Sveinung asks, in a comment on Align equations on equal (=) symbol, whether closing a question because it shows no no evidence of research effort is a valid reason.

the question merely shows a picture of what is wanted, an aligned continuing equation composed primarily of fractions, but no code. i noted in an initial comment that there are many examples of this use in this forum. also, the title contains the term "align", a good search term.

another comment reads

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a matter that could be resolved by consulting a basic latex manual.

yes, there are (many) other questions that discuss reasons for closing, but i couldn't find one that deals specifically with this particular nicety of "off topic".

i'm unable to answer Sveinung's question, and appeal to the moderators or other knowledgeable participant to shed some light.

  • I'm listed as voting to close that question as off-topic. However, I did not. I voted to close it as a duplicate. I did not realise that my vote would be counted as an off-topic vote, and I am still not sure what the right thing to do in that case was. That is, if somebody else has voted to close for reason A and I disagree but think the very same question should be closed for reason B, what should I do?
    – cfr
    Nov 11, 2014 at 16:58
  • @cfr -- actually, i think closing it as a dup would give a more "obvious" rationale. someone just needs to cite a good duplicate -- there are so many to choose from (like standards). Nov 11, 2014 at 17:08
  • 1
    I suggested tex.stackexchange.com/questions/105635/… but I don't know if there are better ones. A big advantage of this is that it points the user to useful information whereas 'off-topic' encourages them to spend time improving something which is only going to duplicate existing questions anyway.
    – cfr
    Nov 11, 2014 at 17:11
  • All this is largely caused by a hasty VTC on my part ... with hindsight, I ought to have looked for duplicates. Nov 13, 2014 at 20:40

3 Answers 3


Very basic (La)TeX questions are a tricky area as at least to some extent many of them could be covered by the concept 'read a manual'. There should be a space for asking good basic questions, certainly when they are phrased such that the question is clear, self-contained and likely to help future user. More problematic are basic questions where that's not the case: the one raised here certainly isn't a great question.

As we know, 'off topic' is one of the reasons the 'Powers' give us to close questions and is intended not only to cover out-and-out off-topic posts but also stuff not answered 'by convention'. In some areas, such as typos and bug reports, we have had the discussion and reached a consensus that at present 'off topic' is the most appropriate way to handle them. However, that I know of we've not had a general discussion about 'basic' questions and how to deal with them.

Closing questions isn't necessarily a negative thing: the idea for example of marking duplicates is to avoid repeated effort in answering questions (likely over time to lead to poorer answers) while pointing the questioner to useful resources and hopefully aiding anyone searching in the future. Similarly, closing as 'off topic' or 'too broad' doesn't mean that there is not a valid discussion to be had about something: it means that the format here isn't suited to such a discussion. Thus the issue is at least in part is what reason(s) are appropriate for closing (some) general questions and how should this be phrased/commented to make the action helpful.

One issue here is that not all 'general' questions are the same. Some as I say I think are very solid useful posts which deserve good upvotes and good answers. On the other hand, some questions we see are poorly formulated and difficult to assign to one specific issue. Those might be too broad or might be off topic. On the other hand, questions which we do have clear answers for (hopefully attached to clear questions) should be marked as duplicates: that applies generally. I suspect as such there is an element of 'use your judgement' here. I think what is important is that any closing has appropriate comments, that you are clear that any dupe does really answer the question, and that the questioner is given time to address comments before a closure happens.

One thing to bear in mind is that having answers doesn't mean a question should not be closed. In his answer Percusse suggests that as the 'lead' question here has been answered that closing is not required. While there is some truth in the idea that closing is about site stats, it's also meant to be as I say not a universally negative step. It's quite possible for example for a dupe to be spotted after an answer is given: the question can still be a duplicate in those circumstances.

Bottom line: I'd probably have gone for 'duplicate' here.

One issue here that has been mentioned is that when there are a mix of close votes for different reason the system only marks with one reason. That's not something we can control locally, but is I always think rather odd. Perhaps one to raise on the main meta site.

  • As an aside, I think it's worth at least noting that the 'Powers' would almost certainly regard the question we are discussing here as 'off topic'. While their view has no bearing on how we handle such cases on TeX-sx, I think it's important to keep it in mind as it explains why we are unlikely to get a better close reason any time soon. The Powers would say, I think, that any question without a good example does not meet the site standards and thus is off-topic. When they brought in the new close reasons, they suggested 'no MWE' as a custom 'off topic' text, which shows their thinking.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Nov 12, 2014 at 8:59
  • You will I hope all notice that the moderators decided not to use that custom close reason as it seemed inappropriate to us (not all questions need a MWE or even any code: it's a judgement, and if one is needed and not supplied 'unclear' seems a lot more reasonable).
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Nov 12, 2014 at 9:14
  • For the record I don't have any problem with duplicates. They show that the close voter did his/her research, though I usually put a comment asking the OP if s/he would agree. In general, place OP in the loop is my motto. If no response we got the hammer anyways.
    – percusse
    Nov 12, 2014 at 10:04
  • Should I not have voted to close as a duplicate? I'm pretty annoyed that I was recorded as voting to close it as off-topic since I strongly disagreed. It makes me hesitate to vote in these cases at all. Presumably, it is only really safe to vote when enough votes have already been counted to secure a majority for a reason I agree with. I think it matters what reasons we give for decisions on the site and not simply what those decisions are. Closing as a duplicate is not the same action as closing as off-topic. The former provides an answer; the latter says the site will not answer.
    – cfr
    Nov 13, 2014 at 1:08
  • @cfr I think this is one for the main meta site as it's true for all of the network: I agree it's not very helpful.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Nov 13, 2014 at 7:43
  • @percusse When voting for duplicate, isn't a comment "Possible duplicate of..." automatically added, which notifies the OP?
    – T. Verron
    Nov 13, 2014 at 12:35
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    @T.Verron When closed, system clears those comments
    – percusse
    Nov 13, 2014 at 12:40
  • 3
    @percusse Bad system, bad!
    – T. Verron
    Nov 13, 2014 at 12:59

I don't think that the question needs to be closed as off-topic. It doesn't show any research effort and it doesn't provide a MWE, which makes it "question with no research effort". Such would deserve dozen downvotes on another sites and eventually get deleted. Here, we keep them at 0 or -1.

From the question it is clear that the issue is in the alignment. This makes it a duplicate of Align multiline equation with expression after equal sign as cfr found out.

We have got questions for many simple issues with simple answers. I don't think that this is wrong. However, we shouldn't keep duplicates among them. So the closure is fine, but the closure reason is a bit unfortunate. I was the last one to vote for re-opening, and I immediately voted to dupe it.


Well, as you know very well, the second comment is non-TeX.SX practice and probably a user of other networks which somehow they define this weird thing called research and all users should be expert of it which often boils down to saying did you google it? in a fancy and pompous way. So

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a matter that could be resolved by consulting a basic latex manual.

does not simply apply here. We answer almost whatever we like. Not liking a question or triviality of it never was a closing reason and hopefully never would be. There are I don't know how many duplicates of this issue that I'm too lazy for it search. I invite the close voter to do his/her research on our meta :P

Besides if we are feeling the irresistible urge for closing off-topic is the worst reason. Unclear might be barely ok.

But since there are two answers already I would say closing is pointless. Because, again as we discussed too many times before, we say it's closed for bla bla and 2 centimeters below there is a 7 voted accepted answer. It's because we are closing too early and very unnecessarily. This would have been counted as a answered but now marked as closed. It's even hurting statistics.

People are starting to get too good with TeX here and starting to belittle most of the questions. I would invite these, obviously not you barbara beeton, to go back and check their horrible (tongue-in-cheek) questions. And maybe they can remember what a new user feels like. We, if I may speak on behalf of old users, welcomed them and still do but I'm hoping they can continue same niceness instead of slamming the questions to OPs faces.

One last detail as a demonstration of the previous level; we don't close what is this symbol? questions as a duplicate of Detexify answer if we cannot find it ourselves. If we were cynical we would close all those by the do your research argument.

  • 2
    Great answer! I downvoted the question because after reading it I looked at the voting buttons and the downvote button explicitly states "This question does not show any research effort...", which I found true regardless of whether barbara mentioned there are many examples on our site.
    – Werner Mod
    Nov 12, 2014 at 5:32
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    @Werner And that's fine with me. I did not, because I think it's enough if one person uses that button ;)
    – yo'
    Nov 12, 2014 at 9:56
  • I totally share your second last paragraph! Nov 12, 2014 at 10:46
  • 1
    People are starting to get too good with TeX here [...] - Nah, I'm still stupid with TeX affairs. ♥ :) Nov 12, 2014 at 17:48
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    Do you not think it was a duplicate? I would still like to know what I ought to have done since I did not think it was off-topic and did not vote to close for that reason. Nonetheless, I was recorded as voting to close the question as off-topic. I find this pretty annoying. Especially since I did take the trouble to find what seemed to me to be a good candidate re. duplication. (I might be wrong that this particular question was a good choice but that is not the same as saying the question was off-topic.)
    – cfr
    Nov 13, 2014 at 1:02
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    @cfr I think I've also voted for the duplicate. So yes duplicate is/was the way to go in the first place. I know about the close vote averaging which marks the most voted reason and removing the rest. As long as the decision is thoughtful I agree whatever the community decides but that community concept is rapidly disappearing in my ignorant and biased opinion.
    – percusse
    Nov 13, 2014 at 2:43
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    Yes. Well, it still annoys me. Though I thought the closing of that question on spurious grounds was in some ways one of the less hostile aspects of the community's response ;(.
    – cfr
    Nov 13, 2014 at 2:59
  • I absolutely agree. And I will add: It near arrogance to complain that a new user does not shows any effort when the closers obviously not bothered to search if the question was a duplicate.
    – Sveinung
    Nov 16, 2014 at 22:47

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