Mathematical typesetting differs in significant ways from typesetting of ordinary text.

- The font family used in mathematics is called math italic. It is wider than ordinary italics, with more space between characters.
- The spacing between symbols varies. For example, addition symbols (+) usually have a good deal of space around them, while division symbols (/) do not.
- Mathematics uses vertical space. Text is always line-oriented; one dimensional. Mathematical symbols vary in height, and frequently involve stacked symbols.
- Mathematics uses a variety of types of alignment. Piecewise-defined functions, strings of equations, matrices, and many other mathematical objects require special alignments that go far beyond the abilities of simple tables.
- There are two modes for typesetting mathematics: an in-line mode that does not separate the mathematical notation from the rest of the text, and a display mode, in which equations occupy their own line, and are centered. In display mode, expressions always take up more vertical space.

Word processing programs generally get these formatting issues wrong. Although they produce a legible product, it is not of the quality of programs designed specifically for mathematics. Moreover, since such programs are line-oriented, they often must typeset mathematics as small images, instead of addressing the typesetting issue directly. We will not use word processors in this course. Instead, we will learn about two methods of mathematical typesetting: MathML and LaTeX.