More often than I'd like, I see screenshots of terminal emulators while browsing through the newest questions and the "First Posts" review queue. If, given the context of the post, it is clear that the screenshot is posted for its textual content rather than its appearance, I generally edit the post to instead contain a transcription of said screenshot.1

After doing so, I tend to leave a comment along the lines of:

Please don't post images of text. I have transcribed the contents for you, but you may want to check for errors in transcription.

I have received thanks from one or two posters for this, and nobody has yet seemed opposed to the practice, but I would like a broader opinion — is image transcription in and of itself a valid reason to edit a post?

1 Often the edit involves grammar fixes and other formatting changes as well, but that is not the point of my question

  • It's reasonable to first ask the poster to convert it to plain text, and only if he/she does not do so, edit it. Given that one cannot cut and paste text from an image, this requires manual transcription, which can be quite a lot of work, depending on the amount of text. However, I suppose if one is prepared to do the work, there is no reason not to do so immediately. Jun 20, 2017 at 8:37

5 Answers 5


Absolutely. Yes indeedy. Thank you kindly. Editing a post to convert a non-editable image into malleable text is very helpful. Even if all the edit does is transcribe, it is absolutely a helpful edit.

So yes, please keep doing that and thank you for taking the time to do so!

  • 8
    Images being non-editable is a small problem. Images being non-searchable is the big problem. (Also: being non-accessible and non-quotable.)
    – derobert
    May 11, 2017 at 20:57
  • 2
    This is one of the kinds of examples where I often feel disappointment at not being able to vote up an edit to a post. The best you can do at that point is to find some other post by the same person that you like and offer a bounty towards it, but that's not the same thing.
    – user
    May 15, 2017 at 12:07
  • I agree wholeheartedly with the "thank you." I will say, though, that sometimes the question with a screenshot should be closed in the first place for other reasons—and when the reason is "problem went away when a typo was fixed" then a transcription can obscure the fact. Copy and paste by OP of the question is preferable. But, if the question is going to stay around, I love that someone is taking the time to make it readable/browsable! :)
    – Wildcard
    May 18, 2017 at 7:05
  • I would imagine that transcriptions are useful for blind users too; Screen-reading software probably isn't great at reading text in pictures.
    – Hydraxan14
    May 19, 2017 at 22:16
  • @Hydraxan14 indeed and that's one of the reasons mentioned in the main meta post about this which is linked in the OP.
    – terdon Mod
    May 20, 2017 at 11:46

Acceptable? Sure, why not, it makes the question easier to read, search and use.

Should you be expected to spend your time on that? I don't think so. The original asker is quite likely to already have the relevant data in text, so it's much easier for them to copy and paste the text to the question. Transcribing takes time and is prone to errors.

And should you do it even if not expected? In my not so humble opinion, maybe no. It makes crap questions seem more acceptable and enables users who don't spend the little time of formatting their questions, instead of helping them learn to write better questions themselves.

That said, the "How to ask" document in the help doesn't seem to contain a note about preferring text over images, so I don't know where new users are expected to see that advice and the reasoning for it.


From @terdon's answer:

Editing a post to convert a non-editable image into malleable text is very helpful

I found it interesting just how different the policy here on U&L is from that of Stack Overflow. And based on the kerfuffle in this question (now deleted - Meta post here), I'm wondering if this is really such a good idea?

While simple error messages can typically be accurately transcribed (to aid in searchability), the above SO Meta post goes into reasons why its a bad idea for other users to transcribe data/code images.

The main takeaways:

  • Transcription can introduce errors (or even correct errors that were present in the original data).
  • Transcription can make assumptions about the data that may not be valid (e.g. in the question that sparked this, transcribing a grid image to a CSV file).

The Stack Overflow community feels so strongly about this that several of the audit questions for the Edit review queue are image-transcription-edits. I've seen multiple meta-posts from users who have been suspended from the edit queue for a period of time for approving a transcription!

Personally, I fall on the side of the Stack Overflow community consensus -- Ask the OP to provide the original data. They can best copy it as text and paste an accurate representation.

It should be noted that new users (less than 20 rep, I believe), receive a warning message when inserting an image into their question through the toolbar:

Image warning

Images are useful in a post, but make sure the post is still clear without them. If you post images of code or error messages, copy and paste or type the actual code or message into the post directly.

I usually try to be quite sympathetic to issues in users' posts (and correct them as I can), but when they willfully ignore this warning and post an image-only (when text is available), I believe we should ask them to fix the issue before providing an answer. It's the best way to ensure that the text is an accurate and faithful representation of the problem.

Side-note regarding @terdon's answer:

Editing a post to convert a non-editable image into malleable text is very helpful

At the very least, I'd recommend appending something like "as long as the edit accurately reproduces the original text, code, or data". However, I don't feel that I can make that edit myself as it changes the meaning of the post.



It is as acceptable as it is for mother to cut your meat. It is necessary in some cases: when the person is unable to cut their own meat, often due to lack of skill. Outside of this case, mother is often just overbearing.

  • 4
    Your analogy fails when other people also want to eat the same piece of meat.
    – Sparhawk
    May 17, 2017 at 7:03
  • It still holds: If the chef serves a turkey whole, you should send it back. This is the same for questions that are improperly formatted.
    – nabin-info
    May 19, 2017 at 17:04
  • Again, your analogy fails. The turkey/question is not for a single person to eat. The patron/answerers are not paying the chef/questioner, and don't expect a commodity for their money. Maybe have a look at the introduction to U&L, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about Unix or Linux. This site is not only about helping individuals, but about creating good questions and good answers as a resource for future readers.
    – Sparhawk
    May 19, 2017 at 23:31

Making the text within that image non-searchable might have been the exact intention. It could be real world data used to demonstrate a problem which, while not confidential, the asker does not wish to have indexed and screenscraped everywhere.

  • 7
    If that's the case, then they shouldn't be publishing it to the world under CC-BY-SA or MIT licenses.
    – user
    May 15, 2017 at 12:06
  • They published a form that technically limits indexing, and unless there is value for others to be gained from making it indexable, why vandalize that intent? May 15, 2017 at 12:58
  • 4
    Of course there is value for others to be gained from making it indexable: It allows others to find the question, if it deals with an error that someone else is experiencing. IANAL, but to my mind, neither CC-BY-SA nor MIT restrict derivative works to those that would be considered to have "additional value" by the person making the original version available. If they absolutely do not want the text in the image to be found by searching, it would be simple to just point this out as a deliberate choice and request it not be transcribed.
    – user
    May 15, 2017 at 13:05
  • I'm not talking about the legal but community-stuff-ish acceptability here. May 15, 2017 at 15:57
  • 7
    Then the answer is even clearer: the community (very strongly) dislikes text posted as an image since that makes our life much harder. We can't edit, we can't search, we can't copy to test on our local machines.
    – terdon Mod
    May 17, 2017 at 9:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .