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My experience at the present moment is restricted to Microsoft Word and is likely to remain for most of my collaborative work. However, for my individual authored documents I would like to use LaTeX. I am familiar with some tex notation but have not used LaTeX extensively.

In light of the above I was wondering what is the best way to make the transition from Word to LaTeX?

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Answers to this question will be useful: tex.stackexchange.com/q/4420/215 –  Seamus Nov 20 '10 at 12:02

10 Answers 10

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The best way to learn it is simply to do it. Find someone else's template (e.g. from a friend) to get started. From there on you can always tinker and experiment with it to gain a greater insight.

http://wikibooks.org/wiki/LaTeX is a pretty good reference.

If you're in college/university there are probably a lot of people who can help you (particularly in science, math, CS and similar programs). At my university, the department of mathematics usually have beginner's LaTeX courses at the beginning of the year to get people started.

Also, often when people are editing text in Word they're focusing on how it looks. Make sure you don't do that when writing LaTeX. Just write it. The parser will figure out how to make it look good.

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In addition to the advice in the other answers, I'd say be ready to make changes to how you work. Word (and indeed all word processors) are fundamentally different from LaTeX. Some things that people do in Word are regards as poor typography, and so are discouraged by many LaTeX users. So the question is not always 'Word can do this, how do I do it in LaTeX?' but 'Should I do this at all, and if so how do I do it in LaTeX?'. It's subtle, I know, but also will help you get the best from answers you're given.

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I don't think that there's a special path for getting used to LaTeX after word than any other way. Take a TeX/LaTeX book, take it slow and don't panic. The most important thing it to try out whatever you learn! "A Gentle Introduction to TeX" might be a good started. Another option is to use LyX, which is a graphical front-end for the latex engine, which will allow you to use LaTeX in a word-processor-like manner.

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Upvote for not being too proud for suggesting LyX;-) –  h0b0 Jul 26 '10 at 20:14
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I'd rather not start with books that only deal with (plain) TeX. –  lockstep Aug 5 '10 at 16:31
    
@lockstep why not? –  Amir Rachum Aug 6 '10 at 0:47
    
Because of the "format vs. content"-thing described by Juan A. Navarro in the question "What's the difference between TeX and LaTeX" (sorry, I don't know how to add a link in comments). –  lockstep Aug 6 '10 at 9:30

I think that the other answers here are quite good. But, they left out one thing which I think can cause a real problem for those new to LaTeX.

If you've used Word for more than a few minutes, you've likely got into the habit of saving your document quite often. That's a good habit, no matter the program you use to edit with. But, with LaTeX, you also really ought to get into the habit of compiling your document fairly often, too. You can really cut down on frustration that way. It is much easier to locate an error introduced in the last 5 minutes than it is one introduced in the last 5 hours!

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I agree with this. I compile after every paragraph and after every displayed equation. –  Chris Phan Jul 26 '10 at 20:04

This is a mental tip more than a "how to do it" tip.

With Word, you have a constant feeling (or most do) to change the way things look, the fonts, the size, alignment, bla bla bla. With LaTeX, especially when beginning to learn, I would avoid trying to "micromanage" your document. (La)TeX is intended to be written semantically: if you want emphasis, you should write \emph{text} and not \CommandForItalicText{text}. A lot of people also complain about how default LaTeX classes are not good enough looking (margins too big, etc.). Until you have a good grasp on how things work generally, and the basic constructs, then I would begin to play around with styling and all that.

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I hadn't read Taraborelli's "The Beauty of Latex" ( http://nitens.org/taraborelli/latex ) in a few years, but this question inspired to look at it again.

I come at it from the other direction. I learned latex waaaay before I ever tried Word (no MS Word in Unix, my first OS). I find Word to be very hard to use, mostly because it's always doing thing I don't want it to and I can't figure out how to tell it to stop. To me it's very non-intuitive, and, of course, barfingly ugly.

Anyway, I congratulate you on your move to LaTeX. I've transitioned many people from word to LaTeX, and there are a few strategies which I've found are helpful.

1) do as little 'programming' as possible. This mostly entails having a templet file with things pre-done for you that you can cut and paste (e.g. general templets for figures, tables,...). In my lab I distribute such a file so that newbies only have to really learn some math-mode commands to write almost any doc our lab (papers, theses, etc) produces.

2) The things most newbies have trouble with are tables. So, plan your tables in advance and have someone help you if your tables aren't doing what you want.

3) Try to have a specific class file for whatever you're doing if it's a journal paper, book, thesis, whatever.

4) have a good latex book at hand. I have Knuth's TeXbook and Kopka and Daly's LaTeX book.

5) Join an online community where you can ask questions

Anyway, good luck.

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Up-vote for the bit about tables. –  Kristen Nov 20 '10 at 15:48

On Windows XP, I really enjoy using TeXworks 0.2.3 (r0.466), which provides with an editor window and a document preview window. Clicking in the document preview locates the edit mark at that TeX source corresponding to the clicked location.

I find this to be convenient for documents containing diagrams and many pages, when I have been used to working in an environment like Word.

TeXworks is open source and the fruit of the TeX Users Groups.

I've enjoyed learning LaTeX from A Guide to LaTeX 2e, by Helmut Kopka and Patrick W. Daly, pictured below:
Photo of Guide to LaTeX 2e

When I need to write a new document, I usually look at the TeX source for similar documents. For example, when I first needed a business letter, I started from an example business letter. Eventually, I have developed a TeX source which I include as the preamble of a business letter. This source applies my choices of style and is stored in a directory as its own file. Thus, if I want to change something about my business letter style, I can do so and change all of my future business letters when I compile them or when I recompile the old letters.

Similarly, when I create diagrams and figures, I create them in a file of their own. I then include the diagrams from their source file.

This is very different from Word, where the diagram or figure is essentially part of the text document. In particular, I am able to have more than one document include the same figure. For example, my article can contain a figure which is also shown on my poster. Because the diagram is rendered from the same source file in both cases, a change made to the diagram is immediately available in both documents.

With very long documents, it becomes useful to "factor" the document into chapters incorporated into the document via include. Then, the include-only command may be used during revisions to avoid recompiling any unchanged chapters.

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There is pretty old, but still quite nice “manual”: LaTeX for Word Processor Users by Guido Gonzato: http://www.ctan.org/tex-archive/help/Catalogue/entries/latex4wp.html It translates some things from one language (WP) to the other (LaTeX).

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That link doesn't work any more. Here is the new link –  Sameer Sep 20 at 17:26

I think that a good way of starting is doing all you have to do in LaTeX, no matter how trivial it is (but try not to put the learning process above other responsibilities). A good place to look for examples and different packages that may help is The LaTeX Companion.

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Since you're coming from Word, you might want an easier transition route than "find a file and start working with LaTeX".

I recently did a seminar for our students who were in exactly the same position as you. I collected the whole thing in a screencast and since it's visual, it might be easier to follow. Please take a look at it here: LaTeX Screencasts.

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