I was struck by the difference in reaction to two questions that have a lot in common


How to draw a sine wave on a circular path in tikz

Both questions have the tone of 'do-this-for-me', both have shown no effort from the OP, yet one received 15 upvotes and 4 answers, and one received 4 downvotes and was closed as too localized.

Does there need to be more consistency? Is there a policy somewhere?

Edit following the comments and answer

I agree that the table question is trivial.

The hard part of the curve question was the parametrization, which has nothing to do with TeX.

Of course, given how much reputation I have received from my answer, I certainly don't want to delete or migrate the question anywhere else, but the inconsistency troubles me:

  • Draw this table - BAD!
  • Draw this picture - GREAT!
  • Construct this equation - BAD!

Thank you to @Kurt for pointing out that this is something of a special case (because of the OP's previous questions), but the ethos does sometimes feel like it follows the bullet points above.

  • 7
    I fully agree. Around here, in the currency of upvotes, "draw it for me" questions are cash-cows. There seems to be little point in asking the OP to show some effort because inevitably there will be a number of answers within minutes. That said, the asker in the closed question was a serial offender.
    – Scott H.
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 22:54
  • 9
    I think the questions are very different in that the wave question asks about something nontrivial for which it's not easy to find a starting point (a bit like the egg question we had a couple of weeks ago). The table one is just lazy. I don't think we need to be more consistent in not upvoting interesting do-this-for-me questions (if people love a question and write awesome answers, by all means, let them), but I would be happy if we could continue our practice of writing comments discouraging people from downvoting below -1.
    – Jake
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 23:13
  • 1
    @Jake I agree the wave is non-trivial, but I wonder why someone would be drawing it who knew nothing about parametric curves. And if the question is, 'what is the parametrization of these curves', then it belongs on math exchange... I agree with the policy of just 1 down vote though, and applaud you for policing it (I've seen your comments on many questions)
    – cmhughes
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 23:53
  • 13
    The asker of question how-to-build-this-table-in-latex asked his 4th or more please-do-this-for-me question (see comments and history of user). That's the reason for the downvoting (-3) and closing as too localized. That was a very special situation.
    – Mensch
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 3:53
  • 6
    Another big difference (and basically the reason for closing one as "too localized") is that the second question is likely to be helpful to future users, while the first is not. The title of the second question is meaningful enough to be found by people with the same problem. Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 5:15
  • 1
    I want to +1 Kurt on this, and also add that of these previous questions, at least 2 were "please do this table for me" and got an answer. So at this point, I find it reasonable to push him towards learning by himself, as did Andrew.
    – T. Verron
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 6:55
  • Looking at the profile of the OP of the first question, I do understand the downvotes. Andrew Stacey's comment got 10+ upvotes, probably some of the upvoters additionally downvoted the question.
    – Stephen
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 19:45
  • 3
    On the edit: I think you're biased on the simultaneous triviality of both questions. While a table like the one shown can be constructed by any user, mathematician or not, after a passing glance at any LaTeX manual, the number of users able to construct this curve is certainly much smaller, and TikZ is a closed book to most TeX users. If all the required knowledge is perfectly accumulated in your person, then you are simply the person to answer the question. This doesn't trivialize the question at all. Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 1:11
  • @ScottH. not all draw-it-for-me questions are cash-cows: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/20810/…
    – Lev Bishop
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 23:51

3 Answers 3


I'm not entirely sure how "meta" works, so perhaps this isn't an answer.

My personal opinion is that consistency is important. To a new user of LaTeX, the distinction between what is trivial and what isn't might be difficult to make. Thus, when confronted by a pair of questions similar to those above, it might not be entirely clear what is "acceptable" to ask and what isn't.

With that in mind, I think that absolute consistency is impossible. Certainly, the same question posed by two different users might be handled differently. Had the table question been a first question, then it likely would have received a different response. Rather, it was asked by a user that should have known better and for whom nearly half of their ~20 questions (many of which were basically the same question) had been closed for the same reason.

In addition a zero effort "draw it for me" question will often pose a more interesting problem than a zero effort "make this table for me" question. I hope that it's not presumptuous to say that most of us are here because we find solving these problems entertaining and/or enjoy what we learn from them. When something interesting comes along, it's hard to resist the temptation to try to figure it out...regardless of how it's asked. The large base of graphics users will naturally lead to more interest in the graphics variety of this type of question.

As an educator, I deal with people wanting answers handed to them without putting in any effort themselves on a day to day basis (kids these days). Most of my time is spent trying to convince people that seeing the answer is only really useful after having struggled to find it themselves. So on the one hand, I come from that perspective. On the other, I enjoy a good problem as much as the next guy and some of the few answers I've provided on this site are to questions that haven't shown any effort on the part of the asker.

In short, all of the people who answer questions bring different things to the table and have different motivations for doing so. That's what allows for such a great variety of answers here, but also what would prevent any unified policy on what "should" be answered from being enforceable and therefore useful.


  • It is not entirely clear to me in what way you're answering the question "Does there need to be more consistency?" here. If you're giving your personal opinion, I'd like to know whether you approve of the way the two mentioned questions are handeled or whether you'd advise to act otherwise. Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 15:43
  • 3
    @StephanLehmke I guess my take on it is that there should be more consistency, however, a consistently applied and adhered to policy on consistency is impossible due to the personalities and reputation involved. As for the two specific examples given, I think the table problem was given the correct treatment (all things considered), but would have liked to have seen some more restraint shown on the TikZ question. However, the TikZ problem was interesting, and there's a lot of reputation involved so asking for restraint in that case is difficult.
    – Scott H.
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 18:49
  • 2
    As far as I understand SO philosophy, it's about optimizing for good answers and nothing else. Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand. Dunno in how far this translates to TeX.SX though. Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 19:46
  • @StephanLehmke That's a really good point. From that perspective, and with your first comment to the OP in mind, the "correct" policy would be to not down-vote and vote to close based on poor quality alone and let users answer at their discretion. Incidentally, that's probably the easiest policy to apply, and pretty close to how things are dealt with now. That said, the faq leaves a little wiggle room: "Questions that are...of very low quality, may be removed at the discretion of the community"
    – Scott H.
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 20:46
  • 2
    @StephanLehmke Disagree with the "Pearls, not Sand" philosophy: tex.blogoverflow.com/2012/05/a-tale-of-two-questions Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 21:44
  • @AndrewStacey My opinion is that this is a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys I can't agree more! Everytime I see it I just love it a little more.
    – percusse
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 15:03

This is really just a long comment. I know that a question like this would pop up in meta after a series of do-it-for-me (especially those related to drawing) questions that were answered and got very high number of upvotes. I have asked myself this very same question.

The following are my take on this issue.

  • We should be consistent with the post-an-MWE comment. Although some problems are non-trivial like the How to draw a sine wave on a circular path in tikz (where, incidentally, I was the one who posted the comment, but the first to answer and whose answer got accepted), posting this comment will in one way or another convince them to try working out the problem on their own first. In many cases, I have seen OP edit the question to include and MWE after posting such a comment.
  • My principle in answering these kinds of questions, even the ones the normal TeX users find difficult or consider as one-time problems (for which case they might find reading the whole manual impractical) is my answer should encourage them to answer the rest of the problem on their own by using my answer as a sort of a springboard. A high school teacher myself, I completely agree with Scott H's opinion about the value of putting one's effort in the learning process. That is why I have opted to post an incomplete solution (or in some other cases, a tutorial on how to go about it without actually doing all the job). Although I would admit that doing the whole thing would have been, personally, very fun.
  • Some do-it-for-me questions are very trivial. What the OP needs in most of these cases is to read a beginner's LaTeX manual. In these questions, it is appropriate to direct OP to the proper links or previous posts, closing some of them appropriately as duplicates. (While one can argue that anyone should read the manual first in all cases, I don't think that it always works for some specialized packages like the graphical packages whose manuals run to more than several hundred pages.) In the case of How to build this table in latex, though, it is obvious that the OP has not given much of anything at learning at table construction as can be seen in OP's previous posts. I think that closing that question has been justified.

I think

  • Draw this table BAD!
  • Draw this picture GREAT!
  • Construct this equation - BAD!

is the site rule.

We have tons of just-do-it-for-me picture questions which are largely upvoted, even if asked by old users.

Whereas just-do-it-for-me tables are usually downvoted. This one, for example, was sensibly dowvoted two times: Create table question.

The same for just-do-it-for-me equations. This one, for example, was sensibly dowvoted two times before being deleted by owner: https://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/469824/i-would-like-to-learn-how-to-write-equation-in-latex.

This inconsistent behavior is completely inexplicable to me.

  • 4
    partly it's just perhaps that people prefer to draw pictures so are more likely to answer those just for fun but also there is more variation in pictures. For the majority of tables, given a list of the data there isn't a lot you can say other than repeat some often repeated tabular tutorial. On the other hand you could look at any number of tutorials on how to plot graphs or make commutative diagrams and not gain any insight in how to draw a picture of a marmot with a duck shadow, so asking "how do I draw this weird thing" is a more reasonable question than "how do I tabulate this data" Commented Jan 13, 2019 at 13:28
  • @DavidCarlisle Interesting explanation, I didn't look at the problem from this point of view :)
    – CarLaTeX
    Commented Jan 13, 2019 at 14:12

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