LaTeX is a powerful typesetting tool, commonly used in the sciences and for technical writing, where its capacities for typesetting mathematical expressions, formulae, and figures are a real benefit. The majority of scholarly work in political theory and philosophy (for better or worse, depending on who you ask) consists of plain paragraphs of text and references, so, at first glance, these functionalities don't seem to matter all that much. However, in my experience (and I am not alone here), LaTeX has a lot to offer to people in the Humanities, too!
- By default, documents typeset in LaTeX look really neat and professional, all without requiring any specific intervention on the part of the user. No more manual tweaking of hyphenation or margins in order to avoid blank gaps between words or at the end of paragraphs!
- LaTeX takes care of managing and formatting your references and bibliography, no matter which style you use. It also allows you to globally change your citation style simply by altering a few parameters.
- LaTeX automatically generates your tables of contents, lists of tables and figures, and adjusts them as the document develops. It can also take charge of any cross-references, updating them when required.
All this and more comes at the comparatively small one-off cost of adapting your writing flow to include a handful of in-text commands and getting used to switching between writing in a text editor and viewing the typeset version of your input in a PDF viewer. (As an added bonus, wide adaptation of LaTeX in the Humanities might, in good time, put an end to the annoying practice of distributing material in platform-dependent formats such as .docx!)
There are a lot of excellent tutorials for getting started with LaTeX around the web. This excellent wikibook is a handy guide to the vast array of LaTeX functionalities.
At the beginning, most people find it easiest to work with a template which already contains all the necessary code for setting up a basic document. Here's mine. Your template will probably change as you go along, tweaking and expanding it to suit your specific needs.
Some more resources that I find useful:
- People with sophisticated bibliographic needs will be well served by the Biblatex package.
- There's a variety of packages which allow you to insert to-do notes in your document (the todonotes, todo, or easy-todo packages, to name but a few). My template also contains a custom piece of code which allows you to add colourful and fully customisable in-text notes to your draft.
- If your work includes schematic diagrams (such as flow-charts - which a lot of work in political theory/philosophy would benefit from), TikZ is a great tool for very neatly 'drawing' them with LaTeX commands.