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).

Plus I ask because I read the about page (https://math.stackexchange.com/about) and it's about questions + answers, not questions + hints + what if I still don't get it and wants more hints + more hints or comments + ... you get the idea. I saw a question about giving hints (Hints: how to give them?) so I think it's ok to ask questions that just ask for hints but I want to know for sure. I don't want to ask stupid questions either (Should I ask stupid questions?) but I'm guessing that Ill be asking alot of questions. Is this something I should go to a forum for instead since its mre of a back and forth?

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.

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    $\begingroup$ I tried making a hint-only tag but got slapped down. Maybe just write that clearly in the post? $\endgroup$
    – dfeuer
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 2:36
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    $\begingroup$ If you make it clear that you want a hint only, then (mostly) your request will be respected. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AndréNicolas Awesome, thanks. So I shouldn't just tag it as homework? $\endgroup$
    – M T
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ If it is indeed homework, then do so tag it. In any case, please do make some indication of what you have tried. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 3:17
  • $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$
    – M T
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 3:26
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ I personally hope moderators treat people who fail to respect such requests with the utmost brutality, beginning with a month-long ban. $\endgroup$
    – dfeuer
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ 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". $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ You (and anyone else) should feel free to downvote full answers given in spite of the request for hints only. $\endgroup$
    – GEdgar
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 11:54
  • $\begingroup$ (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.) $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ This question and this question are examples of clear requests for hints only. (Both would be improved by putting the requests in boldface, though.) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 19:29

1 Answer 1


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).

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    $\begingroup$ 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). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ 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! $\endgroup$
    – M T
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ +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 $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 13:35

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