Given a wretched experience with using Microsoft Word for my Masters thesis 10 years ago, I decided to try LaTeX this time around. One might think that Microsoft Word has improved, but my tinkering has shown it is still quite dangerous. Word’s notions of styles are extremely frustrating, and have changed over time. Additionally, creating multi-document files, or very large files risks corruption. Furthermore, given I work in an interdisciplinary space, it is useful to be able to format a document, including footnotes and bibliography, as, say, either historical or sociological: LaTeX is quite good at this.
That said, LaTeX is a pain. Granted, I prefer a simple structured text markup language over a corruptible proprietary binary blob, but LaTeX is like the Perl of markup languages, and I am a Python guy. (To be fair, TeX and LaTeX are now decades old.) No doubt, regardless of what you want to do, there is a way to do it in LaTeX. The problem is, like Perl, there are too many ways to do it. There are dozens of packages that appeared to do the same thing, though many are different enough to make you wonder why the difference is important. It is difficult to discern the present best practices and most of the documentation is in annoying PDF. Even understanding LaTeX syntax is a confounding task. Does ‘’ mean an optional parameter to a command? Mostly yes, but sometimes no. The only way I could get a handle on the world of LaTeX was to purchase Tex for the Impatient and The LaTeX Companion.
In any case, when I do have a problem the LaTeX community on comp.text.tex is extremely helpful. So even though there is a steep learning curve, when I ascend a particular hill, that challenge stays behind me. There is no equivalent to Microsoft Word kicking me down the mountain.
Like all colleges, Steinhardt has a particular format they require for doctoral dissertations. Unfortunately, its specification is sometimes ambiguous, and more a creature of typewriting, than computer typesetting. (For example, section headings are supposed to be underlined!) In any case, I thought I would share the fruits of my frustrations: steinhard-pkg-opts.tex. I haven’t yet received approval that this is sufficient, nor am I an expert in LaTeX, but, should someone else at Steinhardt need such a thing, this might be a start.
Pablo Recabal on 2011-06-03
Thank you for sharing this!
It will prove most useful :)