After reading a book, I often take notes on that book. It usually has my thoughts about what I have just read and many cites (often long, more that 2 or 3 paragraphs, sometimes even more than one page).

I used to just type that all in LaTeX, but such notes are hard to read and look ugly (there is no visible diference betwen cites and my thoughts; cites are just marked with ,, and '').

My question is: is (are) there a good method(s) to taking notes using LaTeX? I don't have much experience in TeX field, I know basics packages. I want to have nice looking notes, with visible difference between thoughts and cites and easy to read. Should I use some packages or styles? Or something else? How to do this?

Thank You for help.

  • Could you make it clearer what you want to do with your notes and why you want to use LaTeX at all?
    – Seamus
    Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 11:58
  • @Seamus: I want to save interested cites from book with my comments. Document would be especially for me, but I think about publishing it (on blog). LaTeX looks good and I often use TeX for writing.
    – exTyn
    Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 12:37

4 Answers 4


Try using a more casual specification of document structure like Markdown; personally, I like Emacs' org-mode for taking notes. If you want to convert to Latex later, there are plenty of converters.

  1. Pandoc supports many casual document structuring formats: besides Markdown, it supports Restructured Text, which is liked by many, and Textile; it supports export not only to Latex, but also Context;
  2. Org mode is a full life organisation system based around jotting down notes, and has sophisticated support for controlling export to Latex. I gather it can express links into PDFs, which might be useful for you.
  • Does orgmode support markdown? Can it be made to do so? If not, is there an alternative emacs mode for writing markdown?
    – Seamus
    Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 13:24
  • 1
    @Seamus: org-mode is like Markdown, but not perfectly compatible with it. Google for "emacs markdown mode" and you will find some alternatives. Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 13:27

If for some reason you want to keep a “beautiful” record of your notes, and you might if they require tons of math, LaTeX is sure a good option for creating pdf documents and printing them. (But definitely not a good option if you plan to publish on a blog.)

For your particular question, on how to provide more useful visual cues to separate quotes from your personal notes, you could use TikZ boxes as in these examples.


Are you sure LaTeX is the best way to take notes? LaTeX is for typesetting documents. Your notes don't generally need to be typeset. Why aren't you just writing them in plain text?

You could write your notes up in LaTeX (and use the \begin{quote}...\end{quote} environment for marking out quotations, but I'm not really sure what advantage this has over plain text.

  • So, what do You suggest? I mean, I don't want to write my notes in OpenOffice (or similar), I want them to look clear and nice. Are there any good tools that could help me? Let's say, I want to publish my notes, I thought, LaTeX would be good solution.
    – exTyn
    Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 12:33
  • @exTyn LaTeX will make them look nice, but it isn't a good option if you want to publish them on a blog. See Charles' answer for better options.
    – Seamus
    Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 13:25

I think that org-mode is great if your notes will not have a lot of math. You can easily export to HTML and to LaTeX and include references from your bibtex file. This page seems like a good intro for the type of stuff you want to do: http://www.mfasold.net/blog/2009/02/using-emacs-org-mode-to-draft-papers/ I use org-mode a lot, and I think it's great, though I use it mostly for plaintext outlines.

On the other hand, if you have a lot of math in your notes, I'd recommend taking a look at LyX (www.lyx.org). It's almost a front-end for LaTeX, but it has its own file-format. It can export beautiful LaTeX code when you need it, and with LyX 2.0 (just released), the HTML export for math has gotten quite good. You can get emacs key-bindings, if you're an emacs guy. I keep all my notes in LyX format. One (of many) nice features of LyX that's relevant when you're taking notes from a PDF is the ability to easily copy/paste screenshots into your LyX document: when I'm reading a paper and get to a big equation block or an interesting paragraph that I want to refer to without retyping, I capture the relevant region as an image to the clipboard, do a paste in LyX, at which point LyX prompts me for a location and filename in which to save the graphic. The code for including the saved graphic file is automatically generated, and the graphic appears inline in the document. Interacting with bibtex databases is very nice in LyX, and there are many external bibtex management programs that interface with LyX.

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