Writing your papers in LaTeX

1. Installing a LaTeX system and editor

If you don't have a LaTeX system and editor installed on your computer, you'll need to install one. Before installing an editor, you should install the LaTeX system. One widely used and freely available system is called MikTeX. During the set-up process, choose:

  • Install MikTeX from a local package repository
  • Install a small MikTeX system

The smallest MikTeX system is sufficient because missing packages will be installed on the fly. The larger packages use up a lot of hard drive space and you'll never use them.

After you have successfully installed the LaTeX system, you will need to install a LaTeX editor. There are several editors to choose from. For a few options, see this website. Two options are WinEdt and TexMaker. While WinEdt offers a 31-day free trial, a student license costs $30. Texmaker is free.  Installing WinEdt and Texmaker is straightforward. Another somewhat more sophisticated text editor is Sublime Text. Most people use WinEdt.

To get the most out of working with LaTeX, you should also install Ghostscript and GSview, both are available for free.

2. Getting started with LaTeX

If you have never used LaTeX before, then this is a very short step-by-step guide that will get you started: here's a pdf version and the corresponding .tex file (you'll need these files for the bibliography: harvard.sty, economet.bst, and the sample bib file). If you have more advanced questions, you should refer to the resources below.

To get started on your own first paper, use default.tex. Finally, integrating graphs into Latex is easy. Check this out (courtesy of my colleague Bob Hall).

3. Using BibTeX

BibTeX is an easy way to manage your bibliography. It allows you to maintain a database of citations that you can refer to in your paper. BibTeX will be automatically installed with MikTeX. The easiest way to get started with BibTeX and to maintain your bibliography database is by downloading and using JabRef. You should always make sure that your bibliography file is in the same directory as your .tex file.

3.1 Installing additional bibliography styles in WinEdt

When you install additional bibliography styles make sure to save the files in WinEdt's TeXMF root directory. To find out what the root directory is, go to Accessories --> MikTex --> MikTex Options and then choose Roots from the tabs. After you saved your new style file in the root directory, you need to refresh the File name database, which you can do at Accessories --> MikTex --> MikTex Options under the tab General. You can find a list of different economics style files here.    

4. Preparing presentations with LaTeX

There are several options for making slides in LaTeX. One of the best packages right now is called Beamer. It allows you to create slide that look similar to MS PowerPoint, but with all the advantages of LaTeX. You can find some sample code here.

5. Books and web resources

There are several good introductions and reference books for LaTeX. Probably the most comprehensive reference is The LaTeX Companion, 2nd Edition. A somewhat more user-friendly book is Guide to Latex and another good book is LaTeX: A Document Preparation System.

Good web resources include Getting started with LaTeX (which includes .tex sample file) and the Dante Server (a comprehensive TeX archive). If you have specific questions not discussed in these books or on these web sites, there are many more websites online. Just do a quick search.

If you want to know how to get your LaTeX files in shape for NSF, this might help.