I have heard a lot about LaTeX, but never used it myself.

It is mainly used for typesetting professional research papers. But I am not writing research papers.

Is LaTeX for me? If yes, why should I be shifting from OpenOffice to LaTeX? What does LaTeX offer to the normal user who uses word processing software to make all kind of report documents?


23 Answers 23


Superficially, one of the advantages of LaTeX over other more traditional systems (e.g. Word or OpenOffice) is the high typographical quality of the documents that you'll be able to produce. This is particularly true for documents that are heavy on mathematics, but documents for any other area could also take advantage of these qualities.

A less obvious advantage, but much more important, is that LaTeX allows you to clearly separate the content from the format of your document. As a writer (scientist, researcher or not), this gives you the opportunity to focus on the “what”, the creative part of your work, rather than the “how” is it going to look printed out in paper (that is the work of LaTeX document class designers).

Now, you shouldn't use LaTeX if

  • You don't have time to learn it. Unlike most other point&click systems, LaTeX does take some time to learn. There are of course many guides and tutorials that can help you with this, but don't try to learn LaTeX if you have, say, less than 24 hours to prepare a manuscript.

  • Your document is already written. Say, if you have already written your thesis in Word, there isn't much point in trying to “convert” your document to LaTeX. You can do it, but the results won't be pretty. LaTeX isn’t just another document type to “Save-As”, it's a complete system to help you write those documents.

  • What you care about is the design of the document. If you do care about creating your own designs for your documents (rather than the content), LaTeX is perhaps not the best system for you. There are a number of packages (perhaps most notably memoir) that allow you to customize the look of your document, but things are not always straightforward. Having said that, if you are a designer, of course we would welcome your help in designing new document classes and templates!

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    You write «LaTeX is not a “format” to store documents» which I don't think is strictly accurate. If you have a LaTeX document from 20 years ago it will still compile and output identical (probably) results; cf. a 20 year old MS Word document… (this remark has already been made in other answers on this page) Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 13:11
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    I didn't mean that you cannot use it to store documents reliably (of course you can!) What I tried to mean is that it isn't just a file-format to “Save as..” a document. It's not that you can choose between saving as .doc or .tex, in a similar way in which you can choose between saving a picture in .png or .gif. LaTeX is more than that. Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 18:40
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    about Unlike other traditional systems, LaTeX does take some time to learn. actually, I find learning Latex is easier and shorter than learning HTML5+CSS3+Javascript in order to generate a web page. I use Latex to make a web page. I find it easier to use that and run the tex file by htlatex to get a web page than having to learn all html+css3 commands and options needed to do the same using direct HTML.
    – Nasser
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 8:46
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    Even with the point and clicks systems, I find Latex easier. I used FrameMaker, Word, played with InDesign, Photoshop and many other such point and clicks systems. The problem is that there are so many points and clicks and menus and submenus in these, one gets lost very quickly and ends up using only 5% of them. I find Latex directive style more clear (except when I get a run away } and have to find the matching pair, or when I get a syntax error and have to find which file caused it, then it gets annoying at that moment :)
    – Nasser
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 10:04
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    +1 for "You shouldn't use LaTeX if ... What you care about is the design of the document". Very important point that too often gets neglected in the pray of LaTeX. I found LaTeX very frustrating in the beginning because of this issue; today I am still sometimes puzzled how complicated even small design wishes can be to implement. Nevertheless, I would never go back, as I am also still fascinated, how easy really complex tasks can be carried out.
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 12:58

I don't intend this to be a complete answer to your question, but I don't believe anyone else has yet brought up the topic of longevity.

TeX has been around for over thirty years, and the underlying language hasn't changed very much in that time. Has anyone ever tried using Word 2007 to load a file that was originally written in Word '97? Even if the file imports properly, chances are some of the page/line breaks are going to be off, possibly skewing the entire layout.

What if you had decided to write your document in Lotus Word Pro back in 1990? Would you be able to view/edit that document today? These problems almost never occur with (La)TeX.

A document that is typeset in (La)TeX today is likely to look exactly the same when you re-typeset it 10, 20, or 30 years down the road. Since TeX is stored in a human-readable plain text file, you also have the knowledge that you will always be able to edit the file in the future.

  • 17
    Or, heaven forbid, a Word file made on a PC in Word for Mac! (even current versions for each platform still have compatibility issues). Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 2:39
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    That is one of the reasons I came to LaTeX! Commented May 28, 2013 at 10:14
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    Well, that may holds for simple documents and plain TeX, but if you go the LaTeX route and start using the newest and super-coolest packages, don't forget to archive them as well! I have had a lot of troubles to get documents compilable again (not to speak of getting exactly the same output) that where less than five years old, but used packages like biblatex the libertine font or microtype features. Even with LaTeX, longevity is not granted for free!
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 12:46
  • 3
    @Daniel I agree, the only reliable way to achieve this is through special archive formats like PDF/A. Still, it's much better than closed binary formats with which you'll have absolutely no chance.
    – dtech
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:02

Regarding the benefits of LaTeX, some in short:

  • LaTeX provides very high quality and is extremely customizable.

  • It's extremely stable, no matter how complex the documents are.

  • It's free and Open Source, we can study and improve everything as we do on this site.

  • LaTeX is portable concerning its implementation, your document source and its output -- all is cross-platform.

  • It provides a logical approach to create documents instead of a physical, enhancing consistency.

  • Your document is safe because the file format is open and there's no virus threat.

I elaborated these points in this article: Getting Started with LaTeX.

If you have questions to any of these points, don't hesitate to ask.

  • 2
    You could add, that it also has advantages for non-latin characters afaik. Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 10:48

There are bound to be several answers to this question, and different aspects that people highlight. I'll try to list a few. There are a number of webpages with detail on the reasons to use LaTeX: I'll highlight a few.

LaTeX is a typesetting system, not a word processor. LaTeX uses source code to generate a document: you edit one file and typeset it to a generate the output (usually PDF nowadays). This is in contrast to a word processor, where you edit the text as it appears. For a critique of word processors, look at http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/wp.html.

LaTeX does things that word processors do not do but that well-designed published material does do. For example, LaTeX uses a hyphenation algorithm which generates well-spaced out justified paragraphs. It also uses ligatures where applicable, which means that letters which 'go together' look better than if the letter design is all done separately. See for example http://nitens.org/taraborelli/latex for more details.

LaTeX is intended to focus on document structure rather than appearance. Of course, some set up is needed to get the correct appearance, but once it is done most of the source you write is focused on structure. For example, there are commands such as \section for document structure rather than making everything bold, italic or whatever. This structured approach helps when you want to do things that are repetitive, as the formatting is always taken care of 'behind the scenes'.

There are a large number of add-ons to LaTeX (called packages) that are designed to help with particular tasks. Many of these have an academic focus but this is not true of every package. For example, the datatool package can be used to do mail-merging from a list of names and addresses, which is common for business documents.

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    +1 for mentioning justification alone. Once you got used to the kind of justified text LaTeX + microtype produces, you'll find everything produced by Word and LibreOffice plainly insulting. \begin{rant}And that's even true for the rare occasions when people thought of manually activating hyphenation for their text. Unfortunately, people are so getting used to badly justified text that they won't even notice that the Kindle has no hyphenation and even Hollywood typographers will produce justified three-word wide paragraphs with obviously horrible interword spacings.\end{rant}
    – Christian
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 12:40
  • 1
    I don't like hyphenation personally, but I do like full-width justification, particularly when done with letter spacing tweaks (but only 3% or so) as well as the usual word spacing tweaks. Like in InDesign. I'm just starting into LaTeX.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 1:18

I will echo Leo's point, about plain-text. Programmability and highest-quality are perks, but the fact that the input is plain-text has one extremely important consequence:

You are not at the mercy of buggy word-processing software, proprietary or otherwise.

I once used MS Word happily, as this was a substantial improvement over WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, and contemporary office suites offered e.g. by Lotus. But whenever I tried to do anything modestly non-trivial, such as bullet points, it would begin to exhibit what could at best be charitably termed "eccentric" behaviour. Using Word to do anything more than a simple letter --- anything which involved a list, or controlling varying font sizes, or tables (especially tables!) --- involved for me a struggle against the software. And modern, well-meaning, open-source Office clones are even worse: in trying to reliably imitate Word's codependent behaviour, they have produced software with even more quirks against which I must fight.

With LaTeX, I can have documents which are as simple or as complicated as I like, with all of the mark-up and structure plainly visible to me, and with reliable results --- and I don't need anything more complicated than a text-editor to write the source-file to produce a high-quality PDF. Furthermore, any text-editor will do.

For this reason alone, LaTeX is excellent!

  • I agree completely, excluding that old MSWord was a substantial improvement over WordPerfect 5.1.
    – Fran
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 21:05
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    I definitely preferred WP for DOS to MS Word!
    – cfr
    Commented Jun 17, 2018 at 23:31
  • To be fair, sometimes LaTeX packages have bugs too... but it's true that TeX (the engine) is remarkably bug-free.
    – user202729
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 2:59
  • 1
    @user202729: true, regarding packages. But you are not at their mercy! You have all of the specifications to realise things some other way. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 12:36

With LaTeX, you have the option to control "content" and "presentation" separate. And you should.

You might compare it to HTML+CSS in a modern webpage: the content is stored in the HTML file (pretty much everything after \begin{document}), with style tags that control what's the name of the format for the specific element, and CSS (the preamble), where you define the styles that will render your document the way you want it - with these font shapes and sizes, with such and such margins, footnotes, etc.

This way, if you decide at a later stage to reformat your document (e.g. different figure caption styles, changed headers and numbering) you would only change this in one place --- in the preamble. All occurrences of the corresponding styles will change automatically.

It's not that you can't do the same in Word or OpenOffice.org, but in these programs it's easier (and pretty much the norm) to get sloppy and just do quick manual formatting with a shortcut instead of using proper style definitions and formatting for all your document elements.

If you've ever struggled formatting a document for two or more printing medias (e.g. two journals with specific stylistic guidelines) or paper formats. If you've ever written anything over 50 pages (think master thesis), and you remember your frustration making everything "just right" --- like table of contents, index, figure and equation numbering, references --- you'd be reborn with LaTeX.

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    Not only might you decide to reformat your document later, but you might start writing it without a format in mind. I can imagine even a novel writer might want to just start writing, with no desire to format the document outside of chapters, paragraphs and separating lines of speech. Much later on, the layout can be decided and changed very easily to fit different forms (A4 drafts vs a custom size for a printed book vs various eReader formats, with different indention/headings/etc for each). Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 2:36
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    Good point, although having no format in the beginning can be a bit tricky for non-text elements (e.g. figures), and you'd need some extra effort to make those scale transparently and be readable at the same time. Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 5:33

My reasons for coming to LaTeX were:

  1. The excellent referencing system that never lets you down,
  2. The fact that \section{} commands etc. are unnumbered in the source; so I can easily swap them around,
  3. The consistency of the layout; It is really difficult to mess up the typography. This lets you concentrate on the contents and does not distract you by being concerned about the looks of the document.
  4. Unlike MS Word, there is no invisible end of paragraph character that in a spooky way contains all layout instructions.
  5. Correct word splitting at the end of line in the language of your choice,
  6. Have a file per chapter, move them around and join them together at the click of a button.
  7. Easily produce PDFs with hyperlinks, table of contents, indices, etc.
  8. Unlike MS Word, guaranteed backward compatibility,
  9. Typeset formulas.
  10. Last but not least, since the advent of desktop publishing we all pretend we are experts in the art of typography and page layout. The cruel reality is most of us are not, nor are software houses like MicroSoft. LaTeX effortlessly brings back a bit of civility to the world of printed documents, starting with giving the reader a proper margin to place his thumbs.

BONUS: It has never been any easier to create a LaTeX document. Just learn a tiny bit of Markdown (as used over here at Stack Exchange), and Pandoc will convert that effortlessly to LaTeX.

EDIT: After a couple of years of good LaTeX use, I have irrevocably switched to ConTeXt generated from Markdown with Pandoc for typesetting any large text, except for letters and my curriculum vitæ, for which I continue to use LaTeX templates. The reasons for this radical switch are:

  1. ConTeXt comes "batteries included." By that, I mean unlike LaTeX, there is no need for a slew of, not even any external package to achieve equal functionality. Some LaTeX packages may even conflict one another in obscure ways.
  2. Because of the preceding point, there is no need to run ConTeXt three times to achieve the desired output (e.g. for indexing and table of contents).
  3. ConTeXt achieves a clear separation between content and style, resembling recommended CSS use.

Continue reading here for a more detailed description of these ConTeXt advantages.

Starting out with ConTeXt is really easy with this getting started tutorial. Furthermore, here is the official ConTeXt documentation.

  • 5
    You know, I never thought about our thumbs. That's really clever. Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 2:26
  • "no invisible end of paragraph character"? TeX's double newline is exactly that imho. It absolutely can create confusion. Example: tex.stackexchange.com/q/82664/60349
    – qznc
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 10:16
  1. I use LaTeX because it allows me not to think about the visual aspect of documents. I get a high quality layout, even if boring, of aricle etc. but I don't have to choose anything. Presentation may not have fancy animation but it will have 'professional look' without work.
  2. LaTeX allows typesetting math easily. Really - writing \alpha is quicker then searching alpha symbol in GUI. Similary writing x^y is quicker then searching power in list of symbols. I guess with AMS packages included LaTeX have much more symbols then anything else.
  3. PDF guarantees same-look on everything. You won't run into problem because the computer you're useing don't have some fonts installed.
  4. You can script it (program it)
  5. It is plain text, open source and highly stable
  6. It is standard (at least for many CS/Physics/Math... departments). When I want to send an e-mail about math I use LaTeX because other side will probably understend (1. because it is standard but 2, because it is intuitive)
  7. It has many packages that allows vector graphics (tikz for example)

To conclude.

Use it if:

  • You type a lot of equation
  • You like plain text, stable formats
  • You don't want to bother with formatting documents

Don't use it if:

  • You want to control every graphical aspect of whole document (it is possible to create custom layout but LaTeX is not designed to fine-tuning every page)
  • You are afraid of plain text (however - you can use some WYSIWYG)
  • You need to exchange documents with non-LaTeX people (for example someone requires doc and it's final)
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    I disagree with your first point against: in fact, it is also preferable to use LaTeX to fine-tune every detail; this simply requires, as for the use of LaTeX in general, a bit of study.
    – Ryan Reich
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 21:14
  • 1
    also the last can have a counter-point: some editors (like LyX) have alsto the .odt output option, and maybe also .doc, or probably there is a way to have it with some extra compiler...
    – clabacchio
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 12:13
  • you can do the second point in word as well.
    – student
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 20:53

plain text, programmability and highest-quality output are what make me use LaTeX.

I used to think that for short one-off documents, word processors are better. But since having a wiki live right inside my text editor (I use orgmode), this is no longer the case. That is one can use LaTeX as the backend and use wiki markup as the input language.


In addition, as LaTeX is coded in plain text, you can use collaboration software like etherpad. But the biggest advantage is, that you can track all your changes with regular revision control software (i.e. CVS, SVN, GIT, ...) and revert any changes.

I use LaTeX to create high quality vector graphics and math-plots (see: PGFplots and TikZ)


One of the reasons I keep coming back to LaTeX is that it does things for me that would require the same (or more) amount of work in other programs. Just take a look at how much simpler tables of contents, figure and heading numbering and headers are in LaTeX, compared to the "standard" InDesign:

But so far this one is the best: Table of Contents:

There is also no automatic list of tables and list of images in InDesign (though you can do that in Word or OpenOffice).

Why do we need a whole post on a site called "indesignsecrets" just for figure numbering and cross-referencing?

Most of the time I've spent learning LaTeX was for something I really didn't need to do, and I can assure you just with a few hours of LaTeX crash course anyone can do most of their academic work.

EDIT Speaking of being at the mercy of buggy software, I just spent a full day's work (and was paid for it) to format headings, quotations and table of contents of a thesis. Word crashed several times, making me lose a lot of work every time and forcing to begin anew, saving my file at every modification. I inserted captions for some 50 images one by one, but then Word repeatedly crashed after I had tried inserting a simple "List of Figures".

LibreOffice doesn't even open the file, and crashes every time. iWork Pages opens it but with weird formatting.

You would suppose that inserting figures with Word or Pages would just be easier with a drag a and drop, but every time text flows with figures it makes formatting both together a nightmare.

And on top of all that, I was supposed to do copy-editing work on that thesis (grammar, spelling, style etc.). I wish I just had to read and mark spelling and grammar errors, specially if it was a printed or a plain text file (and it would be easier to read and correct a plain text file on screen).

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    Not to defend InDesign or anything, but creating a TOC is quite straightforward with it. If you want to get hold of all minute details (e.g., paragraph styles for the TOC levels, dot leaders, etc.) you do need to read all that stuff from the links you posted. And yet, if you want to have the same kind on control in LaTeX, you'll also have to digest a bit of documentation (at least 25 pages in memman, for instance).
    – NVaughan
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 0:48
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    @Vaughan, If you use KOMA-script it's very easy to change your TOC. See \usepackage[tocgraduated]{tocstyle} \usetocstyle{nopagecolumn} that does what most of books I've read do. But anyway, you have to agree that there's not simple way to make a List of Figures or a List of Tables in inDesign. It's easier to do it in LibreOffice or Word, and easier still to just write: \tableofcontents \listoffigures \listoftables and be done with it. For me, LaTeX has always been about getting things done properly with the least effort.
    – user9424
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 0:53
  • Should Adobe FrameMaker be part of the comparison as well?
    – pluton
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 4:23
  • 1
    @Joseph, of course you can create publisher-standard TOCs with LaTeX without much ado and out-of-the-box (with Koma-script, with Memoir, or with the standard classes---although I must confess I dislike very much Koma-script's typography). But if you want to tweek the TOC's properties, that's where the tricky part comes in. In InDesign, creating LOFs, LOTs, and LOLs is just as "easy" as creating TOCs. Just specify different paragraph styles for each of the headings/captions of the elements you want to list.
    – NVaughan
    Commented Apr 25, 2012 at 14:00

Even if you don't write academic journal articles, LaTeX can still be extremely useful.

  1. For example, it forces you to follow certain format. Unless you know what you're doing, you can't mess about in the format. Now I don't have to worry about all those equation, page numbering, finding chapter title on one page and the content in the next page, and so on.
  2. Like OpenOffice, it's free as well. But the typeset is lot better. TeX files are lot smaller than .doc or .docx file.
  3. CV presentation looks lot better than in MSOffice, Open Office, etc.
  4. Joy of knowing and participating in something that people from all over the world contribute to develop, use and help others to use.

(La)TeX is a markup language, meaning that you code in a regular text file both the content and the layout of the document that is later computed by LaTeX.1

Thus, I think that there are two situations when using LaTeX is worth it. I also lists two benefits of using a markup language when producing documents. Note that my points would apply to most markup languages — previous answers are good resources to explain how is LaTeX superior to such other languages.

1: For the sake of simplicity, I've used LaTeX throughout the answer. However, I think that my answer applies to all *TeX flavours.

Two situations when using LaTeX is worth it

We have seen that LaTeX is a markup language. This means that you code two things: the content on one side, and the look, or layout, (ideally) in another part of your document. Moreover, you should remember that LaTeX is a computer language: i.e., it does exactly what you tell it to do. This means that you can control all the handles (very high — and fairly easy — customization potential). But also that it is very dumb and will not guess if you won't tell it to do it (you must explicit everything that you want different from the default case).

Hence, there are two situations where — in my opinion — it is worth using LaTeX compared to a word processing software:

  1. when you want to focus on content only,
  2. when you want to produce a heavily customized document.

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Note that the graph above do not take into consideration the initial time and effort investment required to achieve a basic mastery of either LaTeX or a word processor program. I think it is not controversial to claim that learning how to use a WYSIWYG word processor is notably quicker than learning LaTeX.

1: Focus on content only

In such case, you want to code content only and don't want to bother with customizing the look: you rely on the default layout of the class you are using. In other words, you spare yourself one half of the job (defining the layout). You will then produce a quality document with advanced features (font, math, references, etc.) without the hassle of setting all this by hand — as it would be the case when using a text processing document (even if style sheets are getting smarter, the features-and-quality-over-hassle ratio remains in favour of LaTeX).

Note that in such situation, I would be tempted to recommend using an even more streamlined "interface", such as multimarkdown, in order to limit the handles you can activate and force you to focus on content only. You may be tempted to create your own customized class: it then falls in the second situation.

2: Heavily (or finely) customize your document

The second situation, is when you want to customize your document a lot. Add a tons of complex features (list of acronyms, index, main bibliography plus one per chapter, flipbook animation, etc.). Have an OCD with correct kerning and spacing. Replicate a cool layout you have seen on TeX.SE. In such situation, achieving your desired result will be easier and quicker using LaTeX — because you have a direct access to every single parameter in the document processing (provided that you invest enough time learning how to do it). In other word, LaTeX is not a black box — unlike word processors that use black magic to guess and ease 99% of your work, but won't let you access to very advanced settings. (Have you ever thought "But why does the figure in page 17 moves to the end of the document when I add a coma in page 13?!" or "How could I make this specific feature: there is no button for it?")

Note that — even if pretty much everything can be produced using LaTeX — due to the computational nature of LaTeX, this situation is more relevant with "traditional documents" (books, reports, theses, letters, etc.); i.e., documents using a layout template. If you are producing an one-time-shot artistic book with a specific layout for each single page, I think indeed that you would be quicker using a dedicated software (such as Adobe InDesign) — as I think the WYSIWYG approach (and hidden computation of click-and-drag drawn text areas' coordinate) still remains faster.

3: Situations in between

To my opinion, in other situations, using LaTeX is not worth it: you will invest a lot of time for explicitly coding every single deviation from the default layout when a quick and dirty manual "hack" in your word processor may certainly not be robust in the long run yet do the job and take a couple of seconds only.

Of course, this is simplified, and in some cases, you will need a LaTeX feature so bad that investing time will be worth it — even if you're not customizing your document a lot. Moreover, learning and using LaTeX can be fun. But I would not say that every one should use it every time: to me, there are cases when it is just not worth it. Even when you know LaTeX already: I think that I can consider myself as a power user and yet there are still documents I prefer to write using a word processor. It is when I don't find default layout sufficient, yet coding a dedicated one would take longer than doing it with the mouse using OpenOffice/MS Word. I'm thinking of creating my own customized classes, though — yet it is still on my to-do list.

One should also note that customization does not mean complexity: you can very easily produce complex documents without customization (see, e.g., KOMA script classes that comes with tons of embedded features by default). And very basic documents with a hint of you personal flavour or a specific look way require a lot of customization.

Two features of LaTeX that makes it worth it

Previous part examines when using LaTeX is worth it. I'd like to add two more features due to the nature of LaTeX — that is a markup language.

Using version control

Version control (git, GNU Bazaar, CVS, Subversion… you name it) is a powerful system: it's a save button combined with a time machine. More detailed explanations are beyond the scope of this answer. But just know that it is a very powerful tool that a lot of people use and serves to easily reverting to an earlier version of your document without storing lots of copies of it and to enable real-time collaboration on a single document (two persons modifying the same document at the same time). Long story short, version control works with plain text files (i.e. source code) — i.e., with LaTeX files but not word processors' ones. This is a highly valuable feature and word processors' ersatzes are not as powerful.

Automatic document generation

Because LaTeX needs a text file only to create a document, it is very easy to create scripts that automatically generate documents using a database: weather report, train timetables, catalogue, etc. It is very easy to pipe such results into a predefined layout and let the computer do the rest. This way, you truly benefit from a major skill of a computer: the ability to do repetitive tasks quickly.


This is not focusing on LaTeX strictly, but another feature of a LaTeX (by means of packages — mostly TikZ) I value a lot is the ability to code/compute your graphs and vector figures. That means that you can pipe some data to your document and create self-updating graphs (see "automatic document generation" above). But you can also draw pretty complex graphs/figures in your document, meaning that your source code is self sufficient to produce the document (no more "where is the editable file for this graph?"), and that you can use your documents settings (length, colours) in your graph to create top quality documents.

  • 2
    Excellent answer that really hits the points (low-customization vs. high-customization documents; SCM and automation), instead of insisting mostly on "better typography" (which is not necessarily true in comparison to modern word processors) and the "separation of content and formatting" (which always has been achievable with any half-decent word processor as well, even though they do not force you to think in this mindset from the very beginning.)
    – Daniel
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 8:47

There is one aspect more, and not the least important one:

People, who use LaTeX, do cooperate, as you can see here in this forum, and in many other places around the web. Here in Germany in a dozen of cities users meet once per month in the evening in a bar to chat about their usage of TeX & Friends.

There are thousands of volunteers all over the world who write packages, bug reports, answer questions. Not to forget the indefatigable Karl Berry and his fellows, who issue each year a new texlive. Or Christian Schenk, who maintains MiKTeX, day after day.

The software allows to discuss all and everythink along »minimal working examples«. I've never heard about a software making it so easy to get help when you are stuck.

Use TeX & Friends for every letter you print on paper, if you like the thought of cooperation and you'd like to participate as well.


I see two advantages to TeX over text editors and word processors: high-quality typesetting (especially for math) and the ability to automate formatting. I would not recommend learning TeX unless you need one of those things.

Things I use TeX for instead of other software:

  1. Taking notes during lectures where there are equations and formulas. It is far better for this than any traditional word processor or text editor; I can usually reproduce exactly what the speaker writes on the board, and from then on it's digitized, searchable, and essentially permanent in my records.

  2. Formatting the output from programs and databases automatically -- for instance, preparing a working printout of a dictionary I am compiling in a database. It is also possible to do this using text editors and word processors that have macros or similar functionality, but TeX is better suited to it because of how comprehensive it is.

  3. Preparing camera-ready copy for publication. TeX produces much more closely kerned and fine-tuned print than any word processor.

People often say that TeX allows you to concentrating on writing rather than formatting. I have never found this to be true. If ``just writing'' is what you want to do, use a plain ASCII text editor or whatever word processor is near to hand and format your text later. TeX is attractive exactly because it gives you vastly greater control over formatting than normal word processors do. But that control is not cheap: TeX is time-consuming to learn as well as to use.

The exception? If you have a front-end like LyX (there are others) that can be used like an ordinary word-processor. That frees you from having to think about many of the technical aspects of TeX.

  • You should differ between LaTeX and (plain)TeX. Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 12:01

Since the last few years, reasons to use LaTeX are fewer than before, but there are some. I've jumped into the camp that sees LaTeX as a dying beast, so here are some arguments against:

  1. Nearly all functionalities that can be accomplished with LaTeX can be performed in MS Word without having to compile your document to see how it turns out. In word you can see the layout of your document and make adjustments as you are writing.

  2. Many LaTeX users claim that the document resulting from your work will be of higher quality, but I haven't noticed. I've read that the justification algorithm is better in LaTeX. I haven't checked on this myself, but it's something to look at. Having said this, I've seen theses written in word which received compliments for quality (and content) by professors on the committees.

  3. A lot of LaTeX users also claim that it's easier to write your mathematical expressions in LaTeX. This almost always untrue (note the almost). Microsoft has developed the use of shortcuts that produce mathematical expressions written in a similar way to that used in LaTeX. Pick a place where you would like to write your expression in a word document and press alt+=. Then use shortcuts like \int, \rho, \Rho, or \sum to produce integrals, Greek symbols, sums, etc.

  4. You'll also hear people talk about how easy the referencing system is to use in LaTeX. I've used the Word referencing system extensively and I find it very easy to use, but it takes maybe half an hour overall to read about it before you achieve fluency in it.

Having said these things, I did notice that someone mentioned above that LaTeX editions are consistent such that you can take what you've written decades ago and still read it. I haven't been working long enough for this quirk to hit me yet. Anyway, while I can read very old Word documents, the compatibility is sometimes unfortunate for older software. As an example, I once had to manually convert documents from Word Perfect into MSWord during a job as a student. Fortunately it was quite easy since I could see the way the documents were laid out as I made the corrections instead of having to wait. It was a bit painful though.

  • 7
    Item number one starts with nearly but that's a very crude approximation. Number two becomes obvious if you write enough text. I'm using Word and LaTeX for my work and the response is unanimously consistent. For number three, just write Fourier transforms a few times on the same pages with hat notation. Number 4 is indeed getting better in MSWord but a single mistake can ruin many things in Word such as reference numbering order. And Ctrl+Z is not working. But compatibility is not what you claim. I have rigorously created documents that are impossible to have it working on newer versions.
    – percusse
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 10:13
  • 5
    LaTeX does not mess around when processing documents with 300+ pages. It does not screw up the layout after inserting a figure. And the process for numbering equations is ridiculously long and tedious. Not to talk of full automatism for the table of contents, list of figures and list of tables and other structures like an index. That said, W0rd prevents users from creating good looking documents by offering dubious default settings. Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 8:34

Is LaTeX for me? If yes, why should I be shifting from OpenOffice to LaTeX? What does LaTeX offer to the normal user who uses word processing software to make all kind of report documents?

If you have time to learn it, then Yes, you should shift from LibreOffice (or Word etc.) because LaTeX itself decides and enforces the professional typesetting standards you seek, even if you're not writing "research papers" With it, you define the "class" of document you want (Book, Document, Letter etc.) and the sectioning (Part, Chapter, Section etc.) and LaTeX more or less takes care of everything else. There are a whole slew of options and styles (Packages) to use for things like Table of Contents, Bibliographies, Tables, Math Formula, Insets (Environments) for Quotations, Verse, Code, Graphics.

LaTeX is NOT like a word processor. It's all done in script, like html. All you see is Type until you render the results (unless you have your LaTeX Front End automatically render it on the fly). Your LaTeX front end would be one of many potential applications that reads/edits/renders LaTeX code.

Which of the following matches your Type expectations:

  1. I want to write my Type Content while also modifying it's appearance until it's just what I envision when published.
  2. I want to send my Type off to a professional publisher for typesetting, to make sure it's properly done, but don't want to worry with minute formatting details.
  3. I want to write my Type then have some software that can make sure it's properly typeset, but don't want to worry with the minute details.

If you answer #1 then you should continue using OpenOffice, Word, InDesign etc.

If you answer #2 then you should send plain text manuscript off to a professional to have them do it for you, and done right.

If you answer #3 then you should consider LaTeX, if...

If you are comfortable scripting (html for instance) or don't mind adjusting to it, then learn LaTeX. Just know that it's potentially more complex than html because of it's software system of package distribution, documentation and there is other related software in the TeX family. LaTeX is just the most famous part of an entire Typesetting system, and it's really the only element most users need to know anything about.

LaTeX is Powerful: It's easy for an experienced LaTeX user to professionally format a Novel, for instance, VERY quickly ... far more quickly than doing it with a Word Processor. It's very easy for an Indie Publishing Company to efficiently create a standard "look and feel" for their family of books, customizing their LaTeX Preamble (settings for the documents look and feel) like their finger print.

For a Brand New user: It's extremely easy to write a professional looking memo letter to everyone at the company, save a template for it, then every time have YOUR MEMO come out looking Consistent, and have your Signature Look and Feel. Then, every time you need to create a new memo, it's as easy as opening notepad or any text editor, then clicking process and send via email. Suppose you work in I.T. and need to routinely send out a report or instruction memos to many folks you support. With LaTeX, that task is a piece of cake, much easier than a word processor.

Learning Curve: With LaTeX, the software is not ONE program, like html. It works as a set of macro package programs that you use depending on the type and class of Look and Feel you expect from your type. So, due to it's packaging complexity, there will be a learning curve. But, you can start out writing a Professional Looking letter that says "Hello World" about as easily as writing an html page that displays the same stuff. [LaTeX typesets using Set Dimensions, your paper size, for instance Letter, legal, 8x5, whatever you define in the Geometry Package. On the other hand, HTML typesets flowable, dimension-less text that falls into whatever the display size might be, 4" ebook reader or 24" computer monitor, for instance. That's the key output difference between html code and LaTeX code.

With LaTeX, The look and feel Technical Papers is placed by default in the settings for Package Options. So by default, the final Typeset product is a Technical or Academic Publication. Literary projects, like Novels, usually have simple typesetting requirements. There isn't a need for Indexes, Bibliographies, Math Formula, or lots of tables, charts and graphics) Yet in LaTeX using the package defaults for the Book Class, for instance, will result in Literary Projects like Novels being typeset as if it were Thesis or Scientific Book. So, you will to have to add a few options to adjust the defaults for things like Chapter Headings.

Lastly, the one KEY ADVANTAGE that LaTeX has, which Word Processors don't, is it's Professional-Grade Micro-Typography features. Word Processors only have a choice between flexible or monospace type. In Monospace every letter has the same width. Flexible type different letters have different widths, for instance an "i" is more narrow than a "w". That's about it for a word processor. LaTeX on the other hand has a Microtype Package with advanced Kerning features. So depending on the line, it might reserve a different amount of space for a "w" on one line, verses another line that needs more letters to fit. Plus, LaTeX has automatic hypenation by default, and the ability to add custom words and their hypenation points (within the Hypenation Package). And, if that weren't all, LaTeX features a "glue" between paragraphs, that is a slightly different potential spacing between paragraphs so that "orphans" are not left on a page by them self. (an orphan is one or two lines of text at the end of chapter on a page by itself)

Finding all the documentation for setting various options, especially with one set of very powerful packages within the "Koma Script Classes" will seem to be an obfuscation of know-how, but once you learn the few options you need for your document, then you have a keen new advantage in efficiency, after all, you won't have to spend anymore time tweeking fonts and sizes and spacing and the table of contents and the Page Headers and Footers and Page Numbering. You've done the hard work once, and you can easily repeat the endeavor time and again, just as fast as you can type. And you can count on the result being a professional grade of typesetting that you don't have to pay a professional to do for you. Just consider LaTeX that professional, and always at your service.


For me, there are two things that Latex provide many advantages over other solutions: (1) Tables & (2) Equations.

What I do requires me to produce many complicated tables (with spanning elements, different alignment settings for different columns etc.). These always cause me headache in Microsoft Word. Latex gives you more control as to how things should behave at a very micro level. It is also more transparent i.e. you see the attributes you entered that makes things look a certain way. Sometimes in MS Word, things don't look right just because of some changes you have made but not aware of. In addition, many software packages support Latex so you can paste their outputs directly into your document.

This must have been covered by other people. But equation editing in Latex is very powerful. It does have a bit of a learning curve but, once you learn some basic syntax, it is much faster to write an equation in Latex compared to MS Word Equation Editor.

Latex in general is quite intuitive if you have some basic programming skills. There are also many resources online such that you can get most of your questions answered by just putting them into a search engine.

  • 2
    Although to be fair, whether you consider tables a strong point of LaTeX probably depends on what you want to do exactly. If you want to edit your table a lot after you created it or even do crazy things as inserting a column then you're probably better off with a spreadsheet (although some will let you export LaTeX code). pgfplotstable made things a bit more flexible but even more difficult to learn.
    – Christian
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 12:30

In my opinion, Latex is the best system to typesetting that I have ever seen. Because the quality of its output is great. I strongly recommend you to use Latex and throw away systems like Word and Open office.


This is certainly a bit late to add a post to this question, but there is one advantage of using plain text sources that I didn't see in previous posts: it is very easy to make a search on dozens of file looking for a single word using external, console tools such as grep. It is even very convenient to make serial changes with sed and awk.

For example, when I wrote my history PhD, I took notes in archives in LaTeX files, whereas I took notes of books on paper. When writing my thesis, it was very quick to find among a huge amount of file the proper source and citation. It took much longer to find the same in my paper notes.

Being a teacher, I also find one more advantage in using *TeX (ConTeXt as far as I am concerned): the same input file can give you differents outputs: presentation, hanghouts, printed file for "standard" pupils and other ones for dyslectic pupils, and so on.


Just an addition to the many excellent answers already posted…

LaTeX deals flawlessly with externally generated vector graphics

Recently I had to review a few assignments, submitted as PDF and made in Word, that contained graphs of some kind of high frequency responses.

Because of automatic conversion to bitmaps⁽¹⁾ the graphs were badly aliased⁽²⁾, and when I tried to zoom-in I just had a better view of blurred details of the anti-aliased lines.

Compare that with the ease of \includegraphics{axial_force_026.pdf}, and the perfectly scalable output file that is produced.

(1) I tried to learn how to avoid the bit-mapping of vector graphics in a Word document so that I could pass the knowledge. It is possible, sometimes (afaict not in Office365), but never easy. I was motivated to write this answer exactly by this uneasiness.
(2) I told them that stretching the time axis to the maximum available width helps a lot, but alas this is not the default for graphs produced by Matlab!


I'm so glad this question from before the day I started using LaTeX in the year 2012 came to me as part of the review queues process I'm now allowed to do after some engagement in this forum and a lot of learning in the ways of LaTeX.

I will present two main reasons why I use LaTeX and how I've convinced new users to come to the LaTeX side of the force.

A case for: Automatic document generation

I must say I'm a heavy user of the Automatic document generation from this answer.

As a Matlab user one day long time ago (2015) I learned I could create files from within Matlab, that's opened a new world of possibilities -- of course is not restricted to Matlab, but that was my starting point. The next step was to connect the dots and create .tex-files from Matlab. It was the first steps to my own function library. It made my daily work so, so, but so much easier and quicker. Despite taking some time to creating those functions, the results paid it off.

There is a lot of figures in a folder to insert into the document? No problem, let's automatize. There is a lot of tables to insert from your data analysis? Same trick. You would like to insert a citation for each reference in a .bib-file? Here is the solution. Ok, you still need to type your work, but you know you have not forgotten to insert a figure, a table or a citation you are supposed to insert and describe.

The main advantage of LaTeX of MSWord, actually, from plain text-based language over WYSIWYG processor is the natural workflow connected with basic programming ideas and concepts. Only in 2019 to 2020 I had to do something similar with MSWord. Despite accomplish a minimal satisfactory result, I had to rely on ActiveX to perform less tricks than I could with LaTeX and, the most important, I still had to format afterwards. When I create a input-.tex-file, I must only worry with basic commands and data, I don't care about formatting, except when it is strictly necessary, e.g, the alignment in {tabular}{rlc}. the whole formatting problem is solved by whatever class or style I loaded into the main .tex-file. Even more powerful is the combination of this approach with newcommands.

Of course this trick is not suitable for a one or two applications/executions/instances even considering the library is already there. But presenting the students how a brief report could be generated from the data for a dozen different cases of the same root problem was enough to make them interested in learning this new tool.

Both of my libraries are on the FileExchange website:

  1. Matlab to LaTeX Library
  2. Matlab to MSWord function library

Magic, moogle, that's magic!

With these words I finished a quick presentation of how to not worry with bibliography standards and focus on what really matters, the scientific work.

A common worry from undergraduates (and some graduated students) is the standards which they are asked to use while writing report, thesis, etc. Learning how to type them man-u-al-ly and inserting citations is seen as a tedious task. Worse when they realize they need to insert a new citation between [1] and [2], so the old [2] is now a new [3] and n+1 for all of them. The same n+1 is also true for Figures and Tables, but the focus here are on the references.

So a presentation showing how quick LaTeX manages to change a whole document from standard A to B, or citation style from author-year to numeric -- when possible -- was the wow! moment for the whole audience of young students. A quick name changing, some compilations and voilá, a totally new references page. What would have taken people hours of work, was done in seconds.

Of course the results must be checked, of course there is a lot of work to do with data in a .bib-file, specially if your standard uses unique fields because of reasons. The focus on content with content and formatting separated is a key piece to spread LaTeX.

A side note must be said. MSWord does have this kind of feature (quick change between reference and citation styles), but not many users know about it or search for it while typing their documents. MSWord just let people do whatever people think might be enough, good practices are not encouraged. While there is certainly a window where it is the best approach -- as other answer have already discussed --, it is even easier to show people how LaTeX does it with much more simplicity and grace.

But why should we call it magic? Well, let's just say "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." -- Third Clarke's law.


The two main reasons that I would highlight are:

(1) The extraordinary and incomparable management of the indexes and tables of contents.

(2) LaTeX doesn't care about the size of projects, since it can deal with huge projects without any problem.

  • LaTeX doesn't care about the size of projects, since it can deal with huge projects without any problem. sorry, but this is not true actually. One of my documents has reached size 45,000 PDF pages, and lualatex now runs out of destination names and will not compile the document any more. I get error sorry [number of destination names (dest_names_size)=131072]. The number 131072 is hardcoded in the C source code itself for Lualatex. You can google this error and you'll see many who faced it before. Requests to fix this have been ignored.
    – Nasser
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 22:48
  • @Nasser Just curious, have you been able to work a 45,000 pages document with any word processor?
    – gildux
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 1:54
  • @gildux my largest PDF file now generated by latex is 65,000 pages. (here is link if you like to see it). It takes few hrs to compile. Latex is only software I use, so I can't answer your question about other software. I would think indesign or such other commerical software should be able to do large books like this also.
    – Nasser
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 6:56
  • Thanks for your reply @Nasser Good to know you've been able to go 20,000 pages more. It's impressive when you know that Encyclopaedia universalis is 25k--30k, not sure proprietary software have reach such limits. However, editors workflow is to import content from word processor (making full input with InDesign will be a pain) and MS says to be limited to 32MB..
    – gildux
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 17:03

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