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?


13 Answers 13


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.

  • "The best way to learn it is simply to do it." +1. Nothing is more true as this. In my days at university I knew some friends who wrote LaTeX and I was always interested, but never got to actually do it. One day I said 'screw it', and forced myself to only write in LaTeX (except for collaborative work). It was a tough beginning where I sometimes regretted this decision after spending two hours fixing a misplaced comma on a nearing deadline paper, but in the end that's what got me learning all the ins and outs of LaTeX. Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 14:45

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 regarded 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 it will also help you get the best from the other answers you were given.


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!

  • 1
    I agree with this. I compile after every paragraph and after every displayed equation.
    – PersonX
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 20:04
  • Maybe this is good for beginners, but I think, ideally, one shouldn't complie often, as it introduces distractions.
    – Toothrot
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 13:03
  • autocompile (latexmk) is a better option compared to compiling manually often Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 15:23

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.

  • Up-vote for the bit about tables.
    – Kristen
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 15:48

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.


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 start. 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.

  • 1
    Upvote for not being too proud for suggesting LyX;-)
    – h0b0
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 20:14
  • 2
    I'd rather not start with books that only deal with (plain) TeX.
    – lockstep
    Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 16:31
  • @lockstep why not? Commented Aug 6, 2010 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
    Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 9:30

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.


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).

  • 1
    That link doesn't work any more. Here is the new link
    – Sameer
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 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.


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.


Here're my 5 cents.

If you are barely starting and want to get the most from LaTeX, develop a "tediousness meter" inside your head. Whenever you feel like the task you are doing is tedious, open your favorite search engine and type something like latex <task description>. The whole beauty of LaTeX is that it can make your PC do as much work as a machine can do, which is pretty much everything (except actually writing your article/thesis/whatever).

Here's a good example. A man is asked by his editor to replace one symbol with another throughout his 800-pages book, and his knee-jerk reaction is to use the "Search and replace" function in his text editor. This is exactly the thought that comes to mind to anyone who was using only Word before. Instead, in LaTeX you can do this with 1-2 short lines, and instantly revert this change later if the editor changes his mind.


I disagree with most people's opinion here that a latex newbie need to start with a template. If you actually want to learn to use it yourself, templates doesn't help that much (esp. large templates). Yet, it may be a good idea to take a look at small sample files (containing only simple latex code).

In my opinion, the best way to transition from word processors to latex is to take it slow! Seriously, learn latex slowly. First, some old habits have to go as pointed out by Quadrescence in his answer. In latex, formatting is separated from content as much as possible, and latex provides a cleaner interface to ensure that the user can focus more on the content.

Start creating documents with very simple ones. Something like this first,


Type your content here. Lorem ipsum ........

You can type something like this in a text editor such as notepad or gedit, and save it with extension .tex (eg: myfile.tex). At least in the beginning, it is easier to use an application such as texstudio or texworks (the latter is by default installed with MikTex). You can compile this script by pressing the compile button (or compile and make button) [usually it is a green 'play' symbol]. If you are in linux fan like me, and prefer commands, you can use the command pdflatex <filename> instead. Compiling your document results in producing a pdf file in the same folder the script is in (or it may report that the script has errors, or give some warinings).

Once you are familiar with this basic syntax, you are ready to try more. So, one of the basic things you need is a title and different sections. Well, title for your document has to wait. But, there is a way for adding sections. Don't think about bold, center alignment or underline. Ask yourself "What do I need here?". Well, what you need is a section. In latex, it is done by the command \section. This is the typical way latex works. I refrain from talking about advantages of separating content from formatting here. Adding a subsection is also similar.

Once you are familiar with this, you are ready for adding titles. This one may seem a bit tricky. In latex, you can prepare documents of different types such as book, article, report, etc. (this is what you mention in the command \documentclass{}). In a typical article, the title goes with a number of other things such as author name and date. So, in latex, these are typically thought of like a unit. Here is how you give these.

\title{Title of document goes here}
\author{authorname goes here}
\date{date goes here}

The rest of your document goes here (with sections and subsections).

You can always leave out the author command; To leave out date, you need to keep the entry in \date command empty (i.e., \date{}).

The next thing to learn is typical components of latex code. You have environments which follow the structure:

\begin{<name of environment>}
'content' of environment goes here
\end{<name of environment>}

A simple example is document. Other examples are itemize and enumerate. This is the basic way to add lists (this includes bullets are numbering).

Once you are comfortable enough with latex, read some good book or other reliable resource (otherwise, you may end up learning the wrong ways). You can always choose shorter reads such as these 1, 2 (at least at this stage). (Note: overall, the wikibook looks nice).

Like this, take your time to learn new things in latex. You could keep using latex for creating simple documents for your purposes. And learning new things, one at a time slowly as a need arises. This approach works well for learning almost anything with a steep learning curve. I use latex in vim. Though, I am not a power user in either, i am able to fullfill my needs (including making presentations with 'animations'). This was my strategy all the time. And if you need one or two extra things as an emergency, but don't have time to learn them properly yet, you can use this for tables and this for mathematical equations. But, then later take time to learn them, slowly of course :-)



There is this website that offers free online conversion from word to latex :

  • 2
    Hi there! Welcome to TeX.SX! :) I think the OP was actually asking how somebody who was used to working in Microsoft Word could best start learning to use LaTeX instead, rather than looking for tools which would automatically convert a .doc(x) file to a .tex one, but thanks for your contribution all the same
    – Au101
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:07
  • 5
    Indeed. This should actually reside with the following post: How can I convert from Microsoft Word to a LaTeX document
    – Werner
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:20
  • I've re-posted a CW answer since movement of singular answers between questions are not possible. See this chat conversation.
    – Werner
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 21:46

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