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There is no restriction on platform in the answers, but a few things to keep in mind:

  • Dragging a mouse and clicking on any button is far too slow and should be excluded from any answer.
    • Latex is of course a standard, are there shortcuts designed to speed it up rather than just typing it raw?
    • You can design your own shortcuts on the fly in several programs, but I'm curious, what are the fastest math shortcuts already designed and ready to use?
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7 Answers

I love using the built-in Equation Editor in Word 2007. Alt + = brings up the editor, then you type this:

(a+b)^n=\sum_(k=0)^n (n\atop k)a^k b^(n-k)

This will produce the following:

alt text

It doesn't get much easier than that.

There is also an entire paper (PDF) about using plaintext to type up formulas.

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One advantage I've noticed with word is that you can do (a+b)/c (7 chars), in latex is \frac{a+b}{c} (13 chars). –  Ian Kelling Nov 14 '09 at 19:08
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Even today, it's hard to beat (La)TeX's math notation. For comparison purposes, Nathan's Word 2007 example can be typeset using the code

$ (a+b)^n=\sum_{k=0}^n {n \choose k} a^k b^{n-k} $

to produce the output

alt text

From this example, the only noticable difference is that Word uses () both to typeset parentheses and to enclose blocks for typesetting, whereas (La)TeX reserves {} for enclosing blocks (and uses \{ and \} to typeset curly braces).

The killer feature of (La)TeX, though, is the fact that you can write your own macros, and therefore define your own shortcuts, for mathematical (and nonmathematical) content. As far as I know, Word 2007's equation editor does not have this capability.

The fastest (La)TeX shortcuts for you will depend on your usage patterns; some of the more standardized ones that I use are the \ce{} macro (provided by the mhchem package) for typesetting chemical formulae and the \SI{value}{unit} (provided by the siunitx package) for typesetting units and values, but they probably would not be very useful for people who rarely use chemical formulae or physical units in their documents.

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It's fast to type and looks good. OTOH the .tex -> .pdf compile cycle is cumbersome. –  Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Oct 7 '09 at 6:47
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The killer feature of Word 2007 is that my Grandma has it. It's ubiquitous. I agree with you that (La)TeX is powerful, but for ease of use, I'd have to go with Word 2007. (and no, I've never had to write an equation at my Grandma's house...) –  Nathan DeWitt Oct 7 '09 at 11:55
    
If Grandma doesn't have latex (or pdflatex), you can just use a simple text editor to edit a LaTeX document while hanging out with Grandma, and compile it when you're back at home. If Grandma needs a copy, send her the PDF (which, unlike Word documents, don't require an expensive office suite to open). –  mipadi Oct 7 '09 at 14:03
    
mipadi, your point is taken. plaintext is easy to create and edit. But Word documents don't require an expensive office suite to open -Word viewer is free: microsoft.com/downloads/… –  Nathan DeWitt Oct 7 '09 at 17:10
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OCR recorded off of a pen device.

I believe MS PowerPoint has pen capability to write on-screen, so I'm sure you can find a third-party app.

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An OCR Program that can parse complex math? That is impressive. –  Mike Cooper Oct 21 '09 at 15:12
    
It doesn't parse it, it just saves what's written. –  Lance Roberts Oct 22 '09 at 15:07
    
Windows 7 has the Math Input Panel (basically the handwriting recognition engine for complex math) and it IS fairly impressive. –  Shinrai Oct 19 '11 at 20:48
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I've yet to find a faster way than using Mathtype for MS Word with keyboard shortcuts defined (supports LaTeX export).

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what does Mathtype give you that the Equation Editor* doesn't? (* I'm only referring to Word 2007 - prior equation editors sucked). –  Nathan DeWitt Oct 7 '09 at 3:45
    
(i haven't used eq.edit. in a while now, so some of these may be outdated): 1. you can define keyboard shortcuts while working in "visual style" (no latex) <-- much faster 2. you can easily define your own templates 3. some more complicated stuff is a pita to do in eq. editor ... –  ldigas Oct 7 '09 at 13:19
    
The equation editor in MS doesn't support the keyboard shortcuts that mathtype does, or at least I haven't been able to find them. –  Nathan Fellman May 15 '10 at 19:25
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I know you want LaTeX, but I just use LyX to type it because I find myself able to keep up with the prof when he's writing formulas using LyX...

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I always liked Scientific Workplace - you could click to select all math operators if you wanted, but it had keyboard shortcuts for everything & even in the earliest days, when the main document was far from WYSIWYG, the equation editing always was 'in place' and lightning fast. If you do a lot of technical writing, I recommend it. It has gotten pricey over time.

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Have to agree; I used Scientific Word (the word-processing subset of Workplace) to write my PhD 10 years ago, and loved it. Best part was that the underlying document was simply LaTex. –  Joel in Gö Mar 17 '10 at 11:34
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checkout mathml (w3c standard) .. maybe in combination with asciimathml, also used by asciidoc.

as a side note: there exists kind of an addon to the developer framework qt: "qmmlwidget"

alt text

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