I've noticed a user who seems to answer mainly via a picture of scribble and maybe a few words instead of writing it down, using the circuit simulator and MathJax.

An example would be this answer. [The initial version with the scribble.]

I was wondering if this is an acceptable way of answering questions.

In my opinion answering in a picture of scribble is not acceptable as:

  • depending on the handwriting it is barely understandable
  • formatting gets very poor depending on the screen size
  • people who use custom formatting options (think high contrast or something) will loose their possibilities to make changes
  • In the future the hosted picture (depending on where it is hosted) might disappear rendering the answer completely useless

I'm just not sure what the appropriate action is: just down-vote or should they be flagged for attention?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I just downvoted that answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I went and looked at all answers by that user, and they were all like that. I left a comment with most of them, and downvoted all of them. I hope I don't run afoul of the serial downvoting bot. I did look at and evaluated each one individually. If more people helped with this, the user would be locked out from posting, and the problem would be solved. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 15:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can also add the impact on accessibility, screen reader can't read text in images. \$\endgroup\$
    – zakinster
    Jan 9, 2018 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ One "problem" here is that the answers seem pretty good otherwise. Normally, lousy presentation goes hand in hand with lousy understanding and content. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Jan 10, 2018 at 10:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pipe I don't agree with your second sentence, but as you noticed the content of the answer (the parts I can read) is okay - it would provide a valid answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arsenal
    Jan 10, 2018 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pipe: A sloppy and poorly presented answer is never "good", regardless of how correct or applicable the content is. Presentation matters, a lot. Personally, I didn't even look at the content. Think of what you would do if you were grading homework like that, or if you were a customer and your engineering consultant presented drawings like that. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10, 2018 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop Perhaps I should have been clearer, I completely agree that the answers should be nuked from this website. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Jan 10, 2018 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ The user has now corrected all of his answers. I have removed all my downvotes, deleted my now-obsolete comments, and flagged some other comments as obsolete. I suggest everyone else who downvoted just for the scribbles to do the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Jan 17, 2018 at 10:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pipe thanks for the follow up, I removed my downvote as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arsenal
    Jan 17, 2018 at 11:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem is that half (ha!) of downvoters won't ever revisit their downvote, no matter how much you improve the answer. This is why I "take a shovel to" downvoted answers and post new ones. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 16:55

4 Answers 4


No, it shouldn't be acceptable. Some of the reasons for such you listed.

As for the picture hosting, such doodles are usually uploaded through the website, and trusting imgur to not go down is something SE reasonably does.

But doodles have their own problems, in that often they are of very poor layout, due to the nature of not being able to move content as easily after created. So this is usually fixed by arrows or even not fixed at all, which leads to a confusing answer.

Some other very important concerns:

  • Doodles are unstylable, so for those with high contrast (as you mentioned) or dark themes enabled on their browsers, they usually become a BASTION OF OVERWHELMING, EYE-SIZZLING BRILLIANCE. Which is non-ideal.

  • Doodles are inaccessible. At least until the day OCR software can detect handwriting better than humans, any visually impaired person is going to be locked out of the information provided.

  • Doodles are unresponsive. Trying to view them in a mobile device is going to be a challenge, with the usual zoom-and-pan juggling.

  • Doodles are messy. This is not a criticism on any author, but everyone has a different palette and style for their doodling, as well as a variety of sources (photo of paper, digital drawing, screenshot, etc). This means that the visual consistency of the website gradually lowers with every new doodle.

And finally, I think doodles are fine, if they are auxiliary to the understanding of the answer. That is, if the doodle is unavailable, the answer will convey the same amount of information.

As for what actions to take, I would ask the author to "textify" their answer, wait a day or two, and if they don't, either fix it yourself if you have the time (and if it's possible), or downvote if not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think asking for fixing their answer and then down-voting sounds like a reasonable approach to handle this - or doing it the other way around would make it easier not to forget the down vote as soon as it is fixed, the author will likely alert you to your comment and you can remove the down vote and maybe even up-vote it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arsenal
    Jan 11, 2018 at 7:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ The browser theme problem is the viewer's own bad. If he has something to tune his contrast or whatever, it should act equally on all content. For instance I use the EasyOnTheEyes brightness control on my Mac which does exactly that. You can't blame a web designer's composition when a user alters that composition in an incompetent and ineffectual way. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22, 2018 at 2:31

Napkin answers are problematic for many reasons, many of them already mentioned. Though I have noticed they normally appear from smart-phone users that can't really use better tools.

Another reason why they are not great applies not only to doodles but images in general where the writing on the image is a critical part of the answer.

Many readers rely on auto-translation tools built into browsers to convert the text into "something resembling" their native language. Unfortunately, those translations do not extend to image content.

"A picture may tell a thousand words" ... does not apply in these circumstances.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Not having the proper tools is no excuse for posting slop. If you can't present properly, don't post. It's not our fault you only have a cell phone, or whatever, handy at the time. However, +1 for the general sentiment indicated by this answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10, 2018 at 13:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop oh I agree, that comment it was more of an observation than a justification. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevor_G
    Jan 10, 2018 at 14:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would rather have a well-typeset answer than a doodled answer but I would rather have a doodled answer than no answer at all.... \$\endgroup\$ Jan 16, 2018 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterGreen oh I agree, but if it was a great picture with French or German text you would be stuck. Hence my point. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevor_G
    Jan 18, 2018 at 12:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ "A picture is worth 10K words - but only those to describe the picture. Hardly any sets of 10K words can be adequately described with pictures." -- Alan Perlis \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2018 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AgiHammerthief it is a common English Idiom, with many variants. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevor_G
    Jan 20, 2018 at 12:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, it is. However, I quoted Perlis' take on it as my understanding is that the context for which he uttered it is the domain of technical fields such as electrical and/or software engineering. I'm by no means intending to imply that Perlis was the inventor of the idiom. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2018 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AgiHammerthief ah ok, was not sure if you were familiar with it. I forget how global this site is sometimes. ;D \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevor_G
    Jan 20, 2018 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterGreen wouiod you rather have a well-doodled answer, or a poorly made typeset answer? Because that second one sure does exist! \$\endgroup\$ Jan 22, 2018 at 3:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Harper: Neither. Of course the choice isn't between these two anyway. Arguing about what type of bad answer is better is pointless. Downvote the whole lot, and upvote the good ones. We get plenty of good ones here, so no loss. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 17:06

I was wondering if this is an acceptable way of answering questions.

Not really, everything that is written inside of the image won't be search-able through the search function or through google.

For those who don't get my comments in that answer you linked. It's a joke. Would we ever want more doodles? I think not. I mainly wanted a reaction from the person making the doodles to understand his/her thought process. But then you two began commenting and now s/he won't say anything.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry for ruining your "fun" - my joke-o-meter didn't go above the detection threshold. If I were that person I wouldn't react to that comment at all - or just by drawing more doodles in the future. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arsenal
    Jan 9, 2018 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Arsenal That's cool. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe because I didn't know the service doodle and even more so because I didn't know that doodle is an actual word... So I learned something today, which is always good. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arsenal
    Jan 9, 2018 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ We need more jokes. \$\endgroup\$
    – dim
    Jan 9, 2018 at 14:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I got the joke, but the spider-sense tingled more than the joke-o-meter detected. Sorry! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kroltan
    Jan 9, 2018 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dim "Your mama is..." ehm.... "most presumably a lovely lady.". \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dim Oh woaw. I just realized (3 hours later). You just did what I did to him. - Bleh. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 9, 2018 at 18:17

Too many of your complaints say "depending". That is to say, "depending on if the work is good or bad". I retort that good work is good work, and bad work is bad. I am never ok with bad work.

But I'm super ok with hand-drawn graphics, as long as it is good work. As to your points:

  • Handwriting should not be in a graphic, for search reasons. If it is doubled in the text, it is redundant and adds clutter to the graphic. But that is something you can fix.
  • Formatting "might be" poor depending on screen size? Viewing quality content on a phone is like listening to Loveless or Dark Side of the Moon on a cellphone speaker. Surely you can't mean excellent content should be dumbed down to work well on your phone.
  • If you use custom formatting options, and it doesn't handle all content well, your stuff is broken, not the contributor.
  • Absolutely agreed, if a picture is hosted not at official SE locations, edit the post so it is. That is an SE policy not to rely on outside sites, which can 404 over time.

SE is a gift economy. People contribute freely like beer. Often we have real luminaries with very limited time to compose answers, so they use the tools they work best in. I draw my own circuit diagrams rather than use CircuitLab because I need to use 11 colors and I package info CircuitLab refuses to, like screw colors and cable bundling.

Others give, but you also are here to give. Your proper response to a posting you feel can be improved is not to throw rocks and judge, because that damages the gift economy by deterring giving. The proper response is to improve it. So feel free to edit the post, textify his handwriting, fire up Photoshop and cut up his doodle into several graphics and place them inline. Capture his intent, then comment to say "Did I capture your intent?"

I've done this for others, and it never occurred to me to be mad or bitter about it. I don't get your problem.

When you just fix it, you change the author in a different way, instead of driving him off, you get him thinking "you know, I could just do that myself" and next thing you know, he will. It's educating by demonstrating, rather than "educating" by rallying people into downvote harassment, which, I can't see where the pot of gold would be on that.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair point. I wasn't trying to rally people to crush someone (the meta effect is strong in this site...). I'm not mad or bitter about it. Maybe you didn't get my question - I was simply asking if leaving the answer like that would be acceptable. Which it seems like the majority says "no". The easy way out is of course just downvote - just like we have people who have little time to compose an answer, they have equally little time to improve an answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arsenal
    Jan 23, 2018 at 7:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ You shouldn't edit someone else's post other than to fix obvious typos and maybe formatting problems. Cutting up someone's doodle into text and smaller doodles is too heavy handed. The author chose to do what he did. You don't have the right to change that. That brings up another problem with doodles, which is that they are difficult to edit by others, even if just to fix a obvious typo. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 12:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop I would agree on other forums, not here. SE posts are subject to editing, hence the edit button, and the mechanism works very well. I edit or am edited several times a week, NBD, that's SE. (obviously if a stack is a toxic environment with passive aggressive jerks, that doesn't work, but Thor-ish swinging of the BanHammer will fix that.) In any case, formatting is exactly what we're talking about here. That is literally OP's entire thesis. So this seems to me like a textbook example of what editing is for, unless it's about something else... \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Edits should not change the author's intent. Fixing obvious typos, misspellings, etc, are no problem. Some basic formatting fixes are OK, like adding a period where one was most likely meant to be. The author's intent and presentation are preserved. However, what you are proposing are major style changes. Even if you think the style is bad, the author has a right to present as he wishes. In such cases, downvote and leave a comment if you think the style detracts to the point of making the post "bad" or not useful. Don't start messing with my posts at that level, for example. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop ok, so we disagree on the "has a right to present as he wishes". That is true on his Blogspot. That is not true on SE. On SE he must follow forum rules and constructive editing is positively allowed by rules and mechanism. (Freedom of speech does not exist on the Internet, only Freedom of the Press, which belongs only to the press owner. That is effectively the person on the domain "whois"). Someone I know boiled it down more simply: "don't p.o. the host". (Implied: know who the host is). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean of course there is a sense of courtesy that you don't edit someone's posts without a pretty good reason, but that really is rooted in the "constructive" rule, which is a genuine rule. Getting accustomed to that courtesy might make it start feeling like a right, and thus, feeling like a right that has been violated. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2018 at 17:20

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