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.
When designing any figure with colour, consider the Hue-Saturation-Lightness (HSL) colour space. It is the most intuitive and simplest colour space to work with. For examples of why it is well suited to scientific figures, skip to the bottom. To learn the details, read on.
LyX is a document processor that provides the power and professional-looking typesetting of LaTeX with the familiarity of an easy-to-use graphical interface à la MS Word. Effectively, it provides the best of both worlds. For someone without knowledge of LaTeX, LyX is less imposing and has a smaller learning curve. But even seasoned LaTeX users who have no desire to leave their favourite text editor can take advantage of some of LyX’s features.
Colour figures in journal articles are common these days. Many of the people reading them, however, will print them in black and white. Consequently, when designing figures, we should ensure they remain meaningful if converted to grayscale. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Outline slides in scientific talks are unnecessary and cut into a speaker’s valuable time. Many scientific talks are 10–12 minutes, and spending a whole slide outlining the next 10 minutes is pointless. Why? Because your talk is very likely going to follow a standard order: You’ll start with some motivation, move onto the background, present your results, then finish up with what you have concluded. This is what the audience is expecting, so don’t need to waste time reiterating. As an audience member, I prefer you use this time to teach me something.
Several characters are simply short horizontal lines: the hyphen -, the minus sign −, the en dash –, and the em dash —. Each has a specific purpose, but often the hyphen is used regardless. This is bad practice.
The dash is not the only culprit; various other characters are incorrectly used. Typically these relate to mathematics or scientific quantities.
Writing about science often involves using symbols. Unfortunately, few of the symbols we need can be found on the keyboard, which presents a problem. It is not difficult to copy and paste symbols needed, but it is tedious and annoying. Here I present a solution that lets you input any symbol by simply typing its name (prepended with a slash).
Documents typeset using LaTeX just look better than than their MS Word (or equivalent) counterparts. LaTeX has many well-known features to make document creation easy. However, it is some of its lesser-known features that together produce a professional-looking document.
Images come in a variety of file types: jpg, png, pdf, eps, svg, tif, bmp, and countless other lesser-known ones. Each have their pros and cons, but they can be divided into two types: vector and raster. In science, we generally want vector images, unless we are dealing with photos.
Before leaving high school, every scientist should have learned all the things a graph should contain: a descriptive title, labels for every axis, appropriately spaced tick marks, and a legend if necessary. All pretty straightforward, so you would think any figure published in a scientific journal would adhere to this as a minimum. But I’ve come across far too many figures breaking one or more of these rules. The problem is not that people are excluding the information, rather they are putting everything in the figure caption. Consequently, the figure caption ends up being long-winded, procedural, and not at all interesting. Fortunately, it is easy to make the caption succinct and descriptive with a few quick adjustments to the figure.