[This was originally posted as an answer to another question and was transformed into a question following a comment to this effect.]

To discourage rapid postings of the type alluded to in another questions, 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 tysetting 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.

As to screenshots of equations, there is already a discussion elsewhere that would be applicable to questions as well as answers; the discussion on screenshots of equations seems to be inconclusive at this time.

[Here are a first and and a second example of questions where text is posted as screenshot. The OPs are not rapid posters.]

  • $\begingroup$ Aren't new users not allowed to post images? I at least seem to recall several instances of users posting that they can't... $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos see physics.stackexchange.com/q/396252/36194 $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ see physics.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/new-user new usersare restricted from posting too many links. Help $\gg$ any random post you find. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos does the threshold include association bonus? Either way, these text screenshots generally are a bane IMO. Simply typesetting into any word processor would be enough to indicate some effort on the part of the poster. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos The key word there is too many links. One link is enough to post a screenshot that will make the post problematic, and there are plenty of single-link screenshots by first-time users out there. New-user restrictions are a red herring in this context. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 9:28
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty red herring it is not bc afaik, you need 10 rep to post even one image (cf meta.stackexchange.com/q/183926/230312). $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos The first-time users in Zero's examples posted images on their very first questions, so if there are restrictions in place, they are not enough to stop the behaviour in issue here. Your link is from 2013 and by a non-SE source, but it is ultimately gainsaid by the behaviour of the system. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Zero: also, please don't leave edit histories in the post, there is a button for previous edits for a reason (along with a summary)!! $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one. Given that the question had been posted for a while, that some people had already answered the original question, and voted on the original question and answers, I consider it is completely fair to indicate any change in language to the question in case some choose to change their minds. I agree that the history can be checked, but unless people are aware that edits have been made, there is little chance for them to check the edit history. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero The title was a bit confusing at least for me. Feel free to revert my edit if you find it unnecessary. $\endgroup$
    – AlphaLife
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ It is getting worse, at least on Stack Overflow. $\endgroup$ Commented May 28, 2022 at 19:05

4 Answers 4


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.

  • Transcribing the text is also an important favour to the potential answerers who might want to copy-paste that text into their answers in order to refer to it in more detail in their answers.

  • 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 described in this answer 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://physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/10563), 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 (as in the "elsewhere" reference for mathjax) 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.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of having a specific close reason with a link. If we go that route, it seems like a link to a yet-to-be-written Meta question like "My question was closed for relying on screenshots; how can I fix it?", which'd presumably be a tutorial-like thread going over the basics (e.g., type out text) along with blurbs on SE-specific formatting tricks and the most common $\rm\TeX$ commands, then links for further reading on SE-specific formatting and $\rm\TeX$. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Nat That's not what I was proposing and it's not a realistic proposal. We only have a limited number of site-customised closure reasons (three) and they're already in use; if the list gets expanded there's several other candidates that would almost certainly see more use. What you can do is vote to close with a custom close reason, including a link to this thread. (On the other hand, I'm not sure whether you can flag to close with a custom reason under 3k rep, but it doesn't matter much - just add a comment and flag with the closest reason you can find.) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 12:31
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, that's unfortunate. It'd have been nice to have a pre-canned mechanism for pointing new users in the right direction. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Nat See edited answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ It's been pointed out to me here that this answer is kind of ambiguous - it says "I agree" at the top (which I took to mean agreement with the proposal to close questions based on containing images of text), but it also says "voting to close based purely on the use of a screenshot seems excessive to me" near the bottom. The ambiguity makes it hard to implement this as policy. I'm not sure if that's fixable but I wanted to point it out. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel see edited answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty so to summarise: the proposed policy is that we should (1) generally close such questions, while (2) trying to find other reasons to close them rather than citing the text screenshot as the specific reason, but (3) if no other option is available citing the text screenshot as the reason is acceptable? I think I can broadly get behind that, but just want to make sure it's clear. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ (That said, I think simply having the presence of text screenshots as a close reason would be less work for everyone and quicker. There's a text screenshot - ok, close it - done.) $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel I'm not convinced that closevotes will be all that effective, and for new users I would indicate the problem before voting to close. But yes, that's a reasonable summary, and I wouldn't raise a scandal over closevotes exclusively driven by a screenshot. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 8:17

I agree that text should not be a screenshot. A link could refer to the text and the content described.

That elsewhere reference refers indirectly to me, because I am not open to learning mathjax . The reason is age, so if the physics.SE community wants to discourage old physicists, they should state it clearly.

I started with computers back in 1967 ,often correcting code on binary cards, and by 2000 when I retired C had become the latest programming tool; and papers were written in postcript.I have reached a saturation limit on memorizing tools. What is wrong in using ^ for a power after all? it is another symbol, and the answers are not going to the printer for a pretty book . When I need to use elaborate formulas I use a screenshot.

One thing has become clear,though, negative votes with no physics reason behind them, it must be people who consider that format is very important.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If Piazza can implement a Latex editor into their text editor, why can't the stack exchange network? Instead I have to metaphorically type with two finger by going to a page with all math symbol, copy something over, then look for another symbol. If anyone says "I don't see what's the problem there", you're a snob, in a very weird topic to be snobby at. It's quite unreasonable to expect people who use SE occasionally to remember mathjax or latex or whatever for formatting purpose. Until the embedded latex editor is here, screenshots shouldn't be remove at all. $\endgroup$
    – Long Vuong
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 2:27
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    $\begingroup$ @rob I don’t think that typesetting the text of a problem - no need for LaTeX or MathJax for that - is much of an accessibly barrier. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 3:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero It might be worth editing your question so it doesn't call out MathJax specifically and focus it on the problem of posting images of text, which I think is the core issue. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 7:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @LtotheV: I realize that this is a bit tangential, but do people actually find "LaTeX editors" like the one on Piazza helpful? I just tested it, and it seems to be just a bunch of buttons for inserting pieces of LaTeX code into the post (plus a live preview pane, but we already have that here anyway). [...] $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity Anna, what do you use to make those elaborate formula that you take a screenshot of? $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 12:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I search the net for .pdf if it is a book, or look at arxiv, and do a "print screen" and go to "paint" (windows10) to crop the relevant part. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ I'm younger, so I'm not too familiar with potential issues in learning $\rm\TeX$. For example, if 10^-32 would be inserted, it seems pretty easy to just instead type ${10}^{-32}$ to get ${10}^{-32}$. And, in general, it'd seem easier to just look up an unknown $\rm\TeX$ command than to have to find a screenshot of an equation that'd employ it. So, I guess what I'm curious about is, do many older physicists find $\rm\TeX$ to be inaccessible? $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 5:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I guess I'm asking in part because I'm a bit alarmed. I've always taken $\rm\TeX$ to be so simple and basic that anyone could pick it up in a minute by just glancing over a quick tutorial; the idea that it's prohibitively difficult past a certain age is actually kinda scary. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 5:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Nat it is not prohibitively, it is that after a certain accumulation of tools in the brain the effort required to learn and store a new language is not worth it, and ok for simple numbers and formulae, what when integrals and sums enter in long formulae? which is when I use screenshots, as the mistakes I would make would take too long to catch (bad brain/hand coordination). When you reach my age, 78, TEX will be in your toolbox already but hopefully physics will still be active and who knows what new demands will come up? $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 7:33
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ I kinda puzzled by the assertion that TeX is a newfangled tool - TeX itself was released in 1978 and LaTeX dates from 1985, and it was already widespread in the 90s. I fully understand that learning a new tool is hard and I fully support your position here, but saying that a forty-year-old system is new seems a bit strange. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 9:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That said, I'm extra puzzled by all the talk about math here, when the question is explicitly and exclusively about screenshots of text. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 9:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am old enough now (50 is on my horizon), that I have noticed a little extra drag in learning new technologies and tools. It's not that I can't, but that they have to share head-space with a lot of other things. I tend to think "Oh. I see. X is like W, except where it is like Y or Z. And there seems to be a special case that works like T. Except when it works like U. Wait. What?" So I learn fewer things just for the heck of it, and try to wait until there is a consensus among early adopters about what is worth spending time on. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ That said, I think that @anna does fine most of the time, and wouldn't mind cleaning up if she left us some expressions that were comprehensible but not as tidy as you'd expect from a textbook. I have a lot more patience for helping out with good content than bad. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ @RubelliteFae Maybe they should gain some points, actually I thought they did ! $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee's point seems important. Personally I'd be for essentially banning screenshots as a work-around for typesetting, though it really isn't so troublesome to help improve high-quality posts. I suppose that part of the frustration is that the avoidance of $\rm\TeX$ is often a mark of laziness, e.g. as found in cases of screenshots of homework problems. But in cases of the sorts of posts annav and other distinguished physicists might make, it's really not so troublesome to help out with some of the formatting. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 4:25
  1. Is posting text as screenshots okay? NO.

  2. If a post is perfectly okay, except that it contains a text screenshot, should we close it? No, we should fix it.

  3. What if there is no resource to fix? (= nobody converts it to text or latex before the VtC vote is done). I think, if the post is really useful, somebody will once do it. If it is not so good, then bye.

I think rationality dictates to check the content.

  1. If there is a high school student being lazy to even type in his homework. Then there are also many other problems most likely (homework, unclear, and so on).
  2. The other end: if there is an old physicist, not knowing latex, but giving high quality content. I think we should help him on the spot.

The cases what we actually find in the review queues, are between (1) and (2), but (1) is the overwhelming majority. But the people in (2) are IMHO too worthy for an iron-fist ban.

Banning screenshots won't eliminate them, because rep1 first-posters don't know anything from the meta site. They don't know the rules. They will still post. We can't eliminate them, because in their first post, we have no idea, if they have the potential to become an useful site member or not.

Thus, the rules should target to filter them. If their first experience with the site is that their post is killed because they were nit-picked, then they likely won't ever come back. In the "first posts" review, we should be nicer and repetitive, like a school teacher.

Somewhere I've read an SE insider stat(*), how the first-posters tend to react to the different events what happens to their post. For me, the most surprising result was that they don't take closures so badly as they are. They don't take care to the votes. Their chance to appear and post again is the highest if they get an answer, but even comments and edits help a lot.

Unfortunately, the official site rules are binary: something is either okay or not. Un-officially, there is some flexibility in the system. In this case, in my opinion, having a post with screenshot should be a huge disadvantage, but not a standalone reason to close.

*: I am ready to hunt for my source on ask.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I’m personally fine with a comment like “please properly typeset the text of your question as soon as possible else it is subject to closure for lack of effort” or some variation on this theme. On the other hand, I do not think it’s the job of anyone but the poster to make an effort to typeset the question properly. Part of the problem is the “quick answer” syndrome of some posters: if they’d lurk around for a couple of days they’d easily figure out that screenshots of text are verboten. But of course youth is impatient. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ It’s easy enough to accommodate more senior people posting screenshots of equations as part of an answer: the odds are enormously against users posting a screenshot of text that is not part a homework question, and enormously against more senior users posting homework questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 2:52

In my experience, there are generally two types of users who post screenshots of books/papers

  • users who are asking us to do their work
  • users who are answering questions (frequently to posts of the first type)

The first bullet is usually off-topic anyway, so these ought to be closed and downvoted so that the Roomba can delete them (assuming they're not deleted sooner by high rep members). This already happens on a regular basis.

The second bullet is generally considered low quality & are usually flagged as such, but one should leave a comment leading to the MathJax tutorial (often this could be extended to doing one equation for them as an example as well) in hopes that they become a good, contributing user. Often times, higher-rep members will replace the whole image (this is also true for the first bullet).
If the user doesn't respond to the call to typeset their work, then the answers are usually deleted as low quality but usually just left as downvoted.

So it seems to me that there isn't any problem to be solved here: the current policies are already in line with OPs expectations and the community handles them as such in practice.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ I don't read the OP as asking for a technical measure to block images of text, but rather just a clear community consensus and policy saying that posts containing (and substantially relying on) images of text are not welcome here, and should be downvoted / closed / deleted. The community here can enforce such a policy just fine, if it wants to. You do make a fair point that such posts usually already violate other policies or community norms anyway, but sometimes having a simple and clear bright-line rule can be useful. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 20:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Kyle As I read it (having made the comment that spurred taking this from answer to a thread of its own), OP's idea is a linkable thread that can be used to inform users who do post screenshots that they're not ok, and why, ie a specifically documented community consensus that screenshot questions mean a first-strike-and-you're-out (until you edit). There is as yet no such thread on this meta, so I see plenty of point here. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 8:13
  • $\begingroup$ (Original comment, for context.) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty okay, then OP has done a terrible job actually explaining what they want. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I meant "ban" in a retroactive, not proactive, sense, like we "ban" rude or inappropriate language. Granted the use of this word can be interpreted in many ways, including in the proactive, technological sense. I think the context of the question, and the context of the various answers and comments to the answers, makes the position of the community clear. I also agree that such questions can usually be closed on other grounds, but given the everyday practical leeway in interpreting various VTC criteria, an extra one on screenshot would be useful IMO. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Yes I think you answered early. I was quite curious to see if others would have the same interpretation as you. I've edited the question to remove "ban". I agree that additional "legislation" is not always optimal but I feel being explicit on this topic will be sufficiently discouraging and will generally improve things. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero your suggestion is clearly not optimal because it's fundamentally contrary the whole point of editing. If you are too lazy to edit in the text, you should be too lazy to bother with contributing to the workload of the reviewers. That simple. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I don't mind editing some stuff, but here's an example physics.stackexchange.com/q/395699/36194 where editing means doing the job of the OP, and this question was NOT closed. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero a) that question looks on topic to me b) if you're too lazy to edit the post, please don't waste other peoples' time with adding more to the review queue, just comment that they should post text + Mathjax and move on with your life. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Kyle Maybe it's time for a deep breath and a keyboard break? Disagreements are OK, but some of the language here is maybe more emphatic than the material really warrants. The Someone Is Wrong On The Internet syndrome gets us all, and it's often best to just step down from that train ;-). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I'm quite calm here. While commendable to bring attention that we should be encouraging text instead of screenshots (which I agree with), proposing that we vote to close a question simply because it contains a screenshot is completely bogus. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 11:03

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