Many Writefull users write in LaTeX - using Writefull for Overleaf to proofread and revise their work. For this analysis, we parsed 300K papers from arXiv to explore what LaTeX commands are used most often in research writing.

Our analysis

We downloaded 300,000 papers from, parsed these to extract the LaTeX commands, then listed these by frequency.


The sheet below shows the 100 most frequently used LaTeX commands - the list further down shows their % share and definitions.

It’s not surprising that the commands \begin and \end are most common - these appear throughout any research text to indicate environments. Many commands reveal common practices in scientific writing, like citing sources (\cite), reporting math (\frac, \alpha), cross-referencing (\ref, \label), and referencing (\bibitem). Other frequent commands are used to control formatting (\bf, \rm).

See how many of these commands you tend to use, and if there may be commands you didn’t know about. Or, if you’re new to LaTeX, why not use this overview to master the most useful commands first? To help you get started, we’re defining these 100 commands below.

The 100 most frequent LaTeX commands

1. \end (6.0%)
\end{environment} ends an environment begun by \begin{environment}

2. \begin (6.0%)
\begin{environment} begins an environment. It is followed by the assorted environments, and is always paired with \end{environment}.

3. \ref (5.0%)
\ref{text} is the section number in which \label{text} occurs.

4. \frac (4.9%)
\frac{numerator}{denominator} produces a fraction in math environments.

5. \cite (4.5%)
\cite[subcit]{ref} produces a reference, in square brackets, to a bibliographic item created with \bibitem{ref}. Optionally, a sub-citation 'subcit' can be inserted in the entry.

6. \label (3.8%)
\label{text} provides a reference point that is accessed with \ref{text} or \pageref{text}.

7. \bibitem (3.8%)
\bibitem{ref} text creates a bibliography entry text, numbers it, and labels it with reference label ref.

8. \bf (3.3%)
\bf switches to bold face type.

9. \right (3.1%)
\right* (where * is a delimiter) must be paired with '\left*' (not necessarily using the same delimiter). '.' acts as a null delimiter (math mode).

10. \left (3.1%)
\left* (where * is a delimiter) must be paired with '\right*' (not necessarily using the same delimiter). '.' acts as a null delimiter (math mode).

11. \rm (1.6%)
\rm switches to Roman type.

12. \alpha (1.6%)
\alpha is α (math mode).

13. \mu (1.6%)
\mu is µ (math mode).

14. \newcommand (1.5%)
\newcommand{\cs}[narg]{def} defines a new control sequence '\cs' with definition 'def'. Optionally, 'narg' is the number of arguments, indicated in def as #1, #2, etc.

15. \def (1.5%)
\def lets you define your own commands.

16. \it (1.4%)
\it switches to italic type.

17. \pi (1.4%)
\pi is π. \Pi is Π (math mode).

18. \sigma (1.1%)
\sigma is σ. \Sigma is Σ (math mode).

19. \sum (1.1%)
\sum is ∑ (math mode).

20. \lambda (1.0%)
\lambda is λ. \Lambda is Λ (math mode).

21. \beta (1.0%)
\beta is β (math mode).

22. \nu (0.9%)
\nu is ν (math mode).

23. \partial (0.9%)
\partial is ∂ (math mode).

24. \int (0.9%)
\int is ∫ (math mode).

25. \delta (0.9%)
\delta is δ. \Delta is ∆ (math mode).

26. \rho (0.9%)
\rho is ρ (math mode).

27. \phi (0.9%)
\phi is φ. \Phi is Φ (math mode).

28. \gamma (0.9%)
\gamma is γ. \Gamma is Γ (math mode).

29. \omega (0.9%)
\omega is ω. \Omega is Ω (math mode).

30. \caption (0.9%)
\caption[loftitle]{text} creates a numbered caption in a figure or table environment. Optional 'loftitle' contains entry for the list of figures if different from 'text'.

31. \over (0.9%)
\over can be used to produce fractions in math environments.

32. \bibinfo (0.9%)
\bibinfo is used to tag the bibliography with the field information from the original entry in the BibTEX database.

33. \nonumber (0.8%)
\nonumber is used in an eqnarray environment to suppress equation numbering.

34. \bar (0.8%)
\bar puts a macron over a letter (math mode).

35. \sqrt (0.8%)
\sqrt produces a squared root, for example, \sqrt[3]{arg}. The root ([3]) is optional.

36. \theta (0.8%)
\theta is θ. \Theta is Θ (math mode).

37. \tau (0.8%)
\tau is τ (math mode).

38. \em (0.8%)
\em toggles between roman and italic fonts for emphasis.

39. \rangle (0.8%)
\rangle is ⟩ (math mode).

40. \hat (0.7%)
\hat makes a circumflex: ˆ (math mode).

41. \tilde (0.7%)
\tilde makes a tilde: ˜ (math mode).

42. \cal (0.7%)
\cal produces calligraphic letters (math mode).

43. \section (0.7%)
\section[toctitle]{text} begins a new section, automatically headed and numbered. Optional 'toctitle' contains entry for the table of contents if different from 'text'. \section*{text} begins a section, prints a title, but doesn’t include a number or make a table of contents entry.

44. \hline (0.7%)
\hline draws a horizontal line across all columns of a tabular or array environment.

45. \mbox (0.6%)
\mbox{text} places text into a horizontal box.

46. \item (0.6%)
\item[text] indicates a list entry. text is optional, used in description environment.

47. \psi (0.6%)
\psi is ψ. \Psi is Ψ (math mode).

48. \includegraphics (0.6%)
\includegraphics inserts an image.

49. \vec (0.6%)
\vec puts a vector over a letter (math mode).

50. \langle (0.6%)
\langle is ⟨ (math mode).

51. \epsilon (0.6%)
\epsilon is ϵ (math mode).

52. \textbf (0.6%)
\textbf makes text bold.

53. \eta (0.5%)
\eta is η (math mode).

54. \put (0.5%)
\put(x,y){stuff} is the basic picture-drawing command. (x,y) is the reference point, the meaning of which varies for different 'stuff'. 'stuff' may be anything that goes in an \mbox.

55. \cdot (0.5%)
\cdot is · (math mode).

56. \in (0.5%)
\in is ∈ (math mode).

57. \xi (0.5%)
\xi is ξ. \Xi is Ξ (math mode).

58. \infty (0.5%)
\infty is ∞ (math mode).

59. \quad (0.5%)
A \quad is a space equal to the current font size.

60. \subsection (0.5%)
\subsection[toctitle]{text}, \subsubsection[toctitle]{text} begin new subsections, automatically headed and numbered. Optional 'toctitle' contains entry for the table of contents if different from 'text'. \subsection*{text}, \subsubsection*{text} begin subsections, but suppress section number and table of contents entry.

61. \mathcal (0.5%)
\mathcal is used to turn on math calligraphic font for uppercase letters and digits.

62. \author (0.5%)
\author{names} declares author(s) for the \maketitle command.

63. \times (0.5%)
\times is × (math mode).

64. \emph (0.5%)
\emph is used to emphasize text, usually with italics.

65. \bibnamefont (0.5%)
\bibnamefont is used for user-defined font commands to present author names in bibliographies.

66. \mathbf (0.4%)
\mathbf is used to present math in bold font.

67. \prime (0.4%)
\prime is (math mode).

68. \be (0.4%)
\be is used as an abbreviation for '\begin{equation}'.

69. \mathrm (0.4%)
\mathrm is used to turn on roman typestyle for uppercase and lowercase letters.

70. \ee (0.4%)
\ee is used as an abbreviation for '\end{equation}'.

71. \vspace (0.4%)
\vspace{len} leaves a vertical space of dimension 'len'.

72. \pm (0.4%)
\pm is ± (math mode).

73. \chi (0.4%)
\chi is χ (math mode).

74. \usepackage (0.4%)
\usepackage is used in the preamble of a document to import a package.

75. \bibfnamefont (0.4%)
\bibnamefont is used for user-defined font commands to present (first) names in bibliographies.

76. \ell (0.3%)
\ell is ℓ (math mode).

77. \text (0.3%)
\text is used to add normal text in math mode.

78. \qquad (0.3%)
A \qquad gives twice the amount of \quad, and \quad is a space equal to the current font size).

79. \noindent (0.3%)
\noindent suppresses indentation of first line of paragraph.

80. \to (0.3%)
\to is → (math mode).

81. \varphi (0.3%)
\varphi is ϕ (math mode).

82. \hspace (0.3%)
\hspace{len} leaves a horizontal space of dimension 'len'.

83. \leq (0.3%)
\leq is ≤ (math mode).

84. \cos (0.3%)
\cos is cos (math mode).

85. \eqref (0.3%)
\eqref is used to provide cross-references to equations.

86. \overline (0.3%)
\overline{text} produces an overline on 'text' (math mode).

87. \sin (0.3%)
\sin is sin (math mode).

88. \kappa (0.3%)
\kappa is κ (math mode).

89. \hbox (0.3%)
\hbox is used to treat contents as text.

90. \rightarrow (0.3%)
\rightarrow is →. \Rightarrow is ⇒ (math mode).

91. \varepsilon (0.3%)
\varepsilon is ε (math mode).

92. \textit (0.3%)
\textit is used to produce text-mode material in italics within a mathematical expression.

93. \dagger (0.3%)
\dagger is † (math mode).

94. \affiliation (0.3%)
\affiliation{text} presents author affiliation information.

95. \big (0.3%)
\big is used to set a (larger) size for brackets and parentheses.

96. \otimes (0.2%)
\otimes is ⊗ (math mode).

97. \equiv (0.2%)
\equiv is ≡ (math mode).

98. \zeta (0.2%)
\zeta is ζ (math mode).

99. \dot (0.2%)
\dot makes a dot over a letter: ˙ (math mode).

100. \ln (0.2%)
\ln is ln (math mode).

Reference: Most of the above definitions were drawn from this useful source [pdf]).

About the author

Hilde is Chief Applied Linguist at Writefull.