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When I look at thesis written with LaTeX, I always notice the following features:

  • Table captions are above the tables
  • Figure captions are below the figures
  • Page numbers before the table of contents are in roman
  • Glossary and index are at the end
  • Ligature is enabled
  • Citations references are in brackets ...

From this, you can spot a LaTeX document from far away. But, are they LaTeX conventions or genuine ancient conventions from some international standards?

I spent some time looking for such rules, but every time I get back to this StackExchange forum.

Can someone provide some history about these document structure rules?

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  • I don't think any of these things are specific to LaTeX. I'm pretty sure that most of these would be possible in Word or Libre Office as well (possibly with some additional work). Many departments have (more or less strict) rules for thesis layout, so the uniformity you see might not be LaTeX, it might be the layout requirements. But for the most part I guess the points you mention are just general typographic tradition/convention. – moewe Jun 22 at 6:19
  • The position of captions for example appears to be generally recommended as table captions above, figure captions below (writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/figures-and-charts). But I guess there are different conventions in different fields (APA says both figures and tables have titles that go above the respective element: apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/tables-figures/…, apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/tables-figures/tables) – moewe Jun 22 at 6:23
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    english.stackexchange.com/q/96403/370203 has some historical context for the different page numbering systems, so again this is nothing specific to LaTeX (and indeed when In googled for "roman page numbers before table of contents" I found many a graduate school thesis requirements). – moewe Jun 22 at 6:33
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    the first 4 of your 6 items are not implemented by the standard classes at all, those items just appear where the author places them. – David Carlisle Jun 22 at 6:41
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    Citation styles (like bibliography styles) are very field-dependent. The default style in LaTeX is indeed a style with numeric labels in square brackets, but many other styles are available (at least if you load additional packages like apalike, apacite, natbib, jurabib, ...). MS Word also has a citation feature that offers a wide range of styles. – moewe Jun 22 at 6:41
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None of what you described is specific to LaTeX.

In particular your third and fourth items (roman page numbering of the front material (then arabic for the main work) and index at the end) are the norm in many technical publications, not just theses. For instance a short list of books from the multitude that follow this ordering.

A.H.Wilson, A Theory of Metals, Cambridge University Press, 1936.

Jan Tschichold, The Form of the Book, Lund Humphries, 1991.

John Grossman (Managing Editor), The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition, University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Douglas Schenck and Peter Wilson, Information Modeling the EXPRESS Way, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Michael Mitchell and Susan Wightman, Book Typography --- A Designer's Manual, Libanus Press, 2005.

Note that the Cambridge University Book was published over 40 years before LaTeX was dreamt of.

Your other items regarding the position of captions and the style of bibliographic references vary from publisher to publisher and can be considered as stylistic as compared with the structural elements.

Your remarks about theses really have nothing to do with LaTeX but rather with traditional document structuring and detail. In any case LaTeX is concerned about typesetting a document and gives no constraints on the ordering of document elements (it will let you put an index before the title page if you wish).

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These features have been traditional in mathematical publications since, quite literally, the 19th century. Two references for such material are these, published by the American Mathematical Society:

Observe that roman page numbering continues through the table of contents, and, in the case of Math into Type, also through the prefaces. Arabic page numbering doesn't begin until the first "real" chapter.

The original creator of LaTeX earned his PhD in mathematics, so was quite familiar with these practices.

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