The power of simplicity, or: How to use tutorials

This is just a quick post, telling you to use tutorials selectively. If you don’t have time, don’t burden yourself with the not-so-short intro to LaTeX or 30 min introductions. Jumpstart in 3 minutes and go.

This morning, I realized one thing: depending on what you want to do with LaTeX, you only need a very limited amount of commands. Even I use a very limited amout of commands for everyday tasks. Going through a whole tutorial might actually be a waste of time for you.


You only need 3-5 go-to commands

What you always need (and, for example, an Overleaf blank document already supplies): You will typically need the general document setup (minimal example), \newpage, \maketitle, \tableofcontents, and \sections and \emph{}.

For teaching documents, I will additionally need \textbf{boldface}, enumerate and itemize environments. Then maybe \href{}{links} (\usepackage{hyperref}), \texttt{typeface} for code or the verbatim environment. And, of course, I often use my cheatsheet template.

For writing scientific articles, I will need bibliographic citation (biblatex), mostly using \footcite{} and \footnote{}. Then maybe sometimes the quote environment for longer quotes. Then a Pandoc conversion to .docx (see the post on how to quit MS Word).

But that’s basically it. The more complicated stuff I use only when I have real typesetting needs or do something overly visual. That’s how I managed to use LaTeX for 5+ years without going any deeper.

The power of simplicity

What I want to say with this is: You don’t need to learn all the concepts to get started. You won’t be able to use all of them anyway. Only learn the ones you need right now to get going. Learn the rest as you go.

30 minute (or longer) introductions to LaTeX are great, but depending on your needs (especially if your a Humanities person who never uses any math or the like), you don’t need to go through complicated tutorials. Just starting  using LaTeX and add skills as you go.

LaTeX is supposed to have “a high learning curve” and take way more time than just using Word. People often say that if you’re not interested in typesetting technical stuff, there is no point in learning “complicated LaTeX”, but LaTeX is not complicated. Not unless you have complicated needs, then it is adequate. Especially if you’re a Humanities scholar – be happy that you can enjoy excellent typesetting without learning the more complicated technical parts of LaTeX. Once you’re used to the general gist, you can add the more fancy features without stress.

Don’t let listings of commands scare you away – you probaby won’t need them and, most importantly, you don’t need to remember them now. You probably don’t even need to know of their existence. If you have a problem, just type "latex how to [...]" in Google and you’ll most certainly find help. Or drop me a note, I’m always happy to help.

So, that’s all I wanted to say for now.


the LaTeX Ninja


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I like LaTeX, the Humanities and the Digital Humanities. Here I post tutorials and other adventures.

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