Often, when presenting a LaTeX document to someone, they will complain about how the margins are thick and how lines should be at a line's height apart. I often find myself struggling to convince them that LaTeX produces the best typesetting contrarily to the ugly documents they've seen all their life (excluding professionally typeset books and documents)

What would be the best convincing argument in favor of LaTeX typesetting?

(As a side note, I know this is an unusual question that some might consider subjective, but it can still be responded with an objective answer and would be useful to know for the community.)

  • 16
    You could walk up to a nearby bookshelf, take out (almost) any book, open it, and show it to the person you're talking to. You're very likely to find the typography of a professionally typeset book to match that found in default LaTeX documents much more closely than the "narrow margin, double spacing" document you're describing.
    – Jake
    Dec 6, 2011 at 5:00
  • 5
    Show them farside.ph.utexas.edu/euclid/Elements.pdf and ask them to reproduce a page in their favorite system. This was done using LaTeX. Another advantage of LaTeX is that once you over the basic learning curve it, you can produce documents faster. Dec 6, 2011 at 5:39
  • 7
    Personally, I find it harder to convince people of the /importance/ of good typesetting than of the fact that LaTeX follows this. A response I often get is "I don't care, nobody will notice.".
    – gerrit
    Dec 6, 2011 at 8:30
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    LaTeX does not produce always "the best typesetting". E.g. the page layout of the KOMA-classes or memoir is (for european paper) much better than the layout of the standard classes. Optimal line length (and so margins) and distance between lines depends a lot on the fonts used and so often need adjustment. But LaTeX is really good when it comes to justified paragraphs: microtype features, hyphenation and distribuation of white space is much better - most non-LaTeX texts I see are set raggedright because the authors can't get justified paragraphs right. Dec 6, 2011 at 8:43
  • 2
    xkcd described it very well: "If you really hate someone, teach them to recognize bad kerning". Jun 10, 2012 at 6:18

3 Answers 3


I found that non-LaTeXusers care less about good typography. Praising LaTeX strengths with regarding to its typographic capabilities falls on deaf ears. Perhaps because good typography is invisible and bad typography is everywhere. The british designer Craig Ward created a nice poster illustrating this.

As a result the two arguments that I used successfully over the years have nothing to do with good typography.

  • LaTeX’s stability. From my experience this argument unfolds its full power when used in a thesis last-minute emergency situation. When the work put into a 100+ pages document in one of the wordprocessors is at stake and the tables and figures start leaving their pages and truly float around. Unfortunately they have to make this experience themselves at least once.
  • XeTeX/LaTeX’s multilanguage support in a single document is as far as I see it unmatched.

One thing that's pretty convincing is line length. Quoting from The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2e, p. 131:

Sure, compared to your off-the-shelf MS Word page, it looks awfully narrow. But take a look at your favourite book and count the number of characters on a standard text line. You will find that there are no more than about 66 characters on each line. Now do the same on your LaTeX page. You will find that there are also about 66 characters per line. Experience shows that the reading gets difficult as soon as there are more characters on a single line. This is because it is difficult for the eyes to move from the end of one line to the start of the next one. This is also why newspapers are typeset in multiple columns.

Furthermore, I usually point out what the microtype package (which many TeXies load by default) does, how it makes hyphens and other punctuation extend ever so slightly into the right margin (I think this is called protrusion), resulting in a more even grayness of the text. Even without microtype, LaTeX offers great hyphenation, and you don't get these overlong spaces that occur in MS Word on a regular basis. One reason for this is that paragraphs are typeset as a whole and not one line at a time.

Finally, you could mention ligatures. Standard ligatures, which are enabled by default, are ff, fi, fl, ffi and ffl. It's not too hard to find a document without these ligatures, and often you can actually notice that these gyph combinations look pretty bad.

  • 2
    Line length is an often reported factor, yet I don't think that the evidence for the relation between line length and readability is very conclusive. See e.g. Are shorter lines easier to read. Line length is also a social/economic issue: changing from the dreaded MSWord 1" margin to the standard LaTeX margins will increase your paper costs by 57% (and kill a lot of trees.)
    – Alan Munn
    Dec 6, 2011 at 15:44
  • @AlanMunn: Thanks for pointing out the debate about this factor. Regardless of the environmental aspects, I personally find LaTeX's shorter line length quite pleasant to read. It might also have something to do with the whitespace on either side of the text; without it, i.e. with really narrow margins, it seems almost stressful when my eyes "fall off the page" at the beginning and end of a line. But that's just me and no hard facts.
    – doncherry
    Dec 6, 2011 at 15:59
  • 4
    Also, although the comparison is often made to actual books, this is somewhat misleading, since books are rarely printed on A4 or letter-sized paper. So although they may have ~66 characters per line, their margins as a proportion to page size are quite narrow. So even the esthetic question is not simply one of line length, but one of overall look of the page. Given that we are generally stuck with large pages, having large margins isn't necessarily a good choice esthetically.
    – Alan Munn
    Dec 6, 2011 at 16:47
  • And lest we discount the economic issue (which is easy to do as an individual) it's a real one once you scale up the problem. My department prints/copies on the order of 500,000 pages/yr. I wouldn't like to be the chair when everyone switches to the standard LaTeX margins and that number jumps to 750,000 :-).
    – Alan Munn
    Dec 6, 2011 at 16:49

That is why most magazines and scientific papers use columns! Otherwise, why would they do this instead of just using a 9pt font with a line going from one paper edge to the other keeping the margins below 1cm? Why would newspaper even use more than two columns?

Usually, I keep KOMA script margins recalculated with DIV=calc using the current font (bookman for example is wider than times: they need different margins).

If the document is to be read mainly on screen, I stick with the default one column format. Columns force people to scroll back and forth on each page which is annoying.

If the document is to be printed several times, I set up my document as two-column. It is not annoying/tiring for the eyes, you increase the ink density on the page while keeping the line at reasonable lengths.

If the document will be printed once, and read mainly as a PDF (such as a PhD thesis), I would go back to the one column format.

I would like to lay the emphasis on one fact:

I calculated the average number of letters in my own PhD with the one of another student. I was using LateX with KOMA script. The other was using MS Word (narrow margins, double spacing). Believe me or not : the average number of letters was similar! One a random page with text only, I could fit more letters with KOMA-script that he would do with Word.

Now the question: If you want to tell the people that LateX follows the best practice in typography, have them read the manuals and read this study for instance. Make them opening a book/manual and count the number of character per line.

But actually, as said before, in most cases, you are screwed: these people are not ACTUALLY interested in what you could say. They are used to a certain layout (dating back to the glorious era of typewriters, when dinosaurs were still setting foot on earth) and that's it! At that time (typewriters), you were working on a page to page basis. If you had to change something in your thesis (after the presentation), you had to do it with a pencil, then unfold the thesis, then type the corrections where you can (even if it means adding a page) and fold back the thing. Double spacing was needed for the jury to correct the thesis BUT also for YOU to type these corrections without having to retype everything! At that time, you also wanted to fit as many character as you could in one page... Yes, this ugly layout was used because you technically HAD to. Now, it is difficult to convince people that what you are doing is good practice (I had even to convince my supervisors that LateX was not "just for fun" because they didn't know it!).

Well, if you want to keep or share your document using LateX defaults instead of double spacing and narrow margins, it's just 2 comments away ;) Then uncomment for these "people" you speak about.

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