Lesson 5

Document classes

This lesson explains what a document class is and how it can influence a document layout and design. It lists the main classes you can find in a TeX distribution.

You might have noticed that all of the LaTeX documents we have created so far have started with a \documentclass line, and that \documentclass{article} has been the far most common choice. (We needed \documentclass{report} in the previous lesson to try out the \chapter command.) This line is required in all LaTeX documents, and is (almost) always the first command you should have.

What a document class does

The document class sets up the general layout of the document, for example

Document classes can also add new commands more generally; that’s particularly true for specialist cases like creating presentation slides.

The document class line can also set global options: things that apply to the document as a whole. These are given in square brackets: \documentclass[<options>]{<name>}. This syntax, with optional information given first in square brackets, is used in many LaTeX commands.

The base classes

LaTeX is supplied with a set of standard classes, all of which look similar but with some variations:

The article, report and book classes have very similar commands available, as we’ve already seen. When writing a letter, the commands available are a bit different


\begin{letter}{Some Address\\Some Street\\Some City}

\opening{Dear Sir or Madam,}

The text goes Here




See how \\ is used to separate lines of the address; we’ll look at line breaking a bit later. Also see how the letter class creates a new environment for each letter and has specialized commands.

The standard article, report and book classes take the options 10pt, 11pt and 12pt to change font size, and twocolumn to make a two-column document.

Function-rich classes

The core classes are very stable, but that means they are also quite conservative in both design and the range of commands available. Over time, a number of more powerful classes have been written, that let you alter the design without having to do things manually (which we’ll mention a bit later).

The American Mathematical Society provide variants of the standard classes (amsart, amsbook) with a more traditional design closer to that used in mathematics journal publications.

The two largest and most popular ‘extended’ classes are the KOMA-Script bundle and the memoir class. KOMA-Script offers a set of classes which ‘parallel’ the standard ones: scrartcl, scrreprt, scrbook, and scrlttr2, while there is a single memoir class that is most like an extension of book.

These extended classes have lots of customisation hooks, which we’ll explore a bit in an exercise. You might wonder how we can know about the hooks they provide; we will cover that in a later lesson, but you can always jump ahead!


The slides class was developed for making physical slides in the mid-1980s, so doesn’t have any features for creating interactive PDF-based presentations. There are modern classes that do exactly that: they are somewhat specialist compared to general LaTeX documents, so we’ve covered them in the additional information.


Explore how changing the document class between the standard ones, the KOMA bundle and memoir affects the appearance of the document.

\documentclass{article} % Change the class here



This is a sample document with some dummy
text\footnote{and a footnote}. This paragraph is quite
long as we might want to see the effect of making the
document have two columns.


Add the class option twocolumn and see how the layout changes.

Change the \section above to \chapter and find out what effect the following class options have when using the scrreprt class.