[OS X TeX] Semi-OT

Will Robertson will at guerilla.net.au
Sat Jan 22 10:56:52 EST 2005

On 23 Jan 2005, at 2:01 AM, Jason Davies wrote:

> I have been asked to lead a discussion for students and staff about
> presenting documents. I doubt very much that any will be inclined to 
> use
> LaTeX but what would be useful is an overview of why we use it - in
> terms of aesthetics, readability etc (why those large margins? kind of
> thing.) I think the idea is that people may consider applying such
> principles to (presumably) Word documents (eg choice of fonts, width of
> page, number of lines etc).

As to why I use LaTeX specifically:
    a) logical input creates consistent output; there's pretty much no 
other way to do it (as opposed to Word, where the Bold/Italic buttons 
and tab key tempt you endlessly)
    b) stable output (pdf) -- compiled documents might last forever
    c) mostly-stable input (you're set for life with plain TeX, but 
LaTeX packages change, etc.)
    d) BibTeX & natbib
    e) extensibility -- being able to program in odd ways of presenting 
data using margin notes, hyperlinks, etc.

It has helped me learn about other typographic issues, however, most 
specifically "those large margins" -- optimal number of characters per 
line is approx 66 (45--75 depending), so with our odd-shaped paper 
sizes, the margins need to be pretty big to achieve this. So this is 
what the defaults do. (Of course, this is very easy to override and you 
can make LaTeX output ugly if you wish.)

The defaults are good for Computer Modern, but as soon as you move to 
something else, the page layout should really be re-designed. For 
example, with Palatino you can shrink the margins some because it has a 
greater running length.

LaTeX does a better job of hyphenation and justification (although this 
doesn't make a huge huge difference when you're talking about really 
long lines of text) so the text looks better on the page and is less 
distracting to read. pdfTeX has all that amazing microtype stuff that 
looks gorgeous -- not too many people would notice though, especially 
the auto font expansion.

Maths. Maths. Maths. Complex maths (from fractions and greek letters 
up, in my opinion) in Word is a disaster. It is especially great that 
LaTeX now has several matching math fonts for various text fonts; this 
is a huge advantage.

Lots of other small things, like auto selection of optical font sizes. 
I'm sure there's many things I've forgotten.

Best of luck,

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