A very brief starting guide to LaTeX for philosophers

Every now and then LaTeX comes up in conversation. And while there are plenty of good reasons to use it, as well as some good guides, I have not been able to find any short guides. I have not found anything to get someone started quickly and easily. So in this post I will do just that. For brevity, I will exclude things like explanations for why things are the way that they are, alternative ways of doing things, and things that aren’t immediately useful. Instead I will focus on one way to be able to typeset basic papers in a matter of minutes.

Basic Setup

First, go to overleaf.com and make an account. Then, using the link in the top right of the page, go to the My Projects page. Click New Project. A list of templates comes up. Choose a Blank Paper. Now the editor should be up. In the center pane is the space to edit. In the right pane is a preview of your document. In the left pane is some document info. Clicking Project on the top bar will open or close the left pane. So far in the editing space you have this:

(Type your content here.)

If your document is just plain text, you could just copy and paste it over “(Type your content here.)” and then you would be done. If you do this, you’ll see in the preview pane what your document will look like.

Setting up a title

Add a blank line above \begin{document}. In that line, input \title{} and put your title in the squiggle brackets. Then add a line below \title{} with \author{} and then another with \date{}. If you just want the current date put in, put \today in the brackets. Then in the line following \begin{document}, type \maketitle. So, a document at this point might look like this:

\title{Kant vs. Berkeley Cage Match}
\author{Nichole Smith}
(Type your content here.)



If your text is longer, you may want to have sections. You add a section break, type \section{} on its own line with the title of the section in the brackets. If you want a subsection, do the same with \subsection{}. And if you want to go a level deeper, \subsubsection{} will add a subsubsection break.


For paragraph breaks, just include an empty line. For example:

Cage matches are the best way to compare writers.
First, this paper will provide an analysis of cages.

will be interpreted as one paragraph while

Cage matches are the best way to compare writers.

First, this paper will provide an analysis of cages.

will show up as two. Don’t worry about indenting; LaTeX handles that on its own.


For short quotes, bound by quotation marks, use “ for double left, ` for single left, ‘ for single right, and ” for double right. (` is on the top left of most keyboards. ‘ is the apostrophe key.)

For longer quotes, type \begin{quote} before the quote and \end{quote} after the quote. This will create a block quote.

Bold, italics, lists, footnotes, and dashes

For bold, type \textbf{} and put the bold text in the brackets. Italics work the same with \textit{}. In Overleaf, you can also highlight the text and press ctrl+B or ctrl+I (in Windows or Linux, at least).

For a list, start with a line that says \begin{enumerate}. For each item in the list, add a line starting with \item. The end the list with \end{enumerate}. If you want bullets instead of a numbered list, replace “enumerate” with “itemize”. Example:

\section{Reasons Berkeley would win in the cage match}
\item He actually left his hometown and so would be more fit.
\item All that time in America rubbed off.
\item Dialogues are more indicative of a fighting spirit than critiques.

(Go ahead and paste that into the content area of your document if you want to see what it looks like.)

For a footnote, type \footnote{} wherever you want the superscript. Put the text of the footnote in the brackets.

For a hyphen, type -. For an en-dash, type –. For an em-dash, type —. (One hyphen, two hyphens, and three hyphens, respectively.)


Open up the project pane if it’s not already open. Click Files, then Blank File. Name it sample.bib. Now in your document, above the title stuff, add a line with \usepackage[notes,backend=biber]{biblatex-chicago} and then another line with \bibliography{sample}.

In the project pane, click on sample.bib so you can edit it. Any time you want to add a source, put it in here. To add a source, first type @book if it’s a book or @article if it’s an article. Then a {. Then give the source a name. Then add a comma and a line break. Then you want lines with the content of the reference. An example illustrates this more clearly than I could in the abstract:

Address = {New York},
Author = {Immanuel Kant},
Translator = {Norman Kemp Smith},
Publisher = {St. Martin’s Press},
Title = {Critique of Pure Reason},
Year = {1933}}

This page in section 4.1 has a handy list of entry types (instead of book or article) and what kinds of things you can put under each entry. If you get an error, you probably forgot a comma at the end of a line. If you have multiple authors, put and between each author’s name. If an author’s last name has a space in it, add brackets around the name. E.g. “Author = {Christian {von Wolfius}}”.

Now use the project pane to return to main.tex. At the line above \end{document} (at the end of the document) type \printbibliography.

In the body of your text, if you want to cite something, just type \autocite{} with the name you gave your source in the brackets. So if I wanted to cite the first Critique with the previous example in the sample.bib file, then I just type \autocite{COPR}. If I wanted to cite page 42, I would type \autocite[42]{COPR} (note the square brackets around 42).

Margins, font, spacing, and generating the PDF

If you want to make the font size 12pt, then change the first line from \documentclass{article} to \documentclass[12pt]{article}. You can change the 12 to other numbers, too.

If you want single-inch margins, add a line after the first line. Input \usepackage[margin=1in]{geometry}. You can change 1in to other sizes.

If you want double spacing, add another line to say \usepackage{setspace}. Then type \doublespacing anytime after \begin{document} to switch to double spacing. And \singlespacing to switch to single spacing.

When you are done, click the PDF button at the top of the page.

Further Resources

LaTeX is popular, so asking a search engine your question will often give you what you want. TeX Stack Exchange has a wealth of information. You can also ask questions there.

For logic, I have written a similar post for doing that.

Comment section is open. I welcome any suggestions for the guide, or questions anyone has. I plan on writing more quick guides for things that are useful after this but not essential to getting started, and there will be pingbacks in the comments here.



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