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What should I use Latex or Microsoft Word Professional for writing mathematics papers and documents and notes and courses...?

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closed as off-topic by Nate Eldredge, le gâteau au fromage, gekkostate, M. Vinay, 900 sit-ups a day Jul 2 at 3:40

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question is not about mathematics, within the scope defined in the help center." – M. Vinay, 900 sit-ups a day
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Do you know any mathematics journals that accept research papers written with MS Word? –  Dave L. Renfro Jul 1 at 19:45
I'd definitiely go for $\LaTeX$. Wysywyg is overrated in this context. @DaveL.Renfro I interpreted the question ("... notes and courses") to be aimed at "personal" use. –  Hagen von Eitzen Jul 1 at 19:45
LaTex is free. Microsoft isn't. –  David Mitra Jul 1 at 19:48
I personally find visual equation editors awful. Once you know LaTeX syntax, it's just a total pain in the ass. Hammering away at the arrow keys, guiding your cursor through a maze of fractions and exponents and subscripts to get it to where you want... –  Jack M Jul 1 at 19:48
I would vote to close as opinion-based, but there is certainly a clear right answer to this question... –  anorton Jul 1 at 19:49

5 Answers 5


Conclusion: $\rm\LaTeX$ is better. ;)

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I too prefer LaTeX over Word for both big and small documents, but your graph doesn't support this conclusion.. –  Nick Alger Jul 1 at 19:54
@NickAlger The graph is for general cases, if you include typesetting maths then the complexity will increase. –  Hakim Jul 1 at 19:59
I'd posit that the starting positions for both curves on the y axis is mostly the overhead of learning the tool. Once you know either tool, the respective curve should start at y=0. –  PeterL Jul 1 at 22:21
Well... if you know MS Word, the graph for MS Word looks quite like the one of LaTeX. It really is about the typesetting quality of both, especially if you consider math typesetting. –  chaosflaws Jul 1 at 22:22
I agree with the plot, although I would shift the LaTeX curve a lot higher to emphasize that it's really unsuitable for making simple documents. However, once you have to do reference tracking, and once you have to organize the content into sections and subsections, with a table of contents, a glossary and the like, Word forces you to do a lot of work by hand. Good luck trying to add snippets of syntax highlighted code or similar content, or your own notation. In addition, t's difficult to find documentation for the math support, and half of what is documented isn't implemented. –  Greg Ros Jul 2 at 13:19

If your intended career is in industry, or teaching math in a high school, then learn to use MS Word, because that's what everyone around you will be using.

If you work in a university, and your main product is research papers, then your choice is somewhat constrained by the preferences of the journals in which you intend to publish. In mathematics and physics, most prefer LaTeX. In scientific areas that merely use some mathematics from time to time (like engineering, economics, biology), the rules vary -- some journals demand LaTeX and some require MS Word documents.

I'd say that the main difference is that MS Word makes it easier to make personal choices about the format of your document. But, if you're writing research papers, document formats will be decided by the journal, anyway.

Beware that you'll sometimes see pro/con arguments on this topic that are based on dubious reasoning. Some people just hate anything from Microsoft, or they think that all software should be free, so they have reasons to prefer LaTeX regardless of its capabilities. Other advice is based on folk-lore that seems to get repeated over and over again, even though it's false (in my opinion). The folk-lore includes things like:

(1) Word can only represent the appearance of a document, whereas LaTeX represents its logical structure. This is false. You can represent document structure using Word "styles", too. LaTeX forces you to think about structure; Word allows this, and even encourages it, but does not demand it.

(2) With LaTeX, you can just type text, and you don't have to worry about formatting and appearance. This is not really true. LaTeX does a lot of formatting automatically, but it can't do everything. Even the books by TeX author Donald Knuth are full of little "tweaks" that he used to improve appearance.

(3) MS Word math looks horrible. This is somewhat a matter of taste and convention, so you'll have to decide for yourself whether Word math looks nice. The layout algorithms are derived from the TeX ones, and Word can even do some fine adjustments that TeX can't (because it uses more information about character shapes). Anyway, this is your choice.

(4) MS Word math is slow because it requires too many mouse clicks. In fact, recent MS Word equation editors (MathType, or the built-in one) all allow you to type Tex-ish codes if you want to (and can remember them). Simple math is probably faster in LaTeX. For complex formulae, I find LaTeX slower because, when I make mistakes, the only output I get is a list of mysterious error messages that take time to decipher. So, even when I'm writing a LaTeX document, I often use a graphical equation editor (MathType) that outputs LaTex code. If I have to go look up the LaTeX code for a symbol, then LaTeX is obviously a lot slower. Even if I know the code, clicking on an arrow icon is faster than typing \leftrightarrow (for me, anyway).

While the four claims listed above are dubious (in my view), LaTeX does have some real advantages. And, in a community like this, there's no shortage of people to point them out, so there's no need for me to repeat them. My purpose is to provide some balance, because I think LaTeX is being over-sold around here.

It might be interesting to ask this question in a few different places. The answers would probably be quite different. In fact, in some places, the most common answer would probably be "what's LaTeX?".

Disclaimer: I consider myself to be an expert user of MS Word. I have used it to write thousands of pages of stuff, including documents that are several hundred pages long, containing lots of mathematics. With LaTeX, I'm at the beginner/intermediate level. I have been writing a book using LateX for the last 5 years, on and off, but I still don't feel competent. I have switched to MS Word, a couple of times, and switched back again, for reasons that barely make sense to me today. So, for me, the right choice is not obvious.

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In my experience, those who respect research mathematics use LaTeX. Those who don't, well, don't. I suppose this might be a coincidence of my existence. To my taste, knowledge, or even admiration, of LaTeX signifies an appreciation of a culture which is counter to the business centered world of doc and docx. –  James S. Cook Jul 2 at 5:53
You know, about making mistakes, you could use a TeX editor with auto-complete and syntax highlighting. It usually tells me if I make a mistake, and can even keep track of definitions sometimes. I only get weird messages if I'm using some strange package. I've used TeX Studio. –  Greg Ros Jul 2 at 13:31
Yes, I use Tex Studio, too. I use my own macros a lot, and TeX Studio knows nothing about these, obviously, so I still make plenty of mistakes. For people who know exactly what to type, and get everything right the first time, LaTeX is probably faster. I'm not one of those people. –  bubba Jul 3 at 4:00
@bubba, weird. If you define your macros with \newcommand TeX Studio understands them and auto-completes them for me, including the number of parameters. The same if you use \newenvironment. Of course, this won't work if you use custom command-defining macros. –  Greg Ros Jul 3 at 9:19
I guess I'm using \def for a lot of my macros. Maybe that's what's causing the confusion. Good tip. Thanks. –  bubba Jul 3 at 13:58

Superficially, one of the advantages of LaTeX over other more traditional systems (e.g. Word or OpenOffice) is the high typographical quality of the documents that you'll be able to produce. This is particularly true for documents that are heavy on mathematics, but documents for any other area could also take advantage of these qualities.

A less obvious advantage, but much more important, is that LaTeX allows you to clearly separate the content from the format of your document. As a writer (scientist, researcher or not), this gives you the opportunity to focus on the “what”, the creative part of your work, rather than the “how” is it going to look printed out in paper (that is the work of LaTeX document class designers).

Now, you shouldn't use LaTeX if

You don't have time to learn it. Unlike most other point&click systems, LaTeX does take some time to learn. There are of course many guides and tutorials that can help you with this, but don't try to learn LaTeX if you have, say, less than 24 hours to prepare a manuscript.

Your document is already written. Say, if you have already written your thesis in Word, there isn't much point in trying to “convert” your document to LaTeX. You can do it, but the results won't be pretty. LaTeX isn’t just another “format” to store documents, it's a “system” to help you write those documents.

What you care about is the design of the document. If you do care about creating your own designs for your documents (rather than the content), LaTeX is perhaps not the best system for you. There are a number of packages (perhaps most notably memoir) that allow you to customize the look of your document, but things are not always straightforward. Having said that, if you are a designer, of course we would welcome your help in designing new document classes and templates! Ref :: http://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/1756/why-should-i-use-latex

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I would consider LaTeX to be better by far. I would also consider using LaTeX via org-mode on emacs or to use something like LyX or maybe TeXmacs. LaTeX makes you think better about structure and meaning than word does. These other options for using LaTeX help enforce the structure. Also if you want cross references and bibliographies to work as expected then use LaTeX.

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Having gone through the exercise of changing every "$x$" to a "$\theta$" in a ten page exam in Word, I can wholeheartedly agree that the equation handling in Word is execrable. Nothing makes an editor less useful than requiring clicks to get into and then out of each equation to edit it.

In contraposition -- being able to use the same $\LaTeX$ syntax on MediaWiki wikis, MathJax sites (like this one), and my writing is a major time saver.

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