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Formatting Information — An introduction to typesetting with LATEX

Chapter 3: Plugins and support

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

If you haven’t used online help before, please read Eric Steven Raymond’s advice in How To Ask Questions The Smart Way (Raymond, 2014) which will save you and the volunteers who answer you a lot of time.

Will Robertson posted on Twitter: ‘Some recent LATEX experiences that made me happy’ (see sidebars).

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 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 TEX 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.

3.3.4 StackExchange

The web site 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 comp.text.tex below.

3.3.5 Discord

The Discord web site and the associated app (most devices) is a chat and discussion system originally aimed at the gaming community, but it now has a very active and useful server for TEX and LATEX.

3.3.6 The TEXhax mailing list

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

3.3.7 TUG and other web sites

TEX Users Group (TUG), as well as most local user groups, maintains a web site ( with lots of information about various aspects of the TEX system and details of support groups, conferences, and journals in many languages and cultures. See the appendix ‘User Groups’ below for information on joining TUG.

3.3.8 Usenet News

The Usenet newsgroup 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

To access Usenet news, type news:comp.text.tex into your browser’s ‘Location’ or ‘Address’ window. If your browser doesn’t support Usenet news, install one of the many free newsreaders from the list at Google Groups also provides access to Usenet newsgroups (, but it is a web interface, not a newsreader in the normal sense of the word, and lacks most of the normal features of a newsreader.

3.3.9 Google LATEX list

There is a Google Groups mailing list for LATEX users at

3.3.10 Commercial support

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

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