# Four effortless LaTeX packages you should use

By default, LaTeX produces professional-looking documents. Specifying an extra couple of packages, however, can make your document look even better. Here are four packages I recommend that require no effort, by which I mean you simply add the package to your preamble (and maybe specify a few options) and you’re good to go.

## Mathpazo: Palatino font package

Dealing with fonts is challenging with LaTeX, and unfortunately the default font is not the nicest. I prefer to use Palatino, a widely used serif font. Changing to this font is as simple as including `\usepackage{mathpazo}`. Although I give examples below, the png screenshots don’t do justice to the improvement: you have to compare in print or in your pdf viewer.

As implied by its name, the mathpazo package will typeset all your math in Palatino for a consistent look. No configuration necessary.

The microtype does many things without you even noticing. Indeed, the package’s tagline is subliminal refinements towards typographical perfection. Together, its multiple minor adjustments give an extra touch of class to your document. For example, the following image is equivalent to the paragraph above after microtype has done its adjustments.

The only difference that’s at all obvious is the number of hyphenated words. In order to reduce the number of these undesired breaks, the microtype package adjusts parameters such as interword spacing and kerning (distance between letters). A more subtle correction is the alignment of the hyphens on the right-hand side. Notice how they protrude ever so slightly. It is somewhat counter-intuitive, but this protrusion actually makes the right side of the block of text look nicer.

The microtype package gives you a host of options, but you don’t need to specify anything. Simply add `\usepackage{microtype}` and let it do its magic.

## Caption: Tweak caption labels

LaTeX captions, by default, have the same margins and font size as the rest of the body text: nothing differentiates them from the text above or below.

Using the caption package and specifying a few options quickly improves matters. The following example uses
`\usepackage[margin=15pt,font=small,labelfont={bf,sf}]{caption}`

Don’t forget to scrutinise the content of your caption.

Headings in LaTeX are simply enlarged and bolded versions of the current font. However, like many others, I find that headings are much nicer when set in a sans serif font. This can be achieved with two lines
```\usepackage{sectsty} \allsectionsfont{\sffamily} ```

In the example above, I have also used the `helvet` package for the Helvetica font.

## Author: Ken Hughes

Post-doctoral research scientist in physical oceanography

## One thought on “Four effortless LaTeX packages you should use”

1. Sandro Sousa says:

Thanks a lot for the super neat hints Ken, this improved significantly my thesis, my eyes don’t cry that much anymore when I look at it 🙂