Probably many of you have seen low-quality answers, for which less versed users may not immediately see that the answer is low-quality. A specific situation could be answers to TikZ questions in which tikzpictures get nested. The result of the answer may look fine, but if the OP uses it and modifies the code they are almost guaranteed to run into major problems. There are many more examples of similarly bad practice.

According to what I know the options of dealing with such posts are:

  1. Ignore. But this may be against the spirit of helping others.
  2. Leave a comment. According to my experience with certain users this leads to revenge downvotes and other interesting reactions.
  3. Downvote. Without a comment this may not lead anywhere, and once one leaves a comment there is a high chance of being subject to retaliation, see item 2.
  4. Flag. This is a drastic measure and may only be used sparsely if I understand it correctly. It may not at all be appropriate for the situation described above. Or is it?

So it seems to me that there is no real way of passing the information that this answer does something problematic without opening some kind of can of worms.

My question is whether the above list of possible ways of dealing with problematic answers is exhaustive, and what the recommend way of dealing with such posts is.

  • 2
    I would second CarLaTeX's answer with the following sequence: (1) Comment on the post suggesting to correct the content; (2) Wait a while; (3) Write a "correct answer" with all the bells and whistles; (4) Downvote the "incorrect one" if you feel it is it still lacking. Note that they may have answered the question, just not in the best way possible... You have a bunch of rep that one person can't exhaust through downvotes. If they serial downvote you, it will be reversed.
    – Werner Mod
    Feb 9, 2020 at 9:29
  • @Werner This question is not about me but a general user.
    – user194703
    Feb 9, 2020 at 13:10
  • I suppose one possibility would be to create a second TeX.SE account strictly for commenting. You might need to answer enough questions to counteract vengeful downvoters, but that shouldn't be too hard. OTOH, if you can get the rep to counteract vengeful downvoters, then you might as well do that from your main account, and completely ignore my comment.
    – Teepeemm
    Feb 10, 2020 at 19:51
  • @Teepeemm I always thought one should not have several accounts. Am I wrong?
    – user194703
    Feb 10, 2020 at 19:53
  • @Schrödinger'scat It's discouraged because it's usually used to circumvent some rule. But if you're not doing that, then it can be ok. See meta.stackexchange.com/a/35607/261760 and meta.stackexchange.com/a/57685/261760
    – Teepeemm
    Feb 10, 2020 at 20:28
  • @Teepeemm OK, thanks! Of course, if a "new" user shows up right now and all this user does is to complain about nested tikzpictures, using paths in \pgfextra, and such things I am afraid that it is still me, i.e. this account, who gets all the downvotes. I am actually now concerned that someone else is doing this now.
    – user194703
    Feb 11, 2020 at 0:30

4 Answers 4


My main advice would be: Do what you think is right (comment, edit, answer, etc.), and just ignore the downvotes (they cost almost no rep) and other "interesting reactions" you observed. Unless they get abusive.

If the other user becomes abusive, report that behavior to the moderators. I'm not sure, but I think massive targeted downvoting of a single user's contributions is also considered abuse of the reputation system.

  • 3
    Yes, this is more or less what I am doing. The question was to find out whether there is another way. (I really do not care about the reputation but, using barbara beeton's words,) But given the boundary conditions yours seems to be the most uncontroversial answer (so far).
    – user194703
    Feb 13, 2020 at 4:06
  • @Schrödinger'scat Of course, getting insulted or attacked is not nice. I can understand if people want to avoid that to the point that they cease all interaction which could risk getting insulted. After all, we're all here for our own enjoyment, not because we have any obligations to anyone. On the other hand, we should really try to discourage such aggressive behavior towards comments, if we want it to stop. But you are right, that is not the scope of this question.
    – Fritz
    Feb 20, 2020 at 9:18

I would add another option:

  1. Add another answer with the correct solution, explaining, with a practical example, why the previous answer could be dangerous.

As for the previous answer, I'd just opt for 1 (ignoring is always the best policy). If the OP (asker) solves their problem with it, it is OK, it is very likely the OP is using it for their thesis, and will never use LaTeX anymore in their life.

If you add another answer, the future users will see it and will be able to make a conscious choice.

Option 2 (leave a comment) is very difficult because it is very difficult to write a comment saying "you are wrong" without seeming impolite, also taking into account that not everybody are fluent in English.

Option 3 (downvote) should be the correct way to go, but downvotes are not fashionable on TeX.SE, and without comment are not polite.

I think option 4 (flagging) is useless in this case.

  • 1
    I am afraid that this does not answer my question which is about passing the information that the answer does something dangerous/bad to the one who wrote it, and to all who look at that particular answer.
    – user194703
    Feb 9, 2020 at 13:10
  • @Schrödinger'scat There is no way to pass a message to someone who does not want to hear. As for the other users, I think having another answer could help.
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 9, 2020 at 13:23
  • 1
    It might be that another answer might help, but this is not what the above question is about. There might already be another answer, the question may not be really answerable, whatever. The above question is about passing information anonymously to not have to go through all the usual headache.
    – user194703
    Feb 9, 2020 at 13:30
  • @Schrödinger'scat There is no such a feature on Stack Exchange, and I think they will never implement it, sorry.
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 9, 2020 at 13:34
  • Yes, this is possibly or sadly true.
    – user194703
    Feb 9, 2020 at 13:37
  • 5
    I find it relatively easy to suggest improvements or point out problems on answers when I'm familiar with the poster, and these are usually accepted or a good reason shown why I am mistaken. But, having seen too many flame wars, I will not try to "correct" anyone with whom I'm not familiar, unless the problem is an obvious typo. I feel bad about it, but I don't like being insulted. Feb 9, 2020 at 14:48
  • @barbarabeeton That's exactly what I'm saying :)
    – CarLaTeX
    Feb 9, 2020 at 14:53
  • 1
    @barbarabeeton To me this sounds more like what I am saying. Except that there are a few posters for whom I refrain from commenting precisely because I know them. ;-)
    – user194703
    Feb 9, 2020 at 19:53

I don't think that an anonymous comment option would work. If I added a comment "you will get problems with hyperref with this code" anonymously I would probably had to add some proofs and explanations — and then people would identify me anyway. As you said in a comment: at the end we are recognizable not only by our names but also by our actions.

I don't have a problem to comment and I very seldom get bad responses. But I also very seldom insist that the answer is changed or removed. I also don't downvote — I don't think that this has any effect here apart from perhaps angering the writer. Everyone can see from my comment that I don't agree with the answer and make an educated choice. If they make the wrong choice it is their call, they are adults.

I suggest that if you don't want to comment but can't ignore the answer either that you ask someone else to look at it and to comment if they see the need.

  • 1
    Glad to hear that you do not get these violent responses. But this answer unfortunately also does not say how to add an anonymous comment. I do agree with "If they make the wrong choice it is their call, they are adults." and I do not want to say in the comments that the answer needs to be removed, I just would like to add the information that there is a problem which may not be obvious at first glance. Asking someone else to add the comment does not fundamentally solve the problem either, it just passes the burden of being subject to retaliation to someone else.
    – user194703
    Feb 11, 2020 at 14:29
  • Sorry I though I was clear: I don't think that is possible even if there were a technical option. But using another person as moderator and messenger can solve the problem - try it out. Feb 11, 2020 at 14:44
  • I do not think we should use the moderator's time for that. It would just be good if there was some sort of flag: this post has a fundamental problem which may not be obvious at first sight. The problem is ..... Obviously, there should also be means for the author of the post to appeal the flag, sometimes one makes errors.
    – user194703
    Feb 11, 2020 at 15:35
  • I didn't write the moderator but as moderator. Ask a person you trust to help you out. They always can say no if it is too difficult. Feb 11, 2020 at 15:50
  • Yes, sure. So far all answers seem to answer my question with "your list is exhaustive". This is what I was afraid of.
    – user194703
    Feb 11, 2020 at 16:11
  • I didn't say that your list is exhaustive, I suggested to ask someone - that will make you act anonymously - imho more than if there were some technical option. Feb 11, 2020 at 16:18
  • I just do not consider this a real option. This is an abstract question that is meant for everyone, not just users that participate in some chat and have buddies to clean up the mess. Likewise, I do not consider writing a competing answer an option because I have seen where this leads to. All I want is to add the information that there is a not completely obvious issue anonymously.
    – user194703
    Feb 11, 2020 at 16:34

The only anonymous way to give feedback is through voting (either up-voting or down-voting). All other means leave a community-visible record.

Similar to what that Newton guy once said, every action has some form of reaction... give or take. You seem to have covered some reaction with every option you list. It is a bit extreme to assume that every option you list will result in an end-of-the-world scenario. If that happens to be the case, then it's best to step away. However, if your interest is in the greater good, then I propose the following sequence:

  1. Comment on the answer, suggesting a change with sufficient motivation as to why. Wait for a response.

  2. If there's no response and the person has clearly been back on the site, poke again and request a change. Wait for a response.

  3. If they still haven't responded, you can edit the post and make the necessary changes, keeping the solution similar. Leave a comment that you've changed it. The OP can roll it back if they wish - the site offers that option.

  4. If they roll back the changes, post your own answer.

Note that each of the above elements (or the sequence of events) support your notion of "helping others" - your main aim is geared at improving the site (which allows for multiple answers) and giving the original questioner (and future visitors) the best answer they can get.

Flagging here does not help, since the available options aren't valuable:

  • Spam: It's not.
  • Rude or abusive: It's not.
  • Not an answer: It is an answer, just not using good practices.
  • Very low quality: It does not "suffer from severe formatting or content problems" and the answer "is salvageable through editing".
  • In need of moderator attention: This is not a job for a moderator...

Flagging a question as very low quality puts in the Low Quality Posts review queue which only allows for the options

  • Looks OK: It would be OK to some users who have similar coding practices
  • Edit: This is covered above.
  • Delete (or Recommend Deletion): This is not appropriate, since it still represents an answer, may have votes or even be accepted.
  • Skip: This seems to skirt the issue or make flagging it useless.
  • Thanks for the answer! It sort of repeats the options listed in my question. So it seems that the list is exhaustive, and there is no real way of anonymously pointing out some major drawback in the post. I can see why the designers of the site do not want to allow users to make such comments, but given that votes are (sort of) anonymous, I am not sure if I agree with that.
    – user194703
    Feb 9, 2020 at 19:41

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