Avoiding Common Latex Pitfalls For Mathematical Typesetting

Formatting Equations Properly

Displayed equations in LaTeX require special formatting to render properly. The most common approach is to use the equation environment. This centers the equation on a new line and assigns an equation number:

   a^2 + b^2 = c^2

Failing to use the equation environment for multi-line expressions can lead to misaligned baselines between lines. Always use environments like equation, align, gather, multiline, etc for displayed math.

Even inline math with single symbols needs special LaTeX formatting. Compare typing a = b versus $a = b$. The math mode delimited with $ signals LaTeX to use its mathematical spacing. Forgetting the $ leads to incorrect spacing around relation symbols like =, <, >. Always use $ even for simple inline math.

LaTeX handles text mode and math mode differently. Expressions inside $ like \sin(\theta) render with mathematical spacing, whereas \sin(\theta) in text mode bunches up next to surrounding text. Keeping math inside $ ensures proper spacing and mathematical typesetting.

Aligning Multiple Equations

Aligning a group of related equations requires special LaTeX environments. The align environment right-aligns the ampersands to display equalities, relations, etc:

   a + b &= c \\
   d + e &= f

For a mixed system, use the gather environment to group equations without alignment. Need centered equations? Use the {equation} environment nested inside {center}.

Numbering equations can help refer to them in text. Insert equation numbers by enabling auto-numbering globally with \numberwithin{equation}{section}, or manually with \tag{1} inside a specific equation.

  a^2=b^2+c^2 \tag{1}

Give important equations unique labels to cite them elsewhere like Eq. \eqref{pythagoras}. This helps linking ideas for the reader.


Professional Equation Design

Typesetting equations to convey ideas clearly requires controlling all spacing and sizing details. For multi-line expressions, embrace terms over multiple lines with {...}, {[...]}, or \left\{...\right\}.

Use \operatorname for unambiguous operator names like \operatorname{sin} and \operatorname{ker}. Without it, LaTex renders sin and ker using default math font style, which may be unclear.

Replace hard-coded textual symbols like "sin" or "log" with math mode versions -\sin and \log. LaTeX can then handle spacing and style appropriately.

Handling Subscripts and Superscripts

Controlling limits and indices requires care when stacking multiple terms. Use _ and ^ for basic superscripts and subscripts. But avoid chains like a^b^c which can misplace terms.

Set precise positions by controlling subscript depth with \substack in the exponent or limiting positions with \limits. Brace subscript groups using {...} for optimal spacing.


\Gamma_{\mathclap{\substack{x\\[-2pt] y}}} \quad
f\indices{^i_{j,k}} \quad
\sum\limits_{i=0}^\infty x_i


Take special care when stacking groups of superscript terms. Space groups clearly using {} and analyze baselines across nested layers.

Importing Math Symbol Packages

LaTeX defines a basic set of mathematical symbols and operators. But directly inputting symbols leads to inconsistent styling. Instead, import established symbol sets:

  • amsmath - extended math environments and symbols
  • amssymb - additional arrow types for sets and logic
  • stix - large collection of professional math glyphs

This allows you to access bold math symbols like \mathbb{R} for real numbers, script letters like \mathcal{A} for sets, along with specialized operators, delimiters, and geometrical shapes.

For most applications, the comprehensive STIX font collection contains required glyphs. Ensure all math fonts use consistent typeface to avoid mismatched symbol designs within equations.

Debugging Math Mode Errors

LaTeX handles text and math modes separately during typesetting. Missing $ delimiters around math is a common source of errors:

![Missing $ error](error.png)

Always check unmatched $ since its the primary indicator of incorrect math mode. Enable full LaTeX logs to trace precise locations.

Unparsed LaTeX fragments also stem from math mode inconsistencies. Isolate the expression and validate if delimiters, environments, braces match. Fragment tracing in LaTeX editors can help pinpoint problem code.

Finally, check that displayed math uses apt environments - equation vs align vs gather depending on alignment needs around the = sign.

Optimizing Math Fonts and Rendering

LaTeX provides mathematical typesetting capabilities powered by Tex under the hood. Choosing an optimal Tex engine can improve math layout quality:

  • pdfTeX - default Tex engine, limited math font support
  • XeTeX - enables modern Unicode math alphabets
  • LuaTex - offers advanced math typesetting extensions

Especially for publishing research papers and theses, evaluate Math support across Tex engines first. Use fontspec to load Unicode math fonts with advanced math typesetting engines.

Tune math typesetting globally through the LaTeX preamble:

  • \everymath - style all math content
  • \everydisplay - style specifically displayed math

Set attributes like \boldmath for bold symbols, \sfrac for slanted fractions, or customize delimiter sizes for optimal math readability.

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