My probability professor suggested us to try to use LaTeX for the homework. I have successfully wrote my first LaTeX project (5 pages).

However, no one except me used LaTeX in that course. I spent 1 hour to do the homework on paper but 5 hours to convert it into LaTeX document(to debug, check math symbols).

Now I am kinda hesitating about keep using LaTeX for the further homework. I really love the neat LaTeX document, but I am afraid that I will waste a lot of time (I have two other courses).

So my question is can I become faster using LaTeX in a limited time period? Should I keep using it? How did you overcome the slowness issues when you started to use LaTeX?

  • In the future will definitely spend less than 5 hours to copy your 5 pages of homework into TeX. – Manuel Jun 14 '16 at 21:25
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    you can not compare times if there is nothing to compare to. most people who write math in tex can do it faster than they could enter math into (say) word, but not as fast as they could write it by hand. Not really possible to say what you should do, tex might be a life skill you need as a research mathematician or it might just be a diversion slowing you down getting through one course and you'll never use it again. Or any option between those extremes. How can we say? – David Carlisle Jun 14 '16 at 21:25
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    Use it as long as you do your homework and hand in on time and still have time to go out and so on. Otherwise it's a pointless snobbery. Maybe s/he hinted that your handwriting is horrible? Mine was :D – percusse Jun 14 '16 at 21:29
  • Now I write latex document as fast as write with a pencil and paper, maybe even faster, since I haven't written anything readable on paper for a long time. It takes practice and you can't wish to get the elegance of latex and efficiency of hand writing at the first trial. There's no such thing as free lunch in the world – Yan Zhou Jun 16 '16 at 9:28

I've found practice with LaTeX makes you faster. Now, I've got a writing disability, so writing out a good copy that other people can read takes me a long time, but I find with practice LaTeX isn't that slow. Also, the first assignment in it, getting the preamble set up and whatnot is the slowest part. After that it should be faster; I did a lot of my university homework in LaTeX.

That said, there are almost never marks for it looking good, just being readable, so if it is becoming too large a time sink, abandon ship.

Some advice: Don't worry about making your code pretty. I put one sentence, equation, etc per line to make debugging easier. Sometimes I'll even break up formulas and such to show bracket matching, like you would in a C program or such.

Don't worry about your output being pretty: \left( and \right) may be ugly, but it makes matching them easy when you get errors about them not matching. Ditto for overful hboxes, etc etc.

Write out a 'good enough' copy. This is a copy that removes all the stuff that is scribbled out, where you went down dead paths, etc. But isn't in nice writing or whatnot. Legible, enough, but not pretty as a formal good copy. That way if a deadline is looming, you can say, good enough and just hand that in.

Don't be afraid to be almost right. Don't want to take the time to figure out how to do a specific symbol? Use an easier one, and then define it in text. You see old textbooks do that all the time if they couldn't type R in the fancy real number font. Or if you need to make a figure and it would take a while in LaTeX? Open up Paint or The Gimp or whatever and then insert it as an image.

Compile early, and often, and do so from the command line. That way you'll see where you made a mistake right away, and not have to go hunting for where you made that error. I often keep writing in my text editor while it compiles in the command line window.

Edit: Also, is it really fancy latex, or just basic math formulas? What I've done before is use Word to do the document, then inserted the math from http://www.codecogs.com/latex/eqneditor.php as an image.


The learning curve vor LaTeX sure is steep, but if you have recurring tasks it will be much easier. So for the specific question of your homework I guess you will become much faster after you've done the layout two or three times.

The thing I personally noticed with LaTeX is that it encourages my perfectionist side. Because I know that almost everything I want can be done in LaTeX, a lot of time goes into fiddling around with the small details to create an aesthetically pleasing result.

If you can control yourself and just hack in the basic layout, I reckon LaTeX to be even faster than MS Word or the like if you have a lot of formulas.

Looking further into the future, I wholeheartedly recommend practicing LaTeX as early as possible. I made the effort to write all my lab reports during my study in LaTeX and it was a very good practice for my thesis. But this might depend on your field and your own plan for bigger projects like a thesis in the future.

I might add an anectode: When my girlfriend wrote her thesis (in a very non-technical field and using MS Word) she asked me to help her with creating an appendix consisting of nothing but a dozen images plus some captions. I thought it would be easy to just drop the images into the existing document, add some captions and shuffle them in a good order. After trying for over an hour and ending up with jumbled captions and a lot of crashes I finally started up LaTeX and finished the task without headache in less than 30 minutes. And I think this was made possible by practicing with the small lab reports every week for the past year.

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