So, I’m rounding the half way point for my thesis – most of which was spent learning how to use LaTeX and the companion editor I downloaded, TeXnicCenter. Here are a few things I can tell you about writing a thesis in LaTeX.

1. Since the first four chapters of my thesis were papers I published as first author, I just basically plagiarized them into chapters. I dunno if this is ethical or not, but it’s seems to be hugely accepted here and no one questions you for doing it. This also means that the largest problem was changing what I had written into a properly formated document for submission to the Graduate School and, as it turns out, formatting for the Grad School is a task unto itself. Fortunately, there are a few LaTeX classfiles for dissertations and I could just plug and chug.

2. TeXnicCenter is shitty. There are certain things in Office you get to liking. For instance the whole Ctrl+B makes bold is a fuck of a lot easier then \textbf{texthere}. There’s no reason it can’t be a keyboard macro, but it isn’t. Nor is italics. Which means I have tons of M$^{-1}$ to make M-1. A lot of typing just to get superscript. Again, in Word it’s just Ctrl+Shift+=.

3. If I had to start writing from scratch, I don’t think LaTeX would have been the answer. While TeXnicCenter has spell check and an awesome chemistry dictionary exists for convenient use, it’s not intended to be a WYSIWYG environment and, as such, it looks like you’re coding and not writing a pretty document. Only after compiling do you discover you’ve made a really pretty document.

Most of my issues stem, I think, from my distaste for the LaTeX editor I’m using and not from LaTeX itself.  LEd didn’t work for me as it is buggy as all fuck and TeXnicCenter, despite its opensourcieness, is pitifully unprepared for serious use by people more focused on writing a document than typesetting it.  If I had to make a recommendation, I would recommend everyone learn how to write in LaTeX because it makes documents which are far superior to Office – assuming someone did the leg work for you and made you a nice classfile.  Otherwise, if you have no previously prepared papers and have limited time to learn how to “program your thesis” you should stick with Word.