1 What is LaTeX?

1.1 Introduction

This session is designed to help you write LaTeX (pronounced `lay-teck'). We will cover all of the basic information you need to design and create simple LaTeX documents using text, tables, images etc. and how to add references and cross-references.

1.2 LaTeX

LaTeX is a document mark-up language, that is used to describe a document and its typesetting (how it is laid out on the page). "Mark-up" means that it consists of commands, which are usually prefixed with a backslash "\", and plain text. Unlike word processing packages you will usually use a text editor to write your documents, and then you "compile" it using LaTeX, just like a computer program. The end result is a Postscript or PDF file of your document.

LaTeX is based on the typesetting language TeX, created by Donald Knuth. The idea behind TeX is that anyone can create top quality publications; TeX did accomplish this goal, but you have to tell the computer every little detail of how you want to set things out on the page so it is rather difficult to use. In the 1980s Leslie Lamport simplified things by creating pre-defined commands to do most common tasks, and this language is what is known as LaTeX. LaTeX is now on version LaTeX2e and has been for a number of years, although LaTeX3 is in the works.

1.3 LaTeX as a Descriptive Language

LaTeX is designed to make sensible decisions about how to set a document out, so in many cases all you need to do is mark your text in such a way that LaTeX knows what it is. This frees us from worrying about where exactly everything will go on a page, and how it will be displayed, and allows us to concentrate instead on what is important: what should be included in the page, and what it means. However LaTeX does allow you to change the layout at will if that become necessary.


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