I just started to learn LaTeX after seeing some amazing examples of scientific articles produced using it; I was also told that, unlike some other other text programs, LaTeX automatically produces articles respecting some publication standards. Well, after playing around with it for a while, I have to say my PDFs are anything but pretty, particularly when compared to those examples I mentioned before! My margins are really too large, my font size seem to be too small, my default paper is not A4 (and even when I set it manually to A4, the top margin then take an even more ridiculous amount of space). After reading a bit, I obviously found out how to control these elements, but the whole point for me to start learning LaTeX was not to fool around with such things. So here is (are) my question(s): am I doing something wrong? Is all this a matter of configuration? Or am I being delusional and my output PDFs actually ARE all in the expected standards? (I am using MiKTeX, and I tried three editors so far: TeXworks, LyX and WinEdt8)

Here are some examples I found on the internet of what I am talking about. The first seems to me as a simple article without any extra layout commands. Notice the size of the margins, fonts, etc. This is how my PDFs look like. http://www.phys.vt.edu/~jhs/phys3154/TeXandLaTeX.pdf

Now compare that previous PDF with this one here: http://academic.reed.edu/physics/courses/Physics332.s08/campus/pdf/FakeArticle.pdf Unfortunately this one is written in two column format but I couldn't find another example online with just one column. Note how everything is balanced, how the margins are small, how the font is smaller as well, etc.

As a final note, I just would like to say that I really don't mind learning LaTex and that I am not expecting to produce amazing documents from day one; I just think that, in case my problems here are really sound, then I might have came to LaTeX with the wrong set of mind.

Thanks a lot!

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    Welcome to TeX.SX! We really would love to help, but it will be difficult to help you without a minimal working example (MWE). It looks like the latter PDF uses a custom in-house style that, while certainly reproducible (it had to be produced in the first place, right?), is not the default layout. A start though: add the twocolumn option to the article class (\documentclass[twocolumn]{article}). (I for one think the former is a very visually attractive document.) Sep 4, 2013 at 0:14
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    See also tex.stackexchange.com/questions/71172/…. Sep 4, 2013 at 0:16
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    I had made the first part of the comment before I had looked at your document—I've never heard LaTeX called anything but pretty :-) (But to each his own typographic tastes—just be careful!) Sep 4, 2013 at 0:34
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    Judging from the example you showed, you could become happy with the revtex4-1 documentclass, which has a style according to APS/AIP journals. Browse through the doc folder see some samples (e.g. apssamp.pdf).
    – Christoph
    Sep 4, 2013 at 7:46
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    I would say no, you're not doing anything wrong. I've never understood the commonly heard claim about LaTeX that it "takes care of the formatting" for you, so that you can "focus on the content". You need to take care of the formatting yourself so that it looks the way you want it to, unless you happen to want what LaTeX produces by default (which I never have).
    – Sverre
    Sep 4, 2013 at 12:21

3 Answers 3


It seems odd, but you will find very few published journals or books using a single column a4 layout, it's just too wide. Most beginners (including me) start out by reducing the margins, but mostly it's the wrong thing to do.

That said, the default LaTeX class design dates from 1983 or so and was designed to emulate the scribe system from the 1970's so it is hardly surprising that it has a Classic (some might say dated) look when compared with documents designed for an era of electronic distribution and ubiquitous colour support. There are however plenty of different classes and templates that you can use: look around this site or http://www.latextemplates.com/

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    many journals (most math journals that i'm familiar with) and most books aren't published at a4 (or letter) size -- they are printed and bound on much smaller pages, so the "wider margins" that you see when something is printed on "office size" paper aren't relevant. tex was developed for publishing, not for preparing "office documents". (yes, david, i know you know that, but didn't say it.) Sep 4, 2013 at 13:09
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    @barbarabeeton That's actually what I meant by my first sentence, but you said it better, thanks. Sep 4, 2013 at 13:44

Two-column layout for A4 makes the most sense to me, but here’s a weird proposal for one-column A4 layout:

Lay out the page as octavo (say, 6 by 9 inches) and when printing to A4, let it scale up to fill the target A4 size. In my test, the scaling ended up being 117%, so with 11bp font it comes out a little under 13bp.


The real power of LaTeX lies in the usepackages. Somewhere there is probably a usepackage which does precisely what I want. But unless it can do something I can't, I don't care.

This is how I start (almost) every document I write:

\hypersetup{pdftoolbar=true,pdfpagemode=UseNone,pdfstartview={Fit Width},
 pdfauthor={your name here},colorlinks=true}




{\Large title}\\

LaTeX (as opposed to plain TeX) was designed to make it very easy to write things they way they like to write them and almost impossible to write things the way I like to write them.

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    You may be able to replace most of your \setlength instructions with the following statement: \usepackage[margin=1in]{geometry}. Incidentally, it's considered prudent to load the hyperref package last, unless one also loads the cleveref package, which should definitely be loaded after hyperref.
    – Mico
    Sep 4, 2013 at 8:14
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    latexsym exists only for backward compatibility; prefer amssymb.
    – egreg
    Sep 4, 2013 at 8:36
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    I did leave hyperref for last. Sep 4, 2013 at 12:26
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    A bunch of those 'elitist jerks' are regular users of this site and are in fact very nice people :-) a comment on your answer though: most of your length modifications can be made with the package options of geometry. It would also be better style to redefine \maketitle to what you need rather than writing it in your document explicitly. Sep 4, 2013 at 12:30
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    @JohnKormylo -- if you examine the possibilities, the "title/author" system is not that different from what's dictated by sgml or its offspring, xml, through a dtd. the structure isn't unreasonable, if you consider that one (perhaps secondary) purpose of latex is to provide a corpus of documents that can be indexed, searched, and retrieved by recognizable elements. having a consistent naming convention makes these functions easier to accomplish. if you don't like the look of the output, go ahead and redefine it, but do keep the input naming conventions consistent. Sep 4, 2013 at 21:12

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