I was thinking that in many cases the fix of a code to give a desired output is not the answer to the question if it asks about the reason of the failure of a provided code. Many times the OP can create himself a code that gives the desired output or make a fix to the provided code and get to it, but his actual problem is "Why this does'n work?" or "Why LaTeX behaves like this" in this case.

I am proposing of an addition of such a tag (that of course makes in the most of the cases more advanced the question and more difficult to be answered, so, may be have to be used carefully -and this makes my request a discussion here and not just a "feature/tag request"-)

PS: Such a tag would possibly make the reviewers be more careful on removing this tag from questions like "Why my code doesn't work?" and such things (mostly from newcomers that could provide a code with an obvious wrong usage of a command, or that have not used a package etc) in order to have a useful tag that will be added in questions about the inner LaTeX or TeX features and behaviors and not being a tag added in every question that doesn't reflect a basic knowledge on LaTeX usage. Of course things seems to become more complicated, with this, and thus I would like from your answers to provide the proposed from you description of the tag, or the reason you think that such a tag would be a bad idea even with a good description -that doesn't leave people to use it in a bad way if they read the description-.

4 Answers 4


To be honest, I do not like your proposal at all. Why? Please have a look at this answer by Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman. I cannot explain as well as he does, but I would like to encourage you to think about what you are asking. "Why?" is a very relative term. In principle, most questions asked are, at least to some extent, "Why" questions. So it does IMHO make no sense at all to discriminate them by a tag. In other words, in some sense, most of the answers explain "why", in some sense, none. At which level should the explanation of "why" something happened occur? TeX core? If not, why not? Every explanation of "why" something happened is, at some level, a cheat. So you will end up tagging most of the questions with this fabulous tag, which means it does not make much sense.


Regardless of the purpose and its usefulness, I believe the [why] tag is the textbook example of meta tags.

The reason meta-tags are a problem is that they do not describe the content of the question. They describe some other aspect of the question, like the author’s skill level, or the author’s motivation for asking it, or generally what “kind” of question it is (poll, how-to, etc.).

The litmus test for meta tags is:

How can you tell you’re using a meta-tag? It’s easier than you might think.

  1. If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question, it’s probably a meta-tag. Every tag you use should be able to work, more or less, as the only tag on a question. Meta-tags, like [beginner], [subjective], and [best-practices], are useless by themselves — they tell you nothing at all about the content of the question.

  2. If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it’s probably a meta-tag. In a cruel, ironic twist, the meaning of the tag [subjective] itself … is actually subjective. Ditto for [best-practices] and [beginner]. Best practices to whom? Beginner by what criteria? These tags are impossible to define by anything remotely resembling an objective metric. In comparison, the meaning of tags like [java], [c#], and [javascript] are crystal clear to all but the nuttiest of nutbags.

While [why] may almost exclusively mean to ask for an explanation/reason/cause of something, it can't be used as the only tag.

To further expand this discussion, if [why] tag is allowed to ask for an explanation, then [how] tag is also a valid tag to ask for how to do it, and [when] to ask when a syntax should be used instead of other syntaxes...

  • Thanks for your answer AndrewT. I didn't knew about meta-tags and it is very useful and straight on the point answer. Of course I opened this question as a discussion on the idea and I have the opinion that [how] tag would be in almost all the questions (the most of them) and would be really of not usage. But the [when] and the [why] tags, could or could not offer to the community and could be used very carefully to offer (if they could). This exactly is the topic of my question and how (if we think they could offer) would be the description and usage of such a tag. Thanks (+1 to both answers)
    – koleygr
    Mar 23, 2019 at 12:38

Good (which is rare enough) tags are useful to search for questions, and also sometimes to decide if a question has a topic that doesn't interest me at all.

But they shouldn't be needed to understand a question and shouldn't be used to explain the meaning or background of a question. If someone wants to know why some code behaves as it behaves this should be written down in the question and not be hidden in the tag.

  • 3
    Completely agreed that questions should be self-contained without tags. I guess the idea of the [why] tag was not to make the question shorter or more relevant for people answering questions, but rather to make questions more relevant for people who want to use TeX.SX as a way to learn about TeX concepts: The idea being that an answer to a [why] question would teach you something and is worth reading for educational purposes whereas a non-[why] would just drop the code and leave. (I personally don't think that this distinction can be made easily and doubt the usefulness of a [why] tag)
    – moewe
    Mar 24, 2019 at 12:18
  • Thanks for the answer UlrikeFischer... It is always interesting to me to learn how people are using the tags and how they think that have to be used. Except of the comment of @moewe that adds useful info about the idea of this addition of a tag, I had in mind that people that answering questions without really understand the code they are proposing (I don't really criticizing them... I did it before in order to help people when they hadn't find an answer here easy or could not customize it to their needs) they will avoid sparing their time and the OP's time on trying to help there...
    – koleygr
    Mar 24, 2019 at 14:33
  • Also, this tag will help on googling because a tag and the title content would give much more possibilities to find an answer that deals with the why part. Thanks again (+1). Of course seems really difficult to deal with such a tag... and thus I (too) have almost already decided that even if the idea was good, the application of this idea here would cause many problems and this makes it rather a bad idea.
    – koleygr
    Mar 24, 2019 at 14:34
  • @koleygr I don't think I can agree with the idea that a [why] tag can and should help stop people from answering with code they don't understand. If you want a more in-depth explanation of the ideas, concepts and workings behind the code you should make that explicitly clear in the question body (text) - ideally you would indicate the level of detail you expect (cf. also marmot's point about the 'levels of why'). Tags should not be used to convey additional information. The question should be complete and self-contained without the tag. The tag should only help categorise it afterwards. ..
    – moewe
    Mar 25, 2019 at 16:17
  • 1
    @koleygr ... I also firmly believe that there should always be an implicit assumption that answers are made in good faith and best effort, so using a [why] tag to scare people away 'if they don't know what they are talking about' seems ... wrong. Then everyone would use [why] to avoid getting flawed information.
    – moewe
    Mar 25, 2019 at 16:20
  • Thanks @moewe. You are right. I just had in mind many-many questions that asks "how" (to achieve an output or to get over an error) and don't really care about the "why" part [didn't even knew some basic things one the code they already used -and here you (and marmot) are right about the depth of this "why"-] and other questions that an alternative way would not be useful at all because they just trying to learn/understand (from) what happened there. I just thought this would help in the categorizing of the questions (mostly) and would make some people to avoid just to propose an alternative.
    – koleygr
    Mar 25, 2019 at 16:41

I haven't really decided yet if a [Why] tag would be useful at all or if this could really offer to the community of TeX.SX but I will post this answer that is mostly an explanation on the reason I made this question and on why (at the time I did the question) I thought it could be a tag that can offer but also why it could be a problematic tag (and thus the question). (Of course this answer could be just an edit on my question explaining the reasons of my "request" but I feel that it is mostly an answer to this "discussion" and doesn't really just describe the question because such an edit would be unfair to the answers that have already posted in this question and because possibly my question was not clear enough at the time that the answers posted.)

Introduction on my thinking while making this question:

During the years I am an active user in TeX.SX I have seen several questions here and many of them (may be the most I have seen) asks how to get a desired output. Some others asks why their code fails and where is the error/mistake. But if we search for the questions that are not in this above two categories there are just a few that asks about the difference between (i.e. two commands) or the reason of a general behavior (and not just of the failure of a code)...

It is clear (or almost clear) to me, that the tag "How?" would be a tag that would be useless (refers to most of the questions asked). Question that doesn't care about how and are not too specific on code (or even in case of differences -possibly another tag-) are the case(s) I "proposing" (or better thinking about proposing) tag(s).

Asking why in some cases seems funny (If you ask "why nature behaves like this?" is just a funny question. If you ask "why a person behaved like that" -even if psychoanalysts are trying to do it- seems still funny to me because the behavior of a person is not so simple to have just one or more reasons but it is something complicated that in many cases comes from the whole life of of the person and neither the person itself can answer about this "why"...) But the behavior of a code under specific conditions is a reasonable question for me.

Of course if that tag was about not basic commands/usage/behavior of small and really basic "code snippets" but about the result (and actually the debugging) of complicated and not so small codes. The tag "why?" would be useless for me too....

But in case that such tag had some rules like been added only for more general questions and thus small parts of code (if any) or general behavior of some command, or advantages/disadvantages and behavior of some non-too-specific code parts (that could for example explain why some syntax has to be avoided or why we a new command with an empty line creates an unwanted space/paragraph etc) could be a useful tag mostly for people that have gone over he stage that asks the basics from their TeX/LaTeX code and its output and are doing their next step in TeX/LaTeX programming.

Of course this already seems to be complicated, because who will decide if the question is general enough?, or how can we avoid this tag in everyone of the huge amount of questions that asks "Why my code gives this instead of that?" or "Why my code doesn't work"? .. such questions with too specific code that asks for debugging and correction should not be tagged as "why"questions and this makes this additional tag a complicated situation that could possibly be added from moderators only etc.

Main part of my "answer" to make clear what I mean with examples

A question like the question

A) Why is [ … ] preferable to $$ … $$? has these "characteristics":

  1. Does NOT deals with "How" could someone get a specific output?.
  2. Does NOT asks "Where/What" is the mistake caused a specific error/warning/behavior on a specific code?.
  3. The answers deals with the reason/differences/cases (Here if this question was tagged like this should deal with the inner TeX/LaTeX features and the differences between TeX and LaTeX on their syntax and features).
  4. The Question could contain as MWE:
    • some code that demonstrates that the OP could not find a difference/reason/case in the output or in preference between the two ways on the syntax (and thus decided to ask)
    • some code that demonstrates that the OP could find a difference but could not decide/realize about the usage/reason/case that is supposed to be the preferred and/or why LaTeX offers/replaces the old TeX syntax and if both syntax are finally valid or one of them is not valid, and if so, when to use each one etc.
  5. or the question could just not contain a MWE at all (since it is not really specific on some particular code but on differences/reasons/cases that one or the other syntax should(n't) be used.)
  6. A "valid answer" (in my opinion) could contain (with or without examples):
    • the differences on the usage between these two syntax/commands (just in case that both commands/syntax was valid in LaTeX).
    • the reason that the TeX syntax was not enough for LaTeX and thus why LaTeX developers had to stand out of the primitive TeX syntax or the need of this addition on LaTeX and on this replacement of the TeX primitive syntax by the LaTeX syntax and thus
    • The inner way that the LaTeX syntax works in contrast with the primitive TeX syntax.

Similar "characteristics" we can find in the questions (just examples to help the discussion and this answer):

  1. Why are some LaTeX macros defined using \newcommand and some using \def? but also What is the difference between \def and \newcommand?

    Here the first question has the word "Why" in its title but the second deals with "the difference" but both questions:

    • have all the above characteristics.
    • are not really looking for a solution on how to solve a problem or get a specific output but are mostly about reason or difference (of existence or of between commands -could be between packages or packages' features etc-)

May be two tags would be useful (one about why and one about when/difference but this is something I didn't thought when making this question and had just the general idea about such a tag and I had not really separate them in my mind as did while writing this answer)

Now let's talk about the usage. See this question here: Extra space after @hangfrom try to imagine that the person that made that question, had already ways to create a code that gives the desired output even by using the \hangfrom command again (for example by defining a command that doesn't take any argument or whatever) but was interested on why this code creates this undesired space and not really on ways to solve the problem or alternative code.

The answer there, is not just offer a way (how) to solve the specific problem but explains the reason that problem comes up with this code. Of course answers of this kind are very often (in order of explaining the reason of a failure) but could NOT be reasonable tagged with why (not even in case that the desired of the question was only the why part because the code in the question is really specific and doesn't refer for example to the difference between \nobreak and \nolinebreak in general that would make the question a good question to be tagged as when/difference).

  1. Now about the question How to print a text from inside a command without affecting its width?(sorry didn't found another question on this but I am sure it have been asked several times -in order of the unwanted space after the open tokens inside a command-)

If the real question was "Why \newcommand creates unwanted white space?" with a typical \newcommand usage without the "%" at the places that was actually needed, the answer could be the answer of @HenriMenke there with an explanation of the usage of "%" and how/why it is used in TeX/LaTeX then it could be tagged with this why proposed tag. But if it was too specific like it is posted there (with a specific usage of a \newcommand and not just a typical one the why tag would be a bad idea even if this was the desired from the answer and if some alternatives was already known to the noob that did that question -it was me, So, I have the right to talk like this-). Also, may be this kind of question (the generalized edition) would also be a bad question to be tagged as a why question because it misses basic knowledge on how latex behaves on spaces and tabs/newlines on the end of the line (this is under the discussion of how could such a tag be used -if could be used at all-).

Finally, with such one or two tags, some questions that are interested only on the reason (and may be some on the difference/case) would be tagged with this (one or two) tag(s) and should not be answered by solutions to achieve some output or alternative commands or... This would help the people that are trying to answer to not lose their time by providing an alternative when doesn't really know the reason (or the difference etc) of the unwanted behavior or of the existence of the LaTeX alternative etc. Would also offer to the readers some tags that explain basic TeX/LaTeX concepts that possibly had not realize a nice resource (by selecting this tag(s)) to learn more concepts than already know on the usage or on the difference between commands etc. But also, would be a difficult tag to manage in the case that it had to be added only to non-specific-code answers and could create real big problems to the editors/moderators etc

PS: For the part that may be the tag could only be used in non-specific questions, it is just an idea (that I had during the question and still have under consideration) and not something that have to permit answers that want this tag as a general tag depending only on OP's expectations.


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