Astronomy: LaTeX

LaTeX Course

The Department of Mathematics has a one ECTS credit online course for learning LaTeX. It's open for all Helsinki University students (includes exercises and a final exam).

Why LaTeX?

Much more than just a system for managing references, LaTeX is a powerful document preparation system that is commonly used in scientific publishing, especially in computer science, mathematics and physics/astronomy.

Its philosophy emphasizes users to focus on the content and let the system take care of the appearance of the document. LaTeX produces professional grade typography.

  • Documents are written in plain text files using a specific markup language and then compiled into the actual printable documents (usually DVI or PDF)
  • LaTeX uses Donald Knuth's TeX typesetting system and is generally distributed as part of a full TeX distribution
  • The easiest way to get started with LaTeX is to install one of the suggested distributions
  • There are also web application based LaTeX editors you can use without having to install anything: see for example Overleaf

Here are some common reasons to learn LaTeX:

  • Many journals require you to submit your article in LaTeX form (as do book publishers)
  • Superb support for advanced mathematics
  • Produces professional grade typography in documents
  • Focus on content instead of form
  • Almost endlessly customizable and expandable via additional plugins
  • Automates citations and bibliographies
  • It´s free software and in line with general UNIX philosophy


While LaTeX can sometimes have a reputation for being difficult to learn, those who put in the time and effort are rewarded with a powerful tool for scientific writing that often becomes an important part of the research process.

As a popular non-profit project with a long history there´s a lot of good documentation available. Here are some links:

We also have a several e-books on LaTeX in our library collections:

Last but not least, YouTube can be a good source for learning LaTeX. There are several unofficial video series – just search for "LaTeX tutorial".


The Department of Physics maintains a both a LaTeX and a MS Word template for thesis and course reports along with citation style instructions: both can be downloaded from the Helsinki University My Studies site (login required).

This is how LaTeX is generally used: take a template as a base and work from there.

  • Additional templates can be found at sites like Overleaf and ShareLaTeX
  • Many major physics journals provide their own LaTeX templates