The plain text trap when copying mathematical formulæ


When an object, of any nature, is displayed and selectable on a com- puter screen, users expect it to be copy-and-paste-able: one can invoke the copy function and insert (paste) it at other places, within the same programme or beyond. This holds for many different kinds of objects: texts and images, at least. Unfortunately, for mathematical objects, this is rarely so. Most operating systems offer multiple channels to carry exchanged con- tent but most mathematical systems do not take advantage of it: they transfer the content in plain text, expecting it to have the right syntax or, if necessary, expecting the user to use a different copy function so that the right syntax is exchanged. While ways to circumvent these issues are available, they are mostly not used by mathematical software. We explore potential justifications and describe for which type of users, these justifications do not apply. To support this, we report briefly on the experiment students about their expectations and observations on the above mentioned process.


[PDF at CEUR-WS]M3.pdf