LaTeX for Math Students

Compare the two typed versions of the Quadratic Formula below. What do you notice?

Typeset with MS Word.

The features of the formula typeset in Word are described below.

Typeset with LaTeX.

The features of the formula typeset in LaTeX are described below.

In the Word version,

  • The equations are in a different font than the words.

  • The quadratic formula itself is smaller and more cramped.

  • The spacing varies greatly, between the words and the equations, as well as between the quadratic equation and quadratic formula.

In the LaTeX version,

  • The equations and words are all in the same font.

  • The quadratic formula is larger, more spaced out, and more readable.

  • The spacing is consistent throughout the words and equations.

About LaTeX

The origins of LaTeX lie in a practical problem - unattractive digital typesetting. Computer scientist Donald E. Knuth developed the TeX (pronounced "tech") system to typeset his own project, The Art of Computer Programming. Later, in 1985, Leslie Lamport launched LaTeX (pronounced "lay-tech" or "lah-tech") to make TeX more intuitive for the common user. Today, TeX and LaTeX are popular among not only computer scientists but mathematicians, engineers, physicists, philosophers, lawyers, theologians... all fields which require typing specialized characters.

Math students can benefit from LaTeX too! It provides a neater and more professional alternative to handwriting your assignments, or typing them in Microsoft Word. It is especially handy for work submitted online, but if you have access to a printer then there is nothing stopping you from getting fancy with your in-person assignments, either.

A typical math assignment requires only a few tools from LaTeX's wide capabilities. With a little bit of effort, you can get a polished document.

Further reading

About this tutorial

In this module, we will go over all you need to know to typeset an assignment for a calculus class with LaTeX. We will cover the skills needed to typeset basic algebra, as well as the forms required for differential and integral calculus.

The only requirements to start are a computer with internet access, and some basic math knowledge. You will not need to do any math for this tutorial, but it will probably be more interesting if you know the meaning of the symbols you are typing. If you have not covered a certain notation in your math classes yet, feel free to return to it later.

Preview of activities

Besides reading, there are a few activities throughout the tutorial:

  • Exercises: Short exercises are included in the readings, with detailed solutions. These give you the chance to practice working with LaTeX. They are completely optional - do every exercise if you would like more practice, or feel free to skip them.

  • Quizzes: Five automatically-graded quizzes (4-8 questions each) are included after major sections in the tutorial to check your knowledge.

  • Final Assessment: To finish the module, you will use LaTeX to create a document from beginning to end, typesetting a definition and proof from integral calculus.

A final note

This tutorial is a work in progress. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to contact me!