Your support for our advertisers helps cover the cost of hosting, research, and maintenance of this document

Formatting Information — An introduction to typesetting with LATEX

Chapter 2: Basic structures

Section 2.5: A little think about structure

It’s very easy to sit down at a keyboard with a traditional wordprocessor and just start typing. If it’s a very short document, or something short-lived or relatively unimportant, then you just want to type it in and make it ‘look nice’ by highlighting with the mouse and clicking on font styles and sizes.

In doing so, you may achieve the effect you wanted, but your actions have left no trace behind of why you made these changes. This is not important for trivial, ephemeral, or short-term documents. Sometimes, though, you may need to write longer, more permanent, or more complex documents, or documents arranged to a regular pattern like reports or articles. Making them consistent by manual methods then becomes a nightmare, and an enormous waste of time, because everything has to be formatted and reformatted by hand.

LATEX’s automation is based on you providing the ‘why’ information, identifying the elements of your document by name, and letting the template or stylesheet take care of the formatting.

Exercise 2.5 — Reasoning

If your documents have any of the features below, then you have probably already started thinking about structure.

  • My document naturally divides into sections (parts, chapters, etc).

  • My document is long.

  • There is lots of repetitive formatting in my document.

  • My document is complex (intellectually or visually).

  • There are lots of figures or tables (or examples, exercises, panels, sidebars, etc) in my document.

  • Accuracy is important in formatting my document.

  • A master copy of my document is needed for future reference or reprinting.

  • This is a formal or official document needing special care and attention.

  • My document (or part of it) may need ongoing or occasional re-editing and republishing.

  • It’s my thesis, book, white paper, leaflet, pamphlet, paper, article, etc. That’s why I care.

If you’ve got this far, you’re over half-way done. Using a structural editor — even a simple outliner — can make a huge difference to the quality of your thinking because you are consciously organising your thoughts before setting them down. And it can make just as big a difference to your formatting as well: more consistent, better presented, easier for the reader to navigate through, and more likely to be read and understood — which is presumably why you are writing the document in the first place.