Currently there are 505 questions tagged , 184 tagged , 92 tagged , 89 tagged , 47 tagged , 54 tagged . Producing La/TeX from the command line is theoretically possible, but practically impossible; so speaking of Emacs sounds to me much like speaking of Eclipse on a Java community.

According to DavidZaslavsky “Editor-specific answers to an editor-independent question [...] are kind of a separate issue, but I'd say they're also okay. According to ShreevatsaR, “An answer about an obscure editor that is useful to fewer people will probably get fewer upvotes, but that's the way the system is intended to work.”

Considering that Emacs is not an obscure editor and here seems second only to Lyx, I am surprised that a question I posed, concerned with spell check TeX files in Emacs, was closed as off topic.

And now I wonder and ask you how legitimate is to speak here about editors used to produce LaTeX documents, instead of pure LaTeX.

Comment to diabonas

diabonas: need editing here, since comments allow only a few lines.

As far as I understand, we can speak about editors, but questions should be LaTeX specific. So, for example, if a question concerns how to add a LaTeX table in LyX, it can go; if the question deals with changing the LyX fonts, that is not OK, since it is non-LaTeX-specific as it could apply to a plain text file.

If this is the policy of the community, of course we have to comply with it. But, please, try to search for [lyx] font... you will be surprised. Just an example, there is in fact a surprising huge number of questions editor oriented and non-LaTeX-specific. Based on them, I considered polite to post mine.

The specific case with Emacs is that, while it is so integrated with LaTeX to allow even live preview of LaTeX snippets, it is still a general purpose editor. So if you ask how to spell for TexStudio and the likes, you can, but you are not very likely to apply it to plain text files, while in Emacs it is plausible to open non-LaTeX files.

Fresh considerations inspired by Joseph Wright

Just believe me please, I am not trying to claim that I am right somehow, BTW a comment on behalf of Joseph Wright on the question, suggested to me a total rethink.

Joseph kindly addressed me to bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=318040. This post basically proves there is an actual bug (dated since 2005!) in the British dictionary and the discussion there suggests a number of workarounds, Mozilla oriented.

As of now the question can have an interest for quite a wider audience, since OpenOffice dictionaries (perhaps now LibreOffice) are used by so many editors. Besides the “en_GB” files affect more latexers than an American or a Briton might think. At least in Italy (I don’t know in the rest of Europe), British English is the language taught in the high schools (yes, they tell us it is an error to write “center”).

The fact is that the workarounds suggested for Mozilla are kind of limited in scope: for example, they can’t suggest a strategy like this \newcommand{\ie}{i.e.\ } (well, very trivial, but you are surely thinking of something smarter).

On the other side, Emacs has a probably stronger control on spelling compared with the others. For example one can use the OTHERCHARS argument in the dictionary list to control how words are built, and use a regexp like ['.].

These considerations altogether make me think that a joint discussion involving latexers and emacsers is far more efficient than a set of disjoint efforts and, for obvious reasons, this community seems the best place to develop it.

  • 4
    To give some explanation why I voted to close this particular question: The problem doesn't seem to be LaTeX-specific at all, it would most likely occur as well with a plain text document. If it was e.g. along the lines of "How can I disable the spell checking of LaTeX commands in Emacs?", it would have some relation to LaTeX and therefore be on-topic. (BTW: If I'm wrong here and the problem really only occurs in LaTeX documents, I suggest you edit your question accordingly, and I or some other members of the community will be more than happy to vote to reopen the question :)).
    – diabonas
    Jan 23, 2013 at 23:42
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    Perhaps not entirely relevant to your question, but LyX isn't really an editor, not in the sense that Emacs, TeXworks, Texmaker etc. are editors. Jan 24, 2013 at 7:26
  • You write Producing La/TeX from the command line is theoretically possible, but practically impossible;???? When producing LaTeX output documents. the only times I run into problems is when I try using an IDE....
    – user10274
    Jan 24, 2013 at 12:31
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    @MarcvanDongen I think the point is that you don't make many real documents by doing pdftex "Once up a time, ..." with all of the input on the command line: a file is almost always involved, and that probably means a text editor.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Jan 24, 2013 at 12:53
  • 1
    @MarcvanDongen: Command line is an alternative to editors at compile time, not at editing time and, even in the former case, if you want to sync the cursor position with the related PDF line, launching the compilation/view task from your editor comes very handy.
    – antonio
    Jan 24, 2013 at 16:15

4 Answers 4


As the question indicates, almost all real (La)TeX documents will be created using a text editor. There are three distinct ways that might be done.

  1. Using a standard text editor with no (La)TeX-specific add-ons. This category covers for example using Notepad, TextEdit or 'vanilla' Emacs.

  2. Using a standard text editor with add-ons. This covers both simple cases (say adding the ability to typeset to a standard editor, but nothing else) through to extremely complex add-ons (Emacs/AUCTeX I guess would fit at this end).

  3. Using an editor focussed on (La)TeX work, for example TeXworks, WinEdt, TeXniccenter.

The questions that then arise are to some extend dependent on the editor route. In category 3, the most common questions focus on linking the editor to TeX tools (either an entire TeX system or a specific command), and these tend to look 'good' for on-topic. At the other end of the spectrum, in category 1 there is likely to be very little that could be asked that would be on-topic. The problematic category is the middle one.

For users of standard editors with TeX-specific add-ons, the question needs to require some knowledge about TeX or something directly linked to be solidly on-topic. Thus asking about getting a TeX-specific add-on set up is probably on-topic, while asking about something which would also affect a non-TeX document probably is not. The difficulty arises as some of the issues may be much more to do with the editor than with TeX, even if an add-on is involved. In the case highlighted in the question, the problem would clearly apply to any document, so it is on the editor side rather than the TeX side.

In terms of the tagging, it's worth noting that a lot of users mention their editor even if the question is nothing to do with the one they use. In the Emacs case, we have the complication that some of the questions we get are really more about Emacs than TeX even though they involve TeX add-ons, but they don't have a better place to go. We've therefore been somewhat flexible about some of them, provided there is some TeX-specific part to the question.

Note that Lyx does not fall into any of the categories above. Lyx is a system which uses LaTeX for typesetting, but does not simply act as a TeX editor. (Indeed, you can't edit an arbitrary TeX file using Lyx.) As such, Lyx questions are on topic ('friend' of TeX), but not as editor questions.

  • 4
    You don't say why things should be as you describe, but there's very good reason to: A TeX-specific tool like Texworks or Lyx has no user community outside of (La)TeX users. Emacs has a large community of expert users who are better able than TeX users to solve the OP's spell-checker problem (and other problems that do not specifically involve TeX).
    – alexis
    Jan 25, 2013 at 0:22
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    @alexis I thought that was covered by require some knowledge about TeX or something directly linked.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Jan 25, 2013 at 8:25
  • alexis: Emacs has a large community of expert users who are better able than TeX users to solve the OP's spell-checker problem - given that the example document involves Latex markup and Hunspell treats Tex/Latex douments specially, are you sure of this? Jan 25, 2013 at 12:09
  • @CharlesStewart But as far as I read the question correctly, there is no mention of "LaTeX markup" at all.
    – yo'
    Jan 25, 2013 at 13:54
  • @Joseph, not quite. My point is somewhat covered by "[people with emacs+TeX problems] don't have a better place to go", if you see what I mean. The point being, questions are considered off-topic when there are more relevant forums in which to ask them. TeX content per se is not the issue (questions about TeXCenter installation are accepted, for example).
    – alexis
    Jan 25, 2013 at 15:09
  • @CharlesStewart, the question is clearly about Hunspell dictionaries. Unless hunspell has a TeX mode that's (suspected of) causing the problem, I'd think an emacs wizard (or hunspell power-user, if they exist) is the one to ask. Anyway I've assumed the question was closed with good reason, which implies that the TeX features are not implicated. If that's not the case, that's a different story.
    – alexis
    Jan 25, 2013 at 15:17
  • @JosephWright and others: Yes, I had in my mind actually the idea of LaTeX “friends”. I was afraid of using a term like this, since, when using it, I suppose we might include many other things, like a GUI to facilitate the using the PGF/TizZ package and this might have appeared unpleasant for the advocates of the pure (La)TeX theory.
    – antonio
    Jan 25, 2013 at 18:09
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    @alexis Questions having another place to go is not really meant to affect whether they are off-topic for a particular StackExchange site. That said, there is something of a difference between a question about installing a TeX-specific editor (where it's reasonable to view this as on-topic) and installing an editor which happens to be used for TeX (off topic even if there is nowhere else to send it).
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Jan 25, 2013 at 18:16

We also discuss if we should close or reopen questions on chat. This lead to the fact that as a community we have a general idea of what's, kind of, on topic and what not. This editor business is really tough because we already have a lot of editor questions and most of them end up showing buffer tricks, or screenshots of menu items etc. and if you can just go through them you'll see that the knowledge is not even close to TeX but mostly SuperUser.SE stuff.

If I can summarize the main question treatment types:

  1. Emacs, Vim, LyX,... questions that receive quick answers survive even if they are off-topic because we upvote them and it goes to the archive as answered.
  2. Similar type of questions that initiate a commenting festival, often end up in a custom chat room where users figure the issue among themselves and then we see a final comment along the lines of Thanks, that solved my issue we can close this one. and get closed with upvoted answers.
  3. Similar type of questions dangling for a few months with no activity. These get closed in our famous Answer the Unanswered sessions.
  4. Same type of questions that deal with the workflow of the editors and not TeX. For example here is one that I've answered TeXnicCenter on Windows: Building Problems Notice that this was also on its way to be closed, had I not provided a guessed answer. So the main issue is to deal with these questions, not to close per se. They are mostly unanswerable.
  5. Similar questions about the interference of TeX with Editor behavior and vice versa e.g. shell-escape related ones and others. They are most of the time on-topic.

So after this long example rundown the punchline is: In a community driven Q&A site there are no strict rules but most of the time common agreements. You can pick up lots of TikZ questions that should have been closed but led to 50 upvoted stuff. So making sure that the rule is respected will piss off a lot of users for no reason. Hence, every question is judged individually but not against rules carved on stone. If a question becomes interesting, we try not to steal the thunder of the users involved just to make sure that our rule is in place.

You can always come to the chat room and join our Emacs/Vim lovers' discussions (not me, and yes, I miss a lot, I'm a noob,my pinky should be dislocated by now, butterflies, double rainbows, bla bla :P ), I've seen a lot of Emacs trick-exchanges. You can also ask if such questions would be on topic or not before you spend time on writing up a question on chat or here.

  • 1
    David loves Vim. ♥ :) Jan 28, 2013 at 11:54

I will add my 2 cents worth and try to explain why it is considered off-topic. Imagine that I change your short code example into a very short HTML document, and I post the very same question on the Webmasters site.

Would it make any difference in the validity of the question? No, it would not, because the question is about emacs and not about LaTeX. The question is valid on a forum/site where you discuss emacs itself, and that it neither this site nor Webmasters.

I hope that this "parable" will help you in understanding which editor-related questions are on-topic and which are not.

  • Editing HTML files might be marginal on Webmasters, but spellchecking technologies for validation of websites is not. I don't think that site is parallel enough to our own for this comparison to be illuminating. Jan 25, 2013 at 12:33
  • @CharlesStewart Sorry I lost you. Think of any HTML forum instead of Webmasters.SE, it really doesn't matter. The point is that the validity of the question does not depend on LaTeX at all, which is why it's off-topic.
    – yo'
    Jan 25, 2013 at 13:51

I've argued since early in the beta that we should try to be inclusive with respect to the technologies that questions may be about - Tex is a family of simple command-line tools that need other technologies to be useful. To best serve the community of people using Tex-based documentation, the site should be able to answer questions about the rendering of Postscript specials in a DVI viewer, how to view the hinting in a font, how PDF tagging might affect searching for text in an output document, or how to make an editor fit a particular authoring workflow. Ultimately, we should not be interpreting relevance in a narrow way that means we are sending away questions that are good for the site.

In this particular case, there are two reasons to think this question is a good fit for us:

  1. The example text is a Latex document, so it is from our community; and
  2. Spell checking is not just about the natural language contents of documents, but also the markup they contain. It seems quite likely that the manner in which some particular Emacs spellchecker detexifies the documents, is something to do with the problem the questioner has. So it is quite plausible that the solution to the problem will rely on Tex-related expertise, namely how a particular heuristic for parsing Latex works.

So I think this question passes the relevance test on two fronts: it is relevant to preparing Latex documents, and it appeals to expertise that we have. The usually more important criteria for closing relate to whether the question is, regardless of topic, asked in a way that attracts satisfactory answers - it is clear enough in that respect. So I think it should be reopened.

Cf. the less than perfectly conclusive discussion at Is troff/groff a "friend" of TeX

  • 4
    No, the fact that the example is a LaTeX document doesn't make it a good question. In that case I can start asking questions about sed, tr, cp, svn, ... because for all of them, I have examples of LaTeX documents, and I use all of them when I work with LaTeX. That argument is simply invalid. And as I said before, the question does not say "How to disable emacs spellcheck of LaTeX commands", it says "How to make emacs spellcheck recognize aren't as a word", which means that your second point might be true, but not for the question that is being discussed here.
    – yo'
    Jan 25, 2013 at 14:08
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    @tohecz The fact that it is a LaTeX document matters here: although it is not obvious from the question, hunspell has a special TeX mode that is used here. This also marks the difference to sed etc. The odd behaviour described in the question might very well stem from this TeX mode, so I would agree that the question is borderline on-topic, even when the answer reveals that the problem is not specific to TeX.
    – mafp
    Jan 28, 2013 at 23:50

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