Recently my question about the validity of some research findings on LaTeX usage was placed on hold as "primarily opinion-based", however it is not clear why this question falls outside the general standards of the community, when other similar questions do not.

While there can certainly be multiple valid ways to answer the question any appropriate approach would need to be rooted in factual information about TeX and the specific findings of the study. The answers would not be pure speculation but the interpretation of specific information from the study in the light of specific information about TeX.

I can see no difference from this question and other open questions where answers could result from different approaches such as the following examples:

What about this question falls outside of the general community standards for questions that could have multiple valid answers?

  • 3
    I think the question was not suited to TeX SE. However, I think the same is true of other questions, including some which remain open. Indeed, I do not think this question the worst offender. I think this one at least as ill-suited to the site, arguably more so. I think some, at least, of those questions should also be closed. I would be happy to see them discussed in chat. But I don't think the site itself is well-suited to the task.
    – cfr
    Dec 29, 2014 at 2:25

3 Answers 3


We get a relatively small number of questions which may be viewed as off-topic or opinion based on the site. For these, there is a certain amount of discussion which can be had and as pointed out by percusee you can argue things are not entirely consistent. As we are talking about value judgements that is perhaps not surprising.

Looking at the question here, there are arguments for both 'off-topic' and 'opinion-based'. I will take the two arguments separately.

In terms of topic, the PLOS ONE article seeks to compare TeX (LaTeX) with a word processor (Word). Thus at least in part it's already about something we don't cover: word processors. However, the bigger issue here for me is that the issue your question is raises is

Based on this study can we conclude that Word works better than LaTeX?

That's not about TeX and it's not about Word: it's about measuring productivity, specifically from the study in an academic setting but presumably more generally. That's a technical area (I'm sure there are experts on this type of measurement) but it's not what we cover as a site.

On the 'opinion-based' side, this is about more than 'there might be more than one answer'. (While the StackExchange model is best for questions where a single answer can be 'more correct' than any others, there is certainly some room for more nuanced situations.) Asking for a critique of a paper comparing Word and LaTeX on a site about TeX is only going to go one way, but it's hardly going to be objective. (Something like the 'grandma' question is clearly a bit of fun, so people are likely to give them more leeway, whereas some of the promotion questions may be given more slack as they are not directly about criticising other approaches.) The entire thing seems much better suited to a threaded discussion format, which chat does better than a question but which is really better on a mailing list or on Usenet.

Over all, to me the two areas together suggest that this is not a good fit for the site: TeX-sx isn't the best place for everything about TeX. The same might be said of some other questions, and I'd be wary of saying 'As X is open, Y must be allowed too.'.

[Note: While my name is currently down as closing the question, this is because I was asked to 'tidy up' the close reason from 'off-topic' to 'opinion-based' as this seemed perhaps better. I did not vote to close initially.]

  • 1
    i agree that a chat is the place for the question in question. i'm glad i spotted the initial message and the pointer to the chat -- i probably would have missed it otherwise, and i'm really quite interested in this. (even though the article is nonsense, it's in a place where it's likely to be seen and could have a negative effect on the acceptability of latex in some scholarly journals, a matter which is of great interest to me.) so maybe my question should be a real question -- where can one find a list of open chat topics? Dec 29, 2014 at 13:41
  • @barbarabeeton If you go to the Chat link in the StackExchange menu (the same way you get to the Meta site) you will get a list of the open site chat rooms. Rooms become dormant after some period of time (30days?) but can be reopened by moderators.
    – Alan Munn
    Dec 29, 2014 at 14:35
  • thanks, @AlanMunn. (as a creature of habit, sometimes i just need a little push in the right direction.) Dec 29, 2014 at 14:39
  • @barbarabeeton Seeing how you felt about the paper and its authors you'd probably not be thrilled with the news that Prof. Knauff has been chosen as Associate Editor for [Cognitive Science] (onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/%28ISSN%291551-6709/…). One shudders to think what requirements that journal might soon have with regards to submission.
    – BMWurm
    Apr 26, 2015 at 16:05

Well as I was involved a bit I can justify my take;

  1. First and foremost, we are not consistent at about anything. Hence, why this is open but the other is closed is not going to solve anything. Half of the TikZ questions should have been closed but somehow didn't. The examples you give are also the same. So there is always a grappling aspect of any question. You might not like it (I also don't) but this is a social construct. Not a rule-based media. Moreover, as we discussed a lot of times earlier, the SO rules are self-conflicting so there is nothing to gain sticking to the rules that you might think appropriate.

  2. Then the obvious follow-up is that why this one didn't fit the bill. I can't talk for others but in my point of view, the article is really weak to start with. Even without downloading the extra files and checking the numbers, you can tell that it is, in many places, biased and unforgivably misinformed about TeX. So opening a discussion in the question/answer format is just going to compile a lot of answers which are reinforcing the obvious stuff about TeX.

  3. It has weird conclusions such as saving time and wasting money and that kind of nonsense that any academic can spot the logical error. This item is not about why question is closed but about an article however, in turn, I have to confess that it is being taken too seriously for such weak, and borderline unethical, conclusions.

  4. Finally, even though the article is weak and erroneous, we can't argue anything against it because we don't have any counter evidence. Alan Munn already took the initiative and set up the chat room for experiment design. So that covers much more than what this question would cover had it stayed open. I would recommend that we push our efforts in that direction instead of typing long answers to the question and gaining nothing. So in that sense, the question is truly opinion-based and should not be mixed up with half-baked and in some cases fun questions you have sampled in your post.

  • 1
    Thank you for your feedback clarifying this. That being said, I am disappointed that that such a powerful member of the site would hold the opinion you express in point 1. The fact that the moderation is not perfect does not seem to be a reason not to strive for consistency. I take great care before I ask questions to make sure that they conform to the standards of the site and part of that is to look at other questions. If the existing questions cannot be used as evidence of what is acceptable, then moderation simply becomes the whim of the powerful.
    – DQdlM
    Dec 30, 2014 at 14:59
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    @KennyPeanuts And believe me, we appreciate your efforts greatly. However, striving for consistency turned out to be very destructive over time as we constantly see in other networks. It leads to minute tolerance and hostile behavior for newcomers. For example see this one meta.tex.stackexchange.com/q/4267/3235 that alone can explain a bit of the consistency lack that we have. Maybe I should have worded more like a Live and let live tone but it is not necessarily a bad thing per se.
    – percusse
    Dec 30, 2014 at 15:14

I was also involved (as a reviewer). I'm neither statistician nor mathematician, so I can't comment on the stats or math involved. I am, however, a typesetter, and my research on editing systems for structured documents was cited.

What fails to come through properly in the article is that the real distinction is between the Word interface and the LaTeX interface[s]; and we know that most of the interfaces to LaTeX — even LyX — are not the same as Word, despite the evidence I found in my own research that the majority of computer users prefer a typographically synchronous interface (what people inaccurately call WYSIWYG).

In my experience, most authors would indeed probably work faster using Word (leaving aside mathematics, which the authors of the paper do acknowledge to be a special case). The reason seems to be that they just want to get the paper done, and they absolutely do not want to have to learn anything new to achieve that.

A few people, of course, do see the advantages of LaTeX, but even then, there is a strong tendency for them to use obsolete or unnecessary markup because they have been improperly instructed (or have resorted to guesswork), and they have not encountered the concepts of document structure and automation which lead to efficient use of LaTeX.

I have urged in a response on comp.text.tex that we (the [La]TeX) community should undertake some more research on this, and I am delighted to see Alan Munn's initiative.

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