I have been using LaTeX for about a year now. I don't consider myself an expert at LaTeX but I know my around it enough to get things done. One of my colleagues, whose background is entirely non technical, wishes to learn LaTeX so that he can switch from using Open Office. He uses computers for browsing and preparing documents in a word processor. Please advise on how to introduce LaTeX to him (without making it sound like rocket science) and any material that is available online (like a LaTeX simple guide) for this purpose.
I have introduced LaTeX into our organization and quite a number of other people at a personal level over the years. In academia it is almost tradition that LaTeX is introduced via word of mouth and that the person that made the introduction helps with the first steps.
Most "non-technical" people use Windows or maybe Macs and probably are not old enough to remember operating a computer via a command prompt. You can assist your friend tremendously by helping to install a full MikTeX installation. If you noticed I mentioned full, as the biggest frustration of new users is setting up everything and is best to avoid errors due to missing packages at the beginning. MikTeX can update on the fly, but on a slow internet connection, it often fails. Use the default Texworks editor, as spell-checking and highlighting are good.
Provide an empty template, with maximum one or two packages. Provide also a reasonably sized document that works (must have an index and contents) and relates to their work.
Give them a bit of a coaching how everything works and help them put their first document together. Newcomers get very excited when they see the first document with contents, index and footnotes. Most non-technical people find it almost impossible to do this with Word or Libre Office.
Introduce images early and the idea of floats. Leave tables as the last item under discussion and well after the newcomer has done a bit of LaTeX work.
I think we are the only Construction Company that uses LaTeX for our reports. Most users have an Engineering background and some of them have good computer skills. As they are a mix of 32 nationalities skills vary tremendously. Strangely enough one of our secretaries took to it very easily but not our IT guy.
As to your question about introductory material, the best is a good book (after you have whetted their appetite a bit to want to use LaTeX to its full capacity).
I would do the following, which has worked for a few of my friends already. Im my opinion one best starts with just the structure. Prepare an empty document for him, and show him the basic sectioning commands. Have him work a while with this reduced set of commands and step by step explain how to accomplish certain tasks e.g. tables, figures,etc.
What worked really well for me, since my friends usually are not close by: Setting up a Dropbox folder or Subversion access. This way I could always check their files in case they ran into trouble.
I also put the common
You should show them LyX instead of full Latex. LyX is an editor that lets you create files that are compiled to LaTeX source (and from latex to .pdf). You edit text mostly without using LaTeX commands (although you can insert plain LaTeX code in the document). While it lets you to edit using GUI, it is not a WYSWIG editor.
It does very nice things like converting graphics (if necessary), has very good support for tables and maths, includes support for many packages (memoir, report... etc).
Here is the Lyx editor Window:
Here is the output:
I wrote my Masters in Lyx and it was a nice experience.
Teach them how to use
What i discovered during the lectures that i gave is that users want results and usually do not try to understand what they are doing as well as they are shouting for help before they think. I believe this is induced by two facts.
First the usually are Word (or Word-like) socialized. What makes them believe that everything has to done manually e.g. to set the typearea manually every page or the most seen beginner lapse
Secondly they tend to copy too much. This certainly comes form the well known template culture. A template sometimes works perfectly for a beginner, but will not necessarily make them understand.
Here are some of the resources i recommend:
A complete environment with documentation installed and a simple editor (s.a. texworks) will make it much more pleasant to learn LaTeX.
BTW: TeX Support is even possible via facebook ;)