LaTeX (pronounced like this) is a free typesetting system that uses TeX as its formatting engine. Leslie Lamport developed LaTeX in 1985, based on Donald Knuth's TeX typesetting language. The beauty of LaTeX is that it automatically produces the best document design (well, most of the time) so that an author does not have to play with complicated design elements for proper typesetting. In addition to producing pretty documents, LaTeX automatically updates equation, table, and figure numbers, properly places figures and tables, typesets beautiful equations, and has a host of other great features that simplify tasks that would be difficult or impossible with a traditional word processor.

So why bother learning LaTeX? If you plan to write either a professional-looking document or a large report that includes figures (e.g., a thesis, résumé, business proposal, journal article, conference preprint, etc.), then LaTeX is for you. Try embedding multiple, large figures into a Microsoft Word document and make them fit in an appropriate spot on the intended page. Make a table of contents, add dozens of numbered equations, then go back and add a few pages of text and numbered figures in the middle. If Word doesn't crash first, you can quickly see why LaTeX is so wonderful for scientific publications. LaTeX automatically takes care of all of these typesetting problems! For more great reasons to use LaTeX, learn about TeX, LaTeX, and friends.

I have found that LaTeX is an indispensable tool for me in the field of meteorology. I used LaTeX to write my dissertation and résumés and I still use it to write manuscripts, conference preprints, class handouts, exams, recommendation letters, and other documents. The American Meteorological Society permits manuscript authors to upload LaTeX files directly in the production process using their template.


For references and documentation, I would start with The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX 2ε. This is a fantastic reference and might be the only one that you need for now. You can learn about LaTeX from the LaTeX project, while CTAN contains a collection of materials related to the TeX typesetting system. Norman Matloff provides a great collection of tutorials. You can search for help sorted by subject, command, or environment or read from this collection of introductions and online help. If you want to use EPS graphics or other formats in your documents, learn about Using Imported Graphics in LaTeX and pdfLaTeX.

A Simple LaTeX File

Begin your first exposure to LaTeX by downloading simplex.tex into a suitable directory on Blizzard. Our ultimate goal is to produce a Portable Document Format (PDF) file. You can produce a PDF file using two different methods, often with different results. We'll use one method here (the other involves the pdflatex command). At the Linux prompt, try latex simplex.tex
latex simplex.tex blankYes, type it twice
dvips -o simplex.dvi
This set of commands allows you to successfully include EPS graphics in your document and produces a device independent (DVI) file that you can view with xdvi simplex.dvi and a PostScript file that you can view with gv The last line converts the PostScript file into a PDF file.

View your PDF file with acroread simplex.pdf or open a WinSCP window (or other SFTP client) and download the PDF file to your local machine. The latter method is probably faster off campus. After you view this example as a PDF, open simplex.tex with gvim to see the source. Try modifying some of the text and commands to see what happens.

Encountering Errors

Sometimes, LaTeX does not provide particularly informative error messages, but it does give you a line number just before giving you a ? prompt. Enter q at the prompt to abort and then enter :linenumber in gvim to locate the offending line. Common errors include forgetting to close parentheses or dollar signs, problems in equations, and trying to use unknown commands such as \whatisthis. Continually hitting enter at the ? prompt will allow LaTeX to complete. You can usually see what went wrong by viewing either your .dvi file or your finished PDF file. If you can't figure out the error, please send me an email.

American Meteorological Society Publications

The American Meteorological Society provides very specific instructions for typesetting extended abstracts to accompany oral and poster presentations at meetings. Your task is to write an article that follows these formatting specifications. To get you started, I've provided preprint.sty, which contains code to specify certain LaTeX styles. This style file provides code for JP1-2.tex, which is where the LaTeX source code resides. These files and others are located in etacomp.tar.gz, which you may place into your directory on Blizzard. Unpack this file and view the files with gunzip etacomp.tar.gz
tar xvf etacomp.tar
cd etacomp
To create a PDF, you could use latex JP1-2.tex
latex JP1-2.tex
dvips -o JP1-2.dvi
Instead of typing all these commands every time you want to view your finished PDF file, you may find it useful to execute a shell script with these commands. You have in your etacomp directory. Try this instead: ./ Open with a text editor to see the shell commands.

snow Your job requires writing your own article in LaTeX by modifying my etacomp example. You may either write something completely original or modify a paper that you have already written for another class (in any case, you may not plagiarize someone else's work). Your preprint article must contain at least the following:

  • Two vector graphics images (see vector graphics)
  • Two inline equations
  • Two numbered and displayed equations
  • References in the text to each of the numbered equations and figures using labels (not hard-coded numbers)

If your pre-written paper does not contain these elements, just make something up and add them. The point of this assignment to produce a document with LaTeX. Post your completed article (in PDF format) on your password-protected Web page, along with your .tex file.

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