The Only LaTeX Editor Guide You Will Need
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The Only LaTeX Editor Guide You Will Need

Monali Ghosh
Monali Ghosh

Table of Contents


What is a LaTeX editor?

Before addressing what a LaTeX editor is, let us see what TeX and LaTeX are. TeX is an advanced typesetting system which was majorly developed by Donald Knuth. TeX is mainly popular because of its ability to handle complex technical text and in displaying mathematical formulae. So, what is LaTeX? Put simply, LaTeX is a set of macros (or macro packages) built on top TeX. It was built by Leslie Lamport way back in the ’80s. Whatever LaTeX command you use are basically a set of TeX commands being compiled underneath. In short, it is a document preparation system which is predominantly used for technical or scientific writing and publishing.

LaTex-Editor-Guide_SciSpace-Resources
The best LaTeX editor guide in 2018

On the basis of the above, what is a LaTeX editor? Simply put, a LaTeX editor is an online/offline app which enables you to write, edit and publish your paper in LaTeX. LaTeX editors come in handy when you are writing your paper in LaTeX.

LaTeX editors empower users to define the formatting of the text in advance through markup-level directions and once the content is put into place, the document is ready to be exported in multiple formats such as DOCX, PDF & LaTeX itself. Editing mathematical equations are extraordinarily handled in these editors which is one of the key reasons why these editors came into play.

A study conducted by Authorea suggested that approximately 18% of researchers use LaTeX to write their paper. Even astonishing to see the numbers when it comes to hard sciences:

  • Mathematics and Statistics: 151,085 (92% LaTeX = 138,998)
  • Physics and Astronomy: 274,287 (60% LaTeX = 164,572)
  • Computer Science: 255,916 (45% LaTeX = 115,162)

This alone suggests that LaTeX has a global reach. On top of this, the LaTeX editors accelerate the growth of LaTeX in the research writing and publishing community. Not everyone is a fan of LaTeX. Some still believe that there’s nothing better than traditional word processing systems like MS Word, Google Docs, LibreOffice, Apple Pages, etc.

Since you’re on this blog, I appreciate the fact that you are learning (or already know) LaTeX and want to more about it. 🙂

Top 9 advantages of LaTeX Editors

...that convince researchers to move from traditional word processors

Let’s face it! Word processing tools like MS Word, Google Docs, LibreOffice, etc. were not created for research writing. They are writing and editing tools for general purposes. Research writing comes with its own set of challenges; which any word processor is not able to handle in a manner it should be handled.

After the advent of LaTeX, a good chunk of the research community, especially the ones from physics, computer science, and related domains, embraced it and many researchers made LaTeX their ‘way’ to write their manuscripts. If you have used LaTeX even once in your academic life, you’d understand what I’m talking about. LaTeX brings along its own set of benefits.

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9 advantages of LaTeX editors

Let’s have a look at some of the unique features of LaTeX and how its a blessing to the academic research community:

1. Write first; format later: In LaTeX, the writing is properly segmented from formatting. The beauty of LaTeX is that it allows you to define styles for individual elements. These elements will have a consistent styling across the document; you need not format it every time you add an element. Hence, you can write in peace and do all the formatting just once.

2. Flexibility: Researchers say that you can literally do ‘anything’ on LaTeX. Since the launch of LaTeX, a profuse number of packages and macros have come into being which helps solve complex problems in LaTeX; most of which can be found on CTAN (aka Comprehensive Tex Archive Network). Besides that, it is easy to search expressions like $x^5$ or \footnote as compared to word processors. You can also search the file using regular expressions. Writing macros for better semantic representation is just a one-liner.

3. Quality: It can’t be denied that the quality of output produced by LaTeX is far superior to that produced by Word or any other word processing software. This is especially true with papers which have a high density of mathematical content, graphs, etc. Besides that, it also has much better kerning, hyphenation and justification procedures. It uses an innovatory measurement called a scaled point to layout text in a sophisticated and fine-grained manner.

4. Platform Independent: LaTeX scripts are platform independent. Why? Because you get it in a plain text (.txt) file. A text file is probably one of the most versatile forms of filetypes to exist. You can literally open and edit a text file in any tool. Generally speaking, all known editors like Notepad, Notepad ++, and even MS Word can open text files. This is a prominent advantage over MS Word as it uses OOXML format which is proprietary. This results in distortion in formatting when you copy or import a Word document into any other word processors.

5. Stability: Researchers who use MS Word are often disappointed by the fact that word processors like MS Word are prone to crashes. On the contrary, LaTeX doesn’t really have bugs. It is built by clever coders who kept in mind the drawbacks of word processors and attempted to fix them. Even if some bugs exist, you are never in danger of losing your original source text (What a relief!). In Word, almost any tool which is integrated with it might be capable of damaging your main file. However, in LaTeX that’s not the case. Most of the packages are built on LaTeX itself.

6. Scalability: LaTeX is ‘the’ way to go when it comes to large documents like thesis and books. LaTeX allows you to split up large documents into smaller chunks and let LaTeX combine them together. For instance, you writing individual files for each chapter in a book and later combining them to form one complete book. It is also capable of creating tables of content, indexes, and bibliographies easily, even on multi-file projects.

7. Cost: The original version of MS Word costs around $7/month. OpenOffice is free but it’s literally a lot worse than MS Word. LaTeX is available for FREE. It is all open source along with its packages (which you can access through CTAN).

8. Publisher Friendly: Nowadays, journals are explicitly asking researchers to format their paper in LaTeX. If that’s not the case then at least they have an option for researchers like you to submit in LaTeX. Top journals and publishers like Nature, Elsevier, SAGE, etc. have this option. They prefer submissions in LaTeX as it’s apparently easier to edit it before final publishing.

9. Auto-update Bibliography: A key reason why researchers use LaTeX. It can generate the bibliography of a manuscript automatically. The most common way you can opt to write a bibliography is by using a .bib file. This type of file provides you with a list of references that can be used within your document. Now, you can use this .bib file in your .tex file using the \cite{} command; your bibliography is generated within a matter of seconds.

Now that you know the unquestionable advantages of LaTeX editors, let us take you through the top LaTeX editors one by one.

The best LaTeX editors to choose from

Now that you know the benefits of a LaTeX editor, let’s have a look at the top LaTeX editors researchers love to use. Let’s walk you through the top online LaTeX editors first!

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Top LaTeX editors of 2018

Overleaf

Overleaf is a trusted name in the LaTeX community. It is an online writing and collaboration tool which runs on LaTeX. It boasts a user base of over 2,000,000 users from 180 countries across the globe. As per their website, 17 million projects have been created within Overlead since their inception in 2012. Overleaf comes with over 500 templates ranging from journals, CVs, resumes, papers, presentations, assignments, letters, project reports, and more.

Features

  1. Real-time collaboration: This is a key feature that Overleaf offers. It helps you understand what each author is contributing to the development of a research paper. This, in turn, provides transparency into each author’s contribution to the project.
  2. Easy sharing: Want to share your research paper with co-authors, reviewers, instructors, etc.? It’s simple. Every project you create on Overleaf has a secret link. All you need to do is copy that link and share it with the respective person to view, comment and edit your document.
  3. Real-time preview: In Overleaf, you can see real-time changes (or preview) as you write your document. Essentially, Overleaf compiles your project in the backend for you to see the actual output.
  4. Rich text mode: If your co-authors are reluctant to use LaTeX (or don’t know how to use it), this feature can come in handy. It renders headings, formatting, and equations directly into the editor, to make it appear usual for WYSIWYG users.
  5. Find mistakes quickly: Overleaf warns you of errors as you write to help you detect them early on. It also shows the errors in-line so you don’t have to find them the LaTeX log.
  6. Protected Projects: In Overleaf Pro, you can actually make your projects protected which means that you choose who will have access to the project. You can add or delete collaborators anytime you want.

Pricing

Overleaf has 3 plans: Free, Pro, & Pro + Teach. They offer a few features in the free version. To utilize all the features of the tool, you need to buy a paid plan which starts at $15/month.

Compatibility

Overleaf is an online LaTeX editor which is compatible to be used on all the top web browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.

ShareLaTeX

ShareLaTeX is a web-based LaTeX writing and collaboration tool which can be accessed through an internet browser. It takes all your document editing tasks online without the task of installing the software. The best thing about ShareLaTeX is that it comes with over 400 ready-to-use templates. Templates include research papers for journals, scientific articles, CVs, Resumes, etc. As per their website, this tool is used by 1,000,000 researchers, academics & students across the globe.

Features

  1. Collaboration: With ShareLaTeX, you can now view in real-time, what edits your co-authors, mentors, etc. are making. There’s only one master version which everyone has access to.
  2. Easy to use: This editor comes loaded with all the necessary LaTeX packages and templates to help you get started without any delay. With this tool, you get the same set-up irrespective of location, browser, etc.
  3. Entire doc history: With document history, you can view all the changes i.e., what’s been added or removed from the document since its creation. Besides that, you can conveniently restore to an older version if needed. This enables you to revert back to the last saved version, in case you lose your work.

Pricing

ShareLaTeX offers 3 plans to its users: Free, Collaborator and Professional. They offer a limited set of features in the free version. For all the features, you need to buy a paid plan which starts at $15/month.

Compatibility

ShareLaTeX is an online LaTeX editor which is compatible to be used on all the top web browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.

P.S.: Overleaf has acquired ShareLaTeX. So, it doesn’t make much difference if you choose one over the other.

Authorea

Authorea is an online writing tool that helps researchers write, collaborate, host data and publish their works. This editor is also known as the “Google Docs for Scientists”. It is an advanced editor which lets you write your manuscript in both LaTeX and Markdown language. This tool also helps you publish your paper to multiple open access journals besides automatically formatting your paper to the selected journal style. The free version of the service provides unlimited viewing access to public documents.

Features

  1. Collaboration: In Authorea, multiple users can write and edit a document at the same time. Authorea allows you and your team (or other users) to select a part of the document and annotate that part with comments. The comments so posted can be publicly visible to everyone or private to you or a group of users with access to that comment. Authorea is actually built on Git which makes its version control system one of the best as compared to its competitors. Additionally, co-authors (or other users) can also chat within the tool while writing.
  2. Formatting and citations: Authorea has an in-built citation search which allows you to search and add any citation from PubMed, CrossRef or by inserting the paper’s DOI. Authorea supports over 40 publisher and journal styles. Besides that, it automatically formats references as per the guidelines of a particular publisher on export. Also, Authorea supports equations written in LaTeX markup.
  3. Rich content: In Authorea, you can drag and drop figures directly into the manuscript or upload the same from your computer. Authorea allows you to use iPython Notebook (aka Jupyter Notebook) and interactive figures using D3.js.
  4. Import and export: You can link your document with a GitHub account for backup as well as editing it offline. On top of that, you can export your document into a Word, PDF or LaTeX formats. You can also import a LaTeX or a .docx document to create a new Authorea document.

Pricing

Authorea has 4 pricing plans: Free, Groups, Enterprise. They offer a limited number of features in the free version. For the complete set of features, you need to buy a paid plan which starts at $10/month.

Compatibility

Authorea is an online LaTeX editor which is compatible to be used on all the top web browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.

Papeeria

Papeeria is an easy-to-use online LaTeX writing and editing platform. It is widely known in the LaTeX community due to its simplicity and exceptionally clean UX. It is also one of the few tools which are supported on Android & iOS besides being supported by all the top web browsers. Papeeria has thousands of users across the globe. Many researchers prefer Papeeria because of its ability to write and edit your paper offline as well (we shall discuss this in its features).

Features

  1. The editor: Papeeria runs an extremely powerful LaTeX editor with all the features of LaTeX embedded within it. You can utilize the best of both — LaTeX and Markdown. Auto-compilation enables you to view your output document as you write. It has a feature-rich editor with all the necessary ones such as autocompletion, instant math previewer, spellchecker, ‘discussion’ in the margin, etc. You can directly start writing with one of the templates that Papeeria provides — be it ACM document, a CV or PPT full of maths.
  2. Plot Builder: One of the unique features Papeeria which you would love. You can insert simple plots using its built-in Gnuplot or from the integration with Plot.ly. Additionally, you can also custom Gnuplot scripts and create advanced data and calculations.
  3. Collaboration: You can share your projects, work on the same project at the same time, sync your project to GitHub or Bitbucket repo, and use versioning to revert back to a stage of your choice when needed.
  4. Reliability: Papeeria has 2 servers running in 2 different locations. One is the main server and the other is the backup server. They’re in constant sync. If one goes down, the other goes live. To sum it up, you never lose your data. Besides that, you can also download your project in a ZIP file and work on it offline via your TeX system on your PC.

Pricing

Here’s what Papeeria’s plan offer: Epsilon (free) and Delta (paid). The free version provides most of the features. You can easily write your paper in that. For advanced features and integrations, you have to go for the paid plan which starts at $5/month.

Compatibility

Papeeria is an online LaTeX editor which is compatible to be used on all the top web browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. It also functions on iOS and Android mobile devices.

Now that you know about the top online LaTeX editors, let’s dive down into the world of offline LaTeX editors. We’ll discuss the top 3 offline LaTeX editors that researchers have praised time and again!

Lyx

Lyx is a document processor that basically works on the concept of WYSIWYM (aka What You See Is What You Mean). It focuses on the structure of the document rather than just how it would look. Lyx is a merges the flexibility and versatility of TeX/LaTeX along with the ease of use of a GUI. With Lyx, you can create quality documents like a thesis, books, research papers which looks, a document with intensive mathematical content (via the fully integrated equation editor). Lyx is for folks who want to produce beautiful documents without any (or minimal) hassle.

Features

  1. The editor: Lyx boasts to have the best math formula editor. You can enter equations via a point-and-click interface or via entering LaTeX commands. Lyx also provides support for math macros. You also get support from various CAS aka Computer Algebra Systems. Besides this, Lyx supports all kinds of graphics formatting, WYSIWYG tables, and image editing features, distinct textclass creation, dedicated modules creation, etc. Character styles provide access to fully semantic markup.
  2. International support: With Lyx, you can write your document in multiple languages. Support for Right-to-Left languages like Hebrew and Arabic is also provided. Lyx also provides its menus, guides, error messages and key bindings in various languages.
  3. Multiple document formats: Import and export to many formats (LaTeX, PDF, Postscript, DVI, ASCII, HTML, OpenDocument, RTF, MS Word, and others) via configurable converters. Besides these, you get SGML tools support (DocBook DTDs), literate programming support (Noweb, Sweave), etc.
  4. UI/UX and Document Management: The fantastic GUI of Lyx give access to all important functions right from menus. On top of that, it serves you with text completion and typesetting in the background as you write. On the part of doc management, you can track changes, integrate it with external version control systems like GitHub, RCS, Subversion, etc. and other important features.

Pricing

Lyx is free software with an Open Source license.

Compatibility

Lyx can be downloaded and used on Linux/Unix, Windows, MacOS.

TeXstudio

TeXstudio (previously called TeXMakerX) is an integrated writing platform for producing LaTeX documents. Writing your paper is sometimes a daunting task. TeXstudio helps you to make it as easy and comfortable as possible. Its widely used by researchers and has made a name for itself in the academic and research writing community.

Features

  1. The editor: TeXstudio claims to have one of the best editors as compared to its peers. Some of the top features of its editors include multiple editing positions at the same time, auto-completion of LaTeX commands, 1000+ math symbols, usage of bookmarks to save important parts, link overlay for filenames, references and citations, generating blocks of code using assistants, drag and drop for images, table formatting, etc.
  2. Revolutionary build system: TeXstudio provides built-in support for the index, bibliography, glossary tools, etc. Besides that, it detects the need for multiple LaTeX program runs. Also, TeXstudio can be fully customized as per your document’s need.
  3. Basics: Some of the basic features that TeXstudio takes pride in are structure view, code folding, grammar check, spell check, syntax error highlighting and many more.
  4. Result viewer: TeXstudio comes with an integrated PDF viewer with word-to-word level syncing. It also has live (and updating) inline preview for formulas and code segments.

Pricing

TeXstudio is free software with an Open Source license.

Compatibility

TeXstudio can be downloaded and used on Linux/Unix, Windows, MacOS. It also detects MikTeX, TeXLive, Ghostscript, and StandardLaTeX automatically.

VIM-LaTeX

VIM-LaTeX combines the best of VIM and LaTeX. VIM is one of the best editors ever made and LaTeX is an extremely powerful TeX-based typesetting program. VIM-LaTeX is the genius child of both. It attempts to help to create documents through LaTeX easier by using the compelling editing features of VIM. This famous editor provides a comprehensive list of tools (LaTeX-suite) to make it easy for the user to work with VIM-LaTeX.

Features

  1. The editor: The LaTeX-suite comes with an extensive set of insert mode and visual mode mappings along with menu items to SciSpace (Formerly Typest)almost all of the LaTeX elements. Compiling is easy as you can do it from within VIM. The list of errors is shown in a quick fix window to track the error instantly. Viewing is a piece of cake in VIM-LaTeX; with the press of a key, you can access the .dvi viewer.
  2. Packages: This feature provides a way of customizing the menus as per the package that loads when the LaTeX-suite fires up for the first time. As per the package specifications, the system creates a sub-menu which is very customized as per the package being loaded.
  3. Dictionary of LaTeX: LaTeX-suite comes with over 600 LaTeX commands which accelerates typing. They can be accessed by using the CTRL-X_d command of VIM.
  4. Custom templates & macros: LaTeX-suite offers some of the most commonly used templates. It’s also a negligible task to add your own templates. With dynamic content and automatic cursor placement, it’s super easy to add custom macros.

Pricing

VIM-LaTeX is free software with an Open Source license.

Compatibility

VIM-LaTeX can be downloaded and used on Linux/Unix, Windows, MacOS.

To Conclude

There are a ton of LaTeX editors out there. It’s an unsettling task to figure out the right LaTeX editor to compile your document. It’s a pretty competitive market where all the top tools offer similar features with subtle differences. A lot of research is required from your end to figure out the tool that suits your needs.

We have done the hard work for you. We researched and came up with this list of 7 LaTeX editors which possess similar as well unique features. We’re confident that you’d be able to choose the right one from among these. If not, please let us know in comments what we missed and we will update this article.


P.S.: Don’t go anywhere! We have another exemplary tool for you.


The best of LaTeX without having to learn LaTeX

SciSpace

SciSpace combines the best of both word processors and LaTeX into a simple tool. Our tool offers the best features of LaTeX without having to use LaTeX, meaning, it is built on LaTeX. However, you don’t need to learn LaTeX to use our tool.

Our editor looks like a word processor on steroids, specifically built to cater to the research writing industry. SciSpace helps authors write, collaborate, and convert their thesis/research papers into your pre-set journal or conference formats in just a few clicks.

The best of LaTeX and Word — Typeset for you

Check out a short tutorial below:

SciSpace for Hassle-free Research Writing

We host one of the most extensive libraries of journal formats online and currently host over 40,000+ journal templates on our platform. This includes templates from some esteemed names in the publishing industry, like Elsevier, Nature, Springer, et al. (Official Disclaimer here).

Our current database of customers includes scientists, researchers, and students from more than 103+ countries. This also comprises authors from highly reputed institutes, like NASA, CERN, Stanford, MIT, ETH Zurich, and many more.

SciSpace (Formerly Typeset) templates are built from the ground up by a team of publishing experts, and are 100% compliant with the respective journal’s guidelines.

If and when, you decide to sign up, our team is just a ping away.

Seems simple? Try SciSpace out for free!


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