Blog Post

How do you LaTeX?

Alrighty my fellow free software brethren. I have a few questions for you concerning the use of LaTeX when writing your educational papers. I have just recently started using LaTeX because I heard all of the cool people do, and well because, it just flat out produces a much nicer paper than using a word processor. Anyways, here are my questions to those who use LaTeX:

  • When using MLA style, what kind of setup do you use?
  • What packages do you use?
  • What document classes do you use?
  • What are your tricks when doing a works cited or bibliography page?
  • Anything else you can teach me about LaTeX, using MLA and writing great papers?

I appreciate any and all help that you may have. I have ran around Google looking for answers, and it seems I am always finding a different way to do the same thing. As it stands, for my papers I have used a layout similar to the following:

\usepackage{setspace}   % simplemargins.sty
\setallmargins{1in}     %used with simplemargins.sty
% typical author, date, title block

So, if you can help me write a better paper for school, then I will buy you a drink of your choice if we ever meet. Deal? Thanks everyone!

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  • saua

    Packages I like:

    listings – whenever I post any source code
    amsmath – for some more math possibilities and in my opinion nicer layout
    beamer – for creating presentations (possibly from the same sources as the paper in extreme cases)
    fancyhdr – for … fancy headers

  • Jerry

    I’ve been using LyX for thesis work for a while, which sets up a list of very nice templates for almost any document (I use a slightly tweaked copy of ‘ieeetrans’ mostly). For bibliography management Gutsy has some new packages worth looking at: Jabref, Referencer.

  • Use the memoir class. That is really a very good class with extensive documentatin (230+ page PDF file). All the fanyheader stuff and such is incorperated into a nice interface.

  • Hez

    I’ll second LyX – I’ve found it very useful for both text document and presentation work. The community around it seems to be quite helpful as well.

  • Tobias


    not needed


    I use Koma-Script’s scrartcl class


    do away with the dvips and use pdflatex as the processor. The DVI route is completely obsolete by now.


    evil, don’t use it. Don’t mess with the layout. The people who made the class have a better idea of what a layout is.

    \usepackage{setspace} % simplemargins.sty

    not needed. In Koma-Script you can somewhat adjust the layout with a DIV value, but the whole point of large margins is to keep line lengths readable.


    \setallmargins{1in} %used with simplemargins.sty


    If you’re required to deliver the typical school term paper format, you might look into the apa.cls “man mode” for a manuscript look.

    You can achieve author-date citation with natbib.

    Oh, just checked what MLA style is. I pity the fools. No, really /underlining/ is a _no-go_. A citation package that works better for humanities is biblatex. It has a fundamentally different approach to bibtex and is easily customizable.

  • Tobias

    Oh, and rubber is a really nice script system to automate compilation. It is used by the Gedit LaTex-Plugin, which is also cool.

  • John

    I’ve been using LaTex for years to do anything that one would normally do with a word processor or presentation tool. I love how nice LaTex output looks and have been complemented by professors on it.

    Since you are specifically using MLA, you should look at the MLA style which is available in texlive-latex-extra in Ubuntu. The readme at /usr/share/doc/texlive-latex-extra/latex/mla-paper/README explains how to use it and recommends against using BibTeX for citations. I find BibTeX extremely useful, especially in situations where you are sharing sources with others.. you just keep a central BibTeX database and pull in the citations that you need. BibTeX does add some complexity that is probably unneeded if you are just trying to pound out a short paper for class though.

    Also this Makefile:
    is hugely useful.


  • Fredo

    packages: csquotes for quotes and citations. Really great! harvard for Author-Year-citations. Haven’t found the time to look into biblatex, but it sounds like worth a try. booktabs for nice looking tables. relsize is also nice. lmodern for better fonts, or some other fonts. hyperref for table of contents and metadata in the PDF file.

    classes: KOMAScript classes.

    tools: I use pybliographer to manage my bibtex files, it’s quite nice. gedit’s LaTeX plugin and rubber and pdflatex for writing and compiling.

  • a7p

    I used pybliographer too, but now switched to Zotero, which is brilliant *imho*.

    Typing and compiling is done in vim using vimlatexsuite.

  • Dee

    Tobias said: “The DVI route is completely obsolete by now.”

    Not at all. If you want to use graphics with PSTricks or picture-environment you have no choice but latex. (Or better you could convert it from dvi to ps, then pdf, then crop and split it, and finally use ist in pdlatex).

    Greetings, Dee

  • See, this is why Ubuntu rocks! It is all of you that make it kick arse!

    I have LyX, but only used it once. I may have to give it another go round. I have been using Kile, which just simply rocks for editing LaTeX.

    Beamer: Yes, I love it! I use it to do all of my presentations now!

    I will have to take a look at all of the styles/classes everyone has mentioned. Doing it the way I have so far, the teacher has been impressed and preferred the way my papers have been looking compared to those who used a word processor. When I did my bachelors many moons ago, I was using StarOffice 🙂 Now, I am using LaTeX, for almost everything I do.

    I really do appreciate all of the comments, and I will be sure to check out each and every piece of documentation on the classes you all listed, and give them a try and see which one works out best for me. Thanks again everyone!

  • Fant

    The best advise I can give about using LaTeX is to get this book:

  • I, stuck in a windows platform, use MikTeX and LEd. I haven’t use the standard DVI output for a millenia, only pdflatex for PDF files.

    As a brazilian PhD student, I use the an article-based class for my reports and my thesis draft (yes, I am almost there!). Its name is abntex (in english: unbeliaveble rules for TeX, a in-joke about how absurd the brazilian standard for a written document is by now).

    The packages:
    abntex >> the article-based ABNT-compliant class
    abntcite >> for the ABNT-based citation standard (the standard is a real mess!)
    geometry >> for adjusting the margins to the values specified by the ABNT (the brazilian standartization branch, at least they voted no for OOXML)
    [brazil]babel >> for brazilian portuguese things
    [latin1]inputenc >> for all the ISO-8859-1 latin characters
    graphicx >> for all the figures and related stuff
    tocbibind >> only to input the List of Figures and List of Tables in the Table of Contents
    times >> for changing the default Computer Modern Roman font to Adobe PS Times font (yes, ABNT requires that too – )
    Some symbols packages, like plus/minus, Celsius degrees, greek symbols, but that is minimal.

    LaTeX is a very good tool to write my articles, and I am addicted to it too.

    Best regards,

  • whizzytex, yatex, emacs22-gtk

    ’nuff said?

    When I’m writing for class assignments, I use the article class and expand my margins so I can save paper.




    I’ve taken to using pdflatex and the hyperref package so my pdfs have all the metadata in them:


    I mostly write papers for conferences and journals, so I have to use ACM and the IEEE formatting bibliography and formatting.

    Also, latex-beamer for making presentations like this:

  • Jeffrey Simpson

    I’m a KDE person, so like to use Kile for the writing and kbibtex for dealing with the references.

  • As the previous posters, I also use Kile. Its KDE, its easy and it kicks butt. For the most part I just use the report format. (Or is it book???) And I just use the math package.

  • Christopher Giroir

    I use the fullpage package to simply get one inch margins.

    I do all latex work in emacs using auctex which rocks. But then again I use emacs for everything so that won’t appeal to everyone.

    If you ever need to do any types of simple diagrams for finite state machines or things like it look into XYPic. A bit hard to get into, but it’s a great system for making some graphics.

  • I’m starting to use LaTeX for my thesis and its been a great experience. I use Emacs with AucTeX mode. My only complaint is that pdflatex renders a horrible non antialiased font pdf file, not suitable for screen reading. How can I get better font rendering on my pdfs?

    Is there a place where I can see all the styles available and how they look? Where can I get more styles?

    But most importantly, my school in Mexico has developed their own thesis document specification and I would like to know how can I make my own document class for this case? Or is there a better way to format your documents on a non standard way?

  • 1052


    There are many reasons why pdflatex may not generate the correct forms. Look in google for “latex pdf fonts”. Some of the fixes could be implemented by default in a distribution. It would be helpful to make a summary of them in the Ubuntu wiki for example.

  • I do not use LaTeX anymore. I prefer the simplicity and readability of reStructuredText markup, which generates LaTeX (rst2latex), html (rst2html), etc. It does not replace LaTeX though, since it’s more limited. However, for most documents, it has all I need.

  • Tobias

    Gabriel: \usepackage{lmodern}, with \usepackage[T1]{fontenc}, of course.

  • _FrnchFrgg_

    I use pdf(La)TeX, with microtypography enabled:


    See for an explanation of what it does. TeX already had an extremely good output, but with microtypography, it’s another level up… I know of no other typography/word processor program which does that.

  • I make my MLA-style files for biblatex available on my website. Check it out if you’re looking for MLA-style parenthetical citations, Works Cited, and the use of bibtex database files. I’ve just updated the version to 0.2, and I’m happy to receive any feedback on it or to accept/incorporate any improvements to it.

    It works only with biblatex version 0.6 (the current version), and the developer of biblatex has promised that things will break with version 0.7 (but that they shouldn’t thereafter), so this should serve only to have things working for now. As it’s the best solution I know, I’ll be updating it with version 0.7 and thereafter.

    My email address is made of my surname at a particularly postal kind of G.

  • mariana

    This is my first time using LATEX, and I have to write my thesis using the MLA format style.

    I am trying to use James Clawson’s MLA style for biblatex, and the report document class.

  • Richard Benish

    Like mariana, I too, am TRYING to use James Clawson’s MLA style. But, for starters, I can’t fulfill his instruction #1, because I have neither a “cbx” folder, nor a “bbx” folder to put the “mla.cbx” and “mla.bbx” files into. I guess this is because his instructions are Windows specific and I’m using a Mac. Any help on how to get things to look like Clawson’s samples and to set up a working template on a Mac would be much appreciated.

  • Holly

    What?  No one commented?  Well I will.  It must suck to be in the
    humanities using LaTeX.  I’m in allied health (nutrition MS candidate)
    and I’m the only one in my program using it, and every time I turn
    in a paper people ooh and ahh over it.  I use AMA style, not MLA,
    but if you aren’t already using it I highly recommend bibdesk for
    organizing your citations.  Looks like iTunes, and you can drag and
    drop citation keys right into your document.  Set your google scholar
    preferences to show bibtex citations and there will be a link after
    every search return with to a well-formatted bibtex entry that you
    can drag into bibdesk (or whatever you’re using) as well — big
    time saver.

    My standard header, with comments [in brackets]:

    [twocolumn gives easy-to-read, professional-looking output]
    [pick one of the two lines below and comment out the other, one will be more readable]
    [write “draft” across, so you know it’s not the final.  comment out for the final draft]
    [don’t remember what this does]
    [for when you don’t want ridiculously large margins]
    [indents first line of each paragraph, if that’s what you’re into]
    [some of my prof’s want 1.5 spacing, warning — ugly!]
    %renewcommand{baselinestretch}{1.5} % gives 1.5 line spacing
    [look up this package if you don’t use it, it’s brilliant]
    usepackage[mediumspace]{SIunits}                % ex: unit{8}{micrometer}
    providecommand{e}[1]{ensuremath{times 10^{#1}}} % sci notation 3.2e{-10}

    [below will make anything formatted as m{example} appear in the index, indexes are awesome]


    [this compacts itemized lists since the default spacing is too much]


  • There’s an mla package that I’ve been using lately. It works pretty nicely. It automatically sets the margins, double-spacing, puts the author’s last name and page number in the heading, etc. 


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