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.

So you think you know Digital Humanities?

Although I have been enrolled in the Master of Digital Humanities (MDH) for a year by now, the discussion on “What is digital humanities?” remains relevant as there is no single answer to this simple question. In fact, there are several interesting definitions of digital humanities (DH) on the website. Every time you refresh their website you get a different point of view, another attempt at defining DH.

In my opinion, DH comes down to two essential and complementary elements: employing digital tools to study the Humanities and Social Sciences, and criticizing the limits and biases those tools may cause. Unfortunately defining DH brings a whole new set of problems to the table. As Lisa Spiro clarifies in “This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities:

Even as the digital humanities (DH) is being hailed as the “next big thing”, members of the DH community have been debating what counts as digital humanities and what does not, who is in and who is out, and whether DH is about making or theorizing, computation or communication, practice or politics (Spiro, 2012).

The same people that try to define DH and therefore select the “chosen ones”, dwell on how wonderfull and revolutionary the community of DH is in comparison to other more traditional academics. Matthew Kirschenbaum noticed this (self)praise of Digital Humanities in his article on What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments? after the discussion on Croxall’s paper at the 2009 Modern Language Association (MLA).

Many seemed to feel that the connection to wider academic issues was not incidental or accidental and that digital humanities, with a culture that values collaboration, openness, nonhierarchical relations, and agility, might be an instrument for real resistance or reform (Kirschenbaum, 2012).

This brings me to my next topic: “What are the core values of digital humanities?”. Before I discuss these values, I would like to point out that the simple act of defining values, usually means these values do not (yet) exist in reality.

The first value Lisa Spiro discusses in her article is openness on two levels, both in the exchange of ideas, and in the strive for open content and software as well as transparancy (Zorich, 2008). I believe several issues arise from this strive for openness. The first issue regarding the exchange of ideas, will be discussed together with the second value. Secondly, open content and transparancy in humanities research, can violate the privacy of the participants. Once there are clear guidelines, I do believe openness stands at the core of Digital Humanities. You can find DH project guidelines here: Digital_Humanities (Burdick et al., 2012, 122-135).

Spiro goes on to the second value of collaboration, which does not only improve productivity, but also encourages new approaches. However, in the humanities identifying the author is key, since the author should get the credit. Articles from the natural sciences often contain an entire list of authors, contributors, and so on, that are ordered according to their contribution. The first author for example is the person that wrote the article, while the last author oversees the project. Therefore I feel DH needs a clear order of contributors with meaning attached to every position so that every person that collaborated gets the correct recognition for their work. As Bethany Nowviskie already states in het blogpost on monopolies of invention:

The biggest question for you may be how you’ll open potentially awkward conversations about status in a way that strengthens your team, creates – rather than limits – opportunity, and permits the kind of fluidity and professional growth we all want to foster over the course of long-term, collaborative initiatives. (Nowviskie, 2009).

This statement also connects to Lisa Spiro’s third value of collegiality and connectedness. I truly hope that the positive atmosphere from the MDH generation 1.0, will transfer to the generation 2.0. In our program I do feel there isn’t such a competitive spirit as in my previous field of study, and the feedback and encouragement of fellow students is really nice. Whether this atmosphere applies to the broader DH community, I do not know.

The final two values will probably recur extensively in my next blogposts, so I will not discuss diversity and experimentation in this blogpost. However, in the context of experimentation I would like to add that no result, is still a result and should definitely not be hidden. When a certain project fails, describing the steps in the process can actually help other researchers, as well as open the discussion on why it didn’t work and how it could work with another method/tool/dataset.


Spiro, Lisa. ““This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?”. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Zorich, Diane. A Survey of Digital Humanities Centers in the United States. Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2008.

Burdick, Anne, Drucker, Johanna, Lunenfeld, Peter, Presner, Todd, and Schnapp, Jeffrey. Digital_Humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Nowviskie, Bethany. “Monopolies of Invention.” Bethany Nowviskie. December 30, 2009.