I have recently come across a user (who I shall not name) who has posted $150+$ answers and has accumulated a reasonable amount of reputation, but who uses no LaTeX / MathJax formatting at all in any of these answers. A quick look at this user's top 15 answers shows:

  • All $15$ answers were originally posted with no formatting;

  • $11$ out of $15$ answers were later edited (by other users) to include proper formatting;

  • $5$ answers have comments to the effect of "please use LaTeX to format your answers on this site." The user has responded to a couple of these in a potentially positive way but has made no effort to start formatting in MathJax.

My question is: is this acceptable behavior?

I think we should be lenient with users who are learning LaTeX syntax, as it can be somewhat daunting. In particular, I agree with this answer with regards to questions lacking formatting. I am also happy to help users out who don't get all the LaTeX formatting right, by adding \left and \right, changing sin to \sin, etc.

But if the user is unwilling to try formatting at all, and just takes advantage of the fact that others format his/her questions for him/her, I am not as inclined to be lenient. Even a simple attempt to add $ signs around formulas can come a long way, and I would greatly appreciate such an attempt.

What can / should be done about this?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ On the one hand, I'd rather have these people on the site, posting badly formatted (but useful) answers, rather than piss them off by "punishing" their behavior in some way or another. On the other hand, I don't like that they're repeatedly making use of others to format their answers. So I really don't know. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2014 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know who you're talking about, but there's a user who claims to have eyesight problems and for that reason it's easier for him to use ASCII rather than $\LaTeX$. Even though I don't really understand how it can be easier, I choose to believe him. $\endgroup$
    – Git Gud
    Mar 6, 2014 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ The strange issue here is that other people are formatting the answers. It may be too gracious to do so. IMHO, if the formatting is poor enough that it requires editing, it would be perfectly acceptable to just downvote the answer and leave a comment that the answerer should improve it. In general, we should all have a very strong hesitation about editing someone else's answer. I think most people agree that it's reasonable to edit a question by a newish user who may not know how to do it. But I think we can expect answerers to format their own answers in the way they choose. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2014 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ For questions, I generally look at the user's profile before adding LaTeX. If it's their first question and I doubt they'll be coming back much, I edit it. If it's their third or fourth question and it's clear they'll be returning to the site for more, I edit it and ask that they learn LaTeX in future. If they show a history of asking unformatted questions, in spite of comments asking them to start formatting, I don't edit (and I don't attempt to answer the question). $\endgroup$
    – Jack M
    Mar 8, 2014 at 11:18
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    $\begingroup$ @JackM: That's an excellent idea. If everyone did the same, instead of picking up behind the slacker, a stream of urgent suggestions might have more of an effect $\endgroup$
    – MPW
    Mar 8, 2014 at 19:16

1 Answer 1


I don't think this is a big problem for answers. If someone is unwilling to put work into making their answers readable, then the natural course of events would be that readers get tired of doing the formatting for the user and stop, and the user is saddled with a bunch of crappy looking answers. They probably won't get as much thanks, and then the poster will grow tired of writing thankless posts and will hopefully improve their answer habits.

It would be hard to enforce detailed requirements on answer formatting quality. Another potential good excuse for not formatting well is that they might be editing from a tablet. Until humanity finally strikes the balance between compulsively using new gadgets for every task and using tools that are actually suited to the task, we're pretty much stuck with this.

Ugly answers might be an eyesore, but it'd be best to get used to not being bothered by them. To paraphrase another answer I recently saw that I really liked: "It's the only solution that scales."

So in summary I don't think acceptability is the right question here, but I guess it's tolerable within normal circumstances.

It would be more concerning to deal with users who consistently post questions that are hopelessly unreadable. However, I haven't really seen many cases of that, and it doesn't seem to be the topic at hand.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Much as I'd prefer that active users put some effort into their posts, this doesn't look like something that needs new process to deal with. If one feels strongly enough about it, one can downvote the answers for looking ugly. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2014 at 12:56

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