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    Having just reached enough reputation to edit posts, I was wondering how best to use this new capability. One idea that had been on my mind for a while was to add latex to some very good "old" answers which currently have no latex. I think this might add value to those answers. Is such editing considered good etiquette at mathoverflow? Is it encouraged or discouraged?

    More generally, are there similar ways to improve the value of an old answer written by someone else, and which are considered acceptable edits?


    It's fine and encouraged to improve old questions and answers. However, keep in mind that it's mildly annoying to have many old questions bumped up to the front page at once, 3 edits per day is acceptable.


    Although my (perhaps limited) understanding is that when we eventually move to the new software there will be a mechanism for edits that do not cause a bump but are still reviewed.


    Another thing that people might consider is completing citations to papers which are mentioned. We have some long term plans in the works for supporting this, but it seems work done now would still be very useful.


    @Scott: Currently, non-bumping edits are not possible on the SE network; the meta.SO page on question-bumping doesn't indicate that it's possible, and it isn't listed in the recent feature changes. Although, maybe the SE team have separately indicated to you that they plan to eventually implement this feature?

    • CommentAuthorTobias
    • CommentTimeApr 8th 2013
    There is a very good reason it is not possible to edit without bumping the question to the front page.
    This is to make sure that people are not able to make edits without alerting others, in order for those edits to be reviewed so potentially malicious edits can be rolled back quickly.
    It might be worth noting that some people deliberately avoid using latex for nonessential text. This is because latex is slow to compile and so there is no need to put the group G in double dollars all the time.

    Also note if a post has already been edited several times you could inadvertently change the answer to CW.
    • CommentAuthorArtie
    • CommentTimeApr 8th 2013

    Just to chime in, I am one of the people bsteinberg refers to: in most answers, especially old ones, I avoided TeX where plain text was capable of saying the same things just as clearly. I personally don't feel that adding TeX to these particular answers would really give an improvement that outweighs the negatives (slower rendering time, bumping dead questions to the front page).

    I think one needs to exercise good judgement in making edits of this kind on a significant scale, and restrict to editing answers for which there is a very clear benefit from adding TeX.


    @Scott Morrison: I do not understand. What precisely do you mean by "completing citations"?

    @bsteinberg and @Artie: Good point. Thank you for bringing that up.

    As a side remark, I would certainly appreciate the possibility of non-bumping edits.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeApr 9th 2013

    @Ricardo Andrade: I believe Scott Morrison means adding bibliographic information and possibly (better) links; many of the citations on MO are not complete in the sense of, say, resembling something one would use in the bibiography of an article and often links go (only) to 'unstable' locations. Possibly the following discussion related to supporting citations on MO gives a more detailed view of plans that got discussed at some point: though perhaps meanwhile Scott Morrison has something else in mind.


    I can't quite explain why, but I think I would be a bit annoyed if someone edited my old answers to add TeX to them. When I wrote them I was very careful to make my answers readable, using italics, sub/superscripts, and Unicode characters to mimic the usual appearance of printed mathematics. To have it edited would make me feel that this effort was not appreciated or had been pointless. I am aware this may be an irrational response, but it's nevertheless how I would feel.


    Heh. Someone once edited some of my LaTeX (where I didn't romanize some 4-letter text in a math display that had two successive f's), writing in the brief description of the edit that they were "hideous" (or unsightly, or some word to that effect). But IIRC, it wasn't an old post at the time.

    • CommentAuthorArtie
    • CommentTimeApr 10th 2013

    @Tom Church: yes, I think I share your feeling. For me, the bothersome thing is the idea that somebody thinks that rendering exactly the same information in TeX makes it somehow "more mathematical".

    Now, I'm not saying anyone actually edits old answers with this motivation, but if a perfectly understandable answer gets TeXified with no explanation, this would be the impression I was left with.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeApr 10th 2013

    An answer would also be perfectly understandable if it were written backwards.

    • CommentAuthorArtie
    • CommentTimeApr 10th 2013

    @quid: or if one announced at the top the convention that the terms "group" and "ring" would be transposed consistenly throughout the answer, and then the whole thing was rot13-ed, and then it was written backwards...

    More seriously, the point seems to be that, at least in some people's opinion, plain text and Unicode not only carry the same information, but also display it in just as clear and legible a way, as TeX. I accept that others might disagree, but at least I want to argue against the presumption that TeX is always better.

    On the other hand, as long as there is not a constant stream of questions being bumped to the front page by minor typographical changes, I don't feel that strongly about it.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeApr 10th 2013

    @Artie (but perhaps also for the general discussion): On the one hand, I certainly agree that some reasonable judgement is needed when doing such edits. And, I too would be annoyed if there was a constant stream of old things reappearing only because somebody had the idea to replace: Let G be a group and let R be a ring. By: Let $G$ be a group and let $R$ be a ring. (And things like that.) And, also, if some question reappears and I check why and then notice it is because somebody corrected a single trvial typo, then I think something like: was this really necessary.

    On the other hand, there are pre-tex (yet also other things) were some editing could increase considerably the readability. And, now if somebody has the idea to edit some old things as default I would assume they will focus on things were they see a lot of room for improvement, as opopsed to making a massive number of minimal or borderline pointless edits. Noone wil go through each and every (old) post. And, regarding "in some people's opinion, plain text and Unicode not only carry the same information, but also display it in just as clear and legible a way, as TeX" Fine. However, it could be interesting to test this opinion on reality against reality. I do not buy that (on avarage) it is just as easy (and pleasant) to read these things. And, the opinion that reading things like old volumes of Springer's Lecture Notes in Math. is not nice due to the typesetting (or rather the lack thereof) seems pretty wide spread. And, this is not only a question of aesthetics. (For centuries a lot of effort went into good typesetting even when it was quite difficult to do. Certainly not all these people were fools for thinking this was relevant.)

    And, after Tom Church voiced his opinion I looked at some of his old answers. And, yes, on the one hand they look really good given the circumstances yet on the other hand will one actually claim that this answer would not be better if it used mathjax [also look at the other posts since, as said, he really made a lot of effort; not that the other are particularly bad].

    Finally, of course one can also come to different conclusions how relevant such improvements are. And, the sorry state of many of my own contributions regarding such side-aspects documents that I do not consider it as a big priority to optimmize for this on MO. What however I do want to maintain is that it would/could be an improvement if such things were done. And also that in my opinion and observation too few people have a global approach to MO in that they would also consider improving (at least in their mind) others' contributions or do other things "for the MO community," so that it seems particularly unfortunate to me if an idea to do so is received with raising so many red-flags.

    • CommentAuthorArtie
    • CommentTimeApr 10th 2013

    @quid: Thanks for your thoughtful reply. In case I gave the opposite impression, let me emphasise that I am a strong advocate of things being typset correctly and thoughtfully (even if my own answers don't always reflect that). And I certainly agree that there is a real difference between trying to read a modern document, properly typset in TeX, and reading say a volume of LNM or equivalent from the 80's or before. (Not just the ugly typewriter face, but also special characters scribbled in by hand! Painful.)