The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Dear LaTeX: It’s not you, it’s me

July 11, 2013

Dear LaTeX,

You look so pretty.  In grad school, all the cool kids were using you.  You know, the kids that had backgrounds in differential calculus and ran R even when they didn’t have to? Those kids.  I wanted to be like them and have groundbreaking papers.  So, instead of working on my arguments and methods, I downloaded you and set out to write my dissertation with your wonderful program.  I mean, if the paper looks like it was written by someone who has their stuff together, it must be a well-done paper, right?

Now, 4 years later, I realize the error of my ways.  You didn’t make my papers any better.  You just made them look like they were written by a high-tech wannabe.  I learned all your intricacies; I poured countless hours into reading blogs and wikis for your program that was supposed to help

“authors not to worry too much about the appearance of their documents but to concentrate on getting the right content.” 

Maybe you do that for some people.  For me, however, it was exactly the opposite.  Many, many times, I’d have to scour the internet to find why my file wasn’t compiling into a pdf correctly or why my tables looked so funny.  Instead of your purported WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean),  I was typically getting WYSIWYDMBWTSTFO (What You See Is What You Didn’t Mean But Were Too Stupid To Figure Out). I persevered anyway and stayed in my relationship with you even though Word’s WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) seemed so tempting. I just wanted my papers to look like they were made by someone smart!

My biggest problem with you, LaTeX, came when my papers finally started getting accepted.  No one would accept our relationship!  They just wanted Word documents.  I’ve had to spend research monies on various programs to convert my pretty LaTeX documents into Word.  Sometimes – gasp! – I even had to make such conversions by hand.  It was too much – I was stuck at home on Friday nights because of you.

It wasn’t all bad. You taught me to use reference management software.  That was nice.  You made my job talk slides look like they were made by someone who has it all figured out.  I’ll always appreciate the times we shared.  I’m going back to Word, though.  I hope you understand.

Love Always,


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Amanda Murdie is Professor & Dean Rusk Scholar of International Relations in the Department of International Affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She is the author of Help or Harm: The Human Security Effects of International NGOs (Stanford, 2014). Her main research interests include non-state actors, and human rights and human security.

When not blogging, Amanda enjoys hanging out with her two pre-teen daughters (as long as she can keep them away from their cell phones) and her fabulous significant other.