Research, Writings + Code

Coding Annoyances

Pandoc, beamer, MAKE workflow

The goal is to produce a nicely formatted beamer presentation in pdf format without losing focus away from the slides content by constantly meddling with the latex styles.

The solution is to write the presentation core content in markdown, then process the file with pandoc to obtain the pdf using a beamer template, automating the process with make.

We require the following tools. (I won't discuss how to install them in this post.)

  1. Pandoc is a tool used to convert files between different formats. In particular, it is great for converting markdown input files into LaTeX, html, pdf, or Word format, including beamer latex presentations.

  2. Texlive is one of the many LaTeX system distributions, available for Linux and Windows.

  3. Make is a "tool which controls the generation of executables and other non-source files of a program from the program's source files." In our case, we will use it to automate the generation of pdf files from a markdown source using texlive as the engine to compile the latex files.

  4. Sed is a stream editor which operates on files. We will use it to automatically change strings of text using regular expressions.

While make and sed are common tools in a Linux environment, the GnuWin32 project provides alternatives for Windows.


  1. The core of the presentation is written in markdown. See example.
  2. This file is run through pandoc to generate a tex file.
  3. The above tex file is embedded as input in a beamer presentation template.
  4. The presentation template file is finally processed by xelatex to generate a pdf presentation. We use xelatex because in Windows we can use TrueType fonts, for example Calibri. The example uses Times New Roman.
  5. The entire process is automated with make (with optional use of sed).

Running the following command in the command line will produce the final presentation pdf file and will clean up any auxiliary files, except for the intermediate tex files and the original markdown source.

make FILE=example

To automate the process, the make command uses the following set of instructions from a file named makefile.


all:  pdf; make clean

.PHONY: all clean

    # Use pandoc to convert the main markdown source to latex
    pandoc $(MDFILE).md --slide-level 2 -t beamer -o $(MDFILE).tex
    # Use sed to replace a string in the latex file that sets spaces in itemize environment
    sed -i "s/\\itemsep1pt\\parskip0pt\\parsep0pt/\\itemsep1.6pt\\parskip1.6pt\\parsep0pt/g" $(MDFILE).tex
    # Apply xelatex twice to obtain the pdf
    xelatex $(TEXFILE).tex
    xelatex $(TEXFILE).tex  

# Remove unnecessary files
    -rm -f $(TEXFILE).log $(TEXFILE).aux  $(TEXFILE).toc  $(TEXFILE).snm $(TEXFILE).nav $(TEXFILE).out $(TEXFILE).fdb_latemk $(TEXFILE).synctex.gz $(TEXFILE).fls
    -rm -f sed*.*

The --slide-level 2 option indicates we can use ## in the markdown file to generate new slides, and ### to create subheadings inside a slide. A single # creates sections.


This post is my implementation (really a simplified version) of this post in Jeromy Anglim's blog.

Pictures used in the example are attributed to

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