What solutions exist for mathematicians who need to write papers, but can't type? (I'm an early-career research mathematician and I can't type for the next few months.)

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    $\begingroup$ here is a question on using speech to get LaTex code tex.stackexchange.com/questions/670264/… "What is your most efficient way to dictate Latex in 2023" $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ Does "can't type" also mean "can't write"? $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Feb 9 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ The first several times I read Yemon's comment, my brain parsed it the wrong way. When I use the verb "to write" it's usually in a sentence like "Wow, Jacob Lurie sure can write" (i.e., it means producing quality writing). But now I realize Yemon was probably asking if the OP can use a pen to write on paper. I leave this comment here in case others were parsing the comment the way my brain was. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ What is preventing you from typing? If it's your wrists and most, but not all of your fingers, there are special keyboards and such that can work around that. From personal experience. You ask about typing but not writing. Does that mean you can write but not type? Or can you not do that either? Because for a while I could not write or type, but I was able to loosely placing a pen between my fingers and using the pen to hit keys on a vertical keyboard and used foot pedals for shift and control keys. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 10 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ This recent question may also be useful. It regards using an AI to generate latex code from written maths. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/206563/… $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Feb 11 at 20:13

3 Answers 3


First of all, sorry to hear that you've lost your ability to type for a few months. That must be frustrating, and I hope you recover quickly. Something similar to me happened during my Ph.D. and I couldn't type for about 3 months. Here are the tasks that I usually find myself needing to type.

  1. Emails
  2. Material for my teaching, like lecture notes, worksheets for students, HW, etc.
  3. Research papers
  4. Answers on math overflow, referee reports, letters of recommendation, documents as part of my committee work at my university, etc.

What are some solutions for not being able to type?

  1. Speech to text programs are very good nowadays. A colleague of mine always dictates his emails, due to carpal tunnel. Here are instructions for gmail and here for outlook.
  2. This one is tricky. If you have trouble writing on the blackboard, then consider recording a lecture where you talk through the important points in whatever book you're teaching from. Loom is a great free resource for this. It records your screen and your face (if you want) and you can scroll through the reading and talk through the important bits. If I couldn't type, I'd assign problems from the book instead of writing my own, and I'd devote class time to having students work in small groups instead of me writing on the board.
  3. Certainly you can dictate paragraphs of text (e.g., for the introduction) as in (1). But, references are hard and LaTeX is hard. Thomas Kojar has suggested a resource for speech to LaTeX. Another alternative would be to have Zoom meetings with co-authors to explain things and let them bear the brunt of the typing. If you can write by hand and not type (e.g., if a concussion is preventing you from looking at screens) then one option is so write things by hand and send pictures to your co-authors. If you don't have coauthors, this is a discussion of tools that can convert a photo of math into LaTeX. Specifically, it links to MathPix. Yet another alternative is to get a new speech to text program in which you can define your own speech commands, like LaTeX shortcuts, as described in Keks Dose's answer to What is the status of generating LaTeX from handwriting (i.e., OCR)?. The other answers there might help too.
  4. I would just drop non-essential activities like this. For letters of recommendation I'd use speech to text, or try to get the person to ask someone else considering my inability to type at the moment. For referee reports, I'd tell the journal of the delay and leave it up to them if they wanted to replace me with another referee.

General advice: Save your energy for the things that really matter. Consider leaning on a friend who can help during this time, and you can kinda owe them one when you're better. I couldn't wash dishes for 3 months, so my roommate did, and then I was able to repay the favor by doing more cleaning when I was back to normal.

Even more general advice: it might be helpful to remember that bad things happen to people every day, and more often than not, people have the capability to bounce back. I've seen colleagues dealing with the death of a parent or spouse. I'm pretty sure they were not writing mathematics for several months, and that's totally fine. Your humanity comes first. The system is set up so that you can achieve success even if you're not at your best 100% of the time. When I was unable to type, I was also taking strong painkillers, and I'm pretty sure anything I said was nonsense. So I may as well have just focused on healing and not tried to stay active mathematically. When bad things happen to my students, I encourage them to think about expected value. If there's a probability of 1% every day of an accident happening, then you'd expect an accident about once every 100 days. It's helpful to think of all the other days that nothing bad happened, and realize this kind of thing is to be expected. Again, you can certainly bounce back. Get well soon!

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    $\begingroup$ An alternative (tongue in cheek) for someone with damaged hands, would be to go to Kamar-Taj and train under the Ancient One, and then develop mystical powers that you can channel into your hands to heal them for short periods of time. But, that might be more work than the options listed above, plus you have to watch out for Mordo and you might get recruited by the Avengers, so the net result might be less typing math: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ Along the same lines as your comment, you might have side effects similar to those experienced by Henry Sugar, whereby the original motivation to learn such skills is completely lost through the process of learning them, and then mathematics ceases to become important. Caveat Lector. ;-) $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts
    Feb 9 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ The last paragraph here is exceptionally kind and compassionate. It is easy for young mathematicians to neglect their own humanity in deference to the grind and the pressures of the job market. Thanks for writing this humane answer. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 7:45
  • $\begingroup$ Here's a software that some people might find useful for typing: inference.org.uk/dasher $\endgroup$
    – md2perpe
    Feb 11 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ I don't want to get too silly in the comments, but I am amused by a plea for compassion and humanity from @Satan'sMinion. $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Feb 14 at 20:48

You can perhaps put writing a bit aside until you get better and use your time for improving your knowledge by reading papers, books, discussing math with colleagues, visitors, ... and attending lectures relevant to your work. Knowledge and a good network are very valuable currencies.

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer! I should have thought of this. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 14:07

you can dictate in windows. press the window key + H. you can give instructions to chaGPT generate the latex code.


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