Writing journal articles in LaTeX

LaTeX is a system for typesetting documents widely used within the sciences and academia for preparing books and articles. The LaTeX workflow involves the compilation of documents containing markup commands into postscript or PDF files, and so is more complicated than using Microsoft Word or another WYSIWYG word processor. Benefits of LaTeX include intelligent handling of styling and layouts, an excellent referencing and citation tool (BibTeX) and great mathematics typesetting.

A number of journals in the field of medical physics support the use of LaTeX for the drafting and submission of scientific articles. The editorial systems for these journals will either ask the user to upload a compiled PDF file, or to upload the LaTeX documents and perform the compilation.

I feel that the benefits of LaTeX make it worthwhile learning – it is great for scientific literature such as theses and articles. There are plenty of good resources online to help a user learn how to use LaTeX – Wikibooks is an excellent resource, for example. Here I present a few instructions and links to resources relating to journal publications.

Setting up LaTeX

The first step in getting started is the installation of a LaTeX distribution. The following options are the most common:

  • MiKTeX, within Microsoft Windows.
  • TexLive, within Linux based systems.

I also recommend the installation of an integrated development environment (IDE), to help with creating and editing documents. The use of an IDE simplifies many processes – the generation of equations and tables, the insertion of figures, spelling and error checking, and perhaps most importantly, the compilation and previewing of the document. I recommend:

Using LaTeX styles

LaTeX templates are provided by publishers for a number of medical physics journals, including:

Citations and referencing

BibTeX is a tool for managing references within a document. Citation commands are used to cite references contained in a flat-file database (*.bib). Particularly useful when writing research articles is that Google Scholar can be set up to provide “Import into BibTeX” links, producing BibTeX entries ready to be copy-pasted.

Producing figures

There are plenty of applications that can save figures using the encapsulated postscript format (*.eps). I recommend against using file converters with raster graphics images (*.bmp, *.jpg, *.png, etc.), where compression and scaling can cause a loss of apparent quality. I personally use the Graphics Layout Engine software to create figures (with text rendered using LaTeX itself).

Figures generated using Microsoft Office can be exported and converted to the encapsulated postscript format by:

  1. saving the image in the enhanced windows metafile format (within Powerpoint).
  2. converting the metafile to an eps with metafile2eps.