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What is a LaTeX Editor?

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  • Written By: T. Briseno
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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Pronounced “lah-tech” or “lay-tech,” LaTeX is a system for typesetting documentation. A LaTeX editor is an open-source text tool that allows for formatting complex content with applied command tags. Unlike word processing programs, which are typically WYSIWYG — What You See Is What You Get— documents prepared in LaTeX appear plain text with no formatting until final commands controlling the typesetting and output properties are applied to produce the actual document. Preparation of scientific, mathematical, or other highly-technical documentation that uses specialized symbols and equations may utilize a LaTeX editor for typesetting publications.

In academia, LaTeX editors may be more widely known, as they can be used for completing journals, papers, and large documents containing subscript, superscript, and foreign language characters. Packages of commands are available within academic or technical specialties so common commands to a profession or field are readily accessed during document preparation. In professional fields such as engineering, LaTeX generally is considered a stable tool for updating technical content.

Users of a LaTeX editor can enter content within the larger command structure of LaTeX while wrapping pieces of text in opening and closing commands for type-setting and layout. Tables, figures, and auto-indexing can be set with commands as well, and fonts and image details can be sequenced. Braces, keyboard commands, and backslashes are some of the tools used to create sequences for publishing with a LaTeX editor.

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Files created with these control sequences can be stored as Device Independent (DVI) files which may then be converted and read as postscript text files. Because a LaTeX editor is not a word processing program itself, typically a translator program for typesetting conversion reads the postscript or .TeX files. Having the capability to produce fully typeset portable DVI files is considered one strong advantage to using LaTeX. It is also possible to update documents created years ago with the same command structures as the original, which is another plus.

Trained users of LaTeX generally consider editing documents in a LaTeX editor to be simple, but learning how to use this content system can take some time. Having the capability to change one page of a multi-volume document and to update the main document content page without having to reformat the entire document set is typically achieved more easily in LaTeX. Debugging an output file that is not formatted correctly, however, can require a skilled eye for finding the command line that is not properly sequenced. For assistance in using a LaTeX editor, there are specific TeX user groups on the Internet as well as free and pay programs and tutorials for advanced usage.

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