LaTeX

LaTeX is the “industry standard” for producing readable mathematics (and is also in common, but not universal, use in other technical and scientific fields). As a result, being able to use LaTeX to produce and modify documents is an important element of mathematical communication.

Teaching LaTeX

Lectures may be a relatively ineffective way to teach LaTeX; students can instead teach themselves LaTeX with some guidance and support from the instructor.

In M.I.T.’s communication-intensive offering of Real Analysis, students are directed to various LaTeX resources and are given writing assignments that require progressively more complicated LaTeX (first just text with statement environments and a little notation, then a table, then text with figures, then figures with LaTeX labels, then slides.)

The following resources can help students to get started with LaTeX.

Resources

LyX: a user-friendly front-end for learning and using LaTeX

Much of the pain of learning LaTeX is removed, without reducing its functionality, by using the free/open-source cross-platform LyX front-end for LaTeX.

LaTeX for Presentation Slides

To make slides using LaTeX, students can use these packages:

  • slides – using “documentclass{slides}” in any standard LaTeX installation,
  • beamer – the most common presentation package,
  • powerdot– another similar presentation package,
  • TexPoint – Include LaTeX code in PowerPoint presentations.

All of these options have extensive documentation online (found using the ever-helpful Google).

LaTeX for Figures

A page about ways to include LaTeX labels on figures is here.

LaTeX for MSWord and other word-processing programs

Students who need the power of LaTeX for formatting equations but are still using word-processing programs can use an online LaTeX equation editor to make an image of an equation to place in a document. Students who don’t know LaTeX can use the online examples as models: click “examples” & then click on an example. For MSWord, the image should be saved as a png file at 300 dpi.

Tips and Tricks

Finally, it is probably worth pointing out to your students the techniques most commonly used by mathematicians who need to learn how to do some new trick in LaTeX:

  • Searching: many universities and other institutions host LaTeX FAQs or other similar resources, and standard search engines tend to be very effective at finding some of these sites.  (Some care needed when searching, of course.)
  • Stealing: looking at the .tex source of a document with some desireable effect is often the quickest way to figure out how to get the same result.  Caveat: mathematicians are not always intelligent TeXers, so this can lead to some bad habits.
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What is Math Comm

MAA Mathematical Communication (mathcomm.org) is a developing collection of resources for engaging students in writing and speaking about mathematics. The site originated in the MIT Department of Mathematics and was expanded through support from an NSF grant.