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Let's say I have an answer to a question (like this one for example) where the explanation can have effectively two speeds: plain english, and very math heavy. I would like a way to do both at once, similar to the way Wikipedia hides these derivations or even something as simple as the "show more"/"show less" links on the FAQ.

Is there a way to do either of those styles to help keep the answer short, concise, and as plain-english as possible but still provide the technical details for those interested? If not, can there be?

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  • $\begingroup$ tpg2114, a note: you can directly link to your answer by clicking share below it and copying that address. By the way, on Sci-fi they have the spoiler markdown, but it still displays big gray boxes. :P $\endgroup$ – Alenanno Dec 6 '12 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Alenanno Thanks, I didn't know that share button was there! $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 6 '12 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ You're welcome! :P It works for any answer. Ah, while we're at it... You can also link comments: click on the x secs/minutes ago, it will highlight the comment. Now just copy the URL address above. $\endgroup$ – Alenanno Dec 6 '12 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ Man, I'm gonna learn more things unrelated to my question than related I think... :) $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 6 '12 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Alenanno: Spoiler MarkDown works everywhere, btw. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 7 '12 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth Ah, didn't know that. $\endgroup$ – Alenanno Dec 7 '12 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ As a side note, the text under the spoiler box is actually visible on my screen at the right angle... the font color doesn't exactly match the background color. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 7 '12 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114: Interesting... I'd make a meta post about it, though I'm not sure if it's worth the effort. (1) We don't need spoilers much on Physics. (2) Even if we did, nobody tilts their head that much. ;-) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 7 '12 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I could meta post about it somewhere that actually wants it to be hidden correctly (movies, sci-fi, etc.). Now that I know it's there, I can actually see it straight on too :) $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 7 '12 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ @tpg2114: Nah, on scifi it's a perfect match(I checked the CSS). Ditto for movies. And I can see it straight on as well, but I can't read it :P $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 7 '12 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, the spoiler text is just slightly unmatched. I presume Jin could fix that in a hurry if there was any call for it, but we don't seem to have much use for spoiler boxes on physics and meta.physics. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Dec 7 '12 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ This would not only be useful to hide derivations, but also to structure things more nicely where you could hide each paragraph and only show the headlines at first. Especially long posts could look less scary this way. $\endgroup$ – Claudius Dec 7 '12 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Claudius I was also thinking it would be nice to put background type material or content that may be helpful but tangential to the original question. For instance, it might be good to put some definitions of terms used in a a collapsed box so if you are already familiar with it you can just ignore it. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 7 '12 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 Certainly, yes. The important point here would be that it has to be possible to permanently expand such a box (i.e. readable anytime and not only if you hover over it or something like that). $\endgroup$ – Claudius Dec 7 '12 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Claudius Agreed, ideally it would look like the Wikipedia boxes I cited in the question. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 7 '12 at 17:32
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As a stylistic work around, you can use headings and thematic breaks (horizontal lines) to define clear sections for deep/shallow answers like so:

Plain English:

This is a quick, to the point explaination. It's at the top so people see it before the potentially overwhelming part to avoid "tl;dr". It can also be useful to get the high-level overview before diving into the details even for people who want to read them.


In Depth explaination

Here's the part with lots of quotes, tiny details, formulas and whathaveyous. The horizontal bar and heading clearly separate it from the simpler explaination.


You can add headings by placing # before the text on a line and three --- on one line to make thematic breaks, or you can use the editing icons to insert them automatically. You can also make sub-headings by varying the number of #s before a line to make big headings for short/long sections, but you can keep subheadings for the longer explanation if the need arises.

I prefer this to spoiler text as spoilers aren't as discoverable and it's harder to edit a spoiler well. Plus they reduce contrast a bit due to the block quote style that's applied to them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Only appropriate that a UX mod would weigh in here. I agree that a lot can be accomplished with the tools already provided. But do you think we could achieve an even better presentation with a good implementation of a spoiler-esque expandable? $\endgroup$ – user10851 Dec 7 '12 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisWhite just providing it as a current solution $\endgroup$ – Ben Brocka Dec 8 '12 at 0:06
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AFAIK, no mechanism currently exists.

Out of curiosity, I present a cheap hack: MathJax in spoiler-boxes

This is some spoiler text $$E = mc^2 .$$

Alas, it doesn't work, and even if it did the vertical space would be present all the time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I think having giant gray boxes would be more disruptive than the math itself... $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 6 '12 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ Of course it doesn't work, meta doesn't have mathjax enabled! :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Dec 7 '12 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ So would a request for alternatives to the spoiler approach have to be posted on SO meta? I imagine it would be useful in several SE sites. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Dec 7 '12 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 If there is support here, then yes. The next step would be to go to the mother meta. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Dec 7 '12 at 3:25
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This would not only be useful for answers, but also for questions. For example, this question on an ‘inverted HO’ would IMHO look a lot friendlier if it only showed the Hamiltonian and the three questions at the bottom per default.

Interested users could then expand the boxes and see that the OP actually did quite some work (rather than asking for a homework problem without any effort), while not having to meddle through what feels like twenty pages of algebra.

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