LaTeX is a markup language, which means it finds little snippets of code in a plain text document and uses that to typeset the text. If you're familiar with HTML, this is exactly what LaTeX is like. If that analogy makes you more confused, perhaps think about it like this: imagine the bits of code in your document are like a book editor's red pen marks, indicating to the publisher how to print the text. When you run LaTeX on your document, it is like sending your manuscript to the printer, with instructions for how to print. They send it back to you as a pdf.
So, great. What do we need? First we need a way to make the manuscript (in the jargon: a tex file (sound like "tech")). Second we need the typesetter/printer to send the manuscript to (in the jargon: a LaTeX compiler). How you accomplish both of these steps depends on your operating system. The instructions below will guide you through the installation of both the compiler and the editor for both Windows and Macs.
To sum up:
The Windows LaTeX compiler is called MiKTeX and it will give your computer the power to compile .tex files. It also manages LaTeX packages, which work very similarly to R packages. MiKTeX is a little scary, but hopefully once you install it, you won't have to deal with it a whole lot. Think of it as setting up a really fast typesetter in your computer.
The dual-edged sword aspect of LaTeX is that the .tex files are actually just plain text. So, you could just use Notepad or Wordpad or Word or some other program. These are fine, but there are other programs that will greatly expand your productivity in LaTeX. For Windows, we are going to recommend the free editor Texmaker. It has fun stuff like syntax highlighting and buttons on the side with all of the math symbols, so you don't have to look them up every time you write up a problem set. In addition, there are menu buttons and keyboard shortcuts that allow you to compile the .tex file. So, to install:
MacTeX is the basic Mac distribution of the LaTeX compiler. A bit of a warning: the download for this is over 1GB, so it might take a bit. In addition, you have drive space limitations, you may want to consider one of the stripped down versions of MacTeX. Wonderfully, MacTeX installs a very slick editor called TeXShop. To obtain this compiler:
The dual-edged sword aspect of LaTeX is that the .tex files are actually just plain text. So, you could just use any old text editor. These are fine, but there are other programs that will greatly expand your productivity in LaTeX. For Macs, we are going to recommend the editor that comes with MacTex, called TeXShop. It will ease the LaTeX editing and compiling process.
Now that we have an editor, we can fire up some LaTeX and get to your classic hello world program. Start by opening TexShop and copying into it the following text:Now:
There are a number of resources for LaTeX online. By a number, I mean a very high number. Walking yourself through an online tutorial is a good way to get familiar, but you'll probably learn LaTeX as you trying to type up your problem sets. This can be a frustrating experience, but I think it's worth it in the long run. Even if you don't use any math, your paper will have a professional shine that makes some impact on the reader.
If you do get stuck, try to find the answer on your own first. Google is your friend here. When I get stuck on tables (which is often), I google: "latex tables." I've found that googling "latex+myproblem" is a good way to answer almost any question.
Some other pages that are often used are the following: