I improved two posts today to fix several capitalization errors and both were rejected with the following message:

I'd prefer to keep barbara's style

The suggested edits:

Why would someone reject these clear improvements? Is this user being allowed to write in their own personal style for a reason? I was under the impression that all Stack Exchange sites had the same policy towards editing.

  • I will never reject your nice edit. Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 2:44
  • Wow, a SO celebrity in here! :) Welcome, mr. Lizard, make yourself at home! :) Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 10:49
  • Related to some extent ('To what extent is it acceptable to edit an answer?'): meta.tex.stackexchange.com/questions/2584/…
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 15:35
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    I am saddened by the departure of the lizard. Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 8:29
  • @HiggsBoson Though I don't have an account on SO and I don't know who Lizard is, I think it is not nice to see a user leave TeX.SX for a rather eccentric reason :). Is there any chance that you ping him/her for us such that I (and most probably others, actually I'm pretty sure) would like to get him back on this site. I'll try to write an answer here too since I did an edit to barbara's answer before and it was rolled back :)
    – percusse
    Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 12:41
  • @percusse: I have no idea how to contact him. Perhaps I can post a message to meta.so to call him back. My bad English might not be good enough to write such a message. :-) Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 16:17
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    Celebrity or no, this user was clearly (in my opinion) repelled by tendency of some individuals in this community to pander to the eccentricity of a single user. Can we stop doing this now? Should we even need evidence that this is detrimental to us?
    – qubyte
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 8:13

6 Answers 6


My humble attempt. :)

First of all, I'd like to say that I really admire your work in the main SO site. I learned a lot from your answers. It's an honour to have a SO fellow user here. Make yourself at home, I really hope you enjoy this community.

Please, don't take my next lines personal. It's just some humble thoughts about the way I see this specific situation. And I'd like to share them.

IMHO TeX.sx behaves quite differently from other SO sites. We don't have for example the incoming traffic that StackOverflow has, neither too much offtopic questions. Jeff Attwood once said that no one would come here by accident, since this community is highly specific and technical. Since the traffic is slow, we can better deal with everything, say, a flagged post, a "poor" answer, an offtopic thread, and so on. I think that this community is very friendly, that is, everybody is really eager to help, to make knowledge better.

A quick overview to spot the difference: the first 101k rep user in SO has downvoted 857 posts; our 101k user has downvoted only 13.

Since every site is community-driven, we try to adapt things to our reality and not the other way around. Our methods would probably not work in other sites, say Math.SX or Spanish.SX. Sometimes, when I hear the words "SE policy" said in the wild, the walking hammers from The Wall come to my mind. Don't get this wrong, but I feel it sounds like an imposition: share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie. I prefer to look at the SE policy as an inspiration for communities to work with a predefined set of suggestions and, as time goes by, work on their own methods, adapted to their own reality.

Now, back to the editing question.

IMHO your suggestions were valid - even Joseph mentioned he edited some questions in the same line in the past. But, at the risk of sounding unfair, I think the ultimate final decision lies with the author. Even though I think posts should be made clear - a nice formatting or proper spelling - I think we need to respect the author's decision on keeping things as they are.

I see the SE network as an awesome Q&A knowledge base, a new tendency. But I fear that people misunderstand the real concept and see threads as collaborative wiki. If it's a wiki, everything is fine, because you are collaboratively editing stuff. The Q&A model is based on people asking and answering questions. The site footer gives us a hint:

user contributions licensed under cc-wiki with attribution required

If we take a closer look on these links, we find the following statement:

Attribution - You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

When we edit things from other users, we are signing a risky contract: we are somehow influencing the author's contribution - for better or for worse. But note that it's up to the author to decide if the modifications to his/her answer should really take place.

Of course, one might say that some modifications are towards improving spelling and grammar. Again, I think they are valid, but we can't impose these changes if the user explicitly rejects it. A silly example: we Brazilians are fond of commas - don't quote me on that. Portuguese usually has way longer sentences than their English counterparts, so we use a lot of commas. Sometimes, when I write in English - my poor English - I tend to add commas as my heart desires. Everybody can go and edit my posts - "The number of commas is too damn high!". Let's say I want to fight for my commas, so I rollback the edits. Am I wrong for rolling back a post to a previous state? I don't think so, even if the reasons for the edit are valid. The rollback feature exists for a reason, and I think the author has the right to take whatever decision on his/her own answers, no matter if there are valid arguments to support the edits.

The same line of thought is for deleted answers. Spoiler alert: 10k+ users can see deleted answers. Let's say I have a very nice answer with 10+ upvotes, and for some reason, I decide to delete it. Someone might say, "the answer is very good, let's undelete it for a greater good". Even if the reason is noble, I still think it's the author decision. It's a pretty "aggressive" way of trying to make things better.

Again, I believe your edits were very good, but it's up to the author to decide if the changes should take effect. I really enjoy reading Barbara's answers, and I always learn from her TeX expertise, besides of course the proper spelling and grammar. People that already know her style rollback edits just to antecipate the inevitable - she'd rollback the question anyway. :) And she has the right to do it, after all, it's her contribution.

When we edit posts, we make sure to leave a note to the author of what we did - we already have a set of predefined text building blocks. It's a way to establish a good relationship with our fellow users.

Don't take the rejected edits too seriously. Barbara is a great person - I really hope to meet her in person someday in a TUG conference and lure her to sign my TeXbook :) - and the lowercases are there for a reason. And I must confess, seeing one of Barbara's answer with the proper capitalization gives me shivers, "Jesus Christ, the AMS has spoken!" :)

Anyway, I hope you consider rejoining this community in the future. :)

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    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God... Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 11:47
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    Excellent answer: thank you very much for that Paulo.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 13:23

In this one case, yes, Barbara Beeton uses an exclusive no-caps style to distinguish her personal posts from anything official representing the American Mathematical Society. See this question for some more discussion.

Respecting poster's style.

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    I think it is easy to differentiate one's personal opinion from his/her opinion on behalf of the institution in which he/she works. Using tags, [personal opinion]...[/personal opinion] for example, is common in some forums. It is more understandable than adopting a convention of small-case letter (currently used by Mr(s). Barbara Beeton) with which some people might not be familiar. Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 4:48
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    Barbara talks about her no-caps style in this great interview to the TUG interview corner. :) Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 10:54
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    With all due respect, this isn't Barbara Beeton's site. It's run by a community. If perfectly good edits are going to be rejected and rolled back on a whim, then I'm discouraged from contributing any more of my time worrying about the quality of posts on this site.
    – user4773
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 11:05
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    @BilltheLizard With all due respect, I don't think that there is remotely a problem with the quality of answers on this site, and if the community here (which you're not yet a part of) is willing to tolerate one poster's admittedly idiosyncratic style, especially given her and the AMS's place in the TeX world, surely that can be respected too. No, this is not Barbara Beeton's site: she has (at time of writing) 189 answers. Assuming only 1 answer per question, (a low estimate) this amounts to less than 1% of our total answers. So if these answers stay as they are, quality will not decline.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 11:47
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    This site is part of the larger Stack Exchange community, which I am a part of. Questions on TeX are displayed on the main SE Hot Questions list. An idiosyncratic posting style should not be tolerated because of someone's standing in the TeX community. A high position in the TeX world should be a reason to tolerate that style even less. Her posts are more likely to reach a wider audience, and it's those posts (less than 1%) that represent this site to that audience.
    – user4773
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 12:37
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    @AlanMunn one point I disagree: I think everyone who participates (here or on the main site) is part of the community. IMO there is no minimum activity/reputation required.
    – topskip
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 13:45

This subject was, of course, already discussed thoroughly in the question linked by Alan Munn, to which you (Bill the Lizard) already responded. The other responses were well-considered meditations on policy implications by moderators current and former, and as such I don't think any better opinions can be obtained in response to this new question.

speaking only for myself, though, i think that this question is not written in the same spirit as those answers. [sic] The following comment worries me:

With all due respect, this isn't Barbara Beeton's site. It's run by a community. If perfectly good edits are going to be rejected and rolled back on a whim, then I'm discouraged from contributing any more of my time worrying about the quality of posts on this site.

This ultimatum does not suit you nor us, coming from a moderator of Stack Overflow who may indeed have some say in whether this site gets its share of concern from those who run the larger network (and I don't mean its "community").

In addition, I don't like the idea that a rules dispute can be invented by someone with sufficient pull in the administration (whether through rank or, ironically, mere reputation) and the book thrown at an individual whose contributions are not, in fact, really disorderly. There is a parallel here with a similar episode on math.SX that saw expressed some rather coldblooded sentiments, such as "do we really want this user?". I do not want to see this kind of zero-sum outcome here.

To address your specific question: only in the strictest sense is it true that all stackexchange sites have the same policy towards editing, or anything. Each site is, by intention, self-moderated, and they all have their own minor variations in culture. I always get culture shock going to english.SX or math.SX, and especially stackoverflow, and I personally can't abide scifi.SX despite being a fan of the subject — these are not things subject to uniform rules despite the uniform expectation of good conduct. In this case we have not been coercing one user into line over a matter of personality, and in all cases the network doesn't coerce one site into line over a matter of culture.

  • Moderators on other sites have no influence whatsoever on "whether this site gets its share of concern from those who run the larger network." My time is my own to spend as I please. Of course this question wasn't written in the same spirit as the answers to the other question linked by Alan Munn. I wasn't even aware of that question when I wrote this.
    – user4773
    Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 4:18
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    @Bill Well you did say you are worrying about the quality of posts on this site. Worry is a rather strong sentiment, and it does seem appropriate to speculate what the long-term effects of this worry may be. Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 4:40
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    In the final analysis, rejecting an edit is in some sense just another edit. Commented Jul 7, 2012 at 11:46

This is kind of unfortunate to happen since the whole issue is about the affinity to TeX.SX and our slightly different medium for diversity.

First, I too wrote an edit for barbara's previous answers and it was rolled back a long time ago. I also wondered about this weird rollback and asked it on the chat and it was explained to me quickly. The reason is well-known if you are familiar with the people on TUG and previous interviews about them. Also you can find it in the about box of barbarabeeton

NOTE: answers to questions will be posted in lowercase unless i am answering in an official capacity for my employer. The reasons are given in the last item in an interview on the TeX Users Group web site.

So, the problem is whether barbarabeeton is entitled to impose her own style over the house style of SX. Well, on other sites the answer seems to be a definitive no, however, TeX.SX has a really fun equilibrium point which is the main reason I hang out here. There is a big space for improvisation and other eccentricities unless it clearly goes against the site rules. ( I still think it's a little odd to have a policy too but still no damage is done by doing so. )

We tend to show a lot of respect to other users, this includes Bill the Lizard no matter of rep points level etc., but we have also a great way of negotiating the actions. Any user can come to the chat room and criticize, question or even vent the frustration as happened previously many times.

So, it might seem a little unjust to have one user to get away with their own style but it's really really not the case.

Note that, there is a related but not connected issue which is the correction of LaTeX and friends' names, TikZ etc. capitalization. I do it mostly for the Google search engines but probably our mods can give more info about such consistent correction style.


Please note that writing all lowercase is indeed a dedicated style of writing rooted in bauhaus tradition.

Some references:

Bauhaus Typography Essay

Wikipedia on Herbert Bayer

Wikipedia on "Kleinschreibung"

Dissertation about bauhaus typography

There are several books, for instance on typography and design, published in all lowercase.

"typographie" by Otl Aicher

While this might all be a bit german-centric, I think it could be concluded that writing all lowercase can be a personal typographic style, even with good reasoning behind it and not simple spelling errors.

Mind, I'm not advocating this style, just saying that as long as no real improvement of the content of a post is achieved by "correcting" the "spelling errors" in an all-lowercase text, the edit might be rejected as carrying no improvement at all.

Typography is part of this community's everyday life, after all. Consider whether you would also "correct" any seemingly-misspelled in-words at a computer gaming or role playing community site if inventing "new" words were traditional to that community.

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    This isn't a style that traditional to the community, it's specific to one person. Yes, I would correct misspelled or in-words that only one person was using. Making these corrections is in no way infringing on anyone's freedom of speech. The policy on editing is clearly spelled out and it's the same for everyone.
    – user4773
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 14:46
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    Oh well that's the internet I guess. Not always a friendly place, especially for people outside the majority :-( btw, I said that typography is traditional to this community, so you could expect people having dedicated typographic styles. Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 14:52
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    @BilltheLizard I'm not getting why you keep referring to the editing policy. It says people can edit your posts, which is a matter of course and certainly not debated by anyone here. But the editing policy says nothing at all about what edits need to be accepted. That's a matter of opinion entirely in this case. You find yor edits are a clear enhancement, other people don't feel this way. I don't see where the editing policy comes in there (I might be ignorant on this matter as I'm not really a regular here. Please elaborate). Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 15:07
  • You said that editing someone's post might be infringing on their freedom of speech. The editing policy makes it clear that this is a collaboratively edited site, and that people should expect their posts to be edited by others. Editing isn't an infringement.
    – user4773
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 15:17
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    @BilltheLizard Two things here. First, we (TeX-sx regulars) cannot edit all of the FAQ, only the first part. So you are pointing to something written by the Powers That Be, not the 'local' feeling. Second, I think it's important to remember that even after an edit, answers have the original author's name on them. I think that means we have to keep their feelings in mind. Barbara has made it clear she prefers her posts to stay all lower case, and can and will reverse edits on this (she has done to mine!). She's a well-known person in the TeX community, so I'd like to have her input.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 15:25
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    As I indicate above, I've had my own edit of Barbara's material rejected, and have made a judgement that a one-off exception for her is worth it for the benefit of her considerable TeX expertise being contributed to the site. In particular, she's on the 'inside' for publishing, while most of us are on the 'outside'.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 15:39
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    I can not imagine if Mr. Knuth comes and uses only capital letters. :-) Commented Jul 6, 2012 at 17:12

enter image description here

  • But the titles of her posts are still problematic as we cannot convert them to images. Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 16:52
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    -1 Is this a serious suggestion?
    – Jake
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 19:13
  • @Jake: Yes. It is a very serious suggestion and easy to implement. Use LaTeX editor to type her personal opinion, TeXify the input file, and finally convert the PDF output to images. All steps can be simplified by a batch file. Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 0:48
  • But, MWE should not be converted to an image. Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 1:32
  • Even though I like the Option B and I would feel it as the clearest one, I believe it is discouraged (or forbidden) by SX rules...
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 6:19
  • @tohecz: No one was injured when an exception is granted to her. Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 6:30
  • @tohecz: It's not forbidden to have several accounts: "It is not a problem to have multiple accounts, as long as they aren't voting for each other and doing other sockpuppet-y things." (meta.stackexchange.com/a/35607/165548). However, I think we should just leave this topic be. As Higgs Boson said: No harm done in granting an exception to Barbara to keep her all-lower-case style.
    – Jake
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 6:39
  • @Jake: I meant that no harm done in granting an exception to her to have multiple accounts. :-) Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 6:47
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    @Jake didn't know that. I agree with you that obviously TeX.SX moderators agreed barbara can write all-lowercase, but that does not change the fact that having barbara and Barbara (AMS) would be a nice solution. And since she does not speak the "official AMS" often, she would have to switch between accounts only quite rarely.
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 6:47
  • Please don't give me 2-digit negative integer. Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 16:17

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