# MathJax usage for questions by new users

While I agree that MathJax makes things convenient and far more readable, it seems unfair to demand fresh new users to learn it before posting a question, which is something of a common occurence here. A lot of these questions usually recieve quick downvotes and are sometimes closed. I wonder, if beginning undergraduates or some of the many high schoolers on the site are not intimidated by the barrage of symbols and formatting lessons that go along with learning MathJax as so many experienced users ask them to.

Perhaps we can make a stronger requirement to use MathJax for users who have asked more than a certain threshold (say, 5?) of questions composed of handwritten stuff or images. Should they be readable to at least some degree, one could flag these questions as suboptimal (a new type of flag?) and more than 5 such flags could result in bans and harsher bans on a repeat of this. What this does according to me is to give new users enough time to get around to familiarise themselves with MathJax while also giving them room to ask any pressing queries keeping them awake at night.

For those who prefer seeing uber-readable questions who will downvote a slightly more difficult to read one without a second thought, this can also be a good system to simply avoid such questions by flagging them as such. However, questions under this flag should still be open for answers, albeit filterable for those who get ticked off by issues with readability. Would this be a reasonable thing to do and is it possible?

• There is currently no policy requiring anybody to use MathJax at all. I don't often see questions that use E=mc² or even E=mc^2 instead of $E=mc^2$ being downvoted. Posting handwritten text or images of text is another thing entirely.
– Chris Mod
Feb 2 at 4:31
• If you are suggesting we allow images of text on this site, we already have a discussion on meta about that here.
– Chris Mod
Feb 2 at 4:33
• And of course if you or anyone else comes along a question that is perfectly good except for bad typesetting, you are more than welcome to help out with the typesetting. Why would we want a system to flag difficult-to-read questions and leave them that way instead of fixing them?
– Chris Mod
Feb 2 at 4:36
• Can you conceive of an easy-to-implement system that would help new users employ MathJax? I have seen, for example, other sites that provide a GUI formula editor that translates that stuff into latex e.g. here. Possibly a link to such a service could be provided to new users when they try to create a question, or some such?
– Him
Feb 2 at 9:05
• As you might guess, we get a lot of questions from new members on Math.SE without MathJax. Here's a post on the topic: math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/33075/207316 And here's some info & links and mini-tutorials: math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/33179/207316 Feb 2 at 9:44
• Why is it unfair? I expect people to take time to properly type set the equations etc. and do not use images /screenshots for this purpose. Note that if you press the "Ask Question" button, there is a direct link to a MathJax tutorial. That being said, in my experience users that do not use MathJax at all and post e.g. handwritten notes usually ask off-topic questions. Feb 2 at 9:51
• Maybe you are referring to my comment here physics.stackexchange.com/questions/747965/… I sincerely think we should try to suggest them edits before editing ourselves. That way new users can also learn and show that they are here in good faith (not just dropping random queriess or homework). If they show a minimum of effort to edit the question then we may help. Note that in that particular example, the user added more text but did not bother to use the mathjax even after your edit. Feb 2 at 10:02
• Per @ACuriousMind's comment, do you have any specific examples in mind of otherwise good questions that both 1) were initially downvoted and 2) did not MathJax their equations?
– Him
Feb 2 at 10:46
• @Mauricio I don't edit MathJax into low-quality or unsalvageable questions. But if the question is good except for the typesetting, then it's a good question. I don't think there's any issue with editing it in, perhaps leaving a comment suggesting that they look at the edit history to see how it was done and give it a try themselves next time.
– Chris Mod
Feb 3 at 4:33
• I suggest you to read the answers to this similar question on the main Meta: meta.stackexchange.com/q/320052/300001 Feb 4 at 9:41

Of course I do not know the voting behaviour of other people, but I think you're inferring causation where there is only correlation. The following things are probably true:

1. Questions by new users often don't use MathJax, and will receive comments that they should use it.

2. Question by new users are on average downvoted more often.

I have no hard evidence for this but anecdotally I also believe that questions by new users that do use MathJax might be downvoted less often.

However, this does not mean that the reason the questions that don't use MathJax are being downvoted is that they don't use MathJax. I think the correlation here is caused more like this: Users who start out using MathJax either have lurked enough around the site to understand this is the ideal way to write formulae or they are already familiar with TeX from elsewhere - probably because they are at least university students of a STEM field. In both cases these users will also tend to have a better understanding of what is on-topic here and/or how to ask a well-formed question about physics as a natural science, and hence their questions will be downvoted less often.

Of course it is possible that there are people who downvote questions just because they don't use MathJax, but we can't do much about that - voting is anonymous and completely up to individual users; if someone wants to downvote a question because it is Tuesday they can and will.

You also mention that these questions are "sometimes closed". I have never seen a question closed for the reason that it doesn't use MathJax, and if this indeed happens it would be a misuse of our closing mechanism since we have no policy that not using MathJax would make a question off-topic here. If you claim this happens regularly, I would be interested to see examples, and I encourage everyone to vote to reopen in such cases. (But again: that the question is closed and doesn't use MathJax doesn't imply it is closed because it uses no MathJax)

Altogether I am not convinced that we have any problem here that could be solved by dealing with questions that don't use MathJax differently.

• Is there data that could convince you that the relationship is causal rather than incidental? Probably some kind of large-scale controlled experiment by seasoned users is theoretically possible, but is unlikely to happen.
– Him
Feb 2 at 8:56
• @Him If I saw some examples where I couldn't come up with any other explanations for downvote or closure than "not using MathJax" (or even cases where the commenters explicitly state that as their reason) that would make me consider this as a more likely problem; My personal experience is that if a question is downvoted and doesn't use MathJax it usually has other flaws that explain the downvote as well.
– ACuriousMind Mod
Feb 2 at 10:38