Required Components

If you have decided you would like to learn LaTeX, or at least try it out, there are three things that you will need (two of which you likely already have).

1. LaTeX/TeX Distribution

LaTeX (and the TeX backend) is obtained as part of a distribution. Distributions include the compiler and a multitude of packages which add to the functionality of LaTeX. You will need to download a distribution for your operating system, below are recommended distributions for the three major operating systems:

Mac OS — MacTeX
Windows — MiKTeX
Linux/UNIX — TeX Live

Depending on the distribution you choose, the installer file sizes can often times be in the hundreds of megabytes or greater. This is not because LaTeX takes a lot of resources to run, but rather because these large distributions include all the packages that you are likely to ever need, and each of these contains documentation, which all adds up. It is recommended to download the full installations of these distributions as some of the templates on this website use packages not included with the basic distributions.

2. Text Editor

Since LaTeX documents are written in plain text, the text editor is the only graphical user interface you will be using. Most LaTeX distributions include a text editor with syntax highlighting (syntax means the grammar and keywords used in the LaTeX language), which is useful to differentiate your content from the LaTeX commands you will be using. For example, most text editors will color comments a separate color from everything else in the document. If you leave yourself comments throughout your document, this is handy since you will now be able to clearly see them or ignore them.

3. PDF Viewer

The output you will be producing will be in PDF format. This means you will need a PDF viewer to view the output. Mac OS will open PDFs in Preview by default but both Windows and Linux will require additional software to be installed. For a free open-source PDF viewer try Evince (for Windows and Linux).

If you wish to use LaTeX exclusively you may want to find a PDF Viewer that includes annotation capability for highlighting and commenting your documents.

A Simple Example

Once the required components are installed, we can begin with a simple LaTeX example to make sure everything is working as intended.

You may be aware that LaTeX uses a markup language to define the document structure and formatting, similar to HTML. A markup language uses a standard syntax to specify structure and is used within plain text for formatting. The standard syntax used in LaTeX is a backslash (\) followed by a command and often a curly bracket ({}). For example, if italic text is required in a sentence, the textit command is used:

This sentence contains normal and \textit{italic text}.

Every document needs to have three lines which specify the LaTeX class of the document and where the document content starts and ends. LaTeX classes specify the type of document that will be created (book, report, article, letter, etc) and allow the use of different sectioning commands. They also slightly tweak page layouts to match the class. The following LaTeX code contains these three lines along with a content line so we get an output:

\documentclass{article}
\begin{document}
My first \LaTeX~document!
\end{document}

This code should be copied into a new .tex file and typeset using your LaTeX distribution (look for a ‘Typeset’ button or menu option) or alternatively through the command line with the ‘pdflatex filename.tex’ command from the directory of the .tex file. Both approaches should produce a pdf file in the same directory as the .tex file which should look like the following:

 

 

Click here for the PDF output you should have. If this has been successful, congratulations, you now have a working LaTeX installation and can use any of the templates on this website!

More Resources

This website is not designed to teach you how to use LaTeX. Resources for learning LaTeX are free, easy to find and are likely to do a better job than this website ever could.

To this end, if you would like to learn LaTeX, please consider the following resources:

  1. The LaTeX WikiBooks book is a very comprehensive resource full of examples and descriptions for almost everything you could possibly need to know about LaTeX.
  2. LaTeX Community is an excellent resource for answering any questions you have about LaTeX. Very supportive of new users.
  3. The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX 2e by Tobias Oetiker, Hubert Partl, Irene Hyna and Elisabeth Schlegl. This is another very well known resource that aims to teach LaTeX to a beginner, perhaps in a more analytical fashion than the WikiBooks book.
  4. The TeX Users Group website. This website was founded in 1980 as a resource for users of TeX and LaTeX. Specifically, this page lists many resources available for LaTeX both online and in print.