Lest we forget: Typography & LaTeX

Martins Bruveris recently gave an introductory lecture on LaTeX at Brunel University, and the deck was based on my previous LaTeX: More Than Just Academic Papers and Theses slides. (Suffice to say that I’m extremely happy that people are still reading it since I first made it in 2011—I’ve since updated it a bit.)

I particularly like how Martins highlighted how important typography is in retaining the readers’ (ahem supervisors, examiners, reviewers…) interest/attention. That’s so true—I remain certain that I received an award for my paper at a student workshop, partly (or perhaps majorly) because I used LaTeX. One of the panels commented “it’s a very clear, very nice paper—not sure why but it was just very enjoyable to read.”

"Your paper makes no sense, but it's the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on."
Image courtesy of somethingofthatilk

Lest we’ve forgotten at times amid all the exciting new packages in recent years that let us do various cool things in LaTeX, typography is why Knuth created TeX in the beginning, and why some (I’ll acknowledge not all) users prefer LaTeX over word processors. Martins included this quote on typography in his slides:

Typography matters because it helps conserve the most valuable resource you have as a writer—reader attention.
Attention is the reader’s gift to you. That gift is precious. It is finite. And if you fail to be a respectful steward of that gift, it will be revoked.
(Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers)

I would add this quote by Robert Bringhurst in the opening chapter to The Elements of Typographic Style:

Like oratory, music, dance, calligraphy—like anything that lends its grace to language—typography is an art that can be deliberately misused. It is a craft by which the meanings of a text (or its absence of meaning) can be clarified, honored and shared, or knowingly disguised.

and later in Chapter 10:

Writing begins with the making of meaningful marks. That is to say, leaving the traces of meaningful gestures. Typography begins with arranging meaningful marks that are already made. In that respect, the practice of typography is like playing the piano—an instrument quite different from the human voice.

And personally, I do think writings convey the experience knowledge of humankind (I know that sounds a bit pompous, spare me the rod), and deserve to be typeset with ultimate quality for an enjoyable reading experience!

My customised CurVe CV

Thumbnail image of the CVI’ve been asked a few times for the code of my own CV.

Truth is, it was first done many, many years ago, based on the CurVe class. As I picked up tips and tricks, I kept adding and modifying the formatting styles—but I never got round to cleaning it up properly. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to have to read or use the messy code as it was *shudder*.

I got asked about it again recently, and I’m finally got round to simplify the thing and put it online on Overleaf (so that other users won’t get back to me with “but I don’t have this package” issues either! 😉)

It’s really still a bit rough in places, though…

To download it, click on the great big “Open as Template” button. If you don’t see a file list, click on “PROJECT” at the top first. Then go for the “Download as .zip” button at the bottom of the file list.

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.


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.)