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I would suggest the community simply close questions containing screenshots of text. I can understand a screenshot of a figure, but if the text part of a question can be easily typeset with the built-in editor, there’s no place for a screenshot.

If anything, the time and effort going to typesetting makes it easier to justify that the OP has done some effort - at least a typesetting effort - in thinking about and posting the question.

Of course typesetting also means a question becomes searchable and all those advantages, but it seems to me that intolerance to screenshot questions (at least the textual part of the question) is enough of a deterrent to eliminate the most egregious cases.

Recently I've noticed a few people posting questions in rapid succession, each with a screenshot of a problem. If you look at the questions as a whole, it's obvious they've split their entire problem set or take-home exam into tiny pieces and asked us how to do the whole thing. However, since each question alone contains Lagrange multiplier, complex integrals, etc. , which is viewed as sophisticated, none of these questions are closed or even downvoted, and most have some answers or comments.

I think this kind of behaviour should not be encouraged. Here are few of them: Q.1, Q.2, Q.3, Q.4, Q.5.

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    $\begingroup$ In so much as there is "official policy", it is already policy that math be given in MathJax, rather than in images. See, for example, this answer: math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/26438/468350 $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 29 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ I second Martin's answer to the question linked by Xander particularly this: "The questions where the OP has shown some effort to solve the problem by themselves are usually well received. If such attempt is shown even as a picture, the post is more likely to get a positive reaction than a post which contains MathJax, but is merely a copy of the homework assignment." $\endgroup$ – T. S May 29 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ See also Pete L. Clark's answer to a relevant question: Three strike rule to using MathJax: "This is supposed to be an all-purpose math site, and obviously not everyone in the world who has a math question knows how to use latex. Although learning latex is not so very hard, it is not trivial either, and assuming that people must have this skill in order to get continued service seems like a clear violation of the intended scope of the site." $\endgroup$ – T. S May 29 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ @T.S note that the question here specifically mentions text and says "easily typeset", it is not only, or even mainly, about (complex) formulas, the comment you quote seems only of marginal relevance (in addition to it being somewhat dated). $\endgroup$ – quid May 29 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: Thanks for your comment. The "text" in the questions OP quoted contains inline formulas. I don't see how that is "easily typeset" with all the formula separated. The fact that Pete's answer is dated seems not quite relevant. Martin's answer is still quite new, comparing to Willie's How to ask a good question post. In addition, OP writes specifically in the title "using text and MathJax"; I read that as zero tolerance to any screenshots. $\endgroup$ – T. S May 29 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ @T.S Lets look at Q1. Most of the formula in the text are simpler than what OP of Q1 did in fact type in the part after the image. If they would type everything with the exception of the two displayed formulas I don't think many will object. That said, how hard is learning to typeset $\int_{(x_1,y_2)}^{(x_2,y_2)}n(y;x)ds$ ? I think it is a matter of minutes, or at least it could be described with "pseudo code." It is also worth noting that OP of meta-Q mentions purposefully questions on somewhat advanced subjects. We are not talking about a parent looking for help in teaching an 8 year old. $\endgroup$ – quid May 29 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ The fact that the contribution is dated is relevant for several reasons. For example, it mentioned "Also, there are magical fairies[...]" On a site with less turnover certain things have a better chance to work. While at the time the post was written the site was already somewhat large, the ideas of PLC are rooted even in the experience of the further past. From the old days there are also well-meaning discussions about how to handle languages other than English. Maybe nice ideas in theory, in practice we do it differently now. @T.S $\endgroup$ – quid May 29 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ Further for Q2 nothing at all is needed if one replaces $e^x$ by exp(x). The rest is just fractions and parenthesis and plus,minus. +,- , / , (, ) it's all there. I won't discuss all the rest, but plenty of things can be typed if only one wants to. I mention again what OP of Q1 actually managed to do just fine. It's not at all easier than everything in Q2. And if the issue is the $v_0$ then v0 or another variable name would work just fine. $\endgroup$ – quid May 29 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ Your last statement in your last comment, @T.S, is not true. Specifically, you are wrong in reading the following: "I read that as zero tolerance to any screenshots." The OP specifically acknowledges that "I can understand a screenshot of a figure". $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 29 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ While screenshots need to be discouraged for text and formulas, some screenshots of printed matter are tolerable. The most problematic ones are images of handwritten text. At least those should be prohibited as a sort of policy. $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh May 30 at 1:59
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Is this website about Mathjax? Or Learning Mathjax? Do you have to learn Mathjax to be on the website? I am tagging you cause you are good at finding these loopholes Does it say anywhere we have to learn Mathjax to be a member of the Math.SE. $\endgroup$ – EnlightenedFunky Jun 2 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ @EnlightenedFunky It's about asking and answering math questions posed in a manner that makes it clear to those who want to ask or answer it, without having to chase links (potentially risky and potentially risking users to nefarious content), to view them and understand them. quid explains clearly that at the very least, a user can typeset a question; Mathjax can be learned after an initial post or two. But some effort should initially be made by any asker or any answerer to communicate without an image of text. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jun 2 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ Recently I've been transcribing screenshots...am I a masochist? If its short I do it by hand, and if its long I use a LaTeX capable OCR program (mathpix.com). (I think I'm helping, but to be honest I probably just like playing with the app) Depending on the context, I might still vote to close. I feel like being typeset affects my opinion only in so far as it makes the post hard to read. I can see myself upvoting a well written technical post that doesn't use MathJax (but I haven't found such a post yet) $\endgroup$ – Calvin Khor Jun 3 at 1:14
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    $\begingroup$ Since mathpix was mentioned above, I will add links to these older posts: Mathpix Snip Tool: Automatic $\rm\LaTeX$ code generation from typed or handwritten math! and What tools can be used to extract MathJax/LaTeX from scanned input? $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jun 3 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ @user759001 I have difficulty to understand what you want to convey in the second part. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 3 at 11:53
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While I agree that images of text or formulae are undesirable, I do not believe use of images alone is a good reason to close a question - I view closure principally as a tool to deal with questions where further input from the OP is required to make the question possible to answer well. This is not such a case - the appropriate community response to posts that are of low quality solely because of their use of screenshots in place of typeset text and to leave comments pointing the OP towards the site's documentation on typesetting. While closure for this reason alone would serve the goal of eradicating posts with images better than any other tools, it would harm the goal of making the site more welcoming to new users - and while this tradeoff is worthwhile for closure of unanswerable questions, it is not a good trade-off in this case.

This is an issue where it will do less harm to put the responsibility of edits to those who answer such questions - and to view this as a particular case where the behavior of answerers (who overwhelmingly are familiar with MathJax - and who, one hopes, are also receptive to site policy) is a more promising avenue of change than the behavior of new users (who are particularly difficult to influence by policy decisions and might not know or easily adapt to typesetting). The usual tools for changing answerer behavior apply here - especially since I would consider an answer that leaves the question in a poor state to be itself of lower quality than if the question had been improved. This is obviously not a perfect filter against question-answer pairs in need of typesetting, but it avoids the use of closure against questions that may be posted in good faith and that can be improved by an essentially mechanical process.

This question is mostly theoretical though: it's rare to see a question that is of high quality except for using images in place of text. I've not seen any users who have made many such posts - it seems that people who consistently write good questions learn to typeset them correctly without the need for formal moderation tools. Expanding the compass of closure to catch these edge cases doesn't seem productive.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't ever recall you as an active editor of such posts. You've edited only seven posts in your 5+ years here. If you have no problem with images, then commit to editing the posts, and transcribing transcribing images to text and mathjax, so they adhere to math.se policy. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jun 3 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ That’s some piping tea. Where did you find that statistic? $\endgroup$ – gen-ℤ ready to perish Jun 3 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I think you were looking at the meta profile (which shows only 7 edits). The main profile shows 154 edits. I would argue that the number is still quite small, but not as impressive as only 7. :) $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jun 3 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, @Xander! I sometimes lose track of where I am on the site: meta or main! $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jun 3 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy It happens to the best of us. ;) $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jun 3 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ This continues an unfortunate tradition of well-meaning ideas, policies and conventions that did not, do not, and will not work. (Manifestly many, many users answer without the editing part.) The consequence is that in practice images are more or less accepted. Right, if there is a good question as an image, maybe we do not want to dismiss it out of hand. But then maybe at least for this good question somebody can step up and perform the edit. You even say that the problem you evoke is mostly theoretical. But that is lost, and such posts are used to support the idea that images are alright. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 4 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ In any case what specifically would you consider as way to enforce or encourage "More so, anyone who decides to answer such a question should be expected to make the necessary edits as well." If the answer is "nothing" then this is void. You know what works? Deletion and nothing short of that will do for way too many. Yes, in theory there would be better more ergonomic ways to deal with this, but this would presuppose some more individual responsibility, which for the most part is just not there. Thus, in practice, it is mostly either we accept everything or we need to be more drastic. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 4 at 10:42
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    $\begingroup$ @quid To your question: I favor the view that answers take responsibility for question quality, and thus may be commented on/downvoted if they fail in this. As someone who mostly spends time writing answers, I try my best to follow this - though I recognize that this policy does not work without universal buy-in and is less effective at achieving the goal of "no images" than closure. Closure is clearly a correct tool to apply to questions which cannot be clearly answered for any reason, but I don't view that statement as applying in this case - moreover, in practical terms, this would ... $\endgroup$ – Milo Brandt Jun 5 at 2:22
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    $\begingroup$ ... usually apply to questions written by new users who often have negative experiences with the site, even if asking in good faith ( - I hear from some (real life) peers that they find the site unwelcoming, and I've found it frustrating myself to try to ask questions on other technical SE sites) - and, I view the problems associated to my suggestion as an acceptable price to be more welcoming towards new users. I understand that this is at odds with the goal of increasing question quality through moderation and respect those who highly value this goal, but I hope to serve other goals too. $\endgroup$ – Milo Brandt Jun 5 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ "I favor the view that answers take responsibility for question quality, and thus may be commented on/downvoted if they fail in this." You might want to at least state this in your answer. "I view the problems associated to my suggestion as an acceptable price to be more welcoming towards new users." The problems related to your suggestion are that it declares images as acceptable. If you think that considering images as acceptable is what should be done, then I recommend you are clear about that. In any case you should at least be clear in your mind that it is this what you actual promote. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 5 at 8:29
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I've just started working the Close Votes queue, so I am very interested in the reaction to this question. Currently I'm more likely to vote to close if the main question is in a screenshot, but I'm considering taking it on as a blanket policy. I probably will if the OP is highly upvoted.

Additionally, I'm considering down-voting answers to such poor questions, to create an additional disincentive. The answers are often fine math, but I think they contribute to filling up the site with bad questions. Could members use my answer here to respond to this idea, either with up & down votes (for "good idea" vs. "bad idea" respectively, as I believe they are to be used on meta.math), and any comments they have?

[Mods: Let me know if this should be a separate question? My thinking is that it's closely enough related to the OP that we should address them together, but I might be missing something.]


Follow up after a week or so: For those of you who can't see up and down vote counts, the results are 5 up votes and 5 down votes, so no clear community feeling. And thanks to user400188 for their suggestion to include a comment. I'm thinking of a template like "Downvoting good answer to bad question". I'm also thinking that if I start doing so, it'll show up back here on meta.

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    $\begingroup$ Downvoting gives us the message: consider leaving a comment as to why. Would you always consider leaving a comment if you downvoted answers due to the nature of the question, instead of the answer itself? It may be more beneficial to make a comment template telling users not to answer homework questions, as opposed to downvoting them. A comment template will discourage them from future behaviour like this, while a downvote will only do so, if they know the reason for it was due to the question. $\endgroup$ – user400188 May 30 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ @user400188 You really think "a comment template will discourage them [answerers] from future behavior like this"? I know of no answerer who changes behavior like this, due to a comment or two, unless the comment is also accompanied by downvotes, deletion, and perhaps flags for moderator attention. Every answer given to a poor question (including questions comprised almost exclusively of a screenshot) enables such questions to remain viable on this site. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Jun 3 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ "When good answers happen to bad questions" sounds like a book title. Anyway, that exact topic (though not by that title) was discussed here some years ago, might be worth trying to find that old discussion to read what was said at the time. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jun 6 at 1:40
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[A part taken from Physics SE.]

I agree. Screenshots of text have no place on this site.

There is simply no reason that plain text should ever be presented as a screenshot, and plenty of reasons why it shouldn't. If you want to quote text from a separate source which you have as an image, it is your responsibility to transcribe it.

  • Transcribing the text, simply put, makes the site easier to read for everyone. It might make things more awkward for the reader by just a little bit, but it's definitely there and it's your responsibility to make your posts as readable as possible.

  • More importantly, it is an important accessibility concern. Do you have good eyesight, and are you reading this site without accessibility tools or without zooming in on text? Then good for you! but not every user of the internet has that ability. There are plenty of people with visual impairments, going from difficulty reading all the way to complete blindness, that have every right to use the internet, which they do relying on assistive technology such as screen readers that do just fine if text is typeset as text, but which get stopped in their tracks when it comes to screenshots. Using proper typesetting (including good use of Markdown and MathJax) provides additional HTML syntax that those assistive technologies can use to give a more meaningful account of the content on the page.

There are some disciplines that are intrinsically hard for visually-impaired people (say, photography? though even then, there are surprises) and physics is not one of them. I would like this site to be open to all, and proper typesetting is one of the things that allows us to be that.

  • This machine-readability also makes the text easier to register and index by search-engine crawlers, which makes the post easier to search for and easier to find by other users, and which therefore makes the post more useful for a broader cross-section of internet users.

  • On a separate track, transcribing the text in your question is a way to demonstrate that you're prepared to match the effort you're asking others to perform in researching and writing an answer to your question with an effort to the best of your abilities to write the best question you can. If you cannot be bothered to type out two paragraphs of text, which then means that prospective answerers need to spend extra time squinting at a smudgy screenshot, then that speaks very poorly about how you value the effort you're soliciting.

This specific thread is explicitly about text, which has no entry barriers to transcribing. Quite often, though, screenshots of text will also include some mathematics, which do require learning to use the $\LaTeX$ syntax used by the site's MathJax engine. I do not think this is an excuse: if you want to quote mathematics, it is your responsibility to typeset it accurately. This is indeed an entry barrier, and you do need to learn how to do so - the Mathematics SE site has an excellent tutorial - which goes back to putting in the effort in formatting your question correctly, to match the effort you're expecting from the answerers.

(Furthermore, using the correct MathJax to display the math is even more of an accessibility concern. MathJax output is displayed using MathML, which contains a ton of semantic information that can be used by screen readers. To see just how much, right click on any complicated formula (here's one for convenience, $f(x) = \sum_{n=-\infty}^\infty c_n e^{inx}$) and click on Show Math As > MathML Code (so, for my example, it produces this code, which is the 'true' internal representation of the maths as the browser understands it). The resulting mess is not meant to be human-readable (the way $\LaTeX$ syntax is) but it is a bonanza for an automated system.)

Now, from time to time (and in practice quite often), community members might step in and transcribe an image for you, particularly if you're a new site member. That's great! somebody decided to help you out and help improve the site on their own. However, if this happens more than two or three times, then it quickly starts becoming abuse of the site's community mechanisms. You are responsible for the content you post and for ensuring that it does not unduly waste other people's time, either editors or readers.


As to what this community should do with questions that contain screenshotted text: what we've been doing already, namely downvoting and, where appropriate, closing; leave a link to this thread if you feel like the downvote requires an explanation. If you have the time and inclination, transcribe the image, particularly if it's a new user, but do make it clear to the poster that they should be doing that on their own.

I use the AutoReviewComments userscript and I've added a link to this answer to my copy of the 'Text, not pictures' template, which now reads

Text, not pictures

Please do not post images of texts you want to quote, but type it out instead so it is readable for all users and so that it can be indexed by search engines. For formulae, use MathJax instead.

and as copyable source

### Text, not pictures
Please [do not post images of texts you want to quote](https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/320052/why-are-images-of-text-code-and-mathematical-expressions-discouraged), but type it out instead so it is readable for all users and so that it can be indexed by search engines. For formulae, use [MathJax](https://math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/5020) instead.

This takes a lot of the friction out, and it makes it much easier to autocomment, downvote, and then move on with one's life.

And to deal explicitly with the specific question: is the presence of a non-transcribed screenshot of text, by itself, reason enough to close a question? Frankly, I personally think that that is excessive and not a very effective way to tackle the problem. As I said, I think that screenshots of text have no place on this site, but the close-fix-reopen cycle is too sluggish to deal effectively with the problem.

More importantly, though, for the vast majority of questions that fall in that category there will also be other, more established, reasons to close the post, which makes the question moot most of the time. If none of that is applicable then, in my view, the first action should be a sharp word and a pointer to this thread. Typically the screenshot will be fixed one way or another, but if a newcomer insists on forcing others (by their inaction) to transcribe their screenshots then question closure becomes a more appealing option as a way to force them to take notice.

Ultimately, of course, people's votes are their own, but to offer a definitive guidance proposal: vote to close on any other applicable reasons first, and if none are applicable for me the relevant question is: does this question's use of a screenshot constitute an abuse of this site's community mechanisms that can be effectively dealt with through a question closure? If the answer is yes, then I'd say a custom-reason closevote pointing here is warranted.

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    $\begingroup$ While the use of text and MathJax/$\LaTeX$ to quote material is doubtless better than an image when fidelity can be managed, a blanket policy of closing all such Questions seems an overreaction. Many times the Community steps forward to edit these Questions and repair the deficit. Moreover there are a few Questions that concern the meaning of a mathematical notation, and in those cases having the image (and citation) may be defended not merely as expeditious but as providing needed precision. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Jun 3 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Could you please link to the part quoted from physics SE? $\endgroup$ – user400188 Jun 4 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ @hardmath obviously there will not be a mandate to close each and every such question. It also will not be prohibited to edit such questions, in which case the problem is resolved. This is an all too frequent phenomenon. Somebody proposes a guideline. Somebody else comes up with problems under the completely unrealistic assumption that the guideline will be applied to 100 percent without any further consideration. A couple of other users nod "Indeed, good point, that's a problem." The end result. Nothing is done about the problem and the site suffers. $\endgroup$ – quid Jun 4 at 10:58

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