[OS X TeX] Long line in \description environment

Ross Moore ross at ics.mq.edu.au
Mon Aug 24 17:15:17 EDT 2009

Hello Manuel,

On 25/08/2009, at 6:17 AM, Manuel wrote:

> Am 24/08/2009 um 19:19 schrieb Peter Dyballa:
>> It's the [2ex] after \\. You do not want to learn LaTeX?
> Oh yes, I do, and I even try but this is very difficult for me.  
> With all due respect and gratitude for those who made it and keep  
> developing it, and those who help the helpless (like you do),  
> sometimes it' just too cryptic, and even confusing, for those who  
> don't have a special background. One example of confusing: I read  
> in some places in the internet that the most difficult thing about  
> TeX was the installation. This kept me from trying it for a long  
> time, though all I eventually had to do was click on the icon!

Traditionally installation was (and still is, actually) a very long
procedure, performed from the command-line.
Now there are friendlier interfaces that hide all of that.
It still happens, after yo push that button, but you just don't see it.

> Now I have tried to change the numerical value of [2ex], but this  
> only changed the separation of the paragraphs,

No. This is a common mistake.
\\ does *not* start a new paragraph, though most beginners seem to think
\that it does.
It starts a new line, allowing you to force a linebreak for whatever
reason you may have for doing so  (e.g., to avoid a hyphenation;
though even here there are better ways to do it).
The argument [...] lets you control how large is the vertical space
for that linebreak.

To get a new paragraph, use a blank line, or \par .
These are equivalent.

To understand the difference between paragraphs and linebreaks,
compare the effect in a web-page of:

   <p>...... some text over several window widths
    .... </p>


    ... some text over <br/> over several window widths ...

Look at how the vertical space is handled, whether there
are indents or not, and how the textual material interacts
with surrounding markup structures.

> so obviously, I don't understand what you mean. I looked up  
> "parbox" but did not understand the matter.

\parbox means:  "paragraph in a box"

You specify how wide is the box to be, then fill it with text.
(La)TeX works out the best spacing between words, perhaps using
hyphenation if this is allowed.

\item[... description label ...]

normally does *not* use a \parbox  since the intention is for
the description label to be quite short.
This markup creates a box containing the label, where the
width of the box is the natural width of the label, with
no stretchability of space between words and no hyphenation.

You have seen the difficulties when the label is not short.

You can try putting a \parbox in there, but then you may need to
do something about the height of lines.

The attached PDF shows you how to achieve an aesthetic spacing
within and following the lines of a long label.

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> While I am reasonably fluent in English when it comes to the  
> humanities, I have difficulties working with a (to me) new  
> technical vocabulary. I have downloaded seven manuals concerning  
> LaTeX and, generally, I find there what I need. But sometimes...
> Manuel

Hope this helps,


Ross Moore                                       ross at maths.mq.edu.au
Mathematics Department                           office: E7A-419
Macquarie University                             tel: +61 (0)2 9850 8955
Sydney, Australia  2109                          fax: +61 (0)2 9850 8114

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