Word, Pages, Markdown, LaTeX, etc

A recent thread danced around the idea of using LaTeX, markdown, Word, etc. So I thought I’d start a thread here, and perhaps bring up a different perspective that wasn’t mentioned.

Word, Pages, and their ilk have morphed into a blend of word processors and desktop publishing. When you write in Word, you also do formatting, fiddle with fonts, etc. Your words (text) are mixed with their presentation. This can lead to your being distracted from your thoughts by fiddling with the presentation. Also, if you decide to change the presentation of your work, it is often a tedious and laborious process. Especially something like citation formatting.

This is where markdown, LaTeX, and their kin come in. They separate the text from how the text is displayed. When you’re writing, you can give the text meaning, without deciding how that meaning is displayed. For instance, in LaTeX you can say that something should be emphasized by using \emph{this is something dramatic}. Later, when you’re working on the presentation of your document, you can decide what emphasis looks like, bold, italics, green, etc. If you decide emphasis should be blue instead of green, you can make the change in one place and have it change throughout the document. Of course this applies to all other aspects of the document too, such as how intext citations look, the format of the bibliography, etc.

If you’re interested in trying LaTeX, I highly recommend Texpad on macOS or iOS. It’s. A well-featured editor that also stays out of your way.

There are many markdown editors now - I currently use a few for different purposes. Bear gets general notes such as my list of quotations, books to read, etc. Ulysses is where simple documents (without figures, captions, references) are happening at the moment. I also recommend Typora which can be used to make markdown Gantt charts, flow charts, etc.

How do these and other editors fit into your workflow?


I used LaTex at university. Is it used (a lot) outside the academic world?

I’ve always been curious about LaTeX. It’s not very popular in my academic field (music), but I know there are some really interesting ways a tiny handful of very geeky music theorists use it to integrate with an analogous music typesetting markup language called Lilypond.

Having said that, my biggest barrier to getting into LaTeX is that I just really love markdown. It’s so simple and readable. It’s easy to look at and parse with your eyes, and it has so many use in many contexts: GitHub, Bear, Airmail, Byword, Marked, Deskset, etc. And because of that deep and abiding love of Md, each time I take a look at TeX, I think: “Wow, this is a lot more complicated and a lot less portable than Markdown.”

I still may try to get a little bit of TeX experience, though. I think documents set in it look beautiful!

I second the recommendation for Texpad on both iOS and OSX. They are also working on a windows version at the moment. I like that you can either you a local typesetter on iOS or use their cloud typesetter.

On OSX, their instant preview is amazing. They don’t re-typseset the document on each change but rather do some magical inline typesetting. Can’t wait to see if on iOS.

When I need power editing or text editor scripting I use sublime text with its python automation capabilities. LaTeX Tools package is very good and actively developed.

I see the new Visual Studio Code Editor is very popular. Their LaTeX workshop package has an incredible number of users. Unfortunately I am not a developer and their automation setup is fairly sophisticated. Sublime text makes it very easy with a little python to automate most things in the editor.

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I third the Texpad recommendation! I have a write-up on Texpad and how I use it on my blog, feel free to check it out here.

Regarding Markdown, my go to app on the Mac is the gorgeous iA Writer, and on iOS it is usually a combination of Drafts and iA Writer.

If I want longform “desktop publishing” quality PDFs, I take my markdown files from iA Writer and process it through Ulyssess.

I look at the various options in this way:

  • ASCII Text - For documents where content is only text and content trumps any need to style the layout or format. Easy to use. Impossible to use for layouts with different content types (text, tables, images, videos). Not suitable for complex, large, or scientific book-style layouts. Open, immutable standard. Free of charge.
  • RTF/RTDF - For documents where the final layout should include a modest level of variation in the style of the content and may need to include embedded images. Easy to use. Reasonable to use for layouts with different content types (text, tables, images, videos). Barely suitable for complex, large, or scientific book-style layouts. Open, established standard. Free of charge.
  • Word - For documents that should have a modest level of variation in the final layout. Easy to use. Used for layouts with different content types (text, tables, images, videos). Barely if at all suitable for complex, large, or scientific book-style layouts. Ubiquitous, proprietary standard that is often incompatible from version to version. Commercial (although free versions exist).
  • Markdown - For documents where the final layout should include a modest level of variation in the style of the content. Requires knowledge of markup syntax. Reasonable to use for layouts with different content types (text, tables, images, videos). Possibly suitable for complex, large, or scientific book-style layouts. Open yet non-standardized standard. Free of charge.
  • HTML - For documents that should be displayed in a Web-type format. Requires knowledge of html syntax. Used for layouts with different content types (text, tables, images, videos). Said to be suitable as a intermediate step for electronic versions complex, large, or scientific book-style layouts. Open, well-established, evolving standard. Free of charge.
  • LaTeX - For documents that must include multiple types of content (text, tables, figures, images, videos, footnotes, and bibliographies) in a well-structured layout. Requires knowledge of TeX/LaTeX syntax. Open, well-established, evolving standard. Free of charge.


After testing Texpad for a while, I am likely to return to TeXShop. The macOS version of Texpad has a few issues that I do not like. Also, some features that should differentiate Texpad from TeXShop do not work with the approach that I take in my LaTeX documents. I have multiple subfiles, use a command to change the source folder, and have chapter, section and sub-section commands in the \input{} documents (rather than in the main document). In split full screen mode with TeXShop, the left pane shows the folder structure from the Finder so that I can open any file as a sub-file of the main document. The right pane has TeXShop with the source and compiled in one window.

Texpad should work properly for single-file documents, and it is likely to be the best choice when you need to work on documents using both a desktop and an iPad.


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I like TexPad, but don’t use it as my exclusive editor. Since LaTeX documents are text files, I move between TexPad, TexShop, Sublime Text and Atom. TexPad and it’s live view are very handy when working on the document preamble.

Dr. Drang has blogged about his Markdown to LaTeX to PDF workflow a few times. It’s definitely worth a read, along with his five part reasoning behind using text files.

I wish I were half as smart as Drang, he’s got this figured out.

For the beginner to LaTeX, I sincerely recommend the free online service ShareLaTeX. It removes the hassle of managing packages and has lots of guides and templates to get anyone started.

I view myself as a fairly advanced user of TeX (use Tikz for figures, write custom packages, etc.) and what I’ve found is that the best workflow depends on whether I work alone or in a team:

  • Alone: TexShop or + compiling via the command line.
  • Team of two: same as the above, combined with Dropbox syncing of files. Assumes that the project consist of several files such that no sync conflicts arise.
  • Team larger than two: ShareLaTeX: Not as robust or fast as the above, but awesome sync ability.

Edit: typo

I don’t use LaTeX anymore because I don’t have a need for it, but LaTeX is how I got through college algebra. My papers that I turned in always looked 100x better than my fellow student’s attempts at using the Word equation editor. And, for the most part, if you entered an equation correctly in LaTeX, it would solve it for you when you compile. (update, I may have misremembered this particular detail. It was a few years back.) The professor raved about my papers. I got an A.

I used TextMate for writing LaTeX, and would hit ⌘R to compile it and have a PDF open automatically in Skim. I find the syntax to be very similar to HTML with opening and closing tags for everything. It’s not bad once you get the hang of it.

Oh, and don’t miss Dr. Drang’s posts on this topic: http://www.leancrew.com/all-this/2011/12/text-files-and-me-v-markdown/

I also use LaTeX for writing academic papers and I swear by Texpad. It’s fantastic.


If you want some fancy templates, I recommend looking on:


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Huh? This is a mis-informed or indeed incorrect statement. LaTeX does not solve a math equation. It only typesets it.


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Thank you for the link.


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Texpad has added markdown support - something I was going to suggest to them, but thought it was too much to ask.
I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. I’m hoping for references to figures, captions, and citations at some point.

Well, it was quite a few years ago, I could have sworn it did, but it’s possible I’m misremembering something. I’ll strike that out of my reply.

Can be done. I use Sage and call it from a LaTeX document. You enter something like $2+2=\sage{2+2}$ and will get “2+2=4”.

Or in your latex document you define a function (please don’t hit me if there’s a minor error, doing this from memory):

f(x) = sin(x)

Now your LaTeX document has a definition for the function f(x). Later in your document, you can write:

“The 1. derivative of f(x) is \sage{diff(f, x)}”

And then you plot (f) (or a derivative or whatever) with:

\sageplot{plot(f, -2, 2)}

Or you can solve functions:

\sage{solve([x+y==4, x-y==3], x, y)}

and get the values for x and y inside your LaTeX document.

And so on…

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lol, forgot that I had already posted on this thread once.

The qualifier that you must use an external math tool within LaTeX is certainly true!