This is to ask if there is and if there should be an official position of math.SE about the inclusion, as images, of pages and pages of printed documents in questions. For a recent example of the practice I have in mind, see this question.

Such a modus operandi seems to me to go against the principle that some work should be put into the question. Furthermore, those of us who teach know it is often helpful to ask the student to state the definition and to state the question to be solved in her/his own words (this remark is due to Willie Wong in a comment to this post).

To me, the inclusion of printed-pages-of text-converted-to-images in questions is mainly a sign of laziness. I feel the practice appeared recently on math.SE and is spreading now, and I would like it to be specifically discouraged.

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Note: We shouldn't universally exclude scanned image input since it may be the only feasible method for some folks that have physical disabilities (which could be any of us with extreme RSI at a future date). –  Bill Dubuque Mar 17 '11 at 22:01
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@Bill: that's a very good point. In a community like this, there will certainly be edge cases. Of course, most "rules" are more like general guidelines here, and their proper wording should be discussed. Right now I think Didier is just trying to poll the community to see whether other people also have strong opinions on this issue. –  Willie Wong Mar 17 '11 at 22:41
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Along similar lines are the questions which just link to an image containing the real question without even including it in the post. For example, this math.stackexchange.com/questions/27684/… (until I edited it). –  George Lowther Mar 18 '11 at 1:22
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@George: That's typically done by users who don't have enough rep to embed the image. Having a higher-rep user edit the image in-line (or otherwise edit the question to a better state) is probably the best option in that case. –  Isaac Mar 18 '11 at 13:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

It is quite important that questions contain enough stand-alone context to be answerable with the text alone.

Therefore, I would strongly discourage questions where critical or important context is ..

  • off-site at another hyperlink, which can go dark or become unavailable at any time
  • in an image file that is not searchable or easily parseable as text

It is probably OK to use images (or any other form of information at an external link) as a "nice to have" or "see here for even more detail", so long as the question itself contains sufficient context to be answered without the external content.

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I don't think a scanned image is the culprit. If somebody wants to scan a page of text (copyright issues aside) and say "I don't see how equation 2 follows from equation 1-I think this is a counterexample, can you help?" the criteria of giving some thought and showing some work can be satisfied and I would be happy to see it. On the other hand, if the page scanned were a homework assignment and OP didn't even type it up, I would be even harsher. There is a lot of room in between.

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I don't see anything wrong with scanning pictures or text. Rewriting stuff in Latex seems like a waste of time, to me -- time that could be spent studying the problem and learning some mathematics.

It seems fair to demand that the poster show some evidence of thought and effort on solving the problem. Demanding that they fiddle around with Latex rather than scanning a page does not seem justifiable (to me).

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The problems with scanned images are (the way I see it): A) the text in them is not searchable by a search engine, B) the TeX-source code is not copy/pastable. Problem A makes such a question less useful in the future, and adds to the risk of us getting a lot of duplicates. Problem B makes answering such a question a bit more difficult. Often the answerer then needs to reproduce parts of the TeX-code. IMHO it would be better, if the asker did that, and others could then copy/paste relevant parts if/when so inclined. –  Jyrki Lahtonen Feb 6 at 13:58
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(cont'd) Mind you, my objection A) can be worked around by adding a sufficient amount of text describing the context, but the "scan posters" seldom do that. My objection B) is not very severe either, as I don't view the use of TeX as a must for newbies in the first place. Also, occasionally including a scanned page makes it clearer that the material is all quoted - as long as the source is also explicitly stated. Anyway, in general I oppose this practice. Vehemently, if the question consists of a scanned page only. –  Jyrki Lahtonen Feb 6 at 14:03
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There are pros and cons but I think this is a pro and doesn't deserve the downvotes. I voted up for this post. –  Jacquelyn Li Mar 9 at 8:45

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