To italicise or not to italicise

Italics are used widely in mathematics and science; it’s how variables are typeset. However, it turns out that italics are often used where they shouldn’t be. I’m sure most scientists could happily live their lives without ever learning about the following examples of incorrect uses of italics. But as all scientists should know: minor details matter.

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Four effortless LaTeX packages you should use

By default, LaTeX produces professional-looking documents. Specifying an extra couple of packages, however, can make your document look even better. Here are four packages I recommend that require no effort, by which I mean you simply add the package to your preamble (and maybe specify a few options) and you’re good to go.

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LyX: a middle-ground to LaTeX and Word

LyX is a document processor that provides the power and professional-looking typesetting of LaTeX with the familiarity of an easy-to-use graphical interface à la MS Word. Effectively, it provides the best of both worlds. For someone without knowledge of LaTeX, LyX is less imposing and has a smaller learning curve. But even seasoned LaTeX users who have no desire to leave their favourite text editor can take advantage of some of LyX’s features.

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A hyphen is not a minus sign, and other mistaken characters

Several characters are simply short horizontal lines: the hyphen -, the minus sign −, the en dash –, and the em dash —. Each has a specific purpose, but often the hyphen is used regardless. This is bad practice.

The dash is not the only culprit; various other characters are incorrectly used. Typically these relate to mathematics or scientific quantities.

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Add any symbol without leaving the keyboard

Writing about science often involves using symbols. Unfortunately, few of the symbols we need can be found on the keyboard, which presents a problem. It is not difficult to copy and paste symbols needed, but it is tedious and annoying. Here I present a solution that lets you input any symbol by simply typing its name (prepended with a slash).

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Why LaTeX-typeset documents look professional

Documents typeset using LaTeX just look better than than their MS Word (or equivalent) counterparts. LaTeX has many well-known features to make document creation easy. However, it is some of its lesser-known features that together produce a professional-looking document.

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