The best LaTeX Editor for Engineers and Engineering Students

Ask the average engineer about LaTeX and blank stares might be the probable response you get. Although the LaTeX is a document preparation system originally built in the 80’s by Leslie Lamport for use in the scientific, mathematics and engineering field, its popularity in these fields are still limited. Therefore, this article will be shedding some light on LaTex, LaTeX editors and its similarities/contrasting features with Microsoft Word.

What is LaTeX?

Lamport TeX also fondly known as LaTeX, is a document preparation system that allows the writer make use of plain text and mark-ups to highlight or make stylized changes to the entire document. A text distribution such as MikTeX or TeX Live is still used to produce an output file such as DVI or PDF which are suitable for digital reproduction.

It is important to note that LaTeX provides the user with more writing flexibility due to the fact that it harnesses the power of TeX which handles its layout responsibilities while LaTeX handles the content side for document processing.

What is LaTeX used for?

LaTex is a typesetting system and it uses source code to generate a document. As stated earlier, with LaTeX you can edit a file and then typeset it to generate a specified output which can be PDF. In the academic and scientific community, LaTeX is generally the typing document of choice this is due to the fact that it can be used to produce a high-level or professional typesetting and structure than the average ‘what you see is what you get’ word document such as Microsoft or Libre Word.

It generally allows the user focus primarily on typing or content without having to bother about the layout. While the LaTeX software takes care of structuring and page formatting. Now, an understanding of what LaTeX is and what it has to offer generally leads to the question; what are the differences between it and the average Microsoft Word Document. This I will answer in the next paragraphs.

Comparing LaTeX vs. Microsoft Word

To actively compare both document preparation systems, it is important to provide criteria that direct the comparisons.  These criteria will include the following;

  • Kerning—the process of selectively adjusting spacing between word
  • Capitalization—the ability to create small capital letters in different format
  • Intuitive Ligatures use—the use of ligatures and how a system integrates this
  • Glyph Variants—having a selection of varying glyph fonts
  • Line breaks and Hyphenation—how a preparation system supports document readability
  • Getting Expert Fonts

Now using the following criteria to discuss the differences between LaTeX and Microsoft Word we have:

  • Kerning: this is a process that involves selectively adjusting the space between letter pairs—VA, PA, AY etc.—these series of letters must be adjusted accordingly to bring out the right appearance. Using the average WYSIWYG document system—Microsoft—adjusting kerning to fit into a particular aesthetic arrangement is impossible but when using a LaTeX system, you have the privilege of arranging series of letters according to the aesthetic alignment you prefer. Below, you can see the difference in how these words are kerned. Writing ‘Table with Ms Word leaves a subtle space b default between ‘T and a’ while using LaTeX, the proper spacing between both letters is maintained.

  • Capitalization: when writing capital letters using the double capitalization method—which consist of a larger capital letter and same capital letter in a smaller form (AA), the average WYSIWYG system simply creates a fake small capital letter by playing with font size. LaTeX, on the other hand, goes all out to ensure that different set of glyphs are used. A LaTeX system ensures that the smaller capital letter is distinct which can be noticed from the heavier touch and visual compatibility they share with the larger character.

  • Intuitive Ligatures: A good typesetting program is one that has the ability to intuitively apply contextual intelligence and substitutions when and where ligatures are needed. The image below shows how Microsoft Word misses the mark when it comes to understanding common ligature while the other image showcases the correct use of ligatures when typesetting with LaTeX.

Also, when writing ancient words still in use today, MS Word simply allows you itemize these words using italics but LaTex provides you with actual ancient ligatures for them. The picture below showcases these examples.

  • Glyph Variants: expert fonts are generally made up of variants such as alternate shapes or alphabetic characters mixed with numbers. While some LaTeX document system allows you to intuitively write words using different font variants, the average WYSIWYG system does not support glyph variants.
  • Line Breaks and Hyphenation—a document’s overall readability is not determined by the typefaces or fonts used but by the accurate distribution of characters and spaces per line. To get this done, the average WYSIWYG processors use un-intuitive justification and hyphenation to make words more readable. On the other hand, a LaTeX processor makes use of advanced algorithms to determine the justifications, line breaks, spacing and hyphenating a sentence needs. This drastically improves the quality and readability of word documents. This makes the entire document look good and further developments have enabled LaTeX engines to stick certain characters into its margin which creates better or optically lined margins.
  • Getting Expert Fonts—LaTeX provides much better expert fonts than those produced by the normal WYSIWYG document system. This is due to the multitude of fonts available for selection by the user. Although Microsoft Words does not come close to the number of expert fonts available at both ends, Mac OS can compete to a certain level with LaTeX. Users of the LaTeX system can also download thousands of font types from various online sources to augment the default fonts in the LaTeX ecosystem.

Here, we find the major differences between the LaTeX documenting system and that of Microsoft Word. The next step for those who believe LaTeX offers a better option for documentation is getting a good LaTeX editor to work with. Below are some of the best documents you can use for typesetting.

The Top 5 best LaTeX Editors Engineers and Engineering Students Should Use

TeXmaker

TeXmaker makes this list due to its popularity as an open-source, multi-platform solution for LaTeX editing. The editor comes with an easy to use interface which requires that the user set-up all the basic settings of their LaTeX document before actually beginning to work with it. TeXmaker also provides the user with the necessary features to carry out spell-checks and other layout details using the ‘Quick start’ window. The structure view also serves the important task of allowing users streamline documents using separate sections while labeling each section during the process.

On completing the groundwork for the document layout and imputing the text, the next step is compiling and getting the document out in PDF, HTML or ODF format. The TeXmaker is also designed to allow the user track errors during the compilation stage and it takes the step of actively displaying these errors so you can edit as you choose. The TeXmaker was developed to run on every platform or operating system out there. Therefore, you can use this tool with Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

TeXstudio

Here we have another extensive open-source and multi-platform LaTeX editor which has made some positive in-roads in the academic world. The TeXstudio is basically an advanced version of the TeXmaker due to the fact that it includes features such as ‘Document Word count, frequency count analysis etc.

The features that make this LaTeX editor stand out are; syntax highlighting for sentence correction, reference check to simplify finding references and an inclusion of approximately 1500 mathematical formulae. The average engineer or engineering student can see why this system is more useful than WYSIWYG documentation.

The ability to add formulae with ease makes it a standout text processing unit. TeXstudio also supports the integration of images and table—which are auto formatted—making it a more advanced version of TeXstudio. Users can also export completed work to PDF and HTML like most LaTeX editors. TeXstudio is supported by the major operating systems used by students worldwide. Therefore, you can use it on your Windows, Linux or Apple powered computers.

TeXworks

TeXworks which is an off-shoot of TeXshops, is an open-source LaTeX editor that provides a GUI-based approach to editing and it comes with a lot of the features listed in the previous two. The TeXworks main features include auto-completion and auto-correction support which simplifies the task of LaTeX editing. This editor is liked by students due to its minimalistic yet comprehensive approach to LaTeX editing.

TeXworks which is an off-shoot of TeXshops, is an open-source LaTeX editor that provides a GUI-based approach to editing and it comes with a lot of the features listed in the previous two. The TeXworks main features include auto-completion and auto-correction support which simplifies the task of LaTeX editing. This editor is liked by students due to its minimalistic yet comprehensive approach to LaTeX editing.

TeXworks also integrates the use of graphics, table and other image interacting tools to create a more diverse document. The system is also supported by Windows, Linux and the Mac OS ecosystem. This is another favourite LaTeX editor for man people, therefore; engineers and students stand to gain a lot using the TeXworks editor.

Vim with LaTeX-Suite

This is another powerful LaTeX editor that allows the user edit and compiles LaTeX documents on the VIM ecosystem. Like TeXworks before it, it brings a minimalistic approach to editing. It is important to note that it is basically an extension with the capability to edit and compile LaTeX documents for VIM.

The features of this extension include a GUI-based interface which definitely simplifies your work. The simplification comes from the ease at which images, graphics and graphs can be integrated into a document. The LaTeX suite can also be configured according to the user’s wishes and programmers can create different sections, troubleshoot these sections for errors as well as add code blocks with ease into documents. It is also a versatile tool which can be used for diverse functions such as creating notes, editing configured files and the normal LaTeX edits it is known for. Lastly, the extension as well as Vim, is supported on all operating systems—Windows, Linux, Unix, and Mac OS—which definitely increases its appeal to the programming community.

Authorea

When looking for an excellent web-based LaTeX editor, the Authorea might just be the best solution for your needs. This tool is great online editors which possess almost all the features you would expect in an advanced LaTeX editor. One of its major selling points is that it comes equipped with ready-to-use templates and not integrations or configurations are needed to set this up.

Its features include a plethora of collaboration tools, document revision history and a chat feature that enhances your ability to communicate with other collaborators when working on a document. The Authorea also makes it easy to insert images, links, tables and other key items you would require to make your document more readable. The auto-creation reference feature will also be one that engineering students will find useful when writing dissertations and academic papers that require such. The inclusion of mathematical formulae is also an endearing factor that makes the Authorea a delight for students working with such formulas. This LaTeX editor is also available on Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems.

Here we come to the end of the top 5 LaTeX editors engineering professionals and students can use to edit LaTeX documents and store them digitally using different file formats—PDF, HTML etc. There are other LaTeX editors available on the market and a majority of these editors are totally free. Therefore we recommend that you find one to play around with in other to learn more about the expanded capabilities they offer engineering professionals.

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