Some members of the community (including me) like visual aspects of the posts. We use pictures with a notable frequency. I think we need some feedback of our friends in the community about this.

Question. Why and how should we use pictures here in MESE?


2 Answers 2


Pictures should be used to convey some information relevant to the post. For an example see What is fairly new theorem one can teach (and prove) to an undergraduate student?

Pictures should not be used, at least not on a regular basis, for aspects tagential to the post (such as illustrating a cultural reference), to just make the post look nicer or "for fun."

Put differently, in my opinion, everybody should feel free to support visually the content of their posts. However, I would prefer if such illustration is (in general) limited to the content and not side-remarks.

As always there can be exceptions, only I do not want this site to turn into pages full of pictures not really related to the content. On the one hand, I think this might send a wrong message regarding the purpose of the site, and on the other hand it can be inconvenient depending on device and the connection one has available.

  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps for context let me still add the answer and comment that motivated that thread matheducators.stackexchange.com/questions/805/… (IMO, this can be alright once, but done too often it would be unfortunate.) $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ Is there any difference between posting pictures in questions and answers? $\endgroup$
    – user230
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ Would you please explain more on this part? Pictures should not be used, at least not on a regular basis, for aspects tagential to the post (such as illustrating a cultural reference), to just make the post look nicer or "for fun." $\endgroup$
    – user230
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of wrong messages do you mean by "I think this might send a wrong message regarding the purpose of the site"? $\endgroup$
    – user230
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg re q vs. a: not significantly, at least not that I could think of a reason at the moment. Except that one should perhaps show more restraint for questions to avoid the risk the question sets a wrong tone for the entire thread and since it is still more visible. re "cultural reference": perhaps this is not the clearest word, but you for example mentioned the movie "Modern Times" (this is what I mean with 'cultural reference') this is fine, but I do not see the need for to large pictures in addition to the link. $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ re "wrong message": The purpose of this site (like of most other SE siite) is to provide detailed and focused answer to detailed and focues questions. The relatively spartan visual decoration of the site in general is there precisely to support this goal. Too much tangentially relevant content, especially when presented in a way that strongly catches the eye is ultimately detrimental to this goal. Look, you posted the pictures at the end of a longer answer, but the next will post pictures after two lines of text, and the third will post just a picture. $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ As a special case I would like to know your idea about my use of pictures in this post. Personally I believe that it seems very good in the body of the post. Do you think there is a difference between this post and this one? $\endgroup$
    – user230
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ Consider you receive an answer in the structure of my answer to Joel's question and you don't know who I am. Do you think it could be somehow annoying for you in any sense? $\endgroup$
    – user230
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 12:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg the two posts you mention are quite different. In the first you illustrate what Lego is and it is Lego that is the content of your post, so this is the first category. In the other one you illustrate what Modern Times is but Modern Times is tangential to the post. On annoying: this has nothing to do with knowing you or not, but with the device and connection I use. On my notebook with a small screen on a mobile connection where I effectively have to pay money (and time too) for the extra transferred data, yes, I do find it mildly annoying. $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ Your points seem reasonable. I removed the answer. But about the cultural references I am not really agree with you. I think they could be very interesting and useful for unfolding new dimensions of the subject. $\endgroup$
    – user230
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg I am glad you find my points reasonable. But it would not have been necessary to remove the answer; you just could have omitted the picures. On the cultural references: let me stress, I did not object to you referencing Modern Times only to you illustrating this reference with two(!) somewhat large pictures. $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Commented Mar 26, 2014 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ I don't agree with you. As long as the pictures are appropriate (e.g. not offensive), add to the answer (even in some tangential aspects, e.g. to make the answer look nicer) and are not distracting (the most important thing is the content, and no picture should make your or someone else's post less readable), it's OK. I recognize the issues with bandwidth and screen size, but that is a matter of etiquette, similar to "do not drop big-attachment email bombs", such pictures should be rescaled, but besides that I do not see anything wrong with them. $\endgroup$
    – dtldarek
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ @dtldarek I agree it is a matter of etiquette; I said "should not" not "must not" and said what I "prefer" Also I did neither edit out the pictures nor did I ask for it. It should however be noted that SE strongly disourages sigantures and taglines and all kinds of related things meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5029/… so that my preference to avoid "visual noise" seems in line with general considerations on etiqette. (However I have not intention of setting activities related to this beyond occassionnally voicing my opinion.) $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 22:24

As quid mentions, there are some reasons to avoid extraneous pictures in a post. For example, users with slow internet connections (e.g. on mobile devices) might have trouble viewing an answer with too many pictures. Too many pictures added for fun also detract from the focused question-answer nature of the site.

That being said, there are certainly times when pictures are appropriate:

  1. Any picture of an essentially mathematical nature whose purpose is to illustrate the ideas in the answer is surely appropriate.

  2. Non-mathematical pictures can be appropriate, too, if they help to illustrate the main idea of a post. For example, consider the following answer on Stack Overflow:

    Why is processing a sorted array faster than an unsorted array?

    The picture in this answer is not strictly necessary, but it helps to focus the mind on the central metaphor of the answer. This answer was highly upvoted and awarded a further bounty, and I think the picture was surely helpful in making this such a good answer.

  3. Whimsical questions deserve whimsical answers. It's important that such questions and answers don't take over, but occasional bits of nonsense are alright, as long as they still fall within the scope of the site. Here is a good example from Math Stack Exchange of a whimsical picture that adds to an answer:

    What's the largest possible volume of a taco, and how do I make one that big?

    Note that the main taco picture actually has mathematical content, in the sense that the curved boundary at the bottom of the taco is an actual mathematical curve. Again, I think this picture clearly adds to the answer, and helps to explain why this is such a highly upvoted post.


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