Category Archives: Getting Started

Getting Started: Installing LaTeX

What you need:

  1. A computer to install the LaTeX on.
  2. A LaTeX editor. This is the piece of software you will use to write your LaTeX files and to generate a final PDF output.
  3. Somewhere to save all your files.
  4. Patience.

Installing LaTeX

LaTeX comes in several flavours – they all effectively do the same job. Some are specific to certain platforms (Windows/Mac/Linux/etc.).

MikTeX

I work on Windows and use MikTeX. To download this, go to http://miktex.org/. As of today, the latest stable version is MikTeX 2.7. Click on the link to this under ‘Downloads’ in the navigation bar. You will then find a page with simple installation instructions.

Useful links

University of Cambridge PWF Machines

According to the Cambridge University Computing Service pages, LaTeX and TeX are installed on the Windows PWF machines. For details, see http://www.cam.ac.uk/cs/pwf/pclist.html.

The Engineering Dept. has a useful webpage about LaTeX: http://www.eng.cam.ac.uk/help/tpl/textprocessing/.

The Best Guides to LaTeX

PDF Manual

The manual, The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX, is freely available as a PDF in a dozen languages. It contains a lot of useful information.

Published Guides

The LaTeX Companion
The LaTeX Companion

I highly recommend The LaTeX Companion by Frank Mittelbach et al., second edition (Boston: Addison Wesley, 2006).

Paperback details:
ISBN-10: 0201362996
ISBN-13: 978-0201362992

It covers everything you’re likely to need – and more. At the moment, it costs about £35 from online retailers.

It can sometimes be tricky to find what you’re looking for in the index, but if you look back at the table of contents, you can usually work out which section it might be under.

Why use LaTeX?

The bottom line: if you’re writing a short document in English with no special characters, use Microsoft Word.

For longer documents, like a masters or doctoral dissertation – invest your time in learning how to use LaTeX.

LaTeX lets you concentrate on what you are writing, not what it looks like. It’s efficient – formatting, structuring, numbering, indexing and referencing are all taken care of – you can just write.

Advantages of using LaTeX

  • excellent support for transliteration and for non-latin alphabets
  • separation of content and style (you type, it makes it pretty)
  • scalability – LaTeX can be used for a one-page letter or a 300 page book
  • high quality output – PDFs produced look elegant and professional
  • performance – LaTeX doesn’t crash like Word
  • can be used with the bibliography/reference package, BibTeX
  • files are very small – a LaTeX file is just a text file
  • it’s free
  • platform independent – can be used on Windows, Macs, Linux
  • you never have to write an English/Arabic document in Word again!

Disadvantages of using LaTeX

  • it can be a bit overwhelming at first
  • learning how to use it takes time
  • complicated workflow – there are several steps to write, generate and produce a finished file
  • just as with any software, there are occasional bugs – but I’ve only come across one so far

Summary

I use LaTeX because of its excellent handling of Arabic script, transliteration and typesetting control. If any of the above sounds interesting, read on and try it out.

Useful links to reviews of LaTeX

Introducing LaTeX For Humans…

Hi, I’m a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and have been using LaTeX for the past few years. My work is on early Baghdadi Sufism and more recently on scientific learning in Islamic Spain.

I’m writing this blog because there aren’t many good resources for beginners and non-scientists who are working with LaTeX – I’d like to change that.

If you don’t know already, LaTeX, at its simplest, is a tool for creating documents; but I’m not your typical LaTeX user…

English and Arabic in a LaTeX document
English and Arabic in a LaTeX document

I’m using LaTeX for displaying non-latin (e.g Arabic and Persian) alphabets, different transliteration styles, and its elegant, professional-quality output.

Ultimately, I use LaTeX because it’s so efficient compared with Microsoft Word – you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to enter a paragraph of Arabic in an English document or manage hundreds of references in a document that’s 600 pages long.

LaTeX is largely used by the scientific community, so much of the support and documentation is for them – it can be difficult to track down information for the humantities.

I hope the information here saves you time and helps you get to grips with LaTeX and the package I use for working with Arabic script – ArabTeX.