I'm a first year student in Computer Science and we all have big problems with math here. We study real analysis, elementary set theory, linear algebra and discrete math and we seek help wherever we can. I decided to give math.stackexchange.com a try, and this site saved my sorry butt numerous times already. I told my friends about it, but then I realised that perhaps inviting even more clueless students, who only ask questions and don't really contribute anything to this site, is not a good idea? I'm really, really grateful for the community of math stackexchange and I don't want to do something wrong to it.

Edit: to make it clear: I confess to being that kind of student. I ask only questions here and I can't provide any answers, even though I try. So that's why I assume my colleagues would act similarly, and I don't judge or blame them for that.

So, tl;dr: is inviting more students (who will only ask questions) to math stackexchange good etiquette?

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    $\begingroup$ I think it's fine, especially if in addition to "there's this great site", you'll say "and it works best if you use it this way..." $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Clueless students, OK. Students who only want us to do their homework for them, not so much. $\endgroup$
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ It is a helpful site and it's free tutoring too. Not too many places offer that. I attempt everything for the homework and post on here so that people can view and guide me to the right direction. $\endgroup$
    – usukidoll
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ Its a bit presumptuous of you to assume (1) that they will actually want to use it and (2) that they will only ask questions. Finally, I should point out the most hilarious part of this.... you have only asked questions (10) and provided no answers (well 1 but it was an opinion based answer much like this question... math.stackexchange.com/questions/648904/what-will-i-be-doing/…). I don't think anyone really minds your behaviour but its a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. $\endgroup$
    – Squirtle
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Squirtle you misunderstood my point: I ask this question because I am exactly that kind of person, and I feel kinda bad about it. I just don't want to cause even more trouble by bringing more people like me to this site, that's all. I don't blame other students for being as clueless as I am. $\endgroup$
    – Dunno
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ I've only been using this site a couple of weeks, have given answers where I could, have not yet asked any questions. My attitude is the same as it is with my face-to-face students: happy to help those who don't know what to do, not interested in helping those who don't want to work. As long as people show some evidence of having thought about their question, I have no problems. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 3:18
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    $\begingroup$ “[...]who only ask questions and don't really contribute anything to this site” - Why do you think that if you ask good questions you are not contributing to the site? ;-) $\endgroup$
    – pppqqq
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ I joined 3 months ago when I couldn't solve a few maths questions. And now, I simply love spending time on the Math.SE, asking and answering questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 17:09

5 Answers 5


There's no issue with inviting your fellow students to the site. But please be sure to coordinate amongst you, so that no two students ask the same question (it has happened with a set theory course earlier this year).

  • $\begingroup$ I guess that this kind of thing is quite unavoidable from the human side. Maybe with the integration of a google-like algorithm that automatically search the similarities between the topic you are writing and other similar ones, and suggesting it to the author, would give better results. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ @LeoAzevedo There is one (it's a list right below the "Title" field when you ask your question), but it's not always so good, so the times it does strike gold, one might ignore it only out of habit. $\endgroup$
    – Arthur
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Leo: When it's a group of students in the same class, the least they can do is share the link of the questions amongst them each time one of them posts it. More often than not, today, there are Facebook/whatever based groups for that, so it's not even a hassle in this aspect. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Arthur: I've found it useful several times, when I was about to ask an idle-curiosity question and found it was already here. I'd estimate that this list and the "related questions" in the sidebar give spot-on hits for at least half of the questions I would otherwise have asked. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 2:23

Answer:question ratios are imbalanced on an individual level and always have been. People make their own free choice to spend the time answering your question(s) or not.

The only thing you can do wrong is to ask questions without searching first to see if it's already been answered.

  • $\begingroup$ Precisely........ and there are people that answer thousands of questions and ask none. $\endgroup$
    – Squirtle
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 20:22

Another point which is worth pointing out (imho) is that you're a first year student. Most of us started (assumption) out with little knowledge.
As you progress in your studies you will be able to answer more questions - that holds true for pretty much everybody.
Therefore it is OK to refer others to this site, as long as - as has been pointed out already - you don't ask the same question multiple times and if you try to contribute answers.

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    $\begingroup$ There is no requirement than anyone try to contribute answers. Using the site purely for asking questions is a perfectly fine usage, as long as they are good questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Tobias, I agree with all in this answer. I don't think he is saying there is a requirement. Just a suggestion. I think a person should answer a(n) (unanswered) question if one knows how, and as he says, with time that capability increases. $\endgroup$
    – JMCF125
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ Took me some time to get back to this. As JMCF125 rightly understood, I think that it is natural to try and "return a favor". $\endgroup$
    – Nox
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:45

I started off on Stack Overflow asking only questions, and it took a good year or two for me to start answering them. Now, I'm up above a 1:2 answer:question ratio and improving. Some of my answers were to old questions that had no good answer, and I was able to provide a great answer that quickly builds rep and thus proves that the old question was in need of an answer. See here for example.

You and your friends might place a small burden on the site today, but by filling up the site with good questions you are in fact helping others. And later you and your friends might start contributing answers as well, which the site will need as it grows.


There are many SE sites where I will always have more of causal interest than regular users do, and I will not become someone who can answer as many questions as I ask. That can't be helped.

Even in Math.SE, where my interest is more than casual, there are many people here who are much quicker than I am even on topics I know about. It's great that there are so many people who can help so quickly. So it turns out that most questions that I could answer already have good answers by the time that I see them, and even if I see a question I can answer immediately after it's posted, there's a good chance that someone else will complete a good answer before I finish my answer, and my answer then doesn't contribute anything. I don't think this situation will change with time, either. So I answer questions when I can, and I'm happy to do so, but I don't worry about the fact that I can't contribute as much to Math.SE as I get out of it.

Instead, I contribute to other SE sites where I can be more helpful. On other SE sites, I am able to answer more questions more helpfully.


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