Best Practices For Displaying Math Equations In Latex Documents

Properly Displaying Equations

When writing a LaTeX document that contains mathematical equations, it is important to display the equations properly so they render clearly and correctly. Here are some best practices for basic equation formatting:

  • Use the equation environment for single-line equations. This will place the equation on a separate line and center it. For example:
       E = mc^2
  • Use the align environment for multi-line and aligned equations. This allows you to align elements across multiple lines. For example:
       a+b &= c \\
       d+e &= f
  • Use proper math mode symbols like \$ $ or \( \) to surround math expressions in a sentence. For example:
    Euler's identity $e^{i\pi} + 1 = 0$ is a famous equation.  

Using the correct environments and delimiters for equations ensures they will display properly when you compile your LaTeX document.

Formatting Equations Nicely

In addition to technically correct displays, you also want your equations to have good visual formatting to make them easier to read. Here are some formatting best practices:

  • Add some spacing around display equations using the \\[ ] constructs. This adds a bit of visual separation between the equations and surrounding text. For example:
    Text above equation\\[2ex] 
      x = 3
    Text below equation
  • Break lines appropriately in long, multi-line equations to improve readability. Use alignments and line breaks at logical points, often operators or relations:
  • \begin{align}
      x =& 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 +  \\
         & 7 + 8 + 9 + 10
  • Use text mode next to equations to explain the meaning of variables and key components. This helps readers understand your mathematical notation. For example:
      A = \pi r^2 \text{ where $r$ is the radius}

Following these basic formatting guidelines will make your equations easier to quickly parse and understand.

Numbering Equations

When you have multiple equations in a document, it is helpful to number them so you can refer back to specific equations in the text. Here are recommendations for numbering equations:

  • Automatically number a display equation by using the \begin{equation} and \end{equation} environment. Equations will be numbered sequentially.
        x^2 + y^2 = z^2
  • Manually specify an equation number with the \tag{} command inside an equation. This overrides the automatic numbering:
       x + y = z \tag{1.3$'$}   
  • Refer to a numbered equation in text using the \eqref{} command. It will print the appropriate number:
    As seen in equation \eqref{eqn:emc2}...

Numbering and referencing equations can make discussions significantly clearer by grounding concepts to specific locations in the document.

Common Math Functions

LaTeX provides a wide selection of mathematical symbols, functions, and formatting capabilities. Some common examples include:

  • Greek letters - Frequently used for variables and mathematical constants like angles. Access them using names like \alpha, \beta, \theta:
        \alpha + \beta = \gamma
  • Fractions - Created using the \frac{} command:
      \[ z = \frac{x+y}{k} \]
  • Square roots - Done with \sqrt{}:
        \[ x = \sqrt{b^2 - 4ac} \] 
  • Summation and integrals - Implemented with \sum and \int:
        \[  \sum_{i=1}^n x_i 
            \, , \,
            \int_{a}^{b} x^2 dx

Leveraging these common math functions fluently can drastically reduce equation authoring time and make documents very readable.

Troubleshooting Errors

Even seasoned LaTeX users run into issues with equations on occasions. Some tips for catching errors:

  • Check for any missing \$ delimiters around inline math expressions. Equations inside sentences should be wrapped in these.
  • Check for any missing { or } brackets around equation components. This can cause cascading errors.
  • Use the showkeys LaTeX package to see debugging markers next to all equation tags and labels. This makes missing labels obvious.
  • Carefully inspect compiler/build tool logs for line numbers associated with errors. This locates issue areas quickly.

Catching any syntax issues early on saves future headaches when trying to style and reference equations. Having a consistent way to check grammar helps significantly.


Equations are key building blocks in technical LaTeX documents across science and engineering. By following best practices like:

  • Properly styling equations
  • Formatting equations for readability
  • Numbering equations appropriately
  • Leveraging common LaTeX math functionality
  • Carefully troubleshooting issues

You can author beautiful documents rich in mathematical expressions. Taken together, these recommendations help make the equation authoring process easier and improve comprehension for readers. So incorporate them into your workflows to take your LaTeX skills to the next level.

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