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".


7 Answers 7


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


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.

  • 12
    @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
    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... 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.) 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
    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. Apr 23, 2013 at 17:07

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).

  • 2
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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. Apr 23, 2013 at 21:58

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

  • 2
    This is a very nice comparison!
    – Jeel Shah
    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
    Apr 23, 2013 at 10:43
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    Ok which one is LaTex? Why is LaTex the ugly one? 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.
    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) Apr 23, 2013 at 21:02

The scientist appreciates the subtile beauty of LaTeX, as well as the possibility for version control, which is not possible with Word documents.


enter image description here


enter image description here


This should be pretty convincing.

enter image description here

  • 15
    I had no idea you used emacs- is it like vim? :)
    – cmhughes
    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
    Apr 23, 2013 at 0:32
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    @cmhughes: I also use emacs. Maybe vim is a bit like it? Apr 23, 2013 at 20:57
  • @Beska maybe the idea is that in TeX you can make more fancy shapes by words?
    – Ooker
    May 15, 2016 at 10:19
  • @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:-) May 15, 2016 at 10:51

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
    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
    Apr 23, 2013 at 10:45

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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