Date Tags LaTeX

As a Technology & Policy Program student, you need to prepare a research thesis for your S.M.; if you're in another MIT graduate program, you will likely also need to prepare a thesis or academic publication at some point during your degree!

Why? Compared to Microsoft Word, the LaTeX document preparation system can save you considerable time in writing your thesis, as well as other documents such as academic publications and the writing assignments for Science, Technology, and Public Policy. At the same time, the results will be more elegant, readable, reusable, and reproducible. STPP coursework is a great opportunity to begin climbing the LaTeX learning curve.1

This post, and possibly subsequent posts, will contain opinionated2 tips and links to resources. I'm also offering (perhaps foolishly) to help with any thorny LaTeX problems.3

Please e-mail or post in the comments below with any suggested additions or resources that you find helpful in your LaTeX learning.

Getting started with Overleaf

Eventually, you will want to install LaTeX on your own computer—especially for working without Internet access. But for a quick start, Overleaf is a great option. It's a collaborative, in-browser LaTeX editor; analogous to Google Docs.

  • Here is a template for the paper topic memo. Please duplicate this project: go to your Overleaf dashboard/“My Projects” page, click the down arrow at right, and select “Open a Copy”.

Bibliographies & the 17.310j-fa17 repo

BibTeX and BibLaTeX (don't worry about the distinction) are powerful tools for citations and bibliographies. They allow you to free up mental space & effort from worrying about the trivialities of APA, MLA, Chicago or other citation styles.

You instead use a BibTeX database with entries that look like this:

    author = {Viscusi, W. Kip and Harrington, Jr., Joseph E. and Vernon, John M.},
    edition = {4},
    isbn = {9780262220750},  % print edition
    publisher = {MIT Press},
    title = {Economics of Regulation and Antitrust},
    year = {2005},

and then, in your document, cite the entry using its key—here, viscusi-2005. Most popular citation management tools—Mendeley, Zotero, etc.—and most journal and library websites support import/export of citations in BibTeX format.

When your LaTeX document is compiled, BibLaTeX takes care of formatting both the citations and bibliography entries. Switching styles is as simple as changing an option, and many advanced features and customization options are offered.

  • 17.310J-fa17 is a Github repository where I will maintain a BibTeX database with some of the course readings. If you'd like to contribute to this database and are familiar with git and Github,4 please fork it, add any entries, and submit a pull request.

Advanced topics

  1. Nothing is free; LaTeX is not entirely painless to learn and use. The chief difficulty is that error messages are sometimes cryptic, and one needs to learn how to ‘debug’: isolate part of a document that's interrupting compilation. 

  2. As with any Free Software, there are many ways to skin a cat, and appropriate choices differ with task, context, and the skills of yourself or your collaborators. Here are only recommendations and opinions that I feel are appropriate for the context (solo work, mostly beginners) and tasks (simple papers) in this course. 

  3. Though co-learning with your classmates will often work just as well; Google is your friend, as is Stack Exchange; and you can always try to RTFM. Good troubleshooting skills are part of LaTeX knowledge! 

  4. Note that you can get a free Github subscription using your MIT e-mail address at


comments powered by Disqus