Lesson 3

Running LaTeX

As detailed earlier, LaTeX documents are simply plain text. To see this, try opening your first document in a simple text editor, for example on Windows using Notepad. You should see the same text as in a dedicated LaTeX editor, but without any highlight of keywords.

You can also convert to PDF without your editor; this means using the Command Prompt/Terminal, so don’t worry if you are not familiar with this. If you are, you can navigate to the directory containing your .tex source file and run

pdflatex first


pdflatex first.tex

to typeset your PDF. Notice that the .tex extension is optional: LaTeX will assume files end with .tex unless you specify otherwise.

Special characters

If you need to type in a special character, most of the time you can simply use a backslash in front of it, so for example \{ is used to print a literal {. There are a few cases where you need to use a longer command instead:

SymbolShort Command
(math and text)
Long Command
(for text only)
\ \textbackslash
^ \textasciicircum
~ \textasciitilde

For the last three symbols there are no short commands available, because \\ is used to indicate a linebreak and \~ and \^ are used to produce tilde and circumflex accents when using only ASCII characters as input.