LaTeX document classes and packages

The article/book and amsart/amsbook document classes

These are the standard document classes that are part of any current TeX installation. While intended for (scientific) articles and books, they can also be used as general purpose document classes to typeset a great variety of documents: letters, class notes, exams, etc. I recommend that you use one of these standard classes unless you have a good reason to use something else, such as a university-specific thesis class, or a publisher's in-house class. However, even if you have to submit a document with a nonstandard document class, I would suggest to use a standard class throughout the draft stage, and change to a nonstandard class only when the paper is in final form and ready for submission. The advantage of doing this is that it's easy to change back to a standard class, which you might have to do if the paper gets rejected.

Differences between the article/book classes and the amsart/amsbook classes

The main difference between the "article/book" classes and the "amsart/amsbook" classes (which are part of the amslatex package) is in the "look" of the document. The non-ams classes set the title matter and section headings in a larger font, which some people (including myself) find more attractive.

From a TeXnical point of view, the two pairs of classes are largely interchangeable, so it is easy to switch from one class to another after a paper is finished. The only editing that may be needed is in the title matter since this is handled differently by the two classes. Here are the main differences:

Useful document class options

Options to document classes are placed brackets between the "\documentclass" command and the name of the document class; multiple options should be placed in a single pair of brackets, separated by commas; for example:
Here are some useful options that work with all of the mentioned paper and book classes:

The slides document class

The slides document class is one of two standard ways to typeset material in a form that is appropriate for putting on transparencies (the other being foiltex). It causes the document to be substantially magnified (while keeping the overall dimensions of the page), so that it is suitable for copying onto transparencies. In most respects, the "slides" class works like the "article" class, but there is one major difference to be aware of: The "\pagestyle" commands do not work in the "slides" class; if you want to use customized headers or footers, use the "fancyhdr" package (see below).

LaTeX packages

LaTeX "packages" serve the same function as libraries for programming languages: a package contains a set of commands that are not built into the core of LaTeX, but useful for special purposes. There exist hundreds of packages; many (including all of those listed below) are part of any standard TeX installation, while others can be downloaded from the CTAN (Comprehensive TeX Archive Network) depository at

To load a package, add a "\usepackage{...}" instruction after "\documentclass", with the name of the package in braces. Multiple packages can be included in a single "\usepackage{...}" statement, separated by commas; for example, "\usepackage{amsmath, amsthm}".

Here are some packages that are commonly used in mathematical writing.

Back to the LaTeX Tips Page

Last modified: Tue 23 Aug 2011 05:48:09 PM CDT A.J. Hildebrand