When I'm in the middle of an e-mail based scientific discussion, I often find that I'm severely limited by the medium. E-mails don't manage formulas at all, the symbol palette and formatting is severely limited, and included pictures in the body may or may not go through. Such loss of formatting is especially true if the recipent uses some legacy university e-mail system, as it is often the case in academy.

Due to these reasons, I'm tempted to use LaTeX to write my thoughts/results I wish to share, and attach the PDF. However, I've never encountered anyone doing the same during my 5 years of scientific carreer. All my professional contacts seem to stick to basic txt format, even if formulas are involved. I get vague terms instead of symbols ("charge density of xy"), broken formattings, "rho_xy^2"-s and "intg(exp(i (phi+1/2) pi)) dphi"-s, and not a single PDF.

Would it be awkward, unprofessional, or unproductive, if I put my whole letter in a nicely formatted LaTeX PDF file - even if the content is just 1-2 concise paragraph - and in the body of the email, I merely write the following:

Dear Mr. Schroedinger,

Thanks for your letter, which was useful to advance my thoughts on the topic [or a similar appropriate short sentence]. Please find my reply in the attached PDF.

Best regards, Whiskers

  • Are both parties LaTeX users? In that case a LaTeX file might be easier, particularly since your collaborator can add/edit the equations easily without recreating them based on the pdf.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 13:05
  • 1
  • @JonCuster I think a complied PDF is much better as you can read it immediately. e.g. you can't compile Latex on your phone.
    – Neinstein
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 10:23

3 Answers 3


Everyone gets too damn many emails these days. The only way to deal with this flood is to be quick in reading and answering them, and things you do in writing your emails that make that difficult or impossible will quickly get you on the "ah, great, this guy again" list of your recipients.

If you really need to work out a mathematical argument in detail, then yes, PDF is probably the way to go. If all you want to do is illustrate an idea, do it in inline math like everyone else -- it's so much faster to deal with these emails than having to open and read an attachment.

  • The second paragraph agrees exactly with my thoughts.
    – Buzz
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 1:33
  • I would add that as a compromise you can write proper correct latex code for your formulas in the email. Of course the email program can't compile it but if the reader can't 'compile in their head' they can just quickly copy and paste it to some suitable software and look at the nice formulas.
    – quarague
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 7:48

I would be pleased to receive a fully detailed pdf from my correspondents rather than a bunch of short messages with weird pseudo-coded equations. Unfortunately, writing proper LaTeX takes time and academics are always way too busy to do things properly. Sometimes (but not always) in collaborative work it is better to receive some response early than a perfect reply later. That's why people usually fall back on simplest decisions, then those decisions form a habit, and it becomes harder to get out of it.

If you manage to keep your correspondence in proper LaTeX typesetting, with fully elaborated thoughts, supported by properly looking equations and graphics, this is great. If you manage to do the above and keep your responses timely, it's simply perfect and your colleagues should be happy and proud to collaborate with you. Yes, it would be slightly unusual, but in a good sense, because what's usual is not always very good.


There's nothing wrong with including an attachment that cannot be otherwise expressed in the text of the email. I regularly attach images of plots or PowerPoint slides with graphical representations of data that simply can't be adequately described using text.

The question comes down to whether the thing you want to attach can be adequately described in the email text or not. I might not attach a PDF for the sake of a single formula that's only slightly cumbersome in email text, but if you're using lots of formulas that become unintelligible in text form, you are justified in including the attachment. In most cases, I'd probably prefer easy-to-parse information that's slightly more difficult to access as an attachment, rather than difficult-to-parse but easy-to-access information in the email itself.

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