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Using LaTeX

About 10% of authors to our journals submit their papers in LaTeX, but what exactly is LaTeX and what are the pros and cons?

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a type-setting language. Unlike Microsoft Word, it isn’t a WYSIWYG, it is a markup language where labels in the file define formatting and style. LaTeX is a particular favourite of mathematicians and physicists, because complex equations can be easily and precisely represented. It is based on TeX, from Donald Knuth, and the first version was written by Leslie Lamport in 1985.

A tex file contains the words you want to put in the final output along with some tags to say what kind of text it is, e.g. an equation, title or bullet point. Many publishers offer an sty file containing style information that you just need to put into the same folder as your tex file when you compile. You can compile the tex file to create a beautifully formatted PDF, many LaTeX editors have a single button to do this.

latex example

The text on the left is used to generate the PDF file on the right. Text tags (in red and blue) contain all the instructions for formatting.

Why use LaTeX?

Here’s a few reasons authors choose to write in LaTeX:

  • It’s quicker than a word processor if there are lots of equations
  • Formatting takes care of itself
  • References can easily be rendered in different styles (using BibTeX)
  • It’s free and open source
  • LaTeX is a standard software in many disciplines

There are some things that become more difficult with LaTeX, but very few that can’t be overcome:

  • There is a learning curve, but once you’ve mastered a few commands it becomes much easier, and there are lots of online help guides and templates. A good editor will have common functions in menus and icons.
  • Custom formatting can be tricky. Almost anything is possible, but some changes are easier to implement than others.
  • Once you start writing in LaTeX, you can’t easily switch to a word processor: your colleagues also need to use LaTeX, or you can send them a PDF to annotate.

Learning LaTeX

There are many LaTeX tools, website and forums, including for absolute beginners. Here are a few that can help you get started:


MDPI editors are trained to use LaTeX. To submit, you can use our style files on the MDPI website. If you have questions or problems, you can also email latex support. And if you are an Overleaf user, you can submit directly to any MDPI journal from the platform.


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