I think that we should define a best-practise for how to handle answers to questions which are ... well, not answers to the OP.

This is motivated by my own uncertainty: on the one hand, I like to help others who ask questions, and this implies to really take the OP seriously. If he makes it clear that he wants a (say) tikz answer, I would think twice before even considering to post a non-tikz answer. On the other hand, I see that this site is also about building a knowledge base.

These goals are in conflict: a knowledge base is best if it has lots of different points of view whereas the OP often has a specific goal what he intents to do with the question.

One examples which always comes to my mind is that the OP might have a huge document which is built with a specific package - and for reasons of consistency and learning time etc etc, he might want to avoid to use / learn / evaluate a new package which is unrelated to his previous attempts. After all, it is always easier to make incremental changes rather than beginning again from scratch and maintaining two worlds. To be honest, I would feel as if some answerer did not take me seriously if I receive an answer which is not an answer.

This question is largely motivated by the fact that I stumbled over two related meta questions:

Downvoting answers exploiting different approaches with respect to the initial question

-> here, the OP downvoted an answer for which he felt... well, perhaps he felt offended. I can understand him as the "offending" answers are unrelated to his question. If I where him, I would probably try to ignore the answers. Or would I downvote them? I am unsure. Perhaps I would (had I not read this meta question).


Both touch the topic, although their point is not to archieve a best-practise, but to deal with the symptoms.

So, back to the discussion: what should be(come) the best practise for answers which are not answers to the OP, but parts of building a knowledge base? Should these answers be marked in a special way such that the OP does not feel offended? Should the question be retagged such that a pstricks answer to a tikz question can be found by the search? I am sure that we would want to have the highest possible quality for the cross-references.

Would this mean that, for example "tikz / pstricks /metapost" are actually kind of aliases to the same tag (!?)

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    one possible approach could be to post a "dummy" question, identical except for the tool being requested. (the tool should, in that case, probably be made explicit in the title.) then a comment to the original question could point to the additional one(s). not wonderful, but ... Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 19:29
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    @barbarabeeton I wouldn't favour posting what you call "dummy" questions. I like that a range of TeX approaches to produce a similar output is available on a single page. As long as a slightly off-topic answer (e.g. using PSTricks instead of TikZ, as asked by the OP) is clearly announced as such, I don't think it's that problematic. A more to-the-point answer is bound to be posted shortly after, which the OP can accept if s/he deems it satisfactory.
    – jub0bs
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 22:47
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    You raise a good point: the tags. Previously we have concluded that tagging shouldn't be done on the basis of the answers; rather on the question. But in this approach (all tikz/pstricks/metapost/asymptote/etc. solutions on the same question), it would help to have the question retagged so it could be found easier. We already have at least one catch-all -tag for this: "diagrams" (which has synonym "picture"), but is it enough?
    – morbusg
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 8:18
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    @Jubobs -- actually, i agree with you; just wanted to get discussion started. this site is different from other sites that i'm following; there, many answers, even slightly off topic from the specific question asked, are quickly down-voted -- and such down-voting is actively encouraged! i hate to think of that happening to an answer that suggests (for example) pstricks instead of tikz, and except for that difference is really useful and valid. how to (continue) encourage(ing) more generous behavior? Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 12:19
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    I usually give ConTeXt answers to LaTeX questions for building the knowledge base. Usually I preface these answers by a simple "In case someone is interested, here is how you do something like this in ConTeXt", or sometimes "Obligatory ConTeXt solution". I haven't kept track of the down-votes that I get as a result, but there have been very few comments saying that the answer is OT. Based on that I assume that I have not been down-voted to oblivion. In the end, I think that the down-votes balance out with the up-votes, so I continue to provide such answers. ....
    – Aditya
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 18:13
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    ... As I said in the other thread, I sometimes feel like giving Metapost answers to Tikz questions. The reason I don't do that is lack of time and not the fear of down-votes. I understand that in some cases the OP might be offended. For that, we can create a FAQ entry and point to that.
    – Aditya
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 18:15
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    @Aditya: I would really encourage you to write answers to TikZ (and PSTricks) questions! It's good to see alternatives, and from my experience with posting TikZ answers to PSTricks questions, it's unlikely that you'll get many downvotes. Any downvotes you do get just because you're using Metapost in your answer can be considered unjustified, I believe.
    – Jake
    Commented Apr 8, 2013 at 18:30
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    It may be worth separating two situations: 1. a fresh question with no answer; 2. a 1-month-old question with an accepted answer. At least in the latter, it seems unlikely that you offend the OP by suggesting a different approach.
    – T. Verron
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 10:36
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    Every question on drawing should be assigned to a more general tag (such as drawing, or something more appropriate word) to accommodate all drawing tools (PSTricks, TikZ, Metapost, Asymptote). And the additional tag is used just to make it more specific. For example: How can I draw an egg with Metapost? We assign this question 2 tags: drawing and metapost. Does it sound a good idea? Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 8:38
  • @Karl'sstudents Good Idea :) But how does the OP know that he should add 1)drawing 2)metapost tags in priority unless tag bot system automatically adds drawing tag once OP adds metapost tag. OP is always inclined to metapost metapost metapost... when he is coding in MP similar case for other tools. Mentioning in Faq page is minimum we can do which is no use as most OP's ignore it. Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 6:10

3 Answers 3



We have, or at least had back in beta days, an informal understanding that Context answers were appropriate responses to Latex questions if it was thought that at least a few Latex users would find the existence of the alternate approach interesting. More than anything, I think Will's comment on an answer of Andrew Stacey's to Why are there so few ConTeXt questions? summarised the mood back then:

I have to admit finding it rather vexing when a ConTeXt user will say "this can be done easily in ConTeXt!" and then not give an example. But conversely, I love it when they do. Great insight on the advertising angle. – Will Robertson Oct 13 '10 at 14:05

As a general rule, question askers are supplicants (students, in the words of the badge) here and they are held to higher standards of behaviour than answerers. It is not their right to dictate what the community should regard as the on/off-topic boundary for the question, it is the community's own consensus about what is best, and the order for that is: the interests of the real experts (teachers) come first, the long-term reference value of our site comes second, and solving the particular problem that brought the questioner here comes third (with this third priority of the motivating problem problem mattering more than the fourth priority, the exact wording of the question; cf. X-Y questions). So I am happy to contradict comments such as "LaTeX answers only, please!"

That said, be tactful when giving answers that do not obviously count as responses to what is asked for. Explain that you are giving an answer that probably won't solve the questioners problem, but that you think is relevant because, say, of its economy and elegance.

Proposed policy

Both Metapost answers to Tikz questions and Context answers to Latex questions are appropriate provided it is indicated (i) how relevant the answer might be to the questioner's problem, and (ii) what general interest the technique shown has to TikZ/LaTeX-using friends of TeX in general. Such answers should be tactful, since they might be frustrating for the questioner.

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    I agree, and I'd like to add that the other way should also be encouraged. There have been a few ConTeXt questions, where some posted a LaTeX solution by mistake (basically, they did not realize that it was a ConTeXt question), someone commented that the question is on ConTeXt, and the answer was deleted. If ConTeXt answers to LaTeX questions are acceptable, so should LaTeX answers to ConTeXt questions.
    – Aditya
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 21:18
  • While I am slightly unhappy with the priorization of priorities, I can accept them (I always assumed that the OP comes first). Aside from that, I like your proposed policy and it sounds highly reasonable. Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 17:29
  • @ChristianFeuersänger - It occurs to me that a meta post explaining the attitude to experts vs. answer-seekers of the SO/X sites might be quite informative. There are quite a few idiosyncrasies (see, e.g., codinghorror.com/blog/2009/02/are-you-an-expert.html), but the basic idea is that attracting and retaining experts and devoted enthusiasts is the crucial activity that distinguishes good Q&A sites from weak ones. Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 10:56

In my opinion, such answers are fine. It is quite ok to provide a solution using an alternative system, and there are couple areas where this applies:

  • TikZ/PSTricks/METAPOST/...
  • lualatex answers to more-or-less any automation and computation questions
  • lua/xelatex answers to font issues
  • tables typesetting
  • etc.

This all is justified by the wiki-likeness of SE sites.

On the other hand, this all is valid from the long-term point of view. When the question is new, the OP asks a TikZ question and the first answer he recieves is using PSTricks, it can be highly frustrating, and I completely understand that. If he recieves a good and useful answer first, and people add more reference answers later, this problem diminishes.

Conclusion: It is a good practice to show the other options, but IMHO the first concern is to help the OP, and only the second one is to build the contents.

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    “When the question is new, the OP asks a TikZ question and the first answer he receives is using PSTricks ….” If this answer is up-voted, it makes the question drop out from the Unanswered section. In this case, a potential PSTricks-answering user may add a comment that he has a PSTricks solution ready but waits a few days unless Op is more open for other solutions. Example Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 18:59
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    "the first answer he recieves is using PSTricks or any other" depends on respective users online and have time to make answer until OP gets full answers over 24 hrs,he cannot get frustated but be patient to add "thanks i am interested in tikz but urs is good alternative". Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 19:06

My View: More of comments rather than answer, Please bear with me

Question: 1 What should become the best practise for answers which are not answers to the OP, but parts of building a knowledge base?

Comment: Posting alternate solutions for any type of graphics tools Q mentioned is the right way to build knowledge base.

Question: 2 Should the question be retagged such that a pstricks answer to a tikz question can be found by the search?

Comment: No change in tagging based on answers as per the policy .What's the policy on retagging questions based on answers? as google search will trace out. Might be relooked also.

Question: 3 Should these answers be marked in a special way such that the OP does not feel offended?

Comment: Downvoting is OP's Choice. To avoid this "Not an exact solution but an alternative approach with explanation as follows:" (it can be changed based on feedback here).

OP gets useful answer over passage of time for atleast 1-2 days or more, but not like a quickfix go-to consultant which is keypoint OP misses often when duedates are reaching.

I really love this comment which i upvoted representative of friendly TeX.SX:TikZ: Define pattern with reference to external picture. Thanks to OP for all.

Question: 4 Would this mean that, for example "tikz / pstricks /metapost" are actually kind of aliases to the same tag (!?)

Comment: Yes, as they are all graphics tools to TeX system.

On OP's role: My answer to cited meta Q. Is OP the king for his upvote,accept and downvote actions on his Q & A ?. Sorry for the shameless plug.

PS: Things are largely improving over past few days may be due to the meta Q's effect. I really love this TeX.SX community and privileged to be part of it.

  • Meta Q? What does paragraph justification have to do with anything? :p
    – T. Verron
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 15:43

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