06 Jul 2008
If you’re doing research work (in school or otherwise), or if you’re seriously considering a career in the field of research or maybe the academe, then you probably know by now how important it is to publish your work. As they say, in the academic world, it’s “Publish or Perish”. Basically, you’re only as good a researcher as the output you produce and the papers you publish. That isn’t entirely true of course, but it definitely helps if you publish frequently.
I’ve recently been working on a paper about my preliminary thesis results and plan to submit it in an IEEE Conference. There is a certain pride in publishing one’s work to an international conference. Especially if you get to travel and present it. Even though I’ve only done it once before, I can definitely say that it’s one of the highlights of my career so far.
ICIAS 2007 – KL, Malaysia
If you plan to write a technical paper for a conference or even better, for a journal, then I definitely recommend that you invest some of your time to learn LaTeX. It’s the best way to create great looking papers that conform to all formatting standards, without having to worry about every single detail. LaTeX allows you to instead focus on the content of your paper. Similar to how Content Management Systems (CMS) allow you to produce great looking websites without having to deal with the nitty-gritty of web design.
The basic concept is to let the computer handle the formatting of your paper through a set of typesetting algorithms. As the writer, all you have to do is to tell the LaTeX system which parts of your paper are to be formatted with which styles. Be it a figure, a table, a title page or actual content. Almost all major journals and conferences have what we call LaTeX classes or templates. Just download the particular template you need, and it will have all the formatting instructions to give you a perfect paper (at least as far as looks are concerned, the content is still up to you of course). For those in the Electronics field, you’ll probably be interested with the IEEEtran LaTeX Class.
What about MS Word?
Ok, so you’re more familiar with word processing in MS Word. Or maybe the LaTeX code you’ve seen so far seems to be a bit scary. That’s why I say learning LaTeX is an investment. The learning curve is a little steep, but that’s only at the start. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll discover that a lot of you’re time in MS Word is spent moving stuff around and trying to fit figures and text where they’re supposed to go. Instead of worrying about what to write, you’re wasting you’re time changing font sizes, alignment, pagination, and other stuff that the computer is supposed to handle for you.
Even though the code maybe a bit daunting, after trying it out for a few days, you’ll learn that the syntax is actually quite simple. Plus, most of the code is provided for and can be downloaded straight from the net.
Still not convinced?
Here are just some of the features I love about LaTeX:
- You worry about content, not formatting. That way you end up with good content with perfect formatting that’s going to adhere to standards.
- Rendered formulas and equations just look stunning (see image below).
- BibTeX (part of LaTeX) allows you to manage all you’re references in a database and not have to worry about creating your bibliography.
- Citations in BibTeX format are available in CiteSeer databases and even in IEEE Xplore. So you don’t even have to type them.
- Figures are arranged by the computer. No more worrying about moving stuff around only to find that a single paragraph you inserted made everything move around again. (Waaaah! Don’t you just hate that?!)
- It’s open source and it runs on virtually all platforms. No need to “borrow” a copy of M$ Word from a friend.
Here are a few snippets of actual LaTeX documents:
The Fast-Fourier Transform in all its pristine LaTeX beauty
Look Ma! No typing required. Thanks to BibTeX.
To see more examples, I suggest you look at the official IEEETran Documentation, since it was created entirely with LaTeX.
If you want to try LaTeX right now but don’t want to learn all the commands. You can install LyX, which is a graphical front-end to LaTeX. It runs on Linux, Windows and a lot of other platforms and it’s very easy to learn. Just run through the tutorial that’s included with the program. I do have some issues with it, and I tend to get better looking results, especially with IEEE papers, when I hardcode in LaTeX. But it’s definitely a great way to start learning about LaTeX and start producing some good looking documents.
Once you’re comfortable with LyX, you can start playing around with the code. It’s a very easy transition since LyX has the ability to export directly to LaTeX code. If you don’t know how to do something in LaTeX, just use LyX and then export the code. That way you learn even more and eventually you don’t even have to go back to LyX anymore.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you by now why you should be learning LaTeX and throwing away MS Word. Watch out for my next post, where I’ll be showing you the programs I use to write IEEE papers as well as provide you with a few insights on how to get LaTeX up and running on your system.