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Computers and LaTeX

Computers, e-mail, TeX and word-processing

The ability to communicate via a keyboard is what makes humans different from other animals.

You are given a computer account when you join the University.

You need to log on frequently - several times a week - to check your mail, because that's one of our main ways of communicating with you. If you are not receiving the messages addressed to your year of Mathematics students, tell the Taught Programmes Office in room B0.02 (so that they can check you are a member of the alias used).

If you forward your University email to another account (e.g. gmail) then it is your responsibility to make sure that you are still receiving important emails from the department and they are not being deleted as spam.

We give you every encouragement to use a word-processors, for example writing essays, for assessed work in other departments, and for business letters such as job applications. But there are also specialised packages for writing mathematics.

The best way to typeset your work is using TeX, which (together with its macro packages LaTeX and AMSTeX) is now the standard computer language for typesetting mathematics, and will be around in the scientific world for decades to come. You input a text file of Roman letters, describing mathematical symbols and components of equations in terms of control sequences (such as \alpha or \matrix), which is typeset by TeX and written to a file which can be printed out. The majority of printed lecture notes and assignment sheets will be typeset by LaTeX.

There is a useful guide written by one of our students on installing and starting to use LaTeX on your own computer which can be found here. The manuals on LaTeX by L. Lamport, and on Word, are available in the SRC in the Library and there are many introductory webpages on getting started with LaTeX online. Beware of spending too much time learning the intricacies of your chosen system. It may be fun, even addictive, but it is not mathematics.

Please also see resources given in the Second Year Essay pages for other places to get help.

NOTE: Keep backups of any important work that you store on your computer/laptop/tablet. If you lose work through theft of your device or software/hardware faults you will not be able to ask for extensions or special dispensation. These days backing up is easy through memory sticks, online storage or simply emailing it to yourself. There is no excuse.

A good source on style in mathematical writing is Steven G. Krantz, A primer of mathematical writing. For a good cheap readable book of English grammar for reference, try W. Struik and E.B. White, The Elements of Style.