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Why LaTeX?

Why Do We Recommend LaTeX?

Authors who intend to publish a book or an article with the AMS are strongly encouraged to use LaTeX as described in the book Guide to LaTeX, fourth edition, by Helmut Kopka and Patrick W. Daly. It is important to use the latest edition: there are important and significant differences between LaTeX 2e (the current version) and "Old" LaTeX (version 2.09; see Appendix 1).

Using LaTeX 2e is valuable both for the AMS and for authors themselves.

Benefits for the AMS

LaTeX 2e defines "structured" files in which the various elements (title, authors, headings, etc.) are easily identified. This is crucial for the future, when we may need to migrate tens of thousands of articles into new formats. AMS journals are already posted on line, with full bibliographic data in HTML. This is the primary reason we use LaTeX 2e as the common format for all files. LaTeX 2e also has better support than Old LaTeX, AMS-TeX, or most other TeX formats for the use of graphics in documents, making it easier to incorporate graphics consistently. The AMS production system is fine tuned to take advantage of the LaTeX 2e structure, and thus it can process these manuscripts more efficiently, as well as faster and more reliably.

Benefits for authors

LaTeX 2e has a user-friendly interface and good documentation. LaTeX 2e is the TeX document format most commonly used among mathematicians at the present time; thus it is very likely that you will be able to collaborate easily with co-authors. LaTeX 2e files contain markup language that enables them to be converted to other outputs more readily (e.g., PDF), allowing you to share the prepublication version more easily. LaTeX 2e shields you from a number of burdensome complications concerning fonts by defining these in uniform and consistent terms. LaTeX 2e has a coherent package system that makes it relatively easy for users to write extension packages (providing features that aren't included in the core); a very large number of such extension packages are already available. This means that you will often be able to achieve special effects by using one of the packages already in existence, instead of having to do it yourself.

We encourage you to use LaTeX 2e and thank you for doing so.

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Appendix 1: How To Tell Whether a LaTeX Document is Old LaTeX or LaTeX 2e?

  Old LaTeX   LaTeX 2e
  • The document begins with \documentstyle.
  • Extra packages are invoked via the option list of the \documentstyle command.
  • Font changes have the form
    {\bf ...}, {\it ...}, etc.
  • The document begins with
  • Extra packages are loaded with the \usepackage command.
  • Font changes have the form \textbf{...}, \textit{...}, etc.
    See Appendix 2
  • \providecommand: only in LaTeX 2e
  • \emph{...}: only in LaTeX 2e
  • \includegraphics{...}: only in LaTeX 2e
  • \begin{lrbox}{...}: only in LaTeX 2e
  • Options that are specific to a particular package: only in LaTeX 2e
  • \frontmatter and \backmatter commands: only in LaTeX 2e

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Appendix 2: Longer Names for Font Commands?

One thing that strikes the eye when comparing Old LaTeX and LaTeX 2e is that the names of the commonly used font commands are longer: \textbf{...} versus {\bf...} and so on. This scarcely seems like an improvement, if one is concerned only about the amount of typing needed.

However, in a well-written LaTeX document, the body of the document will not contain any of the explicit font-changing commands that start with \text...:

  \textbf   \textsl
  \textit   \texttt
  \textup   \textsc
  \textsf   \textrm

Rather, all such font changes will be handled either by commands for various objects (section, theorem, etc.) provided by the document class or via suitable definitions in the preamble of the document.

And in an extraordinarily well-written LaTeX document, the body of the document will also not contain any of the explicit math font commands that start with \math...:

  \mathbf   \mathit
  \mathcal  \mathsf
  \mathbb   \mathrm

All such font changes will be handled via suitable definitions in the preamble of the document. This subject is discussed in more detail in the PDF Document User's Guide for the amsmath package, section 9.

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The Comprehensive TeX Archive Network (CTAN)

CTAN page for those getting started with LaTeX

The TeX Users Group

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Colophon: About TeX and LaTeX

LaTeX is based on another piece of software called TeX, written in the late 1970s to early 1980s by Donald E. Knuth, a well-known computer scientist and mathematician at Stanford University. Knuth created TeX initially so he could typeset the second edition of his books on computer programming.

About TeX

Before you can use LaTeX, you need to have a working copy of TeX. However, you will normally find when you obtain a copy of TeX that LaTeX comes with it (at least the software, if not the book). Rather than attempting to be all things in a single package, TeX is designed with modularity in mind. Thus TeX itself provides only fundamental typesetting capabilities and does not incorporate editing, printing, or previewing capabilities; instead, the result of running TeX is a graphics file in a format called "DVI" that is designed to make it as easy as possible for other programs to print or preview DVI files.

The fundamental typesetting capabilities of TeX operate on a very low level. They address the tasks of stringing characters together in words and paragraphs, automatically finding good page breaks, dealing properly with footnotes and other floating objects (such as figures and tables), and positioning symbols properly in math formulas. But it is more natural for authors to work on a somewhat higher level: It is better to write \section{...} than to laboriously specify every aspect of the section title: font size, bold or italic, space above, indented or centered, etc.

Therefore TeX is designed to work with auxiliary packages called "TeX formats" that add higher-level features at the author level. LaTeX is a TeX format. Some other well-known ones are Plain TeX, AMS-TeX, eplain, texinfo, and Context.

Plain TeX

Plain TeX is the generic example format that Knuth wrote to be distributed with TeX. It is not really suitable for serious publishing use---for example, it only supports one font size---but it was quickly incorporated as a base element into other TeX formats such as AMS-TeX and LaTeX.


When TeX came to the attention of the American Mathematical Society in the early 1980s, the high quality of its mathematical typesetting capabilities was striking. The AMS became one of the staunchest early proponents of TeX and by 1985 was already beginning to use it in AMS books and journals. In the initial experimentation phase it quickly became apparent that Plain TeX was not comprehensive enough for AMS use. The AMS therefore worked with a mathematician named Michael Spivak to develop a TeX format "AMS-TeX" that would be better able to handle the kind of material typically found in AMS publications. When AMS-TeX became available in 1984 or so, the Society began to promote its use among AMS authors as a method of writing that promised to relieve authors finally of the chore of proofreading their articles after their manuscript was retyped by the publisher's compositors.


LaTeX is a TeX format written by a computer scientist named Leslie Lamport. LaTeX is based on the principle that authors should concentrate on logical design rather than visual design when writing their documents. Thus instead of writing

  \Large \bf
  2. Section Title

LaTeX provides infrastructure that makes it possible for authors to write

  \section{Section Title}

and have not only the visual appearance but even the numbering be done automatically. LaTeX also has certain features designed to be used in conjunction with auxiliary programs such as makeindex and BibTeX that help automate the tasks of making indexes and bibliographies.

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