Common Latex Pitfalls And How To Avoid Them

Troubleshooting Common LaTeX Errors

Compilation Fails to Produce Output

When compiling a LaTeX document, one of the most frustrating errors is when the compilation process fails to produce any output PDF file. There are two common causes for this:

  • Missing end braces - LaTeX uses braces to denote the beginning and end of markup blocks. If an end brace is missing, LaTeX will throw an error and fail to compile the document properly. Carefully check that all beginning braces { have a matching closing brace }. Pay special attention to braces in document environments, math formulas, tables, and inserted graphics.
  • Incorrect document class - The document class controls the overall layout and design of the document. Not specifying a document class, or specifying one that is not available on your system, will prevent successful compilation. Double check that the \documentclass is specified properly at the very beginning of your LaTeX file and that you have support for that document class in your LaTeX distribution.

Improper Formatting of Math Equations

Because LaTeX excels at typesetting complex mathematical expressions, authors often run into issues when attempting to format math incorrectly:

  • Subscript/superscript syntax - LaTeX utilizes underscore _ and caret ^ symbols to denote subscripts and superscripts in math mode. Always wrap subscripts and superscripts in curly braces {}, even if they are single characters. Failing to do so will result in errors or incorrect output.
  • Missing math mode delimiters - LaTeX requires that all mathematical expressions be wrapped in $ delimiters to enter inline math mode or \[ \] delimiters to enable display math mode. Check that all equations and expressions have the proper delimiters around them.

Figures Not Displaying Properly

LaTeX offers robust features for importing external graphics files and assets to be displayed in your documents. However, you may occasionally find that inserted images fail to properly generate output:

  • Incorrect image file paths - When placing graphics using \includegraphics{}, the file path to that image matters. Double check that the path to the image file exists on your system and that the filename matches *exactly*, including proper extensions. Avoid spaces in paths and filenames when possible.
  • Syntax issues in \includegraphics - Carefully check that the parameters within the \includegraphics{} command are properly formatted. The image filename should be wrapped in quotes. Optional formatting parameters like width=, height=, etc must also have their values set correctly.

Incorrect Margins and Text Flow

LaTeX natively handles most textual layout concerns so authors can focus on content. However, you may notice strange issues with page margins or text unexpectedly flowing to new pages/columns:

  • Page geometry settings - Use the geometry package to fine tune the page dimensions including margins. Take care to specify acceptable ranges for margins so text can smoothly fill each page.
  • Overly long paragraphs - LaTeX will automatically wrap lines within paragraphs, but if a single paragraph becomes too long to fit on a single page it can lead to unexpected page breaks. Consider breaking up excessively long blocks of text where appropriate.

Strange Fonts and Text Styles

Consistent, professional looking fonts and typography are hallmarks of quality LaTeX documents. If strange fonts appear or text looks incorrectly formatted, check the following:

  • Verify installed fonts - Make sure any fonts you explicitly specify for headers, text blocks, etc are available/installed on your LaTeX distribution. Specifying a font that can't be found will trigger strange fallback options or errors.
  • Check imported font packages - If you import specialized LaTeX packages for stylized math fonts, custom fonts, etc make sure the package is properly available in your environment. Test documents just importing font packages to isolate any issues.

Links and References Not Working

Academic manuscripts rely extensively on internal references and citations to external papers and sources. Problems generating links and bibliographies/reference lists can threaten document quality:

  • Citations match bibliography - All \cite{} references in text must match bibliography entries. Double check for typos or inconsistencies between cited keys and bibliography entries.
  • Link syntax issues - Use packages like hyperref for automating link generation. Ensure proper syntax is used for referring to internal sections and external URLs.

Dealing with Complex Table Formatting

The multidimensional, complex structure of tables requires special care to display properly. Improper table construction can create output riddled with errors:

  • Table alignment - Set alignment options for each column carefully. Left/right justification and centered data columns enable easier reading. Only decimal align sparse numeric data.
  • Text wrapping in cells - Unlike paragraphs, table cells will not automatically wrap text which leads to clipped/overlapping text. Enable line wrapping manually or set fixed width constraint.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *