After a long hiatus, the LaTeX for Humans blog is back!

Based on your feedback, it appears that the greatest need is for an updated list of thesis, dissertation and related templates. So I will get on this right away.

I also plan to review the best LaTeX help forums so that you know where to go when you have a specific problem to solve.

Oh yeah. And I’m going to revamp the site design as it’s a bit 2008, non?

Any questions? Ask away…

Drop me a line in the comments with your questions and suggestions.

The UK TeX Users Group is organising another introductory LaTeX course on April 15th, 2011 in Cambridge.

Using LaTeX to Write a Thesis

This course is aimed at beginners and will cover a range of topics connected with writing a dissertation in LaTeX, including:

  • Installing LaTeX for the first time
  • Creating a document
  • Document structure
  • Graphics
  • Managing a bibliography with BibTeX


The course only costs £10, so I imagine places will be taken very quickly.

To register, e-mail Joseph Wright <> and include:

  • Your completed UK-TUG membership form as an attachment (a year’s membership is included in the course fee)
  • Details of your LaTeX experience (if any), including which operating system you use
  • What your general subject area is (to help plan the course content)

Useful Links

Full details of the course and more information about booking conditions are posted here:

Typesetting a document as large and complex as a doctoral dissertation is never going to be an easy task, but there’s no need to start from scratch. There are lots of templates freely available online to get you started.

Here are a range of templates from European and American universities. Although many have been produced by science departments, most of these templates are easily adapted for the purposes of humanities students.

**Note that not all of these are official university templates.**

Italian Thesis Template

An Italian template called toptesi is available through CTAN and can be modified for both undergraduate and graduate dissertations. Its multilanguage support makes it a good option for humanities students.

Thanks to Fulvio Corno for bringing this template to my attention.

UK University Thesis Templates

The UK TeX Users Group has compiled the following list of university thesis templates for the UK:

Out of all the templates on this list I liked the ones from the University of Southampton and the University of Cambridge the most.

The University of Southampton offers a range of templates in addition to one for a PhD dissertation. There are also templates for a CV, conference paper and reports.

The thesis template from the Cambridge University Engineering Department is pretty basic, but it’s well put together and has good documentation. The latest version is from July 2010.

US University Thesis Templates

This is only a selection of the templates available out there, but here are some of the better (or at least more recent) ones.

I particularly liked the template that Jeffrey Dwoskin put together to comply with the Princeton dissertation guidelines.

Check Your University’s Formatting Regulations

Once you’ve found a suitable template it’s really important to check what formatting specifications your university requires for the final version of the dissertation. Then you can adjust your generic template accordingly.

For example, the university regulations are likely to specify the page size, line spacing, font size, single- or double-sided printing, etc. They may also set out the requirements for the front matter of the dissertation, such as your name, dissertation title, degree for which it is submitted, a declaration of originality, etc.

Useful Links

For those of you who missed the UK TeX Users Group and University of East Anglia course back in July, there’s another LaTeX training session happening at Oxford this October.

An Introduction to LaTeX

The Department for Continuing Education at Oxford University is organising a full-day course on October 16th.

It is aimed at beginners and will cover creating documents (including letters), graphics and bibliography.


The course costs £50 and enrolment is either online or by downloading an application form – both available on the course webpage:

I’ve just discovered that the LaTeX course organised by the UK TeX Users Group and the University of East Anglia is now fully booked.

There’s clearly a need for introductory courses like these!

Future Courses

It sounds like the UK TeX Users Group will repeat this course later in the year if there’s sufficient demand. Joseph Wright writes:

We are starting a list of interested people in case anyone drops out, and will be looking at holding another course later in the year if there is the interest. So do consider sending a registration e-mail: the more people we know are interested the more likely it is that another course can be organised.

Who to Contact

As before, please email Joseph Wright <> with details of your experience with LaTeX and your academic subject area.

In London on July 30th the UK TeX Users Group and the University of East Anglia will be running a course on how to use LaTeX to write a thesis.

Course Content

You don’t need to be an expert to take part – the course is aimed at people new to LaTeX. The topics covered include:

  • Creating a document
  • Document structure
  • Graphics
  • Managing a bibliography with BibTeX


The course only costs £10, so I imagine places will be taken very quickly.

To register, e-mail Joseph Wright <> and include:

  • Details of your LaTeX experience (if any)
  • If you’re bringing a laptop  with you to the course
  • What your general subject area is (to help plan the course content)
  • Any special requirements (diet, access, etc.)

Useful Links

Full details of the course (including the programme) are posted here:

For a student starting out in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, the different transliterations systems for Arabic can be bewildering.

Academics in different countries follow special conventions to represent Arabic letters in the Latin alphabet, so it can take a while to get used to all these systems.

To be honest, they can still be confusing to a graduate student or a seasoned researcher.

Like when you’re submitting an article to a journal with a different system to your usual one. Or when you’re searching for Arabic titles on a Turkish cataloguing system for the first time (what a nightmare!).

Summary of Systems by Country

Here’s a quick overview of some of the main transliteration systems for Arabic arranged by country.


The DIN 31635 is the standard used for Arabic transliteration in German (and French, I think) scholarship. It is based on the system originally devised for the Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society) by Carl Brockelmann and Hans Wehr.

It differs from the North American and British systems in that each Arabic letter is represented by a single Latin letter. This is the reason why I prefer it.

  • A version of this standard is available here (courtesy of Thomas T. Pedersen):
    This PDF file is extremely useful as it also includes the following standards: ISO 233 (1984), ISO/R 233 (1961), UN (1972), ALA-LC (1997) and EI (1960).


I’m not familiar with any official standards in Spain, but the conventions of the journal al-Qantara are available online.

United Kingdom

The Journal of Islamic Studies (published by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies) uses a system that is broadly representative of British conventions. Their transliteration system is based on that of the Encyclopaedia of Islam with some modifications.

The editors also state:

“Foreign words accepted in English usage should be spelled in accordance with the New Oxford Dictionary of English or the Concise Oxford Dictionary.”

United States

The American Library Association and Library of Congress romanization table for Arabic clearly explains the system they use.

Using LaTeX to Display Arabic Transliteration

LaTeX offers an excellent way to display any of these transliteration systems. For more information on this topic, check out my post on symbols here:

Please add any more information you have (especially for Spain and Turkey) by adding a comment to this post.

Useful Links

For those of you not using LaTeX, I can recommend the following fonts for displaying the symbols used for these transliteration systems:

I also posted this on my other blog.

Last Sunday I went along to Presentation Camp London where I spent the day learning about how to improve my presentation skills.

Two particularly useful talks were given by Mike K Smith and Chris Atherton.

Giving Technical Presentations

When presenting a complex topic, such as your academic research, Mike Smith emphasized the importance of motivation. In other words, making it crystal clear why you’re talking about this particular subject and why the audience will find it interesting.

A summary of Mike’s talk can be found on his blog:

Keeping the Audience’s Attention

Although keeping your audience’s attention is an obvious point, how many academic presenters do that successfully? Chris Atherton discussed several ways to do this based on findings from psychology that can be boiled down to:

  • Less is more – people can only hang on to about four bits of unrelated information at a time.
  • Use multimedia to your advantage – integrate your words and images, don’t overload the audience with on-screen text.
  • Tell stories – suspense draws people in and keeps them focused.

Chris’ slides (and audio sometime soon) are available here:

And this is one of her posts on giving presentations:

Further Reading

  • Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds
  • Show Me the Numbers by Stephen Few
  • Edward Tufte’s writing on analytical design –

For the last six months, my procrastination method of choice has been to try out different task management tools (closely followed by data visualization techniques – but that’ll have to wait till another day).

So while this post isn’t related to LaTeX, I thought it might be useful for those of you managing a long-term project like a PhD.

Software Requirements

In searching for task/time/project management tools, my criteria were:

  • no fees/open source
  • ability to schedule tasks and milestones with due dates and priority levels
  • tags or categories for tasks
  • clear visual interface
  • compatibility with Google Calendar

I have tried a lot of different packages that do a lot of different things – from Basecamp to Open Workbench, from Manymoon to Zen. But at the beginning of October, I finally found something that works really well: it’s called Intervals.

Task and Time Management with Intervals

I have used Intervals daily for the past two months and it has really helped me to plan my work and get more done.

On the company’s website, it is described as ‘web-based project management software that marries time tracking and task management in a collaborative online space with powerful reporting.’

In comparison with the other software I have tried, the most useful features of Intervals for my project are:

  • time tracking and reports
  • ease of adding tasks to a milestone
  • clear and intuitive project dashboard
  • ability to categorize project phases (called ‘modules’ in Intervals) and work types
  • daily email showing my tasks for the week

Time tracking and reporting

Before I came across Intervals, I didn’t think I needed a time tracking or reporting feature. But now I have changed my mind – for three reasons:

  • No more procrastinating. Once I sit down to do a task, I start the timer for it. This helps me to focus on that task alone – no checking emails, no unnecessary internet browsing. And if I get a phone call or am interrupted, I pause the timer.
  • Now I know where my time goes. The reporting feature allows me to view the time I have spent on tasks that day, month, quarter, etc. I can view this by project module (e.g. literature review or writing-up), or by work type (e.g. translation, reading/note-taking, correspondence).
  • I am better at estimating how long different tasks take. Once I’ve completed a task, I can review how many hours I spent on it and compare that with how long I estimated it would take when I first created the task. This then helps me plan future phases of my project.

Project Dashboard and Tasks Email

The dashboard (‘home’) is clearly structured and shows me:

  • A weekly or monthly calendar view with milestones and tasks displayed. Colour-coding indicates high, medium and low priority tasks, and overdue items.
  • A graph of how many hours I have worked in the current week. This is updated whenever I add time to a task, so I can see if my day’s on track, or if I haven’t spent as much time working as I planned to that day.
  • Navigation short-cuts to add a new task or to add time to a task.

The daily email includes a copy of the weekly view of my calendar, so I can see what I have to do today and for the rest of the week.

Unused or Unsupported Features

Intervals does not support task dependencies or auto-scheduling – there is no Gantt Chart-like feature. But for my straightforward PhD project, I haven’t found that to be a problem.

As the software is designed for small businesses, there are a lot of features I don’t use, such as: invoicing, file storage and allocating tasks to other people on a team.

Intervals is also a bit heavy for managing lots of little tasks. For this kind of thing and for displaying external deadlines on my main calendar, I tend to use Remember The Milk.

To-Do Lists with Remember The Milk

This is a nice little online tool for managing multiple to-do lists. The best feature is that it’s compatible with Google Calendar, and according to their website it also works with Twitter and Blackberry.

I tend to use Remember The Milk for funding or conference call deadlines, to-do lists for calling or emailing people, or keeping track of meetings or seminars.

Getting Started

Intervals and Remember The Milk are pretty easy to set up once you’ve registered with them. I was able to get the hang of both within a week. They also have good customer support and help forums.

Note: both these tools are web-based, so they cannot be used offline.

Useful Links

For my research, spreadsheets are very useful for recording data and analysis. But I usually want to use that data in a .tex document as well.



Writing tables using LaTeX can be difficult if you have a lot of data, and editing it can be a bit of a nightmare.

One quick solution I have found is using a macro that converts a table in a spreadsheet into a LaTeX table. (A macro is a set of instructions that automate a particular task.)

An alternative to using macros is working with a spreadsheet program that supports the LaTeX file format.

Of the following three options, I have tried Calc2LaTeX. I’ve found it very easy to install and use.


This macro works for OpenOffice Calc. After running the macro, a dialogue box appears containing the LaTeX code. You can copy that and paste it straight into your .tex file.


This macro works for Microsoft Excel.


This is a spreadsheet program that can be used with Windows and Linux. It is possible to save a file in a number of formats including LaTeX.


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