Writing pretty documents is not an easy task if you use a word processor. You will invest a great part of your time focusing on the visual aspects of your document rather than on the content. This is not trivial for engineering, science and math, students and professionals.
LaTeX will get you there.
LaTex is a document compiler. This means you write plain-text code and LaTeX will generate your document (PDF and other formats) from it. This allows you to focus on content, while LaTeX takes care of the rest.
Learning the LaTeX language and setting up LaTeX tools can be a scary task and too big of a project when your paper was due yesterday. After you’ve invested the time to learn though, the benefits are quite rewarding.
To minimize the cost of the initial investment, I would like to share 2 tools that can get you started very quickly. These are Lyx and writelatex.com.
Lyx is a desktop program that runs on Windows, Mac OS and Linux, and allows you to access all of LaTeX’s functions through a menu-driven interface, while also displaying your document like a standard text processor. The advantage of this, is that you are not looking at LaTeX code, but just the contents of your document. The installation program will take care of downloading all the tools you might need, and will provide support for generating almost any imaginable format, including PDF, as well as support for every image format. Another nice benefit of Lyx is that it support copying and pasting from other documents, so there is no need to manually transform your images, for example, into standalone files in appropriate formats.
WriteLaTeX, on the other hand, is a web-based LaTeX editor. It requires you to write LaTeX code, but it shows you the resulting document side-by-side with your code so you don’t have to manually compile to see how your document will end up looking. This tool has all the nice benefits of web applications, like not having to install anything on you computer, and being able to share and collaborate on documents. WriteLaTeX makes it easy to upload images and data to your document, not just from your PC but from DropBox and Google Drive, thus making it a fully cloud-based app!
Both tools are free, so you can start using them right now!