# How Should I ask Questions that I just need Hints on?

So I'm starting to work through a real analysis textbook, but I'm not great at math so I expect I'll get suck working through some of the proofs/problems. Sometimes I need a hint. The book has a few, but I figure I could ask on the math site. I don't want the answer right away because, let's face it, I'll see it and not do the problem myself.

Is there a procedure for this. Is it ok to just ask for a hint and say "wait a bit before giving the full answer"? Should I just treat my questions like homework and use the homework tag? I saw a question here about homework (How to ask a homework question?) and a lot of that looks like applies to my questions even though they're not homework (no one is grading me or anything).

Forgot: I asked a question just asking for hints already (Show that if $A$ and $B$ are sets, then $A \subseteq B$ if and only if $A \cap B = A$.) that was related to another question (not identical but related so I linked it), and no one said anything, but since I already thought of another one to ask I didn't want to push it.

• I tried making a hint-only tag but got slapped down. Maybe just write that clearly in the post? – dfeuer Oct 13 '13 at 2:36
• If you make it clear that you want a hint only, then (mostly) your request will be respected. – André Nicolas Oct 13 '13 at 2:51
• @AndréNicolas Awesome, thanks. So I shouldn't just tag it as homework? – M T Oct 13 '13 at 3:05
• If it is indeed homework, then do so tag it. In any case, please do make some indication of what you have tried. – André Nicolas Oct 13 '13 at 3:17
• @AndréNicolas Technically it's not homework because it isn't assigned or anything (I'm homeschooled but I've done all the math the state requires so I'm doing extra), but I definitely just want hints. – M T Oct 13 '13 at 3:26
• Just go ahead and ask questions. Make it clear that you want hints only. Soon enough you will see whether the strategy is working. If it isn't, adjustments can be made. – André Nicolas Oct 13 '13 at 3:30
• I personally hope moderators treat people who fail to respect such requests with the utmost brutality, beginning with a month-long ban. – dfeuer Oct 13 '13 at 6:21
• By the way, "Make it clear that you want hints only" means "write in a big font size, in capital letters, in boldface, at the beginning, middle, and end of your post, that you want hints only". – Gerry Myerson Oct 13 '13 at 6:32
• You (and anyone else) should feel free to downvote full answers given in spite of the request for hints only. – GEdgar Oct 13 '13 at 11:54
• (In addition to the above, should be annoy people who provide a full answer by commenting to point out that you only wanted a hint.) – user1729 Oct 14 '13 at 12:35
• This question and this question are examples of clear requests for hints only. (Both would be improved by putting the requests in boldface, though.) – Brian M. Scott Oct 15 '13 at 19:29

Here is how I see these Things happen ideally:

The OP (you) ask about the exercise, stating clearly that they only need hints (before the main question is probably best, to give people less chance to miss it).

Someone gives you a somewhat vague hint in a comment. You try to apply the hint, but you still seem to be missing some key idea, so you add a comment saying how you tried to apply the hint and what you seem to be missing.

Someone fleshes out the hint. You try to apply this new version and...

Repeat above process until you have managed to obtain a solution.

You (the OP) post an answer with the full solution you have come up with. This allows the question to end up with a proper answer, and gives you an opportunity to get feedback on your solution (plus potentially some extra reputation).

• I have had occasional success with this approach (as the hinter), but far more often someone jumps in and posts an answer (or OP gets annoyed that no one writes an answer, and leaves). – Gerry Myerson Oct 13 '13 at 12:24
• I'll do it this way, then. I feel bad because I don't really have any other way of checking my work, so a lot of my questions will probably be "I need hints, is this correct? Heres the long rambling work that I've done so far." Thanks! – M T Oct 13 '13 at 14:27
• @GerryMyerson My experience is the same, hence why I wrote "ideally". My hope is that when the OP is concerned enough to ask about how best to ask these, that there will be more success than with the average user. – Tobias Kildetoft Oct 14 '13 at 6:27
• +1 I propose you put emphasis on You (the OP) post an answer with the full solution you have come up with. since for future users the full answer should be here, otherwise the hints might be too specifically tailored towards the OP – Tobias Kienzler Oct 22 '13 at 13:35