I have done both. Microsoft Word for writing my Bachelor thesis and LaTeX for my Master thesis. I learned that both has its better and worse features and neither is superior in all aspects. It all depends on your needs.
I’m going to post my experiences using Microsoft Word 2007 and LaTeX under Windows XP in several parts. Here comes part 1, which is about the installation and document structures.
Installing Latex requires an installation of MixTex (Latex for Windows) and a Latex editor. There are several choices for editors: a nice free editor (TeXnic Center), a WYSIWYM editor (LyX), and a shareware editor (WinEdt). I use WinEdt because it has a nice syntax highlighting and I think it looks the best.
Once everything is installed, there are quite a lot to learn before a real document can be produced. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources that explain this (good starting point: LaTeX wikibook) and once you have a template and document viewer (pdf/ps), you’re good to go. Producing your first LaTeX document feels like displaying the first “Hello, World” on the screen (sorry this joke applies to geek programmers only ;)).
Installing Microsoft Word is easy peasy. That’s one thing I like about Microsoft products. One downside is just probably the price ;).
Once you have it installed, everything is ready. Just open a new document and type!
LaTeX actually forces you to make a document structure. This is definitely a good thing when writing thesis. From the beginning, the content should already be divided into chapters, sections, and subsections just to see the difference in the titles (hey, sometimes it is what we’re after).
The appearance of the titles, however, is not something that is easily customizable for LaTeX beginners. It could be quite frustrating when I want a certain look. But take comfort, there is quite a lot (scattered) resources on how to do this. Just googled it and dig your way through.
One easier way is to find a thesis template that meets your need. Might be your university provides one too. Check for it. There are also some nice templates available through The Comprehensive TeX Archive Network.
The trap with Word is that it is easy to get caught up just enlarging and using bold / italic for headings. This is a big NONO. This is also one of the source of thesis headache with Word.
Always use the proper heading style for chapters and section. When proper headings are used, it will be easy to generate table of contents. Just remember to do this from the beginning. When I want to change the headers look, all I need to do is change the headers styles.
Oh and BTW, there are also thesis template for Word available on the Microsoft Office Online.
To be continued in part two.