I’ve started work on my Masters dissertation, and already getting into the habit of splitting up sections/chapters into different files. I’m still unsure how I’m going to structure the bibliography, it would make sense to keep separate bibfiles for each chapter, but what if I want to cite the same piece of work in two different chapters? The way it’s going at the moment I might just end up with one big bibfile for the whole thing.

I recently (re)discovered that in zotero you can easily copy a reference you’ve already added to a previous project. I used to delete collections after I’d submitted an essay, but now I see the benefit of keeping them hanging around. This might develop into a relaxed attitude to reference management, where anything you read gets added to the bibliography. Maybe it’ll save time later on.

Lecturers often demand that students should be able to write well, while academic writing itself is sometimes borderline unreadable. Universities are pretty bad at giving students decent templates or tools for essay-writing.

Last term a professor told our class “I assume you’re all using bibliography software.” Yes, I mean you would hope that everyone’s doing that, but the university never really teaches it. You can’t assume everyone already knows what they’re doing. I used to know someone who personally typed out the bibliography at the end of each essay, and I’m sure there are others who do this without knowing any better.

I want to make my LaTeX template available for others to use, so click here to download my template as a zip archive, and here for the reference pdf. It looks like this:

Feel free to use it, modify it, pass it on.

LaTeX doesn’t make writing essays any easier, although writing in a text editor does allow you to do things like write
each
sentence
of
each
paragraph
on
its
own
line.

Which can help to structure your argument, at the expense of readability. Markup lends itself to structured writing, and there’s a certain brutalist purity about writing in raw text. Separate content from presentation, sweep away all aesthetic distractions!

Although I agree with Daniel Allington when he writes:

the reality is that people who use [LaTeX] probably care more about the presentation than people who just use Word. After all, if you truly didn’t care about presentation, you wouldn’t go to all this trouble of writing in some arcane markup language.

You can usually tell if a document has been typeset, and it acts as a kind of soft mark of academic quality. Allington provides two articles for comparison: this one written in LaTeX, and this one written in Libreoffice. The content is the same, but the former definitely looks more ‘professional’ than the latter.

You can pronounce all you like how presentation is irrelevant, but there’s a reason people usually don’t write their CVs in multicoloured Comic Sans… So, learning how to write in LaTeX isn’t just good practice, it has the effect of bestowing your work with an unspoken aura of academic legitimacy.

Next, I’ll explain what goes into the front matter of my standard essay template.

\documentclass[a4paper, 12pt]{article}


This sets the dimensions to fit A4 paper, and the base font to 12 points.

\usepackage[english]{babel}
\usepackage[utf8]{inputenc}
\usepackage[T1]{fontenc}
\usepackage{tgbonum}
\usepackage{textcomp}


Babel sets the document to use english, not exactly sure what it does. UTF-8 encoding is used for non-english characters, such as 뿱㹵榡ᖕꄫ䰰蟯倀. T1 means we’re using Adobe Type 1 fonts, and tgbonum refers specifically to the TeX Gyre Bonum font. Textcomp adds extra symbols, and it’s only there so I can write the ‘No’ symbol in front of my student number with \textnumero.

\usepackage{setspace}
\setstretch{1.08}
\setlength{\parskip}{\baselineskip}
\usepackage[defaultlines=2,all]{nowidow}


I use \setstretch to tweak the overall line spacing for the whole document, this sometimes needs exceptions on bullet points and on the title. I also set a line break after each pagragraph in addition to the default fist-line indent. The nowidow package tries to ensure that single lines don’t get split off from paragraphs by a page break. If possible the page break should come before or after the paragraph.

\usepackage[hidelinks]{hyperref}
\usepackage[withpage]{acronym}


The hyperref package allows for links in your document, and this applies to external weblinks as well as internal links, such as exposing the document hierarchy to a pdf reader.

The hidelinks option usually gets rid of the garish boxes which sometimes surround links in pdfs. Acronym is used for… creating a list of defined acronyms. It’s not strictly necessary.

\usepackage[table,dvipsnames]{xcolor}
\usepackage{float}
\usepackage{graphicx}


Xcolor gives easy access to colours in your document, and the dvipsnames option lets you use a list of named colours. Float is used to position figures like graphics and tables. You can use the option ‘H’ on on figures to fix them in place and prevent them from getting shuffled around. GraphicX is just useful for including graphics.

\usepackage[autostyle]{csquotes}
\usepackage[style=verbose,citestyle=authoryear-icomp,backend=biber]{biblatex}
\SetBlockThreshold{2}
\DeclareBibliographyCategory{cited}


Csquotes makes nice-looking quotes and allows you to define quotes in markup with \enquote{} or \blockquote{}. I use biblatex to process citations, the options I’ve included are just the ones which work for me university rules: a verbose bibliography style, and author-year citations.

The splitting up of the bibliography into cited and uncited references is helpful when you’re writing - it indicates where where you’ve got references left out of the text. On a few occasions I’ve left an ‘uncited references’ section in the finished document. I think including ‘miscellaneous extra references’ can be valuable to the reader, I just don’t know how they’re supposed to be interpreted within academic guidelines.

\bibliography{msc_proposal.bib}


This line just includes my bibliography file in the document. Alternatively you can use \addbibresource if you need to link to a remote bibliography.

\title{\vspace{-2.0cm}Main title\\\large{Smaller subtitle}}
\author{Student \textnumero \space 185190168}
\date{11\textsuperscript{th} May 2019}


This bit just sets the title/author/date for the document heading

\DeclareSourcemap{
\maps[datatype=bibtex]{
\map[overwrite=true]{
\step[fieldset=urldate, null]
\step[fieldset=version, null]
}
}
}


This block of code just filters the bibfile and removes the url date, and the version. The reason for this is that when you reference a website, the access date is automatically inserted by zotero, it tends to be superfluous information and makes the bibliography overly verbose.

Sometimes I get rid of urls too, which is definitely not superfluous information and probably bad practice. However, a bibliography with an url in every entry doesn’t look great; internet research gets treated slightly suspiciously in academia, despite the fact that everyone does it.

\hypersetup{
pdfauthor={Pierre Marshall},
pdftitle={LaTeX template},
pdfkeywords={examples},
pdflang={English}
}


I use overleaf as an online editor and if I ever need to edit things offline then LaTeXila works pretty well. Also, I prefer to use the pdflatex engine, as it correctly handles hypenating urls, and it’s often the default option in most distributions.