Many times I read questions from Newbies (like me) that are either too basic or which have already being asked many times and have accepted answers (judging from the links shown at the right of the web). Whenever I look up for help, I also find many questions that provide fairly similar answers. If you are not lazy enough, many times there is no need to ask a question at all, unless the problem is very specific or current solutions - having being tried - do not work.

More than a criticism, this is a question about understanding why there is so much tolerance in the TeX network to clear duplicates, not being marked as such. Coming from other networks such as AskUbuntu where the tolerance to duplicates is low, I find this intriguing.

Is it because of the volume of questions? Is it because people come up with their own MWE, which might contain apparent differences - but rather irrelevant - with other posts? Is the ratio of moderators per newbies to low?

Edit: an example (the actual question that motivated this post) is here. A quick search shows 284 questions. Yes, not all related, but the third one (second if we omit the actual post in question) has an accepted answer.

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  • 19
    Every question can be marked as a duplicate of How do I properly use LaTeX? Almost all questions that can be marked as a duplicate have slight differences, and so they get an answer. It is not the answer that counts, but the question. So three different questions can have the very same answer, without beeing duplicates of each other.
    – Johannes_B
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 6:06
  • 13
    Often, a question by a newcomer is rather unclear and you have to use comments in order to help the person. If you have invested time in investigating the problem, you might as well have the five minutes to post a good answer. Good answers also lead to good reputation.
    – Johannes_B
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 6:08
  • 9
    And of course: If people read documentation, we would not exist.
    – Johannes_B
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 6:09
  • 3
    Could you add some examples? Most of the time, questions that look similar need answers that are specific to the use case, or at least that is how it feels to me. We do have 'big picture' answers for, e.g., using BibTeX, special chars, ..., so there are things that get duped.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 7:34
  • Note that I'm 'available' in the chat room most of the day (European time), so any possible dupes can always be raised for the 'mod hammer'.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 7:40
  • 4
    You might also note the never-really-resolved discussion about 'draw this for me' questions (should they be closed, should we simply accept that some people need the help and have no idea where to start, ...)
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 7:42
  • 4
    Often there are subtle differences in those questions as the solutions can heavily depend on the documentclass and the packages used. (I'm not sure if this can lead to all of those 284 questions being really different, but it could be a start...) (Note also that the site search might turn up false positives, the second post in your question seems to be a different problem.)
    – moewe
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 7:56
  • 23
    Quite often it is faster and easier to simply answer a basic question than to look for a duplicate, check if it is really a duplicate, check if it has a good answer, link to the duplicate etc. For the question you are showing as example is actually not easy to find a real duplicate has there are so many details wrong (like the \vspace, the font commands, the missing class etc). Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 8:03
  • 3
    the question that you link to may yet be closed as dup (it has no answers at all) but I wouldn't close it as dup of the one you highlight with an accepted answer as the answer isn't that great anyway (it is better to adjust the title style rather than poke font changes into the title) and specifically to the new question before you can apply a document specified title style the existing markup needs to be removed from \title and \author. the specifics of how to specify the style depend on the document class, which is why currently it has comments requesting clarification, but no answer/ Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 11:05
  • 1
    We have a bunch of unanswered questions that got resolved in the comments. Some of us go through the list and have a look, pinging users: This gotta be a dupe, do you have one at hand? Answer: I looked, but none seemed to really fit. So an answer is added. Sometimes years after the question was posted.
    – Johannes_B
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 19:00
  • 4
    this is a much friendlier site than others---perhaps because the tex internals are less friendly. it's always people like david, ulrike, and others that help us...appreciated. for me, google+tex.stackexchange is the documentation for latex.
    – ivo Welch
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 20:35
  • 5
    Considering a bunch of duplicate questions asked one by one each year, maybe the questions are the same, but the answers probably aren't. The development of new packages and growth of TEX.SX users experience over time will always result in a new and smart way to tackle the same basic problem. Try to open many questions asking for the same solutions, and you will easily see the effect of time factor when reading the answers given in different years. Duplication is generally bad, but for this site, it is kind of enrichment and prosperity.
    – Diaa
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 3:25
  • 1
    I guess I'd say in the end it comes down to do people want to get 'quick closure' or do you aim for being sure the answer is 'right' for the question. If you favour the latter, it's safer to leave edge case questions open (and perhaps comment) than to close as dupes and be unsure.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 7:54
  • 5
    @luchonacho Google is often a better way to search than on the site itself, in my experience. As for answering in comments, there is some discussion here: Why do people answer in comments?. But if you find a question that has been answered only in a comment, it's helpful to 'ping' the commenter (with @) and ask them to convert their comment into an answer.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 20:32
  • 1
    @Johannes_B «It is not the answer that counts, but the question» So here it works the opposite way as the other SE communities? Good to know, I didn't realize. Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 12:47

3 Answers 3


In addition to the comments;

This is partly because of the nature of TeX. There is never a single way of doing things in TeX and every documentclass is nuanced (for better or worse). Because of this every question has the high probability that the dupe won't work.

For example, most TeX newcomers are obsessed with shorthand notations (under the impression that TeX works like C,Java, Python...) and often their shorthand macros break stuff in common packages due to picking a common macro name or defining fragile commands, moving arguments etc. or basically don't work. Though their question might seem like a duplicate, the underlying problem is usually different.

Blindly closing questions based on title or content just makes unnecessary noise such as I've read the other question but it's not working in my case and why is this KOMA example not working in memoir etc.

Our gold badge users also have a good nose for duplicates and they use the duplicate-closing power sparingly.

Lastly, due to some fortunate coincidence, users here tend to give ridiculously complete answers and others get out of the way. That is really good on almost all points but has the effect of being very specialized to the problem at hand.

Long story short, the duplicate business here is trickier than other network sites. And our moderators are quite specialists in TeX hence they can see through the argument in terms of technical detail. As Joseph Wright mentioned, you can always consult them in case there is a dead-on duplicate.

  • 4
    Some answers address the problem, it is 10 % of the answer. The rest is general advice and tipps. A newcomer really cannot know which part solves the issue in most cases.
    – Johannes_B
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 7:01
  • 2
    Notice the fact that the question was posed by a newcomer with a reputation rating of 6, possibly an individual who staggers around in a pitch-dark room, can't find the light switch or the way out, does not know how to do statistics on past questions and answsers on the TeX-Exchange, and has begun to wonder whether this might not be where it all ends! I urge you to exercise tolerance of duplication, indeed notice how many of the most rewarding things in life are tied up with repetition and routine. Things don't always have to be brand-new to be worthwhile, interesting, or educational! Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 10:21
  • 3
    @ReinhardNeuwirth Was that a comment meant for me? I have to confess I didn't get the message.
    – percusse
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 12:28
  • 3
    While I will occasionally initiate a duplicate closure, more often, I ask the OP if he/she feels his question is a duplicate to a question that I will cite. If yes, then I will initiate closure. Even when the OP does not reply, I still rely on a 2-man fail-safe, where one seasoned user suggests the possibility of a cited duplication and wait for a second seasoned user to agree and begin the closure process. Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 13:05
  • It seems to me that @StevenB.Segletes's comment sums up the tone of this site - suggesting to the OP that the Q is a duplicate and getting a 2nd opinion. If this makes the site an outlier within the network that's not a bad thing; there are also outliers in the opposite direction. I've only been around here a few years so can remember being a newbie,to the site and to LaTeX.
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 7:24
  • @StevenB.Segletes the closure process already requires N votes to put a question on hold. Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 12:49
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Which is the worst system ever could be introduced here. It is N random votes not N interested answerer votes.
    – percusse
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 12:51
  • @percusse no it isn't. This is how all SE sites work. The close votes can only be cast by high-rep users that know how it works and they need to provide a motivation for the vote. Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 12:56
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Exactly my point. Here it doesn't work.
    – percusse
    Commented Aug 28, 2016 at 12:58

Disclaimer: TeX and LaTeX newbie here. Here are some of my thoughts on this subject.

I'm no programmer guru, but I'd say that I'm a relatively experienced software developer, having worked on online computer game engines, desktop software and web applications for the better part of a decade. As such, I consider myself to be relatively adept at using technical documentation and understanding how software tools work in general.

Therefore, I gravitated towards TeX and LaTeX, thinking something along the lines of: "Yes! Finally, I can free myself from the constraints of WYSIWYG-editors, leverage my knowledge from software development and version my documents in source control."

Enter LaTeX. As it turns out, there are so many different approaches one might take to solve a particular problem and a myriad of packages, that it's easy to get lost. I need to take a step back and begin by figuring out how much I don't know. Unknown unknowns.

Whenever I have a particular question, I'm usually been able to dig through this site to find the answer that I'm looking for, but I often need to adapt the solution provided in the answer to my particular context. Sometimes, this requires a certain level of technical adroitness and experimentation. Often a proposed solution will use one or more packages that I've never heard of before, so I need to figure out how to use those along with the packages that I'm already using in my project, and how to combine them.

I understand the temptation to take the path of least resistance and post a question without trying to figure out a solution for oneself. We live in a word where patience and persistence have become rare virtues and commodities. I imagine that the predominant "easy-come mindset" is a significant factor in the equation of duplicate questions.

  • In some cases. But remember that many users of LaTeX are NOT developers, any more than they are programmers. Your background gives you a significant advantage over many new users who may not be technically adroit or have any idea how to experiment. Look at the difficulties people have in understanding what a minimal example should be. Or finding the command line. Or figuring out how to read a log file. That is not to say that impatience etc. aren't factors. Surely they are. But you seem to think that any newbie could do what you do if they could only be bothered - that is surely false.
    – cfr
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 1:54
  • "But you seem to think that any newbie could do what you do if they could only be bothered - that is surely false." No, that is not what I meant, and I made no such statement. The problem that I tried to express would only be amplified and confounded for users with less technical knowledge and experience. The inclination to ask questions would be, rightfully and understandably, much higher in such cases. What I tried to say is that, although I have some technical background, I also have these kinds of problems with LaTeX. I'm also guilty of asking duplicate questions due to LaTeX's complexity.
    – leifericf
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 10:42
  • Expecting a good formulated question is as lazy as asking a question without a MWE. People are confused by default. It wouldn't hurt to extrapolate a bit.
    – percusse
    Commented Aug 27, 2016 at 23:30

Pedantic search-related point

Just to note that if one restricts the search to look only at questions with is:q, then one finds that there are "only" 177 questions for change font size title is:q, rather than "284 questions" as OP has it. I note this for two reasons:

  • to mention explicitly this "advanced search" trick; I can't remember how long it took me to find them, and there are quite a few more; and
  • when one realizes that there are 177 questions but only 248 posts in total -- including answers -- quite a few of those questions must have been quietly ignored! And, in fact, 14 have been closed as duplicates. :)

search screenshot

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