How to Ask for LaTeX-related Help Effectively

Be specific about the error.

“I have an error” “The PDF wasn’t created” ” “Cannot compile” “It doesn’t work” aren’t specific. Show what you’ve written in the code (see ‘Make an MWE’), what are the error messages that you get, attach the .log file (as an attachment, not paste the entire contents into the email/forum!!). State clearly your LaTeX distribution version (MikTeX 2.9? TeX Live 2013?) or package versions especially if you’re using one of the university thesis templates here.

Be specific about what you need.

Give clear description about what you need. Do a “mockup” with Word or Excel if you have to, and attach the screen capture of that. Show clearly what LaTeX code you have tried yourself and what’s wrong with it that you still need to change.

Make an MWE.

That is, a minimal working example. Make the complete working code available, via Dropbox, on Google Drive, one of the online LaTeX platforms e.g. Overleaf, ShareLaTeX, Authorea, somewhere.

Do not ignore error messages.

Some IDEs will force-compile the .tex file and still get a .pdf file out of it, happily displayed. But there are error messages in the console or .log file. Some candidates ignore the error messages, as long as they have a .pdf. And then they need to change something in the docs, and asks for help. Not gonna happen; and it’s a bit of a tall order to expect other people to locate the n unbalanced parentheses in the entire project or 1.5MB .bib file.

HowNotToAskQuestions

Please. Tolong. Help us to help you. Everyone wants to submit and graduate quickly, go about their lives helping people without getting too frazzled… and try not get too insane in the process.

end rant;
(Sigh, I’ve been getting too many “it doesn’t work and I want you to fix this immediately and I don’t care if you are doing this for free, and I cannot use the latest version and I cannot show you what I have done exactly” from candidates recently.)

AltaCV, yet another LaTeX CV/Résumé class

It all started with this:

Leonardo was talking about a résumé of Marissa Mayer that Business Insider put together.
I knew I had to do something about it. And so AltaCV was born.

This is how the re-created résumé looks like (view/open on Overleaf):

Marissa Mayer's résumé, re-created with AltaCV

Though if you’re creating your own CV/résumé, you’d probably prefer using the basic template (view/open on Overleaf):

sample barebones AltaCV template

You can create your own CV using AltaCV online with Overleaf (use the links above); or you can download a zip from here, or git-clone it from Github.

AltaCV uses fontawesome and academicons; they’re included in both TeX Live 2016 and MikTeX 2.9.

The samples here use the Lato font.

LuaLaTeX compilation is strongly recommended. If you want to use XeLaTeX instead, that’s fine, but you may need to make sure academicons.ttf is installed on your operating system, not just available in your TEXMF tree with the academicons LaTeX package.

Calling for Overleaf Advisors!

Overleaf is a cloud-based collaborative authoring platform using LaTeX, who’ve teamed up with a number of journal publishers and universities. There are now three Overleaf Advisors in Malaysia (as of time of writing on 4 Aug 2016); you can apply if you’re interested, anywhere in the world!

Disclaimer: I’m a Community TeXpert at Overleaf; i.e. I handle LaTeX-related support requests; create templates for the Overleaf Gallery; write help articles, etc. So in case you’re wondering why I’m not an Advisor myself, that’s why. :-)

How to Deal with Wide Tables

Ahhhh tables — one of the infuriating things with tables in LaTeX, is that sometimes they’re so wide that they extend into the right margin, or even off the page. Here are a few things I usually do to deal with them.

The simplest: just make the whole table use a smaller font.

{\small % (or \footnotesize if still readable)
    \begin{tabular}
    ...
    \end{tabular}
}

Do check that you have the pair of braces around the \small and the tabular. Take care that the table contents can still be read comfortably, and that your university or publisher allows you to change the font size in tables!

Let LaTeX shrink the entire table to text width.

\resizebox{\textwidth}{!}{%
    \begin{tabular}
    ...
    \end{tabular}
}

Rather than figuring out whether a \small or \footnote will be enough ourselves, LaTeX will treat the entire table as a box, and try to resize it so that it fits the text width exactly. Again: take care that your reader can still read the shrunk table, and that it’s allowed by your university or publisher.

Use makecell to quickly break a cell into multiple lines

Sometimes you have a column with narrow values (e.g. just ‘34’, ‘67’…) but the column heading is long (e.g. ‘No. of patients’, which makes the column use up too much space. In this case you can use the makecell package, and then manually line-break the column heading:

\makecell{No. of\\patients} & Region & .... \\
% Note that All of the above are still on the same table row.

Use tabularx to auto-wrap long column contents

Sometimes you have a column where the lines are long, but by default, lines in a table row don’t wrap. You can either use the makecell trick to manually break the lines; or you can make text in that particular column line-wrap automatically, by using a p{3cm} column specifier (but then you need to experiment a few times for a right width), or by using the tabularx package.

\usepackage{tabularx}
...
% Contents in the second and third columns will be auto-wrapped,
% so that the entire table will fit the text width nicely
\begin{tabularx}{\textwidth}{l X X l}
No. & These are long statements... 
    & These are very long too... 
    & 0\\
...
\end{tabularx}

Make the table landscape

There are a few different ways of doing this — try for example the sidewaystable environment from the rotating package:

\usepackage{rotating}
...
\begin{sidewaystable}
\caption{...}
\begin{tabular}
...
\end{tabularx}
\end{sidewaystable}

And always remember: rather than agonising over how to fit a table on the page, it’s often more useful to consider how to present the data so that the reader can access and understand it easily!