LaTeX vs. MS Word – The Battle

Most master students of KU Leuven need to write their thesis sooner or later. However, finding your template might cause nervous breakdowns before you even start writing. Once you do find the page containing the specific template for your masters program, KU Leuven often doens’t offer any choice: you have to use MS Word.

In order to assert whether this situation only occurs in certain faculties, I created this list:

MS Word 9 – 4 LaTeX.

Even though I couldn’t find all faculty templates, this list shows me exactly what I was expecting – with one exception. LaTeX is mostly used in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics or STEM-programs only, with the notable exception of Economics and Business. Luckily, you don’t have to take my word for it.

In the article Don’t Format Manuscripts by Brischoux and Legagneux, they discuss a frequent occuring issue in academia. If an academic paper got rejected by a journal, resubmitting an improved version usually requires the researcher to reformat the text to the journals standard which can be very time consuming. Only LaTeX users can save time on reformatting if the journal offers an automatic template. Mathematics, Statistics and Probability and Physics show the highest rates of LaTeX users for submitted papers (ranging from 96,9% to 74%), followed by Computer Sciences (45,8%) (Brischoux and Legagneux, 2009).

But does this mean LaTeX is better than Word? José Luis Blanco discusses a scientific experiment determining which typesetting tool is more productive. Turns out that Word is unbeatable – when it comes to long blocks of continuous text and creating tables. However, LaTeX  beats Word on all levels when it comes to texts full of equations. In their usability questionnaire, the researchers on Experimental Psychology from the University of Giessen (Germany) also found that:

LaTeX users significantly more often reported to enjoy their work with their respective software than Word users […]. (Knauff, Nejasmic, 2014)

Even though the ease of use might convince you to never look outside the comfort of the Word-box, here are some of my personal opinions on the advantages of LaTeX:

  1. It is Open Source software, need I say more?
  2. The focus during writing is on content, not markup.
  3. It saves you time adapting to other templates.
  4. It doesn’t crash when you have more than 100 pages – personal experience.
  5. It looks more professional.
  6. Implementing citations, footnotes and bibliography is easy using extensions like BiBTeX.

Maybe some of you are still wondering, what is LaTeX? Well, the the LaTeX Project gives this definition:

LaTeX, which is pronounced «Lah-tech» or «Lay-tech» (to rhyme with «blech» or «Bertolt Brecht»), is a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting.

You could compare it to the Hyper Text Markup Language or HTML, with the important difference that LaTeX is used for documents instead of webpages.

So if you are taking the Online Publishing course, and are already learning how to use HTML, why not push yourself further out of your comfort zone? I used LaTeX for an essay I wrote last year for another course, and taught myself while working on the essay for three days using the Five minute guide to LaTeX.


Knauff, M., & Nejasmic, J. (2014). An Efficiency Comparison of Document Preparation Systems Used in Academic Research and Development. PloS one, 9(12), e115069.

Brischoux, F., & Legagneux, P. (2009). Don’t Format Manuscripts. The Scientist, 23(7), 24.


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