(Advice and links provided by Steve Mills, David Eyers and former lecturer Richard O'Keefe.) You can also download the Otago University LaTeX thesis template.
My general advice to people using LaTeX is to just dive in and get going, but here are some thoughts that might help:
Get a good LaTeX environment. Ideally one that will allow you to easily find errors, and which can fill in templates for things like figures or lists. Eventually it will be quicker to type these by hand, but when you're getting started having the structures in place helps a lot (and reduces errors).
Under Windows I use the MiKTeX distribution of LaTeX (install that first) with the TeXnicCenter development environment. There are several available for OS X, but I've not so much experience there. [But see below.]
I found it much easier to learn by example than from books. Get a simple LaTeX document and change it. Ideally get a document that is similar to what you are trying to produce and go from there. Learn how to build it in your chosen development environment, and then start changing stuff. If you break it, just undo the changes and try to figure out why it went wrong. Many journals and conferences (particularly in Maths, CS, and Physics) have LaTeX templates you can start from.
Ask Google your questions (the form "How do I .... in LaTeX?" usually works for me). Look out for answers on tex.stackexchange.com - they are usually very good and come with explanations and alternative ideas.
LaTeX does a lot of stuff, and there are a lot of additional packages. Don't worry about these first, but get started with the basics. Add things as you need them. BiBTeX is likely to be high on this list for bibliographies and references - there are tools to manage bibliographic information, I use JabRef.
Finally, the people who wrote TeX and LaTeX know a lot more about typesetting than most of us ever will. Don't fight it. Just write your content and let LaTeX do its thing.
LaTeX and MacOS
The easiest way to install LaTeX environments from my experience is by using MacTeX, which is available from https://tug.org/mactex/ although best downloaded from a local mirror (it's about 2.4GB). I found it most effective to download using Bittorrent (link available through via the URL I've already mentioned).
MacTeX includes all sorts of IDEs and other tools. (As an example, LaTeXiT is included, which is ideal for producing PDF equations or figures to paste into other applications that are themselves incapable of making good looking mathematical notation, for example.)
Personally, I'm happy editing LaTeX source without any WYSIWYG display, but do like to see what my output PDF looks like (e.g. on a second display).
I use the open source Skim application http://skim-app.sourceforge.net/ as my PDF viewer for LaTeX work. It can be set to automatically update the PDF display when you recompile your LaTeX source. Also, it's possible (albeit more complicated to set up) to have Skim open your editor at the right place in your LaTeX source when you command-shift click points in Skim's display of your PDF. (I use the open source Aquamacs editor http://aquamacs.org with the command line tools installed to achieve this.)
Two free essential reading PDFs
- 'A Short Introduction to LaTeX', Allin Cottrell, 1995. 8 page PDF. Lots of copies around the web, I found one at http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/ecn297/latex_tut.pdf
- 'The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX 2e', Tobias Oetiker. 170 page PDF. Version 5.04, October 2014, found at https://tobi.oetiker.ch/lshort/lshort.pdf
The classic books
The first is by the person who developed the LaTeX macros (on top of TeX, which is by Donald Knuth).
- 'LaTeX, a Document Preparation System', Leslie Lamport
- The LaTeX Compansion', Goossens, Mittelbach, Samarin. There is a 2nd edition.
- http://latex-project.org/guides/ (LaTeX documentation root) - MUST SEE!
Two places to ask questions
- There is a comp.text.tex newsgroup: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/by-newsgroup/comp/comp.text.tex.html
- StackExchange: tex.stackexchange.com
There are LaTeX tutorials on YouTube, e.g.,
The TexLive distribution comes with some links:
- http://tug.org/begin.html - if you are new to TeX and/or want introductory material.
- http://tug.org/interest.html - general list of TeX web resources, including documentation, systems, packages, fonts, and more.
- http://tug.org/ctan.html - one entry point into the Comprehensive TeX Archive Network (CTAN), which is an online repository of all things TeX.
- http://tug.org/usergroups.html - list of TeX user groups around the world, with contact information. We strongly encourage you to join the user group of your choice, to support TeX Live and other TeX activities.
Personally, I learned TeX before I learned LaTeX. 'TeX for the Impatient' is available online. The source of the TeXBook, texbook.tex, is also available online, but it's not for formatting or printing.