In this article I will share my lessons learned about writing a thesis in LaTeX. During my PhD, I have been collecting a lot of information about how to write a thesis from the internet and from my colleagues at the TUM. Probably everyone, who decides to write a thesis in LaTeX, has to go through this tedious process but maybe I can spare you some effort by sharing my favorite LaTeX features in a series of shorter blog posts.

First of all, I have to state that I am not a LaTeX expert, at all, and a very exhaustive guide for writing a thesis in LaTeX can be found here. Nevertheless, I can imagine that some of the routines and packages I ended up using are useful for others, too. In a series of shorter blog posts I will share them. This first part we will establish a minimal working example (i.e., a very basic LaTeX thesis document) that the following blog posts will be based upon. Hence, the content will be

1. An exemplary LaTeX project and folder structure
2. The main.tex file
3. Integrating references with bibtex and Zotero
4. Some useful, additional packages and the title page of a thesis

But before we start, why should you chose LaTeX in the first place?

## Why LaTeX?

According to this answer on stackexchange using LaTeX is recommended if you want your documents to be of high typographical quality (i.e., beautiful), have a lot of mathematical expressions in your document or just want to separate the content from the format of your document (i.e. if you do not want to waste time thinking about how the document looks but rather what its content is).

Personally, I found that writing large documents in LaTeX is more stable than writing it with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) text editor such as Word or LibreOffice. For me large texts are more difficult to control in WYSIWYG editors (e.g., I change something on page 4 and that change has negative impacts on the format of the following pages) and I also prefer the typographical quality of LaTeX.

However, since LaTeX is not a proprietary software, there are different distributions and ways to install and use it. Below, an exemplary way of working with LaTeX on a Windows computer is explained.

## LaTeX installation and text editor

I wrote my thesis using a MikTeX distribution together with the TeXstudio text editor. The following examples are based on this setup. In case you have not installed the software, yet, install MikTeX first and install TeXstudio afterwards.

There are other LaTeX distributions for other operation systems, such as TeX Live and MacTeX. Alternatively, you can write LaTeX documents online using overleaf, for example. You can find further information about the different possibilities to use LaTeX on the website of the LaTeX project

## Project Structure

The structure of the project folder thesis looks like this and can be downloaded as a zipped version here:

The folder has two files (the main LaTeX file main.tex and refs.bib, which holds the references) and two folders (source and figures) which contain four LaTeX files and one picture, respectively. The content of the main LaTeX file files and the bib file will be discussed below.

## Document Structure

In the main.tex file, the preamble of the thesis is defined and the single chapters, that are stored in the source folder, are integrated. The code looks like this:

The main.tex file integrates the single chapters with the \include{<path/to/file.tex>} command (e.g., \include{source/introduction}). It is best practice to split the document into several smaller LaTeX files and combine them in a main file. This avoids a single large and diffcult to handle document and can save you precious time when you want to compile only smaller parts of the thesis. Compiling the entire project results in the following document:

### Document Class

Let’s walk through the document step by step. First, the doument uses the scrbook documentclass provided by the Koma-script project. This is a pretty powerful template that has many of the handy things recommended for a thesis already implemented and is flexibly adjustable. In fact, the number of options the documentclass has can be overwhelming and this blog post will only focus on the very basic ones.

In the options many different aspects of the document can be defined, for example the paper size (paper=a4), the font size (fontsize=11pt) and whether period should follow after a chapter or section name (numbers=noendperiod disables this option). See the scrbook documentation for details.

### Bibtex and Zotero

The bibtex is a way to integrate references into the thesis document and automatically build a sorted bibliography at the end of the document. In order to use bibtex we integrate the package with:

This is also a powerful tool with many available options but we will only set a few: the style is set to autoryear, the backend, that actually generates the bibliography, is set to be biber (make sure to set biber as your backend in TeXstudio) and the et al. cut-off is set to three (i.e., a maximum of two names will be displayed for refereces in text). The content of refs.bib contains only two references and looks as follows:

This file can be created manually or automatically. Personally, I recommend using the free reference management software Zotero for storing and organizing references. It strongly supports managing, reading and annotating references. When it comes to writing a thesis, the references can then automatically be exported to a bib file with the Better BibTeX plugin for Zotero. It is even possible to automatically keep the bib file in sync with your Zotero collection, which even further simplifies writing a thesis.

In the document, we can cite the references from the bib file by their keys and the commands \parencite{key} and \textcite{key} commands. This is exemplarily shown in the introduction chapter with the \parencite{bishopPatternRecognitionMachine2006} and \textcite{rumelhartLearningRepresentationsBackpropagating1986} commands:

is used for quickly adding blindtext, which can be deleted for a thesis, of course. In order to make links in the pdf work,

is used. The hidelinks option makes the links only invisible, they are still there, however (feel free to compile with \usepackage{hyperref} to see the difference). For the integration of pictures in the document

is used. By setting the path of the figures, LaTeX knows where to search for them. Finally,

is used for nicer tables in our document.

### Titlepage

The last building block of the minimal working example is the titlepage. The scrbook already provides functionality that can be used. By setting the different variables below and adding the command \maketitle, the titlepage is generated automatically:

This is only basic functionalyity and you might want to design your own title page with a logo of your university. In that case you can use

## Summary

At this point the first part of my lessons learned about writing a thesis in LaTeX comes to an end. To wrap up, the main takeways are

• LaTeX is a great alternative to a WYSIWYG editor for writing a thesis.
• By using a pre-defined document class such as scrbook one can quickly start writing a thesis in LaTeX.
• LaTeX integrates nicely with the free referece management software Zotero and enables a smooth and easy worklfow for adding references.

In the next part we will look at further LaTeX packages that make writing a thesis in LaTeX even more convenient.