I am in the process of writing up a PhD thesis (Economics) in the TeXStudio environment, and I'm trying to decide what class/layout to use. I'm new to TeXStudio & LaTeX.

I must say that the documentation is too long and horrible in comparison to mathematical programming languages like R. I still do not have any idea how to get a grasp on features of packages and how to properly use it. It seems like that I have to read all those manuals consisting of >200 pages to understand what is going on... There seems to be no fast 'help' way denoting a half page summary of commands like in R.

Basically, I just want to get the format nice (as nice as I can make it). I want to blow everyone away with a beautiful style with my thesis. Maybe some old fashioned book style? Or report? Or something like memoir or something?

Can you recommend a document class I should use? I have read a bit about the memoir class, but I'm not sure if that is the best option. Alternatively, I have read about KOMA-Script classes, which are maybe another option?

Keen for your insight - because at the moment I'm not sure whether I even should use LaTeX as I do not want any problems with licenses or something, because I want my thesis to not be licensed under anything. My thesis is my thesis. So maybe it is better to just use Word?

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    @bmv article is not for thesis, it is for smaller documents, book is more suitable.
    – CarLaTeX
    Jan 10, 2018 at 11:29
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    @Frank all standard classes are open source (most are LPPL the same as latex) I'm not aware of any classes the use of which implies any restrictions on the use of the resulting document. That isn't to say they do not exist, can you link an example? Jan 10, 2018 at 12:45
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    Obviously "better documented" is a relative notion, but as both an R user and a LaTeX user, my experience has been that R documentation (and package syntax) is much worse that most LaTeX documentation. For an absolute beginner, I would actually buy a book. Marc van Dongen's LaTeX and Friends (Springer, 2012) is very good and up to date. The advantage of memoir is that you can do almost everything within the class. The disadvantage with memoir is that you can do almost everything within the class. I wouldn't use KOMA simply because IMO the English documentation is unreadable.
    – Alan Munn
    Jan 10, 2018 at 15:00
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    Many universities will have their own thesis class. Here's the first one that popped up in a search: oit.colorado.edu/software-hardware/tex-latex/thesis-class
    – jamesqf
    Jan 10, 2018 at 19:24
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    Not an answer, but IMHO learning LaTeX by reading the documentation is will do nothing but make your brain shrivel up; Find a simple template and just start writing, searching online for solutions to problems as you go along. That being said, some packages which are indispensable are booktabs, graphicx, inputenc, fontenc and either natbib or biblatex. Jan 10, 2018 at 21:36

5 Answers 5


Don't worry about the length of package documentation, you don't need to read everything!

If you use just the packages present in TeX Live (or MiKTeK or any other official distribution), I don't think you have license problems.

If your faculty already has a template, use it.

If not, just start with:











and in every .tex file put the relative content (for the difference between \include and \input, see here: When should I use \input vs. \include?).

In your preamble, load your packages, I use:

in general:

% linguistic package

to set the page margin:


to set headers and footers:


if you have some math formulae:


if you have some tables:

% for having numbers aligned to the decimal point

for figure and table captions:


if you have some graphics:


(to include external images - and not only - also not made in LaTeX)



(if you like to draw your graphics directly in LaTeX)

for the bibliography:

\usepackage{biblatex} % or any other you like

for hyperlinks:


Of course, you'll have to refine their options to your needs.

Then add other packages only if you need them.

Taking a look at The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2ε or another guide listed here: What are good learning resources for a LaTeX beginner? is surely useful.

When your thesis will be finished, you could use beamer documentclass to create the presentation for its defense.

For any problem, we are here to help.

If you have no time to learn and you are full of doubt, just use Word (even if LaTeX is MUCH better).


Eventually, as marmot said in chat, nowadays it is virtually impossible to write a proper thesis without samcarter's tikzducks package.

  • I have a couple of months to prepare my thesis, so I want to explore LaTeX and use it as it seems to be much better than Word. Is it bad to use MikTex? Should I switch to TeXLive?
    – Frank
    Jan 10, 2018 at 13:27
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    @Frank Please try, then! Go little step by little step. Read "A short guide to LaTeX" to begin, look at this post: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/11/…! Happy TeXing!
    – CarLaTeX
    Jan 10, 2018 at 13:32
  • @Frank The main differences between MiKTeX and TeX Live are 1) TeX Live install all the package one for all whereas MiKTeX has the on-the-fly installation. 2) TeX Live is managed by TUG. For the rest they are more or less the same. See here: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/20036/…. I had used MiKTeX for many year but switched to TeX Live because MiKTeX server sometimes is down.
    – CarLaTeX
    Jan 10, 2018 at 14:48
  • @CarLaTeX MikTeX has options to install "on-th-fly" and "all-in-one". The second one is what I prefer. I would also recommend looking at beamer for presentation.
    – Crowley
    Jan 10, 2018 at 18:37
  • @Crowley Yes, I know, I used MiKTeX for years, I only highlighted the differences. I'll add a note for beamer.
    – CarLaTeX
    Jan 10, 2018 at 18:50

Ran out of space in the comment sections, so posting this as an answer instead.

I used memoir as the backbone of my thesis. It worked great, but it might be a bit much for a beginner. If you really want to use it to its potential (and if you don't, you probably don't need it, and the default classes make more sense), studying at least some parts of the manual is probably required. It's a big (and good) manual, so since you mention you'd like to avoid extensive reading of manuals, it might not be quite the right tool for the job here.

The book or report class are potentially more sensible starting points. Some of their finer points which might be of interest, and differences to the article class, can be found in this post.

Lists with generally recommended packages have already been linked by others, so I'll avoid repeating those here. In general, I would recommend not overdoing it with the packages. Start out with the minimum, then add packages if you really need them -- don't just dump 50 packages into your preamble without knowing what they're for or if you even need them (you probably don't).

Also, make sure you know the requirements of your institution for your document, and try to incorporate those from the start (e.g. How does the bibliography need to be formatted? Does the document have to fulfill accessibility requirements for PDF/A? Does your thesis advisor have any special requests/demands? Etc.). Patching them in after you've already done a lot of work can be rather tricky, so it's good to get an early start on this. I was lucky in this regard; our college gave us a lot of freedom. But I know that the requirements in other institutions can be rather more exact. Some even have their own templates -- if yours does, probably best to use that.

As for licensing: The content which is created by you does not need to be licensed at all, or can be licensed under another license than the LPPL -- I licensed my thesis under the MIT license, for example. As long as you stick to default packages from your distribution, you should be fine. If you use packages or templates from other sources, make sure to check the licensing though.

Lastly: Don't panic about reading documentation too much. You almost never need to read all of it, and as you get more acquainted with (La)TeX in general, you'll also get better at finding the important bits which matter for your particular use case. It might make sense to check out some beginner-friendly resources though -- this question might have something of interest on that front.

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    I'm currently using memoir for my thesis and I like it, but for a beginner I'm not sure I'd recommend it. It does a lot of things differently to "normal" latex, so some googled solutions won't work on a memoir document.
    – CharlieB
    Jan 10, 2018 at 13:25
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    @CharlieB Yeah, agreed. I spent a lot of time in memman.pdf when I wrote my class on top of it. It's a great manual, and I'm happy with the result of my efforts, but many an hour was sunk into that undertaking. It's probably not the path I'd recommend to a newcomer unless they were explicitly asking about going down such a path. Jan 10, 2018 at 14:29

I recommend two things:

  1. Learn the basics of LaTeX by reading The Not So Short Introduction to Latex. ("https://tobi.oetiker.ch/lshort/lshort.pdf"). I know it is a long book, exactly what you said you didn't want -- but you only need to read chapters 2 and 3. Further, it will go quickly (90 mins tops), and LaTeX is something you should know if you're getting a PhD in STEM.

  2. For a thesis, don't start from scratch -- no need to reinvent the wheel. Ask if your university has a template; if not, you can use one from a different university and just modify things until it's compliant. Here is the one from UCSB: http://www.graddiv.ucsb.edu/docs/default-source/academic-services-documents/dissertationtemplatelatexc0f10ec1cf8b6fd1a50fff0000c25041.zip?sfvrsn=0

As others have said, licensing will not be a problem (and I hardly think the solution to concerns about licensing would be to use a Microsoft product!).


Being biased (as the original author of memoir) I recommend using memoir. Very simply you can use it just like the standard book class, which is a good starting point for a thesis, but it also includes many commonly desired extensions and enhancements which are there if you want them. I admit that the documentation is long but you only have to read the portions that are relevant to you.

I don't know what your institution's thesis layout requirements are (I get the impression that every institution's is unique and all are mutually incompatible) but the documentation does include a complete example of the code for a not-untypical thesis which you may find useful.


You are essentially correct. Most packages don't have the equivalent of a "quick start guide", just the standard documentation (which may get quite technical, for some packages).

I think most people learn to use Latex with (1) a book or a guide aimed to beginners, and (2) "by examples", reading and modifying a lot of other people's code. This is where they pick up lots of bad habits such as {\it this one}.

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    I don't think \em is a bad habit unlike the deprecated font commands such as \it. It's defined in the LaTeX kernel using \DeclareRobustCommand (not \DeclareOldFontCommand).
    – yudai-nkt
    Jan 10, 2018 at 14:29
  • @yudai-nkt Thanks - -- I did not know there was a difference between them. I have changed the example, with \it it should be more unanimous that it is a bad habit. Jan 10, 2018 at 14:35
  • Is this really an answer to the question or a comment? Because the question seems to be about document class and packages...
    – TeXnician
    Jan 10, 2018 at 17:41

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