LaTeX for social sciences

The use of LaTeX is common in the natural and computer sciences while social sciences (and humanities) are just in the starting process of making use of the enormous functions and opportunities of the system. Coming myself from mathematics, LaTeX was actually one of the first things I got to know when I entered university. My faculty back then offered an introductory lesson and almost everyone in on campus was using it. But changing my subject and ending up in the social sciences, I went back to the usual WYSIWYG programs …. until I recently started to hate the lack of comfort and aesthetics that they provide. So – I am back and quite eager to convince social scientists of the beauty and performance of LaTeX and some accompanying packages.

Some good tools and helpful websites that I found during the last months made me writing this article. But before I will enlist them, some thoughts on classic arguments that I usually hear when I am “confessing” that I chose LaTeX:

  • Yes, the learning curve is steep. You will not open a white page (like you probably do in word) and start typing. You should read some basic introduction before you start. BUT: There are quite good introductions and since I said: The learning curve is steep. So if you stay tuned, you will actually learn a lot quickly. It will be easier in the long run and you will save the time that you spent on learning LaTeX when you need to adjust your layout or citations in the future. If you ever used Word for a document with more than 100 pages including references and footnote, you know what I am talking about.
  • Yes, it is more difficult to work collaboratively in one document than using “track changes”. There are two good exit options: Either all of you use LaTeX (then collaboration is quite easy again) or you use a proper pdf tool that allows for commenting and highlighting. (However, the same argument as above: Did you ever try track changes with a long document and several editors?)
  • No, you will most probably not need the math environment because you don’t need formulas in your texts. Well. First, maybe you will need formulas at some point (at least when you start writing about some statistics you did, you should mention how you achieved the results). And second: math formulas are not the only things that work much better with LaTeX. Think about wonderful packages such as the beamer class for presentation and pfg/tikz for graphs and models: they make your publications so much more beautiful when you use them, I promise.
  • Yes, maybe some editors of book collections or conferences committees might not be used to LaTeX. But usually you get along pretty well if you submit a pdf. Second, just in case: Try and ask. I had a friend (in humanities) who asked whether she could hand in a latex file. After the editor checked with the typesetters of the journal s/he said: Well, we anyway convert your document into LaTeX, so it makes our life easier as well …
  • No, it is actually not difficult to get the LaTeX system on your computer. As long as you are using Windows of MacOS, there are distributions that do the main work for you. You just have to install them as any other programm you might use: MikTex (Windows) or MacTex. I personally use the very comfortable and customizable editor texstudio, Skim for pdfs and Zotero and bibdesk for references. (Sorry for Linux users, but since I assume you are more affine to tech anyway, you might find a way out).

Some good resources and introduction (feel free to add in comments):

An Interactive Introduction to LATEX in three parts (Dr John D. Lees-Miller, University Bristol); The (not so) short introduction to Latex e (Latex in 157 minutes, Tobias Oetiker, Hubert Partl, Irene Hyna, Elisabeth Schlegl

Latex und ein bisschen mehr … (Einführung der Fernuni Hagen); Vorlesungsunterlagen: Einführung in LaTeX (Technische Hochschule Nürnberg, Christine Niebler); Kochbuch für LaTeX (Einführung im Kochbuch-Style für Gourmets)