Matthias K. Gobbert

Introduction to LaTeX

LaTeX2e - April 2016

This page can be reached via my homepage at

Purpose of this Document

This webpage is used as a repository for useful information on LaTeX. It applies to the version of LateX formally referred to as LaTeX2e; also note the date of the last update above and the more detailed version number at the bottom of this page. Information like those on this page is bound to change over the course of time, and that is the rationale behind making the information into a webpage.

This page does not tell you how to use LaTeX per se, because there are better and more complete sources. Rather, this document focuses on the following: (i) list sources for general information about LaTeX, (ii) give local information to complement the general information, and (iii) provide relevant examples of concrete uses of LaTeX as needed, for instance, for project reports in my courses and technical reports.

As for Point (iii), the examples are not the only way to accomplish certain tasks, but they have worked for me, and I am just sharing my experience with the community. In many cases, this webpage might provide additional commentary on why certain things were done a certain way.

The information in this page should be applicable, no matter under which operating system you use LaTeX. However, when I give concrete commands showing how to process or preview LaTeX documents, I will assume that you are using a Unix/Linux machine. See your local information how to process LaTeX under other operating systems.

You are welcome to tell others about this page and to create a link to it. Instead of providing a live link to this page, I suggest to link to my homepage like I have done above. I have tried my best to be brief as well as accurate, but you will know how hard this is, if you tried to put together a document like this yourself. If you find any mistakes or have comments, please contact me at

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a macro package written by Leslie Lamport on top of the type-setting system TeX by Donald Knuth. The name derives from the Greek word ``tex,'' meaning ``to write.'' TeX's version has been permanently frozen at 3.14159 (go figure, this shows that mathematicians were involved). LaTeX and TeX are not word-processors, because the phrase ``what-you-see-is-what-you-get'' (WYSIWYG) does not apply, rather they are professional-grade typesetting system, formally only available to publishing companies.

In more modern web-parlance, they are mark-up languages, in which the writer merely indicates the structure of the document (e.g., ``start a new section here''), but the actual appearance is controlled by class and style files (e.g., how a section header is actually formatted).

Side-note on the effect of all this: LaTeX has turned math professors into typesetters and publishers like Springer into celebrated copy shops: They receive a type-set and fully paginated manuscript from the author, all the publisher does is to have the master copy ``photo-copied,'' send it to the binder, and put a cover around it.

A lot of other things could be said here, for instance, about the choice of the name and its Capitalization (to avoid patent infringement on the material latex as in ``latex gloves''). I refer to the section on ``The Game of the Name'' in Lamport's book; see below for full reference.

Additionally, let me point out that there are also various other versions of TeX and LaTeX, like AMS-TeX and AMS-LaTeX, propagated by the American Mathematical Society. Those are genuinely different packages than TeX or LaTeX with quite different appearance and partially different commands; I do not use them.

On the other hand, as LaTeX is freely distributed, there are distributions of it, like teTeX included with Linux distributions. Such distributions include, if they are LaTeX2e compatible, a large number of so-called standard packages like amsmath, cite, graphicx, and many others, all of which are not part of LaTeX, but genuine extensions that provide additional features and functionality.

Where to Find General Documentation

There are many sources of information available, most notably books for sale or in the library, handouts and similar material distributed inofficially, and pages on the web (like this one). In all cases, you should only accept recent information that pertains to the current version of LaTeX! LaTeX's present version as of writing this document is known as LaTeX2e. The previous version has become known as LaTeX 2.09. Be critical with all information given to you, in particular, if it comes from sources, whose credibility and competence you cannot assess well (like on the web or inofficial hand-outs)! Unfortunately, library books are often out-of-date, as well, as are even well-meaning sites like this one.

The books listed below are all appropriate for LaTeX2e. The starting point should always be the book by Leslie Lamport, which is both concise and readable and which explains LaTeX's philosophy well. The price paid for both is lack of completeness, when it comes to advanced features. In this context, ``advanced features'' include redefining section headers, importing files, and overcoming the struggle with float placement. I have found both the book by Michel Goossens, Frank Mittelbach, and Alexander Samarin as well as the one by George Grätzer useful - in different ways: Goossens et al. is organized `horizontally' and discusses material organized by package; I suggest to use it, if you want to dig into the innards of LaTeX2e like redefining section headers or advanced float placement. Compared to that, Grätzer is organized `vertically,' because it discusses tools for one topic from all available sources together. If you need to typeset very complicted formulas or have other problems with the mathematics, I recommend Grätzer because of its well-chosen examples and its organization.

Considering we are in the 21st century, I must mention the huge repository for information and macros put out by the TeX Users Group (abbreviated as TUG). You can find them at There is a wealth of information available including style files and similar. Or for that matter, I have been rather successful with google searches, if I had specific problems.

Recommended books:

  1. Michel Goossens, Frank Mittelbach, and Alexander Samarin, The LaTeX Companion, Addison-Wesley, 1994.
  2. George Grätzer, Math into LaTeX: An Introduction to LaTeX and AMS-LaTeX, Birkhäuser, 1996.
  3. Leslie Lamport, LaTeX: A Document Preparation System, second edition, Addison-Wesley, 1994.

Short Sample Document for LaTeX2e

Here is a short sample document that demonstrates the use of many commands that might typically be needed to typeset mathematics in LaTeX. The file is old and was designed to avoid any advanced features. So, its outline as a document is basic, and it demonstrates rather plain use of, for instance, the thebibliography environment. It also contains a wealth of examples of the typsetting of the most common mathematical constructs like fractions and matrices. For more advanced features, see the Template for Project Reports below.

Click on this link to sample.tex to download it to your computer. To process the file, use the following command sequence at the Unix/Linux prompt:
pdflatex sample.tex
pdflatex sample.tex
Notice that running LaTeX twice is needed to get the automatic cross-referencing right. The resulting PDF file sample.pdf should be identical to the one I processed and that is posted here as sample.pdf.

Template for Project Reports

This template was originally created to improve the uniformity in appearance of project reports in my classes. Since then, it has been improved to provide a repository for demonstrating the use of more advanced features than the basic sample document above does. The features include sophisticated cross-referencing, the importing of plots and computer code, and the use of BibTeX, in particular. They also include comments on float placement and answers to frequently asked questions like how to count formula numbers by section. Fundamentally, the document is self-contained in the sense that its text explains the use of the features, both syntactically and stylistically. Therefore, it is vital to read both the actual text and the LaTeX source code carefully. However, if you do not know how to get started, you may want to download the final result in PDF format, which contains information (on Pages 2 and 8) on what to download and how to process the LaTeX source code to reproduce the result.

Files needed to use the template: The LaTeX source template.tex needs several other files, namely the bibliography database file template.bib, the files for the figures, and the Matlab code:

Other Information

If you are looking for information about using Unix/Linux at UMBC, which may be helpful, if you use LaTeX on such a machine, go to my homepage.

A particular book to point to is Nicholas J. Higham, Handbook of Writing for the Mathematical Sciences, second edition, SIAM, 1998. If you are a Ph.D. student, I strongly recommend that you read this book, because it addresses many question about how publishing works in the sciences.

For a more complete literature list covering also other aspects of mathematics, see my homepage.

Copyright © 1997-2016 by Matthias K. Gobbert. All Rights Reserved.
This page version 5.0, January 2016.