I hesitated for some time, but recently edited this question. As can be seen from the question history, the question contained (or contains) quite a bit of latex commands that were used for formatting the text. To me, this does not look good nor readable. I learned from the OP that this is personal style he prefers.

Perhaps generalized a bit, my issue is this:

  • I want to maintain and improve site quality, that includes making content more readable.
  • I don't want to annoy anyone by editing things they think look good.

If I go ahead and edit, rollbacks probably happen and perhaps multiple people get annoyed for different reasons. If I think it's unreadable, I could downvote and thus maybe encourage different style, but I still leave behind content which I think could easily be improved. There seems to be no way of making the community vote on which version the question or answer should settle for.

How should one deal with formatting that one doesn't like, and the person who created it does?

  • $\begingroup$ I note that I'd already edited that once to remove the unreadable formatting but the asker silently undid those edits while adding (completely legitimate) extra content to the answer. Grrrr. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 13:12

2 Answers 2


Generally speaking, personal style should be left alone as long as it doesn't hurt the legibility of posts. If you prefer to use British spelling, we won't edit your post to remove the “u” from your posts on the four-colour problem. On the other hand, if your religion forbids the use of the Shift key, we will edit your posts to capitalize the first letter of sentences and proper names, because all-lowercase text is markedly harder to read.

Coming to the specific issue at hand, your edit was entirely warranted. Ricky, you have been told many times over the years that your microformatting does not do what you intend. Stack Exchange does not support precise visual formatting. For example, here is a screenshot of your CSTheory question taken on my phone (the previous revisions of your CS.SE post looked bad in the same way, but accessing older revisions is a bit awkward, which is why I'm using a different example):

phone screenshot

Your forced line breaks look fine when you look at your post in your browser, but they sometimes look different in someone else's browser with a different font (sometimes what the site displays depends on available fonts) or a different window size, and they usually look bad in a different interface (mobile site or app) or at a different zoom level. Your comments sometimes look bad as soon as the timestamp at the end changes. Please stop doing this. Don't attempt to use visual formatting: the improvements are extremely minor when they work at all, and for many of your readers, they make your posts a lot harder to read.

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    $\begingroup$ I strongly agree. Sorry, Ricky, but your manual spacing makes your posts extremely difficult to read. Please stop doing it. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. This kind of formatting is to be kept at a minimum even in LaTeX documents, but it has no place at all in HTML documents. Such are designed to and will be reflowed, restyled, rendered with different parameter sets, crawled and whatnot -- any kind of explicit formatting is harmful. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:23

For those who can't see it, that question previously contained things like \hspace{-0.02in}. Juho edited the question to remove those manual formatting idiosyncracies.

Yes, go ahead and remove those LaTeX commands that manually tweak the spacing in this way. I think your edit was a good one that improves the question, and I think it was fair game. Go ahead and make changes that improve the question. Posts on this site are community-owned; as our help page says, "If you are not comfortable with the idea of your contributions being collaboratively edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you." If the original author objects, they can roll back the change and leave a comment to justify the rollback (before rolling back such changes, please be sure that they made the post worse, and do leave a comment providing justification).

Regarding this particular situation, using LaTeX commands to manually tweak spacing and alignment is usually not a good idea. I presume that the original author is doing that to try to tweak the spacing, but this might not be such a great idea, because it won't have the same effect on everyone's machines. The author might like how things look on his own machine a little better with those tweaks, but (a) not everyone will agree, and (b) they can make things look a lot worse for other viewers on other machines. Those commands can cause the alignment to look all messed up for people whose setup is slightly different than the author's (e.g., different operating system, different browser, different MathJax renderer, different screen resolution). I've seen other comments from this author that had atrociously bad line breaks when viewed in my browser, because those comments included LaTeX commands to manually tweak the spacing. So, this is not a theoretical risk.

This is good general advice for using LaTeX in any setting -- you should generally try to avoid manually messing with LaTeX's spacing/formatting, as usually LaTeX knows how to typeset things better than you do -- but it's even more true in this setting, where we want mathematics that will be displayed in a reasonable way for everyone, regardless of browser, operating system, screen resolution, etc.

That said, the stakes are very low. If the spacing is not quite right for some viewers, no one is going to die. If you make an edit and the original author objects and rolls back the edit, don't get involved in a rollback war -- don't roll back their rollback. If the original author rolls back your change and you're not convinced by their reasons, flag the post for moderator attention and let the moderators sort it out. Do feel free to go ahead and make edits that you think are a good idea, but if the author objects, let the moderators handle it. It's not worth causing agita or hurt feelings over this.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point quoting the help page. $\endgroup$
    – Juho
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Well, it's useful to tweak spacing inside math formulas e.g. $\{x|x\in Y\}$ vs $\{x\;|\;x\in X\}$ but attempting microtypography in normal text is silly. (I see MathJaX parsing is not enabled in comments here.) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RespawnedFluff In most cases I see this, the author is doing something wrong. For instance, in your case, you should use \mid. In my experience, TeX routines are superior in most cases, provided you give it the right information (\mathrel, \mathop, ...). TeX - LaTeX contains plenty of information about that. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 7:02

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