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I really want to convince my friends and family that LaTeX is the choice for them when it comes to formatting and creating beautiful documents. I am aware of the major advantages that come with using LaTeX but some are not convinced. Can someone please provide a side by side comparison of a Word document (or something of the sort) and a LaTeX document that shows the obvious and subtle differences between the two? I want people to look at it and say "Ahhh, I see it, there's a major difference".

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    Do you require comparisons between mathematical texts as well?
    – Herr K.
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 20:46
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    possible duplicate How to convert TeX-illiterate coworkers to LaTeX? and Why should I use LaTeX? Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 20:58
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    So you are looking for How can I explain the meaning of LaTeX to my gramma. :)
    – Fran
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 21:09
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    I agree with your edit- if it does get closed, I for one will vote to re-open :)
    – cmhughes
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 23:49
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    @gekkostate I think we need to agree to disagree. I don't think LaTeX documents by themselves have a higher quality or look more professional. It's all about how you yourself format your documents, LaTeX or Word. If you're not in academia or publishing, I see little use in learning LaTeX.
    – Sverre
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 13:51

8 Answers 8

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I find the comparison posted http://www.rtznet.nl/zink/latex.php?lang=en to be very effective- here's a visual

screenshot

If the visual isn't enough, check out the analysis!

enter image description here

Where IWS is the inter-word spacing and SD, stands for Standard Deviation, a measure of the variability of IWS (as computed by the square root of the average square deviation from the mean IWS). A lower value indicates less variability and therefore more regularity.

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    @gekkostate in general, a low standard deviation tells us that the data points are close to the mean... in this context, the inter word spacing having a low standard deviation tells us that the general value of the inter word spacing is fairly consistent- we don't have words that are too close together, nor too far away. Just as in Goldilocks pdflatex gets it just right :)
    – cmhughes
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 21:24
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    @gekkostate It would be interesting to remove the red marks and labels to have someone pick the best-looking of the three settings -- a sort of blind test. Of course, this might backfire if the MS Word or InDesign typesettings are chosen... Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 21:56
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    I would be interesting to have the very same comparison for slightly different line widths - it might be that they just picked one that makes InDesign look bad. (I guess Word is hopeless for this narrow line width.) Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 10:44
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    However effective, this doesn't look like the result of a fair comparison to me – the pdftex sample has most certainly been hand-tweaked with \emergencystretch, probably also adjusted \fontdimens, maybe even some negative spacing (look at the line beginning with "warehouses"); I am fairly sure that the Indesign sample could be optimised in the same way (esp. considering that Indesign's paragraph builder is based on that of TeX).
    – Robert
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 15:02
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    @HendrikVogt a more general purpose objection than "they cherry picked the specific width to make tex end up doing much better than the competition" would be noting that in the typical use case with normal page widths there's no need to do a hyphenation vs excess IWS tradeoff to try and get a good result with any of the tools. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 17:07
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Any single-page text in LaTeX could look very similar to one obtained with a WYSIWYG word processors with the appropriate formatting.

What make a real difference often at the first glance is the lack of consistency on this format on a whole big document made with a word processors, even when the user is an expert using predefined styles, against the complete consistence of an structured LaTeX document, even when the user is a novice.

For example, how many unnecessary double paces or blank lines have any big Word document of an average user? This mistakes are hardly noticed and corrected and spoiled the format, but simply does not exist in LaTeX.

In this view also has a high weight the subtle changes of typography. As cmhughes pointed, there are some better hyphenation and spacing in LaTeX (that example probably could be improved with the microtype package) but you can also compare another details, as kerning and ligatures.

For example, compare this few words between LateX (above) and Abiword: (Sorry, I don't have Word)

enter image description here

At first glance, for most people there are no differences, but in the word processor there are not ligatures "ff" and "fi", there are a bad kerning in "Fe" and "Ta", but moreover, the kerning is just awful in "AVA". In a large text, hundreds of such details make a big difference that most people notice, although surely they do not know why.

Besides, there a lot of things that you cannot show with a visual comparison, as TikZ diagrams and plots with pgfplots, simply because a word processor is unable to do figures without a third program (that most likely include wrong font types or font sizes).

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    I like the commentary at the beginning about not having to worry about layout in same way (+1), but the kerning and ligatures are also a good point...I figured that Word must get this correct, so I just checked it...(Word 2010, Times New Roman)...nope. Kerning and ligatures are terrible there as well.
    – Beska
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 0:37
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    @Fran This is a really nice example because it shows right down to each letter or group of letters where it differs from word and other WYSIWYG editors. Good points!
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 0:40
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    Apparently you can adjust kerning in Word: word.tips.net/T001130_Changing_Kerning.html (I don't have it installed so I can't check if and how good it works)
    – cgnieder
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 10:31
  • MSWord can do figures and diagrams, usually created in Excel and copy-pasted. But (IMO of course) their look is inferior to PGF/TikZ. Someone should really do visual comparisons on that too. (And I love when my physics professor tries to hand-draw circles in PowerPoint).
    – marczellm
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 12:23
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    The more recent versions of Word can use kerning, and (with Opentype fonts) automatically insert ligatures, old-style numbers and so forth. I've no doubt that TeX output is superior, but the gap has closed quite a bit in the past 5 years, if users bother to set it up right. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 21:58
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I recently have to re-type an entire LaTeX document in Word because the conference organizer only accepts Word documents. The following picture contrasts the two outputs. (It should be pretty easy to tell which one is from LaTeX and which is from Word :))

Besides the lack of hyphenation in Word, which screws up the spacing between words (although I believe that with some effort one might be able to get Word to start hyphenating words), the biggest contrasts are in math fonts, and the spacing between math texts and regular ones. The equation editor in Word (2007 and above) only supports Cambria Math font in the math zone. This creates font inconsistencies, unless the same font is also used in the body texts.

word vs latex

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    This is a very nice comparison!
    – Jeel Shah
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 0:33
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    I am not able to tell at a glance which is LaTeX and which is Word. Your comment about hyphenation suggests that the first one is LaTeX, but frankly the first one is the uglier to me, mostly because of the line break in the mathematics on the first line. (I always consider line breaks in the middle of mathematics to be very ugly indeed. Yes, I am aware that an author can discourage TeX from doing that.)
    – Hammerite
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 10:43
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    Ok which one is LaTex? Why is LaTex the ugly one? Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 20:53
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    @Hans-PeterE.Kristiansen: The one above the red line is the output of LaTeX, and the one below the red line is output of Word. Hammerite seems to think that the LaTeX output is uglier because of the breaking of a math formula at the end of line 1.
    – Herr K.
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 20:54
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    @Kevin C: I agree with Hammerite the \infinity} widow is extremely ugly. (but I see now that the spacing in word is way too big) Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 21:02
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The scientist appreciates the subtile beauty of LaTeX, as well as the possibility for version control, which is not possible with Word documents.

Word:

enter image description here

LaTeX:

enter image description here

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This should be pretty convincing.

enter image description here

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    I had no idea you used emacs- is it like vim? :)
    – cmhughes
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 21:36
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    This would not convince me of anything. I wouldn't even know what I was looking at. I'm seeing some something fancy, with "Word" repeated several times. This tells me nothing about the more standard type of documents that most people who use WYSIWYG editors are creating.
    – Beska
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 0:32
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    @cmhughes: I also use emacs. Maybe vim is a bit like it? Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 20:57
  • @Beska maybe the idea is that in TeX you can make more fancy shapes by words?
    – Ooker
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 10:19
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    @Ooker simpler: it's a Joke, happy pink heart in tex, sad frown in word, so clearly tex is better. But if people can't take a joke and want to downvote, that's their right:-) Commented May 15, 2016 at 10:51
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Many of these other examples don’t actually use the full feature set of Microsoft Word, which nowadays includes hyphenation, ligatures, and kerning. So I decided to make a comparison in 2022 where I actually went through those extra steps to make the MS Word output look better. The text (which is from the article Printing press on Wikipedia) is set with Linux Libertine at 11 pt on an A4 sheet with 4 cm left and right margins. The LaTeX version was compiled with LuaLaTeX, fontspec, and microtype. Here are the results:

Microsoft Word:

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

LaTeX (using LuaLaTeX and microtype):

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

LibreOffice Writer:

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

Honest opinion by @Gaussler, the original author of this post: Yes, LaTeX is, without a doubt, better. But the difference has become a lot smaller than it used to. I’m mainly just happy for the world that there is a program (MS Word) that literally anyone can pick up and use to produce decent results. This fact presents a much greater breakthrough in the history of information exchange than any theoretical results like Knuth’s line breaking algorithm. And in an age where people are more than happy to read articles in a web browser without any hyphenation or text justification, what MS Word outputs will be more than enough for the average user. Maybe we should come down from our ivory tower and give ordinary people a break?

EDIT: Forgot to change " into TeX quotation marks. I’m too lazy to change that now.

EDIT: This post is now a community wiki so that anyone can add other visual demonstrations of the same text in other programs (Pages, InDesign, whatever). In order to make the examples easier to compare, it’s best if they are kept in the same resolution, so please use the following method: First export the file to PDF, then use this online tool to convert the PDF to a series of JPG images. Then crop the images on local hardware.

EDIT: Here is the LuaTeX source code if anyone wants to check or experiment. I don’t think there is any way to attach a Word document in here, so I’ll leave that out for now. I have deliberately chosen not to wrap the lines in the code to make it easier to copy-paste into word processors with minimal adjustments:

\documentclass[a4paper,oneside,article,english,11pt]{memoir}

\usepackage{fontspec,babel} % Not sure if babel matters in English?
\setmainfont{Linux Libertine}

\frenchspacing

\usepackage{microtype}

\begin{document}

\noindent
A printing press is a mechanical device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium (such as paper or cloth), thereby transferring the ink. It marked a dramatic improvement on earlier printing methods in which the cloth, paper or other medium was brushed or rubbed repeatedly to achieve the transfer of ink, and accelerated the process. Typically used for texts, the invention and global spread of the printing press was one of the most influential events in the second millennium.

In Germany, around 1440, goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press, which started the Printing Revolution. Modelled on the design of existing screw presses, a single Renaissance movable-type printing press could produce up to 3,600 pages per workday, compared to forty by hand-printing and a few by hand-copying. Gutenberg's newly devised hand mould made possible the precise and rapid creation of metal movable type in large quantities. His two inventions, the hand mould and the movable-type printing press, together drastically reduced the cost of printing books and other documents in Europe, particularly for shorter print runs.

From Mainz the movable-type printing press spread within several decades to over two hundred cities in a dozen European countries. By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. In the 16th century, with presses spreading further afield, their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. By the mid-17th century the first printing presses arrived in colonial America in response to the increasing demand for Bibles and other religious literature. The operation of a press became synonymous with the enterprise of printing, and lent its name to a new medium of expression and communication, “the press”.

The arrival of mechanical movable type printing in Europe in the Renaissance introduced the era of mass communication, which permanently altered the structure of society. The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and (revolutionary) ideas transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation and threatened the power of political and religious authorities. The sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class. Across Europe, the increasing cultural self-awareness of its peoples led to the rise of proto-nationalism, and accelerated the development of European vernaculars, to the detriment of Latin's status as lingua franca. In the 19th century, the replacement of the hand-operated Gutenberg-style press by steam-powered rotary presses allowed printing on an industrial scale.

\chapter*{History}

\section*{Economic conditions and intellectual climate}

The rapid economic and socio-cultural development of late medieval society in Europe created favorable intellectual and technological conditions for Gutenberg's improved version of the printing press: the entrepreneurial spirit of emerging capitalism increasingly made its impact on medieval modes of production, fostering economic thinking and improving the efficiency of traditional work processes. The sharp rise of medieval learning and literacy amongst the middle class led to an increased demand for books which the time-consuming hand-copying method fell far short of accommodating.

\section*{Technological factors}

Technologies preceding the press that led to the press's invention included: manufacturing of paper, development of ink, woodblock printing, and distribution of eyeglasses. At the same time, a number of medieval products and technological processes had reached a level of maturity which allowed their potential use for printing purposes. Gutenberg took up these far-flung strands, combined them into one complete and functioning system, and perfected the printing process through all its stages by adding a number of inventions and innovations of his own:

The screw press which allowed direct pressure to be applied on a flat plane was already of great antiquity in Gutenberg's time and was used for a wide range of tasks. Introduced in the 1st century AD by the Romans, it was commonly employed in agricultural production for pressing wine grapes and olives (for olive oil), both of which formed an integral part of the Mediterranean and medieval diet. The device was also used from very early on in urban contexts as a cloth press for printing patterns. Gutenberg may have also been inspired by the paper presses which had spread through the German lands since the late 14th century and which worked on the same mechanical principles.

During the Islamic Golden Age, Arab Muslims were printing texts, including passages from the Qur'an, embracing the Chinese craft of paper making, developed it and adopted it widely in the Muslim world, which led to a major increase in the production of manuscript texts. In Egypt during the Fatimid era, the printing technique was adopted reproducing texts on paper strips and supplying them in various copies to meet the demand.

Gutenberg adopted the basic design, thereby mechanizing the printing process. Printing, however, put a demand on the machine quite different from pressing. Gutenberg adapted the construction so that the pressing power exerted by the platen on the paper was now applied both evenly and with the required sudden elasticity. To speed up the printing process, he introduced a movable undertable with a plane surface on which the sheets could be swiftly changed.

The concept of movable type existed prior to 15th century Europe; sporadic evidence that the typographical principle, the idea of creating a text by reusing individual characters, was known and had been cropping up since the 12th century and possibly before (the oldest known application dating back as far as the Phaistos disc). The known examples range from movable type printing in China during the Song dynasty; in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty, where metal movable-type printing technology was developed in 1234; to Germany (Prüfening inscription) and England (letter tiles) and Italy (Altarpiece of Pellegrino II). However, the various techniques employed (imprinting, punching and assembling individual letters) did not have the refinement and efficiency needed to become widely accepted. Tsuen-Hsuin and Needham, and Briggs and Burke suggest that the movable-type printing in China and Korea was rarely employed.

Gutenberg greatly improved the process by treating typesetting and printing as two separate work steps. A goldsmith by profession, he created his type pieces from a lead-based alloy which suited printing purposes so well that it is still used today. The mass production of metal letters was achieved by his key invention of a special hand mould, the matrix. The Latin alphabet proved to be an enormous advantage in the process because, in contrast to logographic writing systems, it allowed the type-setter to represent any text with a theoretical minimum of only around two dozen different letters.

Another factor conducive to printing arose from the book existing in the format of the codex, which had originated in the Roman period. Considered the most important advance in the history of the book prior to printing itself, the codex had completely replaced the ancient scroll at the onset of the Middle Ages (AD 500). The codex holds considerable practical advantages over the scroll format: it is more convenient to read (by turning pages), more compact, and less costly, and both recto and verso sides could be used for writing or printing, unlike the scroll.

A fourth development was the early success of medieval papermakers at mechanizing paper manufacture. The introduction of water-powered paper mills, the first certain evidence of which dates to 1282, allowed for a massive expansion of production and replaced the laborious handcraft characteristic of both Chinese and Muslim papermaking. Papermaking centres began to multiply in the late 13th century in Italy, reducing the price of paper to one-sixth of parchment and then falling further; papermaking centers reached Germany a century later.

Despite this it appears that the final breakthrough of paper depended just as much on the rapid spread of movable-type printing. It is notable that codices of parchment, which in terms of quality is superior to any other writing material, still had a substantial share in Gutenberg's edition of the 42-line Bible. After much experimentation, Gutenberg managed to overcome the difficulties which traditional water-based inks caused by soaking the paper, and found the formula for an oil-based ink suitable for high-quality printing with metal type.

\end{document}
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    @ApoorvPotnis Excellent work. I’m surprised anyone else bothered to go through the work. xD
    – Gaussler
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 14:22
  • @ApoorvPotnis Well done!
    – Gaussler
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 14:33
  • @ApoorvPotnis On the other hand, look at the interword spacing in the paragraph right after the heading. I’d say Writer is the worst of them.
    – Gaussler
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 14:39
  • @ApoorvPotnis Actually, are you sure you turned on hyphenation? Those three line breaks were dashes that already existed in the text.
    – Gaussler
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 14:54
  • @ApoorvPotnis Very strange indeed.
    – Gaussler
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 15:00
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don't be religious! It's only typesetting. :)

People, which has not be programmed before, may be shocked if they see an emacs with auctex and at least a compile run. It's also with TeXShop the case!

However, the result can be impressive (but it is also possible to generate a poor quality with TeX).

If you have a lot of very different font types within a document (like this example: UTF8 for listings), it is definitly more easy to use OpenOffice or Word.

LaTeX has the main focus for structured documents (also letters). Well, I has used LaTeX for animations in presentation and also included videos in a PDF, but these are very advanced features, which are especially for friends with an average knowledge of programming totally out of scope.

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    'it's only typesetting'!!! we're pretty obsessed with it on this site :)
    – cmhughes
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 21:16
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    Agreed. LaTeX really shines in producing long, highly structured documents. The average user of a word-processing program will gain very little advantage from learning LaTeX if all they tend to produce is short (1-2 page) documents.
    – Hammerite
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 10:45
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My impression is that both are more than adequate but Latex was designed being a stickler for the details and more thought given to minutae. That and rendering formulae. It was developed at a time where the difference was much more stark. That is why it took off in publishing / math and science communities. Over time they will catch up but the history is not one of excellence, but one of utility and good enough to get out the door. With one of the examples above I couldn't tell which was better, the first spacing / indentation algorithm example I definitely noticed and some of the kerning examples illustrate the point. You don't notice it until you really look, good enough to get out the door.

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