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Formatting Information — An introduction to typesetting with LATEX

Chapter 3: Packages and CTAN

Section 3.3: Where to go for help

The indexes and documentation files in your TEX installation and on CTAN are the primary online resource for self-help on specific packages, and you should read these carefully before asking questions about packages.

3.3.1 Beginners start here

A very valuable list of Dos and Donts is maintained on StackExchange listing the most common mistakes that newcomers make. Once you’ve got started with LATEX, especially if you have learned it informally from colleagues, it’s worth having a look at this just to make sure you avoid the easiest pitfalls.

3.3.2 The Minimal [Non-]Working Example or MWE

If you want to send an example of what you’re trying to do to one of the forums, mailing lists, or newsgroups listed here, you MUST send an Minimal [Non-]Working Example (MWE). This is your LATEX document pared right down to the bare metal: remove all non-relevant packages, all non-relevant commands and formatting, and send ONLY the absolute bare minimum necessary to show what doesn’t work. Unless you do this, you are wasting everyone’s time, including your own.

There is an excellent article by Nicola Talbot at http://tug.ctan.org/info/dickimaw/dickimaw-minexample.pdf which explains the procedure in fine detail (Talbot, 2014).

And guess what? While doing this, you often find you discover for yourself what the problem was, saving you and thousands of others the trouble of working it out afresh!

3.3.3 The FAQ

For general queries you should read the Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ) document so that you avoid wasting your time and others’ by asking about things for which there is already an easily-accessible answer.

The FAQ is managed by the UK TEX Users Group and can be found at http://www.tex.ac.uk/faq/.

3.3.4 StackExchange

The web site http://tex.stackexchange.com is a carefully-managed and well-structured question-and-answer site for TEX and LATEX. You can vote answers up or down according to their quality or usefulness, but there are strict rules about how you ask questions, the same as for news:comp.text.tex below.

3.3.5 The TEXhax mailing list

Another support resource is the mailing list texhax@tug.org. Again, feel free to ask questions, but again, try to answer the question yourself first (and say what you’ve tried in your message).

3.3.6 Web sites

The TEX Users Group, as well as most local user groups, maintains a web site (http://www.tug.org) with lots of information about various aspects of the TEX system. See the appendix ‘User Groups’ for information on joining TUG.

3.3.7 Usenet News

The Usenet newsgroup news:comp.text.tex is the principal forum for other questions and answers about TEX and LATEX, as well as the principal place where new CTAN packages are announced.

Feel free to ask questions, but please do not ask frequently-asked questions: read the FAQ instead. The people who answer the questions do so voluntarily, unpaid, and in their own time. It is also important that for specific queries you include a Minimal [Non-]Working Example — a very short whole LATEX file that others can download and typeset, to see exactly what your problem is.

There is a very detailed guide to how to get the best out of asking questions on Usenet at http://www.catb.org/esr/faqs/smart-questions.html#intro.

To access Usenet news, type the following URI into your browser’s ‘Location’ or ‘Address’ window: news:comp.text.tex (if your browser doesn’t support Usenet news, install one of the many free newsreaders — see the list at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Usenet_newsreaders).

3.3.8 Google LATEX list

There is a Google Groups mailing list for LATEX users at http://groups.google.com/group/latexusersgroup?hl=en.

3.3.9 Commercial support

If you need commercial levels of support, such as 24-hour phone contact, or macro-writing services, you can buy one of the several excellent commercial versions of TEX listed in Table 1, or contact a consultancy which deals with TEX (details on the TUG Web site and in issues of TUGboat).

  1. Note that this means newsreaders for the Usenet News (NNTP) service. It does not mean syndication readers for RSS, which are a different thing entirely — these are unfortunately also sometimes referred to as ‘newsreaders’.