There are many reasons to like LaTeX over WYSIWYG editors. For example one might like that the need to structure the text in a logical way is very present, it's free, it's consistent over versions et cetera.

But if I'm about to typeset for example an article or novel, just plain text with some section or chapters divisions, does LaTeX (still) have any unique functions that are evident in the finished product compared to WYSIWYG editors?

For example I'm very happy with LaTeX possibility to break chapters, sections, paragraphs and line in a nice way, by using dynamic spacing (glue) and by minimal changing of the width of the letters and so on. But are there anything in these functions that are still unique to LaTeX or could I get the very same visual result in for example InDesign?

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    LaTeX is still performing the best job considering line breaking. Other than that, if good WYSIWYG text processors are used correctly, they produce an equally good result. The problem is that you easily get inconsistent with them since the control of what they are actually doing is quite problematic. -- Does this answer your question?
    – yo'
    Sep 12, 2015 at 18:50
  • @yo' Yes, it could be an answer if you elaborate a bit more on what are the differences when LaTeX does line breaks compared to the WYSIWYG. And can you really say that LaTeX is better objectively, if so, why? Sep 12, 2015 at 19:07
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    "LaTeX is still performing the best job considering line breaking...". No, this is not feature of LaTeX but TeX. I see 8 occurrences of the word LaTeX in this page but you are talking about TeX.
    – wipet
    Sep 12, 2015 at 19:19
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    What about your own TeX\LaTeX macros? In may situations I have found this extremely useful even for write plain text. I do not known if there are something similar in InDesign or QuarkXPress, but in word processors... well, even today I miss the macro recording of FrameWork II or WordPerfect5.1 or simple text editors.
    – Fran
    Sep 12, 2015 at 20:10
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    This question requires an audience who know (all available) wysiwyg publishing programmes and LaTeX equally well. As such, is this site a good place to ask it? And why is it tagged msword when it has nothing to do with Word? Word is a word processor and that is not the comparison being sort here, as I understand it.
    – cfr
    Sep 15, 2015 at 23:06

1 Answer 1


One of the main differences between TeX and WYSIWYG editor is in the way their algorithms functions. Word processors perform optimisations algorithms that try to produce good typography, but at the end of the day, they have to round some of the calculations and give up on doing others because it would take too much machine time, and they need to be able to display large documents instantly.

Some things like proper kerning (space between letters) or character protrusion (punctuation and hyphens advance a bit into the margin) are not performed on a routine basis – same for complex rules such as the one that prevents or limits the number of consecutive hyphenated words. And because the point of a WYSIWYG editor is that the text will print out “as is”, there is no definitive solution to that problem.

On the other hand, TeX has all the time it needs for compilation. It works per paragraphs, trying to find the best arrangement of lines using a system of badness: it assigns a penalties or demerits to lines based on typographic criteria, and it produces the best solution it finds. It produces an overall better result (most word processors are trying to produce the best line possible with what they think the line should be, whereas TeX tries to produce the best paragraph possible while rearranging the lines).

TeX being entirely customisable, you can access each and every penalty or demerit and change their value – this allows you au mostly automate the typographic work. Word processors offer some customisation possibilities (a.k.a. please turn-on hyphenation), but you usually won't get as much precision.

Now, you can get very similar results in most professional publishing softwares like Quark, InDesign, etc. They usually have good algorithms to begin with, and you can (will) tweak every detail by hand. For me, this is one of the big differences… most of the time (La)TeX is going to save you time because when properly set up for your language and page layout, there will be very little optimisation left to perform by hand.

Almost every designer or typographer book that I got my hands on was made with a publishing software and not TeX – the result is either equally good or better. But the authors all spent time looking at each and every line.

In my library, I can tell which books have been printed directly from MS Word or a software that had not been properly set up, and which ones have been printed using a fair publishing software but not much human tweaking. The difference is just huge. Yet none of them equals a good old TeX document (because publishers no longer spend much money on typesetters).

To answer your question: NO. TeX does not have a unique feature. All features were invented by the typesetters of old, who published books of an even better quality than any software. We are merely trying to reproduce these features.

The real question is:

  1. How well do we reproduce these features;
  2. How much of the human typesetter do we still need to produce a good result; and
  3. How much of that human labour are we able to pay for.

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