I am a high-school student on the way to my graduation. I like TeX very much, as it gives me much more satisfaction with the quality of my homework than using libre office and friends. But when I try to explain my classmates, why TeX is that great, the usually just shake their heads and say something about TeX being a "geek toy" or similar.

What is a good way to show them why TeX is that great?

  • Please, could somebody create an appropriate tag for this? The question doesn't really fits into any of the available tags. – FUZxxl May 4 '11 at 20:00
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    I think that you can not help people who do not want to be helped. They are careless just as many people that I know who do not even want to understand the difference because the idea of anything else than WYSIWYG itself seems to be too complicated for them. You are not going to improve the quality of typography worldwide merely by persuading your mates so why should you care about those who choose other alternatives? Frankly, TeX is far from a reasonable solution for end-users so I do not blame anyone who chooses Word or Pages over (La)TeX. – Harold Cavendish May 4 '11 at 20:19
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    I don't think you can convince people to use TeX. You can only show them what TeX can do, and sometimes they will then want to learn how to use it. In the same way you can't convince someone that learning to juggle is a good idea: all you can do is juggle in front of them and hope they go "hey that's cool, I want to do that!" – Seamus May 4 '11 at 21:45
  • I have exactly the same problem! But it's my first year in college (although I've been using LaTeX for a while), and my friends/classmates don't understand the advantages of LaTeX and none of them have never heart of it (they are perfectly happy using Word...). There is no problem if I'm working on a project with someone who 'relies' in me, but when I'm working with people I don't know much (like now), I find it almost impossible to convince them! It's a pity we hand in a Word document when we could have done it using LaTeX (I'm not trying to make them use the language, I have offered myself t – user12199 Feb 29 '12 at 13:13

I have had some of the same issues though I came to LaTeX much later than many. As others have stated, the reasons someone chooses to use TeX are varied and I heard many of them before I ever seriously thought about it for my own uses. Because of this, it is hard to know what will lead someone else the TeX route, but at the same time, it is strong evidence that there are many different reasons to use it. In my conversations, I have found the following to be the best received:

  • TeX is great for math and science. With packages like SageTeX for sagemath, you can go from doing your homework, to telling your computer how to do it for you.

  • TeX is great for writing complex reports. Bibliography management is getting better on most WYSIWYG systems, but TeX handles them wonderfully and the referencing available with hyperref is unrivaled.

  • TeX is great for repetative writing tasks. Not so important as a high school student, but in the business world where you write many documents on a template, TeX can make dull and dreary work less tedious and a pleasure to read.

  • TeX is great for multilingual work. Not important for everyone, but for people who want/need support for multiple languages (especially ones read in directions other than left to right) XeTeX and bidi are fantastic tools.

  • TeX is beautiful. This rarely convinces people to spend the time and effort to learn it (after all, how many people devote the effort to learning a musical instrument or painting?), but in the long run I am sure it is a big part of the reason why people who do pick up TeX rarely leave.

Thanks for the conversation!

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    Do you mind sharing a bit on how to set up sage if possible and interface it with LaTeX. I have downloaded sage and can't get it to work with LaTeX. – night owl May 5 '11 at 3:41
  • @night owl: You should pinpoint the bit you can't get to work and ask a fresh question. – Andrew Stacey May 5 '11 at 7:02
  • I agree with Andrew, I'll try to keep an eye out for sagemath related questions. As a quick answer, however, the LaTeX package is called SageTeX. In the installation guide for sagemath, there is a section called "make sagetex known to tex." Essentially, the sagetex.sty file needs to be in your TeX search tree. This means making the sagetex folder a texmf and then updating the TeX search database. How this is done really depends on the system though. – Adam Redwine May 5 '11 at 10:46

Why persuade them when it is only for homework? Their time would be better spent reading or learning about career choices. TeX is for people who write and read a lot (and thus have higher standards). Homework has a short shelf-life; it is not worth their effort.

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    I think that doing high school homework with TeX is a good way to develop TeX skills. They will be invaluable once you start uni and all of a sudden are expected to hand in much longer and more challenging stuff in a lot less time. – Jake May 4 '11 at 19:58
  • I have made the experience that LaTeX is superior in this regard, at least for me. as some of my fellow students set aside some days or even a week to "clean up" their homework before turning it in, fix footnotes, citation styles, references, toc. Of course, most of them do not properly use Word in the first place, but with LaTeX you kind of have to. I like to concentrate only on writing after setting things up once. I am a student in the humanities, so people are even harder to convince. – ischeriad May 4 '11 at 20:31
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    @Jake: That assumes that they will need TeX in the future. This is an unwarranted assumption. How about this compromise: have them read a good book on information presentation and they can use whatever software they want. – Emre May 4 '11 at 21:10
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    I've gained a lot by taking notes in my Data Structures class using TeX, in real time. Not only have I gained a lot of proficiency, but I find that the resulting notes are much easier to review from because the math is extremely clear. – brannerchinese May 4 '11 at 21:23
  • I did my homework in TeX, and I got a 10% bonus because "the font and layout looked nice" – alexyorke Feb 20 '13 at 23:44
  1. Beautiful output.

  2. An important career skill for people who deal with formulas and typography.

  3. Geek toy? Of course it's a geek toy. Craftspeople worthy of the name love playing with their tools. Don't be ashamed - tell your friends to liberate their inner geek and master this exquisite piece of technology.


I would show them the difference between a TeX document and simple word document, esp. when TeX is done right. I would also point out that things like title pages, page number, etc. are much easier to customize in TeX than in Word (how much time i have wasted trying to tell word what I want).

The problem you will run into, esp. in college, is that people are in love with how Word and the like look. The formatting requirements will drive you up the wall, esp. things like "Times New Roman 12 point font" and the likes when you just want to use the plain TeX font or stuff not written in Word will just be rejected because it isn't Word (I have run into a that one quite a few times).

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I don't know whether writing your homework or any other stuff implies managing some bibliographic entries or not. If this the case, then the best argument (IMHO) to defend Latex + Bibtex is that it is far more easier to change the way references are displayed--in the body and in the References list--as compared to Word-like editor.

Another advantage of Latex-based solution for those involved in scientific work is its facility to format and display Tables (try to insert some big tables in landscape mode into an A4 portrait Word document, while correctly handling Table caption whihc should go under the table, hence in landscape mode too, and page numbering in the footer, hence in normal mode!).

Finally, again in a scientific context, there're many facilities to interact with Latex through the statistical software R, for example. This allows to export properly formatted Tables, generate automatic reports, encourage reproducible research, etc. I don't even speak of producing graphics directly from within Latex (with pgfplot, tikz, and the like).

As a sidenote, I should add that it probably requires less work to transform a document formatted as an article into pretty slides or handouts with Latex than it is with Word -> Powerpoint (I say probably because I don't use them).


Complex LaTeX is intimidating. Show them a simple LaTeX document before and after compilation. By simple, I mean nothing else than sectioning commands, and a few simple tags like \emph, \date, \author... Show them there is nothing to be afraid of in writing "source code" and how good it looks afterwards.

But you probably won't be able to convince them by yourself. Show them what LaTeX looks like, so that they can recognize a TeX document when they see one. They will see more and more in higher education. Research papers, assignments... At least 9 out of 10 are TeX documents. That many people using it can't be wrong.

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One argument that I think highlights the greatness of TeX is its powerful algorithms for setting justified text. TeX is capable of setting the text such that it doesn't look too cramped or too loose, while at the same time keeping the introduction of hyphens to a minimum. I think I read somewhere that TeX is still best at doing this compared to all other tools.

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