WriteLaTeX for Research

Mikhail Klassen photo

Guest blog post by Mikhail Klassen

When I started graduate school in 2009, I was looking for a good way to keep track of my research progress. I knew it was very important to keep a research notebook, but I didn't know what was the best way of doing this.

The first conundrum was deciding between typing up all my notes in a text editor, or writing them by hand. I asked around and one professor immediately handed me an enormous bound notebook with square-ruled paper. The old-school way was still to write everything by hand.

I can understand the appeal of handwritten notes. You can write equations easily. You can make sketches quickly. But we’re in a digital age, and that introduces some problems. Do you really want to write out that long URL into your research notebook? Do you really want to print that figure, cut it out with scissors, and glue it to a page? What if you’d like to quote a large block of text from an important paper you were reading that morning?

Also, I type much faster than I can write by hand. If I'm taking copious notes every day, I don’t want to be writing them by hand.

That was enough: My research diary was going to be digital.

But there was one last thing in the way. If I was going to be including a whole bunch of scientific equations, I was going to need LaTeX.

In 2010, I started compiling regular notes in a special folder on my desktop. Before long I needed a system to organize them all. A system eventually came together, but it wasn't perfect. Worst of all, I couldn't share my system very easily with others. People saw my LaTeX research diary system, mumbled “That’s cool”, but only a few other geeks started using it.

In 2012, I discovered WriteLaTeX, which changes everything.

Similar to using WriteLaTeX for Education, using WriteLaTeX for Research opens up lots of new possibilities:

  • Easily create beautiful diary entries without worrying about the entire LaTeX build system
  • Create one new page for every entry into your research diary
  • Save important mathematical derivations for future reference
  • Upload important figures and insert them directly into your document, or use Google Drive or Dropbox
  • Edit your research notes from any computer, or even on a tablet when mobile
  • When writing a scientific paper, refer to past entries, and just paste the LaTeX into your paper
  • Share your research notes with other members in your group, or with your research supervisor
  • Save the compiled PDFs and print them before meetings with your supervisor (Hint: they love this)
  • Engage in open science by publishing your ongoing research using the integrated figshare service.

Editor's note: Our thanks to Mikhail for writing this piece and sharing his experiences of using writeLaTeX.