Guidelines On When Not To Use The Latex Minimal Class

Simplicity vs. Flexibility

The LaTeX minimal document class prioritizes simplicity over flexibility. It provides only the most basic functionality required to typeset a document with sections, paragraphs, fonts, and spacing. However, this simplicity comes at the cost of limited customization and extensibility.

The minimal class is intended for short, simple documents where advanced formatting and structuring is not required. For longer or more complex documents, the lack of features can become problematic:

  • No support for document sections, tables of contents, bibliographies, and other elements that help organize long documents
  • No predefined environments for tables, figures, lists, etc. All formatting must be handled manually
  • No method to style headings or apply consistent formatting across sections

This requires extensive manual formatting to impose structure on documents, which can be tedious and error-prone in long documents. The minimal class prioritizes brevity and simplicity over these capabilities, making it a poor choice when building complex papers, reports, books, or other structured documents.

Lack of Features

As an ultra-minimal document class, minimal has no support for many standard LaTeX features that are relied upon when typesetting long or structured documents, including:

  • Sections and headings - The minimal class does not define sectioning commands like \section, \subsection, etc. that are used to divide documents into hierarchical sections. All headings must be manually formatted.
  • Table of contents generation - Without document sections, a table of contents showing headings with page numbers cannot be automatically generated.
  • Lists - Standard list environments like itemize and enumerate are not provided and must be manually created.
  • Tables - No predefined table environment exists to align cell content into rows and columns.
  • Figures and graphics - Inserting images and graphics requires manually inserting whitespace and controlling alignment since no figure environment is available.
  • Bibliographies and citations - Features to automatically generate formatted bibliographies and cite references in the text are wholly absent.
  • Abstracts - Structural elements like an abstract summarizing the content are not defined.
  • Index generation - Tools to automatically collect index terms and print an index do not exist.

For documents longer than a few paragraphs, applying manual formatting for these common components requires significant effort. Even simple capabilities like properly aligning a table require custom code rather than using predefined LaTeX functionality. This limits the feasibility of using the minimal class for many real-world document needs outside of tiny example documents.

Compatibility Issues

Due to deliberately minimizing dependencies and functionality, compatibility issues can arise when attempting to use certain common LaTeX packages and extensions with the minimal class:

  • Some functionality from the geometry package related to page dimensions may fail due to different defaults.
  • Using \usepackage{fullpage} will result in errors since it directly conflicts with the minimal margins used by default.
  • Graphics and image inclusion via \includegraphics from the graphicx package may behave unpredictably without the proper figure environment.
  • Table generation with common packages like booktabs will require custom workarounds to align since no table environment is present.
  • Citations from natbib or biblatex will lack key formatting and be prone to alignment issues without foundations for bibliographies.

These examples illustrate the broader challenge that third-party packages that extend LaTeX's capabilities through predefined environments and commands may depend directly or indirectly on base functionality absent from the minimal class. This limits their utility and may require manual intervention to circumvent compatibility barriers introduced from a class designed explicitly for only basic typesetting needs.

Formatting Limitations

The deliberately basic design philosophy of the minimal document class imposes strict limitations on document formatting that negatively impact flexibility and styling capabilities:

  • Fixed margins - Page margins are hard-coded to 25mm and cannot be adjusted through normal means like \usepackage[margin=2cm]{geometry}.
  • Limited font sizes - Only 10pt, 11pt, and 12pt options exist for the normal font size. Reducing below 10pt or increasing above 12pt will fail.
  • Few typesetting parameters - Basic attributes like the spaces between paragraphs or line spacing ratios offer little control.
  • Minimal styling for headings - All aesthetics such as font choices, sizes, spacing for section headings is entirely manual.
  • No page headers/footers - No automatic page numbering or headers with document titles and section names can be inserted.

Together these constraints limit the ability to control visual presentation details or apply consistent document styling. For simple documents like assignments this may suffice, but for more complex papers or manuscripts with precise appearance requirements, the lack of flexibility will pose an obstacle depending on specific needs.

Consider Alternatives

For most real-world documentation needs outside short, basic documents, alternative LaTeX document classes provide more appropriate functionality and flexibility:

  • article class - The standard article document class adds support for sections, headings, figures, bibliographies and more while retaining simplicity.
  • report and book classes - These long-form classes include additional structural elements like parts, chapters, front & back matter to organize book-length content.
  • KOMA-script classes - The KOMA-script bundle offers customizable, flexible, and fully-featured alternatives like scrartcl, scrreprt, and scrbook.

When weighing use of the minimal class, consider if one of these options better suits document requirements without introducing unnecessary complexity for basic typesetting tasks.

Example Document Class Usage

For a standard academic paper, the article class provides an appropriate level of functionality:



  Here is my introduction...  


  I used the following methods...


  I obtained the following results...


  In conclusion...



In contrast, attempting long, complex book projects like a thesis with the minimal class would require extensive manual formatting:



  \large \underline{Introduction} \normalsize

  Here is a lengthy introduction spanning multiple pages... 
  (No automatic page numbering or headers without manual effort)  


  My detailed methods section...
  (No easy way to have consistent styled/spaced headings)

  Presentation of results with a hand-made table:

  \begin{tabular}{ p{3cm} | p{3cm} }
    Result 1 & Description \\
    Result 2 & Description 

  In conclusion...
  (No automatic bibliography here)


This illustrates how a lack of central functionality forces extensive one-off formatting. Using article or KOMA-script classes reduces such overhead for complex documents.

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