What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is the worldwide standard for writing mathematics. It is free, open source software that is used to write textbooks, research papers, and lecture notes in mathematics, physics, computer science, and other disciplines. Using LaTeX is a bit like writing a computer program. You write in plain text, using markup tags to indicate mathematical symbols and document structure. You then compile your file to output a nicely formatted PDF document.

Writing in LaTeX can take some time to get used to, as one must learn the correct commands to produce a desired output. The easiest way to get started is to edit a sample file (see below).

Using LaTeX

There are two main methods for using LaTeX. The first is to use an online system such as Overleaf. The second is to install the necessary software on your own computer.


Perhaps the easiest way to start using LaTeX is to sign up for a free account with Overleaf. This will allow you to start working with LaTeX right away, without installing any software on your computer.

To start using Overleaf to prepare homework assignments, follow these steps:

  1. Create an account at
  2. Download the sample file in zip format.
  3. In Overleaf, go to "Projects", then click the "New Project" button near the top left.
  4. Select "Upload Project".
  5. Drag the sample zip file into the window, or click "Select a .zip file" and choose the sample zip file you downloaded.
  6. Edit the tex file to create your homework assignment.
  7. You can rename the project (e.g. to "Assignment 1") by going back to your list of projects, checking the box beside the project you want to rename, clicking the "More" button, and selecting "Rename".
  8. When you're done your assignment, within the window where you edit the file, click the "Download PDF" link (it's a small icon a bit to the right of the "Recompile" button) to save your document in PDF format to your computer. This is the file you should submit on Brightspace.

Local distribution

For greater flexibility and to work on your documents without being connected to the internet, you can install the necessary software on your computer. You'll need a TeX distribution (free) and an editor. There are free editors (see, for example the list here) or you can use one like WinEdt (free trial, then US$40 for students).

Sample file

Starting a LaTeX document from scratch can be daunting for newcomers to the system. It is much easier to start with a sample document and then edit it as appropriate. Below is a sample file that is suitable for writing homework assignments. The zip file is suitable for uploading to Overleaf. The tex file is suitable for those using a local distribution of LaTeX. The PDF file is there so you can see what the output file should look like when you compile the tex code.

Getting help

There are many resources available online for help with LaTeX. The LaTeX Project help page is a good place to start. Answers to more technical questions can often be found on the TeX StackExchange.