Well, that only took 20 years!

It's about time
There are those rare, but wonderful, moments when you realize that the tool you’ve always wanted (but didn’t actually realize that you desired) was right there in front of you.

I just had one.

I’ve used LaTeX for preparing my scientific documents for nigh on two decades now. For all its oddities and annoying little bits, it’s the standard for technical writing in computer science as well as numerous other areas in math and science, and it allows you to make and manage complex documents that stay consistent and look really nice.

Through most, if not all of that time, I’ve used various weird hacks to leave notes for myself in the document where I wouldn’t miss them. A paragraph in bold face, for example, reminding me to double check a formula, or go get the right reference for a certain idea. They’ve worked, but none of the mechanisms have been optimal. They’ve often been more missable than something like that should be, and they’ve frequently broken the flow of the document, making it harder to check for things like page counts and widows.

Working with Tyler on IM tonight on a paper he, Brian, and I are trying going to finish by Sunday, Tyler was musing about how it would be nice to be able to put notes like that in the margins in red.

And the lightbulb went off.

Of course! LaTeX can do that, and I’m pretty sure it can do it easily! (At least the margin part – I didn’t really care about the red either way.) Sure enough a 10 second search on Google confirmed that the command existed and was trivial. \marginpar{ ... }


Now those little notes are set out in the margins, not affecting the flow of the document, and quite unmissable. Now a quick scan of the document will immediately verify that we’ve removed (and hopefully addressed) all of them before we submit the final copy. Now they really work.

Simple, clean, and effective.

And it only took me twenty years to figure out.


Thanks to Tyler for sparking the idea, and to all the crazy nuts that have poured their sweat into TeX, LaTeX, and the various related tools (I really like TeXShop for the Mac!) over the years.

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2 Responses to Well, that only took 20 years!

  1. MJ says:

    Changing the font color inline (with an appropriately named macro like “todo”) is what I ended up doing for my CSCI Senior Seminar paper. That said, this is probably a better way of doing things. While this information would have been more useful to me when I was doing my senior sem, and I may never touch LaTeX again, this is still a good find and nice to know.

  2. Phi says:

    We’ve usually don’t some in-line text in bold face. Unfortunately you could miss one skimming the paper. Color would be better, but it doesn’t always print, and I tend to proofread printed copies. Putting the comments in the margins was nice, because it didn’t change the layout or pagecount, and it’s really easy to skim to see if there are any left in the document.

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