LaTeX Software for Thesis and Document Preparation and the Overleaf Cloud Service

LaTeX is a document-formatting system, based on the TeX language developed in the late 1970s by legendary computer scientist Donald Knuth. LaTeX is a tag-based markup language for typeset documents, just as HTML later became a markup language for web documents. LaTeX provides a powerful and relatively easy-to-use method for preparing large, complex documents which might include tables of contents and figures, several chapters and appendices, index, and references. LaTeX allows the various components of the document to be automatically formatted and numbered according to current publishing standards, while allowing the author to concentrate on the content rather than the appearance of the document. Because of its extensive mathematical fonts, symbols and formatting structures, LaTeX has become a de facto publishing standard for scientific and mathematical publications.LaTeX is implemented by a number of programs that work together to produce a typeset document. These programs include a text file editor of your choice, the latex and pdflatex processors that interpret the markup and format pages of output, document previewers, and various post-processors that convert intermediate device-independent (DVI) output into Postscript, PDF, or other formats required to produce the final digital or printed output.

LaTeX is based on open-source code, so it is available on most computing platforms as free software. Like the open-source Linux operating system, there are various “distributions” of LaTeX. These distributions package up, in various configurations, the suite of programs that make up LaTeX. There are also some commercial versions of LaTeX. These usually provide an integrated editor and graphical user interface that integrates the various programs that make up a distribution.

Until the 2010s it was a daunting experience to install and configure the large and cumbersome suite of software that makes up a LaTeX distribution. These days the simplest and most convenient way to use LaTeX is through a web (cloud) service. Such services provide a web interface for editing, previewing, storing and sharing your documents, and will process your LaTeX markup into PDF format. Perhaps the most useful features of running LaTeX in the cloud are:

  • sharing your files and collaborating with other authors in a unified environment

  • being able to access and edit your documents easily from multiple devices

  • avoiding the hassle of installing LaTeX.

In this article?

Overleaf Site License for Graduate Students, Faculty and Staff

The University of Waterloo’s site license with Overleaf, a leading LaTeX-based cloud service for document preparation and collaboration. This agreement provides UW graduate students, staff and faculty with “Pro”-featured accounts. Sign up via UW's Overleaf portal.

Overleaf for Undergraduates

Undergraduate students are not part of UW’s site license, but can still sign up for free or paid subscriptions. Please register using your UW email address so that we can track interest from undergraduate students (and your account will be automatically upgraded if you become a graduate student).

LaTeX Template for a UW Thesis

A LaTeX thesis template has been maintained by IST for many years. The template has been uploaded to Overleaf, and is prominent in UW Overleaf portal. This template is updated regularly as we are made aware of changes required by UW’s Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs department.


  1. Do I need to learn the LaTeX markup language?
    Yes. Most LaTeX editing interfaces require you to enter markup tags, either by typing them in or selecting them from menus. Editing errors can lead to errors when you typeset your document, so the more you understand about LaTeX the better. By the way, a good practice is to typeset your document often, as you write, so that it’s easier to debug any tagging errors.

  2. Where can I learn about the LaTeX markup language?
    A good starting place is UW’s LaTeX documentation page. There is also a good WikiBook. Overleaf also has excellent documentation on typesetting LaTeX on their cloud platform.

Overleaf FAQs

  1. As a graduate student, faculty, or staff member, how do I sign up for an Overleaf account under UW’s license?
    Go to the UW portal on Overleaf. Click on the green “Log in through your institution” button near the bottom of the page, and log in using your email address.

  2. As an undergrad student, can I still get a (free?) Overleaf account?
    Yes, you can. Go to and select the free student plan, which is restricted to a single collaborator. There are several other paid subscription options. Also, if you are doing a co-op term on campus, you can sign up under the campus license for graduate students, faculty and staff.

  3. Is there a UW thesis template on Overleaf?
    Yes. You can find it easily from the UW Overleaf portal, under the Templates tab, or search templates when you create a new Overleaf project (document). N.B. The thesis template contains useful comments that describe how it works.

  4. I’ve loaded the thesis template, but my changes don’t show.
    Try clearing your browser cache and reloading your modified document. You can do the same if Overleaf starts behaving strangely.

  5. Is there a template for presentations?
    Yes, try a Beamer presentation template. There are many to choose from, or you can design your own.

  6. How do I manage my citations?

    LaTeX has a component called BibTeX that formats citations with various style options. Use that instead of manually formatting bibliographic references. Many users find it convenient to manage their citations through a separate cloud service such as Mendeley or Google Scholar. Overleaf has integrations with Mendeley and several other such services. Most citation managers will generate BibTeX files for you.

    Zotero works well with Overleaf and produces BibTeX files for LaTeX. The Library has a subscription for Zotero for unlimited storage for Waterloo students, faculty, staff and provides support

  7. I can’t connect my Overleaf account to Git or another remote cloud service.
    Overleaf access uses “single sign-on” (SSO) back to UW, meaning it uses your campus password in WatIAM / Nexus Windows domain and authenticates back to UW campus. Connecting your Overleaf account to another cloud service that is affiliated with Overleaf requires that you also have a password set on the Overleaf web site. You can set or change a password on the Overleaf site by logging in to your account via SSO and then modifying your account settings.

For additional support

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Need help?

Contact the IST Service Desk online or 519-888-4567 ext. 44357.

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