Why was the following question closed?


I ask because it is a very natural question, and one which has the potential to be useful to future users. The question asks for advice learned from experience which would be useful when starting out studying a maths degree. Sure, it is broad, but...surely this site is meant to be more than just a place to get your homework answered? We have so much experience and enthusiasm bubbling under the surface, so why can't this site give practical mathematical advice as opposed to just helping you to integrate* better?

*In the mathematical sense. Not in the social sense. Definitely not in the social sense.

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    $\begingroup$ Incidentally, I wonder why there are so many downvotes to this question: while I agree that the question on MSE was, as said Post No Bills, "Entirely un-SE", the question on Meta is perfectly understandable. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ @arbautjc On meta, voting often (not always) expresses just agreement/disagreement. Then it doesn't have to do anything with the quality of the question or answer. In this case, I'm convinced the downvotes on the question merely express disagreement with the position that the question in question should not be closed. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 11:28
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    $\begingroup$ I am convinced you are right, but I think this is not a good habit. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 12:35

4 Answers 4


The existing answers show why such questions should be closed. They are a random collection of personally preferred practices, opinions and anecdotes of little to no value, taken from a self-selected sample that is not representative of anything. "I know a guy who..."

This is what such questions generate: enjoyable exchange of personal stories / opinions, many page views, much distraction for users, some cheap upvotes, nothing that adds value to the Internet. Entirely un-SE.


From the help center:

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

I think one could write a book answering the question, so it is too broad. Fittingly, that was the official closure reason.

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    $\begingroup$ That is the letter of the law, yes. But why need we apply it here? I believe that the underlying question here is good enough to at least consider making an exception. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ (As it happens with most too-broad-and-too-soft questions) it got reopened... $\endgroup$
    – Grigory M
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @user1729 BTW, after this 'exception' the same user asked 2 more soft-questions in 2 hours. Math.SE is not a discussion forum... $\endgroup$
    – Grigory M
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ I don't necessarily disagree with this decision (okay, I admit that I didn't even look at the question) but I think that the "If you could write a book about it..." criterion for closure is not a very good one to be taken literally. Mathematics is a very deep subject: I think that many if not most things that someone might reasonably ask a question about also has a book (or more) devoted to it.... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ Consider for instance: (i) Why is $\lim_{x \rightarrow 3} x^2-1 = 8$? versus (ii) Why do we call a function "continuous" when it satisfies the $\epsilon$-$\delta$ definition? There are books devoted to (deep aspects of) the second question; one cannot imagine a book written about the first question. Nevertheless the second question is better than the first, in any reasonable sense. Right? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ Added: Okay, I looked at the question and have voted for its closure. But I still take some exception to your criterion: I think that this question is too broad to be the topic of a useful, single book. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ @PeteL.Clark I semi-agree and semi-disagree. Your reading is a bit too literal for my taste. Books can be broad or deep. If the most appropriate answer would be a broad book, it certainly wouldn't fit to well. In terms of depth, I think you actually need sufficiently specific questions to go to any depth. For your second question, I would read it as a question about motivating a definition and that certainly does not deserve a full book. One can of course talk about the history of analysis, discuss what kind of mathematical structures are best suited to formalizing continuity,... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ ... how the equivalence of certain definitions varies with the choice of foundations, etc. But I wouldn't say that writing about all these things "answers" the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael: I agree I am being perhaps unhelpfully literal-minded, but that's kind of the point: do we want to hold the "book standard" up as being a sufficient reason to close a question? But I think that your point about "broad" versus "deep" is exactly right: as I said, I worry that the question is too broad when one couldn't write a book about it. Amusingly, what brought me back to look at these comments was a recent question which is essentially my (ii) above: math.stackexchange.com/questions/615925. I do think it would take a book to fully engage this question. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 23:59

The same question has been asked a million times, and the answers are always reformulations of classic and easily available advice that can be found with a Google search. There's nothing really novel or interested to be said. I suspect this is why it was closed.

Personally, I would choose one "How to study math?" question to be the canonical one and close all of the others as duplicates.


I disagree. I also believe space should be made for questions which by their nature are apt to be more broadly based personal questions. The fact they may not directly address the functional skills of the subject is irrelevant to the person who is not asking for that kind of information.

It's clear that this question has recurred in various forms for quite some time. I move for Stack Exchange to either broaden its policy or, if it would be too messy to have those types of questions appear in the main page, then actually provide a service between the main sites and meta sites which permits it.

Having questions closed because they ask for opinions which are genuinely sought is nothing but frustrating for the questioner.

There is more to any one subject that strict technical answers to strict technical questions and banning the more open style seeking a personal view or opinion really achieves little more than obliterating the social side of the subject for users of Stack Exchange. I think the more open questions deserve more of an airing than they get here and that it is fair to ask Stack Exchange to widen the scope to envelop a problem which occurs with as much frequency as this one.

  • $\begingroup$ For those questions, there's always Quora. This is MSE. You can't have everything everywhere. $\endgroup$
    – user0
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 7:08

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