long document (especially with narrow margins) and look less like your average academic paper.

fancyhdr will allow you to reformat your headers/footers. I don't have any design suggestions here except that if you or your friend find some document or book that definitely does not look like a lab manual you could try and emulate that.

Colour is another thing you won't find in most lab manuals. Bear in mind that while a document with rotated, rainbow-gradiented 3D-WordArt titles, headings in different font, size and colour to the body text and Comic Sans text definitely won't look like a lab manual, it will look amateurish and absolutely horrendous.

But a bit of subtle colour here and there for headings can't hurt - sectsty is your friend and the following pages give some examples with code:

Changing the look of section headings will go a long way to changing the look and feel of your document. Setting them in coloured boxes or with coloured rules above/below seem to be common choices.

Whitespace between and around things is as important if not more than the font/colour/size of your headings. Make sure you don't cramp things together too closely - it may not end up looking like a lab manual but it will look bad. Again, take a book you think looks good and study the way they use white space.

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"Unless you want to switch to ConTeXt or something like that you can't pull in all ttf/otf fonts on your computer directly" XeTeX and LuaTeX can both do that so you don't need to switch to ConTeXt to get ttf/otf fonts. –  Loop Space Jul 4 '13 at 9:47
    
Thanks. I edited my post above. –  Bristol Jul 4 '13 at 9:51
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  1. Wrapping Figures: Use the wrapfig package to float your figures to the sides of the document, rather than the top or bottom or between packages.
  2. Typefaces: Pick typefaces according to the document you're writing. Make sure your typeface combinations go together. You can find typefaces in The LaTeX Font Catalogue, and (for XeTeX and LuaTeX) FontSquirrel.
  3. Text Treatments: If you're going for an old-fashioned look, S P A C E D - O U T   C A P I T A L S can work for headings (with the soul package); small caps instead of bold (or even blackletter instead of bold) and text figures often look good.
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Have a look at the package "classic-thesis". It tries to follow the principles of Robert Bringhurst's "The Elements of Typographic Style". The results are simply beautiful.

Official page and CTAN

EDIT: It even has its own LyX template.

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