Developing a letter style file in LaTeX

As a member of the faculty at the Physics Department in the University of Athens I often get requests to provide recommendation letters for our students applying to summer schools, scholarships or graduate programs. Most of my colleagues have a letter template prepared in Microsoft Word that features the UoA logo, Goddess Athena’s head, together with their contact data. This is convenient, but the majority of cases I have come across lack even the slightest glimpse of style. Times New Roman gross typography, misaligned typographic elements and blurry logos, and many more. My opinion about Microsoft software is well known among our group members and for years I have been motivating people working with me to invest some time and learn how to use LaTeX. For years, also, the biggest drawback has been the poor support of the greek language (even babel had several issues) that discouraged our youngest students to use LaTeX for any everyday need they had.

The advent of XeTeX (XeLaTeX) using Unicode fonts for manuscript preparation has been a significant step forward in convincing people to start using LaTeX as the standard way of preparing their everyday documents. Switching completely to XeLaTeX from PDFlatex more than 3 years ago has been a rewarding decision that simplified my life.

Coming back to letters: I have recently had several requests to provide letters of reference as several international schools have been announced and a flood of people kindly asked me to support their applications. At the beginning I thought as most of my colleagues: pop up a text editor, such as Word (in my case LibreOffice Writer is the open-source choice), replace the existing info, write my text and submit the letter to the server. However, this time I decided to invest some time in creating a new style file (a package) that could be used to take advantage of (Xe)LaTeX and replace my older templates. Letting the technical details to the side, the uoaletter.sty is my first attempt to have a letter template with the official UoA logo in the letterhead and its format can be automatically generated once the basic info was provided in the source file. The style file is loaded in the preamble (jargon warning!) and uses Unicode fonts, so that the user can type Greek and English in the same document without long, incomprehensible LaTeX commands.

The package is easy to be used by anyone having the right to use the official UoA letterhead and is available for download from this URL. In this zip file, the .sty file is included together with two templates prepared in greek and english, respectively.

The uoaletter.sty is by far not complete and there is plenty of room for improvements at all levels. However, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first attempt to have an UoA-Physics letter style for any official correspondence excluding email. Give it a try if you like and send me comments. They are always more than welcome.