Preface: feel free to close this/point me in the direction of the answer if it has already been discussed here. A quick search of Meta didn't bring anything up (searched ChemDraw and organic structures), other than a discussion of tags to apply to structures, and an old post looking for software suggestions.

Over the last few days, there have been a few posts here on Chem.SE in which the person asking the question has uploaded a photo of their hand-drawn workings/problems. In a few of these cases, the post has been left untouched, and in a few someone has kindly mocked up their hand-drawn image into ChemDraw.

My question is regarding whether there is a consensus on the presentation of (mainly, but not limited to) organic structures in questions and answers.

Obviously there is a benefit to professionally drawn structures, however there seems to be little consistency over whether or not the structure is edited (my guess would be that it depends on whether someone has the time to do so).

In the same way that there has been discussion over whether formulas should be converted to MathJax if they are perfectly legible without (very simple math that doesn't involve subscripts/superscripts etc), I wonder if perfectly legible hand-drawn structures should be edited. They are, after all, both non-searchable images, and so from the point of view of chem.se acting as a searchable, long term repository of answers, neither is obviously better.

There are, in my mind at least, several disadvantages to someone else editing these posts merely for aesthetic reasons. Unlike MathJax, which is standard across the website, computerised structures vary greatly depending on software/settings. Poorly executed ChemDraw is every bit as ugly/illegible as a poorly handwritten structure, not to mention that there is always the possibility of transcription errors which might not be picked up on if the OP is not highly familiar with the subject area.

From the point of answering questions, I would also argue that spending 10 minutes crafting a mechanism on paper is time far better spend than trying to wrangle curly arrows in ChemDraw.

Any advice?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think this brings up the question about whether we should petition to have a web sketcher added to the interface (e.g., ChemDoodle) $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2015 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ This would be really useful, saving having to go into ChemDraw, export as PNG, then upload etc., and would likely encourage more people to bother drawing the structures. Is this easily achievable? $\endgroup$
    – NotEvans.
    Dec 1, 2015 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I don't bother exporting, I just take a screenshot! $\endgroup$ Jan 8, 2016 at 14:23

2 Answers 2


Benefits of editing posts to add computer-drawn structures:

  • The structures are clean, perfectly legible computer-drawn images.

  • They have no shadows on the margins or otherwise irrelevant content.

  • Every element is clearly readable (I had a professor whose $\ce{Cl}$ looked something like a handwritten e).

  • Fish-hooks and arrows are clearly distinguishable

  • It helps preserve high-quality content, which is what Stack Exchange is aiming for. (This basically sums up the previous points.)

Disadvantages of editing posts to add computer-drawn structres:

  • It costs time.

  • It costs time.

  • It bumps a post back to the first page.

  • It costs time.

  • For users with less than 2000 rep, the edit needs to be approved.

  • It costs time.

  • Other people might get copy editor or archaeologist badges before I do.

  • It costs time.

  • Did I mention it costs time?


These edits (should) make the post easier to read, to parse and prevent misunderstandings. Thus, they do more good than harm. If they don’t, reject them/roll them back. If somebody does it to really old posts outside of TGRE (when the front page will be swamped anyway), comment to politely remind them not to wake sleeping dogs (while still mentioning that the edits are good, in general, since they enhance quality).

Nobody should be required to make computer-drawn schemes. Not everybody has time or access to a proper software package. But if someone has the time and patience to do so — be my guest!

  • $\begingroup$ Would you please clarify what does TGRE stand for? $\endgroup$
    – andselisk Mod
    Sep 18, 2017 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ @andselisk It was The Great Retagging Event but it seems like MAR only used the letters TRE in their own posts on meta. I seem to remember it was used as TGRE in chat though. $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Sep 18, 2017 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Oh boy, who would've thought:D Thank you very much for the clarification! $\endgroup$
    – andselisk Mod
    Sep 18, 2017 at 15:50

I am probably responsible for the edits you are talking about. The only reason I edit is because it looks better, just like how MathJaX looks better, and as you correctly guessed, it depends mainly on whether I happen to be online and have time. I am not trying to enforce a standard that others should uphold—it is purely to improve the quality of the question and the site as a whole.

There's no need to make this compulsory. I don't think it would achieve anything. Producing these images is time-consuming and regulars here are busy in real life, I do not want to feel compelled to edit an old question whenever I see a hand-drawn mechanism.

As of now, there's also no need to discourage it:

  • "Unlike MathJax, which is standard across the website, computerised structures vary greatly depending on software/settings." It's an image—whether it's generated on OS X or Windows doesn't matter (I in fact use both) unless one is significantly uglier than the other, which I do not believe to be the case. Again, it comes back to the purpose—I'm just trying to improve the question and make it easier for others to read. I'm not trying to impose some kind of benchmark that everybody needs to follow. Incidentally, rendition of MathJaX is dependent on browser and operating system as well.

  • "Poorly executed ChemDraw is every bit as ugly/illegible as a poorly handwritten structure, not to mention that there is always the possibility of transcription errors which might not be picked up on if the OP is not highly familiar with the subject area." I usually check several times to make sure this doesn't happen, so I do hope I am not guilty of this. I would consider myself to be a meticulous person and I am sure others will agree that it is reflected in my contributions to the site. Since I seem to be the only person doing this, as long as my edits aren't ugly, illegible, or incorrect, it isn't a problem for the community in general at this point in time. If more people start doing this, and in the process change the original question, then we should treat it the same way any other lousy edit is treated, which usually means to reject the edit suggestion.

As for answering questions, to put it bluntly, I don't really care whether you or anybody else uses hand drawn mechanisms, as long as it is clear. I'm not going to downvote just because a mechanism is hand drawn, and I'm sure nobody here would.

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    $\begingroup$ My thoughts exactly. This is a way too minor improvement to the post to be obligatory. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Nov 24, 2015 at 17:57

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