One of the problems that I have read that people say about LaTeX is it isn't very good for quick note taking.

Has anyone used LaTeX for quick note taking? If so what template have you used? And how have you setup your system so it is relatively easy to make quick notes?

EDIT In response to some of the comments, I am currently using vim as my editor. Which I am very proficient in using.

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    I am not sure what you mean by note-taking. Could you please elaborate on the purpose? Jan 28, 2013 at 11:58
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    LaTeX is a processor, not an editor. Sounds like you need a reasonable text editor (Notepad++?), or perhaps emacs with org-mode, or possibly something like Evernote. Depends on what sort of structure you want for your notes and their content. Jan 28, 2013 at 12:19
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    I've used the vim-latexsuite to take notes in math lectures without too many problems in the past. It's more a question of defining & learning hotkeys & shortcuts. The function keys were different environments, eg f5 was a figure environment, f3 equation&equation*,etc. ffrac would expand to \frac{<++>}{<++>} and you cold jump from one <++> to the next using ctrl+j.
    – myrtille
    Jan 28, 2013 at 14:52
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    See tex.stackexchange.com/a/38819/963
    – yannisl
    Jan 28, 2013 at 17:53

8 Answers 8


I find note taking in Pandoc's version of Markdown to be a very efficient way of taking notes in any text editor. This provides an efficient way to mix simple outlining using numbering or bullet points, alongside the math capabilities of LaTeX.

Using this approach you can get readble plain text notes that can be readily converted to LaTeX for PDF output, HTML, or any of the other formats that Pandoc supports.

Here's a short example:

1. Level one heading
    - a bullet point
    * also a bullet point
    + yet a third way of writing a bullet point
    - pick your poison!

#. With numbered lists Pandoc will figure out the correct numbering for you
    - Isn't that cool?

#. You can mix math inline $x^2 + y^2 = z^2$ or in display mode:
    \frac{a}{b} = \frac{c}{d} + \frac{e}{f}

#.  You can mix styles
    a) sublist with alphabetical
    b) nice, eh?
  • Same for me. I don't use pandoc, but the same method with a wiki-translator.
    – knut
    Jan 28, 2013 at 18:26
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    I want to have babies with pandoc -s input.txt -o output.pfd!
    – Habi
    Jan 29, 2013 at 16:00
  • I have installed pandoc, and I was very surprised! This does make note taking using LaTeX style math equations easy!
    – jaye1234
    Jan 29, 2013 at 19:58
  • I wasn't able to make pandoc work with more complicated latex commands. For example, $x^2 + 2$ worked fine but $\frac{3}{2}$ was not converted to math. I rendered with Firefox. Is there a way to make it work? May 26, 2018 at 15:10
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    @EternusVia See the pandoc docs on math rendering in HTML. To generate the math in MathML you would call pandoc something like: pandoc example.md -t html -o example.html -s --mathml
    – Paul M.
    May 28, 2018 at 17:51

I'm a bit old school and prefer taking live notes with a pencil and note pad. If it's important, go back and turn these into a more readable document.

As a professor, I find it HIGHLY distracting when students are pecking away at their laptops instead of actively participating in the lecture...which is hard to do when part of your attention is devoted to formatting Latex equations. Moreover, for anything that involves a plot or a graphic...learn to sketch it in your notebook. You'll be amazed at how much better you will comprehend the material.

That stated, for my RESEARCH (in condensed matter physics), I keep a series of Latex and Mathematica notebooks organized by topic, date, and student involved on the project. The Emacs ORG mode looks interesting, I'll have to check it out.

I have been doing things this way for almost 25 yrs and I require my PhD students to do the same. I have common group DropBox & each of my PhD students has a folder within the Group folder. Also, each final paper has a separate directory with either all input files or original version of the computer programs that were used for that paper.

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    Welcome to TeX.sx! Mar 9, 2013 at 15:41
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    Unfortunately for many professors the lesson is just copying on the blackboard their handwritten notes. In that case copying directly with latex optimizes your time. Nov 21, 2016 at 10:35

I take notes with latex using the outlines package. It lets you write an outline/list without typing all the environments. For ex:

\secc[tested]{The title of Outline}{
    \1 This is the first level of a list.
        \2 This is the second level
           \3 You can go up to four levels
                \4 You can dynamically change the symbols that start the list

I have many of these in my notes. Not one big outline.

I find it highly productive and easy to use while taking notes.


I also recommend setting up a bunch of macros or shortcuts for your commonly used things. It helps speed everything up.

  • Thanks! This was the type of answer I was after. Do you use a common template as well?
    – jaye1234
    Jan 28, 2013 at 19:44
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    I have my own class that has options for: fontsize, papersize (ipad,letter). In sublime I use snippets,on the iPad in textastic I use text expander to insert my standard template. As for where I take notes in the body: I created an environment that looks like this: \secc[tested]{Title for outline}{\1 \2 \3 }. Where the first option is a flag if the topic was tested and that puts a red underline for the Title of the outline, The second option is the title of the option, and the 3rd arguement is the outline itself. The outline environment is in the secc env. This makes it very efficient to use. Jan 29, 2013 at 12:22

I use LaTeX for note taking in an indirect way:

I use emacs org mode for note taking. It has a very rich and configurable LaTeX export. So I am able to keep my notes in org mode and export them from time to time or I can export and finalize it in LaTeX, e. g. for writing a paper. But org mode is so powerful that people used it to write papers without postprocessing of the LaTeX code. You can even include code and evaluate it on the fly, with the result being automatically included into your document, you have built in table and basic spreadsheet support ... You can intermix org code and LaTeX code if you need something special. But the org syntax is much more suitable for fast note taking, more like a wiki syntax. Org has facilities for automatic handling of todo notes and can be used as a calendar replacement as well. Parts of the document can be hidden by just pressing tab, what helps a lot to get some overview. There is also a vim clone of org mode.



I'm using this script on daily basis. Once you get through initial setup, you'll find it very handy. Unfortunately, I think it's for linux only.

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    Welcome to TeX.SX! You should explain a bit, what this script is doing. Like it stands now, I would not be willing to click on an external link without knowing, what is expecting me. Maybe, you do some example notes and explain the procedure of how to work with that script. Thank you.
    – LaRiFaRi
    May 29, 2015 at 9:15
  • From github page: "TekNote is a small Lua script designed to render taking quick notes in LaTeX easy and affordable. Its goal is help people with atrocious handwriting to have beautiful notes on their computers without being distracted. Taking notes in plain LaTeX is hard and demanding. TekNote language is, by comparison, very simple. It is great for taking notes on lectures, since there's a lot less rules to rememeber. Furthermore, it allows one to write very lazy code without worrying about its viability."
    – note_taker
    Jun 20, 2015 at 11:57

For medical school I found it useful to include audio transcripts from lectures and accompany them with the images from lecture slides. I developed an approach to tackle my lectures each week whereby I would:

  1. Obtain all lecture recordings and .pdf lecture slides
  2. Watch the lectures and make a transcript of the audio recording, often enumerating and bulleting the points to ensure they were digestible upon re-reading
  3. Every time a picture needed to be included, I would screencap the picture and have a system in place to automatically save the file, grab the filename, and copy it to my clipboard for easy insertion into a \begin{figure} environment (details below)
  4. I would use a macro to create a figure environment (details below)
  5. I would paste the image, then
  6. Continue my audio transcript with heavy use of bulleting

The key considerations were speed and efficiency as the volume of content was incredibly large. I wasn't going for formatting brilliance. For this, I extensively made use of macros in TeXStudio and devised ways to take screenclips using hotkeys very quickly and effectively so that they could go straight into my LaTeX document.

The two most important macros I established are described below, and credits to some degree go to other members of StackExchange as I have borrowed and adapted them from other users:


To insert pictures with ease - and I'm talking on the fly, mid lecture, very quickly, I used TeXStudio and created some macros. I bound the following two macros to create two different types of figures:

For a double figure:


For a single figure:


In order to quickly insert the files I needed, I downloaded the tool ShareX at ( https://getsharex.com/ ) to quickly snap squares of images (quick and dirty, didn't need to be perfect, emphasis was on speed and volume of processing), save them to a known directory, and then copy the file name upon saving the file to the directory. This could be directly pasted into my document very, very quickly. Creating single and double figures took no longer than 15 seconds of work once I had established the macros and ShareX infrastructure to copy and paste the filenames directly into the document.

Text bulleting for semantic facts

I created the following macros with the enumerate package and defined the following macro:

    \item %|\\

Note that it is very easy to embed enumerates within other enumerates, so you can simply re-tap the macro to create an indented list.

Some other fun facts:

  • \documentclass{article} does all you really need
  • \usepackage{enumitem} is extremely useful for bulleting
  • \usepackage{multicol} works very well for making multiple columns of enumerates
  • \usepackage{graphicx} is great for figures
  • \usepackage{mhchem} is useful if you want to create a few macros for the identities of various ions that govern cell signalling and neuronal depolarisation, or for example, iodine metabolism of thyroid. Can be handy if you enjoy writing out a bit of chemistry
  • \usepackage{amssymb} can be great for creating arrows - allows for use of \uparrow and \downarrow which I strongly recommend you macro
  • \usepackage{siunitx} very useful for SI units

I use AUCTeX mode in emacs to take real-time notes in my calculus 1 class.

Useful features include preview-latex mode, where I hit C-c C-p C-p to toggle rendering $\dfrac{\pi}{2}$ sections as inline images.

TeX-electric-macro makes life much easier because I can type \ and get intellisense style completion for LaTeX commands.

Standard emacs functionality like abbrev-mode lets me autocomplete chunks I've already typed.

Predictive mode is handy, but I haven't used it much yet.

Once I find a way to quickly enter graphs, I will need only a few improvements to make LaTeX note taking faster than paper-based input.


Mathcha is an online math editor that I typically use for notetaking. It has the capability to both import and export LaTeX code, so once I am done with the notetaking, I do have the flexibility to polish the final document in a TeX editor such as TeXStudio.

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