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This question is an generalized version of my previous question on meta:
https://math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/13745/103816

For me there are two types of questions, 1. Conceptual, 2. Problem solving. The so called homework questions falls under problem solving on MSE. On some sites like Phys.SE(there might be others but I'm only familiar with this) problem solving questions are not allowed. Homework has a totally different meaning on Phys.SE. On Phys.SE the ultimate reason of closing and downvoting a question is taken if the question doesn't fit into the Big picture, that is those questions which are not interested to the majority(not getting good traffic). Due to their unfriendly policies I've stopped participating there and now I'm trying to make a better Phys community website alike our Math.SE.

Since each SE website has its own set of rules and culture I am inclined to know what is the culture of M.SE and upon which behalf users vote here. Since my previous meta post was downvoted too much I get paranoid and started to downvote posts of others. I have downvoted 3 questions:

Sadly the first one and the third one are deleted by their authors. I do not remember why I downvoted the first one. I downvoted the second one keeping in mind that it does not show enough effort by the OP to solve the question on his own. I downvoted the third one because it doesn't show enough research effort. I also downvoted all of them because they seem not be useful to the broader community hence their presence is against SE goals(though I am against SE rules; this is a sarcastic reason). While I am sure that they are not good for SE system I have doubt this is not the MSE's culture to downvote a question just because it is not useful to the broader community.

Are my downvotes appropriate?

I also do not know how much research the OP of a question is expected to do before asking a question on this website which is a part of Stack Exchange network. Different SE websites have difference policies e.g. here on Math.SE we allow beginner(perhaps they are not allowed; as my two basic question seem to be downvoted because they are beginner level) and problem solving questions while on other sites(like Phys.SE) they are not allowed.

I usually spent most of my time on phys.SE, hence I am familiar with their policy(forth coming) about how much research one should do before asking a question.


  • How much research is considered as sufficient prior research before asking a conceptual question? Thus downvote a question because it does not show enough research effort?
  • Does one have to mention his/her research in the question, that is does he/she is ought to tell what he/she has searched on google, wikipedea and which books he/she has read before asking a conceptual question?

I've read this post, it is explaining mainly why problem solving question is downvoted. That post doen't explain why a conceptual question is downvoted.

  • Does MSE users downvote a question because it doesn't fit into the big picture and does not fulfill SE's goals?
  • Why my previous meta post has been downvoted? Why people do not like that post? What is the purpose of meta then, if I can't ask for how to improve my post on meta?
  • Do users downvote the questions which are off-topic, e.g. this question of mine which probably fits better on Philosophy.SE.
  • What is the culture of Math.SE in contrast to the culture of Phys.SE?
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    $\begingroup$ How much research effort have you put into looking for previous discussions of this and related topics here on meta-m.se? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 19 '14 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I looked up in faq but couldn't find a canonical post about this. The only thing that I found somehow related is this post. It only says "Include your work" but doesn't mention how much work should be done. $\endgroup$ – user103816 May 19 '14 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ There's no canonical post because there's no community consensus. The debate about what to do with unmotivated or non-researched questions has been going on for years. $\endgroup$ – user61527 May 19 '14 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Bongers Then how users decide "this question does not show any research effort" and downvote? How much upvotes on a post are considered to be enough consensus so that the discussion become faq? $\endgroup$ – user103816 May 19 '14 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ @user31782 See previous meta discussions on this issue for how people justify or decide to close or downvote. I doubt that there will be a consensus on this issue in the near future - it's not just a question of upvotes. $\endgroup$ – user61527 May 19 '14 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Bongers Mostly there are discussions of homework or/and no-effort type questions. I am asking for conceptual questions, like a question about understanding a proof, theorem, article etc. What usually users keep in mind while downvoting these kind of question(especially for lacking research) Could you direct me to some relevant discussion that has done in the past. $\endgroup$ – user103816 May 19 '14 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ Also were my downvotes on the 3 questions that I've linked appropriate? $\endgroup$ – user103816 May 19 '14 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ "Mostly there are discussions of homework or/and no-effort type questions. I am asking for conceptual questions, like a question about understanding a proof, theorem, article etc." There is nothing in the current wording of your question to indicate this. Please edit the body of your question so that it asks what you really want to ask. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 19 '14 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ "Initially this post was downvoted -2, now it is upvoted!, I really don't understand the voting system here." Initially, Obama was losing in Indiana, but then he pulled ahead. I really don't understand the voting system there. Whatever the first vote is, everyone else should vote that way, too. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 19 '14 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ "I also downvoted all of them because they seem not be useful to the broader community hence their presence is against SE goals(though I am against SE rules; this is a sarcastic reason)." Downvoting for sarcastic reasons strikes me as a pretty bizarre form of behavior, and I hope you won't do that again. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 19 '14 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ The way to improve things is to behave better than others. But are you saying others have downvoted your posts for sarcastic reasons? If you have evidence of this, please report it to the moderators. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 19 '14 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ My threshold for measuring effort has always been very low. It can take as little as a single pertinent comment on how they wanted to approach the problem to convince me they have thought about it and they should receive help. (Things like "I think (c) is right what about the rest?" do not count.) $\endgroup$ – rschwieb May 19 '14 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ @user31782: To be clear, you have not been voting for "sarcastic reasons", have you? Gerry is right to say that downvoting for 'sarcastic reasons' is poor practice $\endgroup$ – davidlowryduda May 19 '14 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @mixedmath The OP said that they downvoted 3 questions for no other reason than to make an experience. $\endgroup$ – Did May 19 '14 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ Closing(not downvoting) a mathematical question just because it does not show effort is flat out WRONG in my opinion. Under this rule, great many good questions of this site should be closed. A mathematical question is not a personal one. $\endgroup$ – Makoto Kato May 20 '14 at 0:26
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The policy of physics.se is very nice. Perhaps we should make something like that official here. Here's what you should know.

You should upvote or downvote any question/answer you like as long as your criteria are based on the content of the content of the question/answer and not on external factors, such as fondness or acquaintance with the OP, like or dislike of the relevant area of mathematics, revenge downvoting, reciprocal upvoting, etc. In fact, I explicitly encourage you to utilize both your upvotes and your downvotes as much as possible. Vote early, and vote often, and remember that the voting system allow extra votes on questions in order to optimize for pearls, not sand. So vote vote vote!

It happens to be precisely this freedom that brings so much trouble to giving you a definitive answer to your other questions.

Does one have to mention his/her research in the question?

What we really want is good questions that are asked in good faith. When a user asks a question, we expect them to try to ask a good question. That link is a great indicator of good questions, but one guiding principle behind the scenes is to prevent unnecessary duplication of effort, and when there is doubt, the OP should pick up the slack. We at least expect users to pay attention to the faq help center topic on "Asking".

Number 1 here is to search and re-search for an answer before asking. Math is not done in a void, and there are resources for everything. Users should say what they found in their searches and explain why it doesn't meet their needs - this shows us what they know, prevents us from restating obvious answers, and most importantly, leads to specific, relevant answers.

The idea that users must include his/her research in the question is really aimed at resolving these questions and concerns. And it is a reasonable guideline, and applies to almost every question that comes through here. A benefit to having people be the ones who do the voting is that people can think form themselves whether or not a question seems to be asked in good faith. If it is - great! Upvote away, answer if you can! If not, edit it to become more reasonable, or if it's beyond help, downvote it to smithereens! (Really - SE consciously dropped the rep cost for downvoting questions).

One trend that I'd like to see go away is the "reciprocal effort policy", where users put in an amount of effort in answering a question as was put into asking the question. Poor answers drag the site down, and should not be given. If a question is too poor to receive a good answer, then it shouldn't be answered. And on the flipside, we expect answers to stand the test of time, and for MSE to become an extraordinary repository of knowledge and help for future users. The best way for this to happen is for there to be many good, relevant answers to good, specific questions, both with enough detail to be helpful to people from a different context and to be searchable.

There is a fundamental mismatch of scale in effort between bad questions asked in bad faith and good users editing and improving low-quality questions, and bad questions, asked in bad faith, have a tendency to overwhelm the good intentions of the average SE user. [Bonus fact: The growth in #questions asked between last March to this March was about 50% - we are growing]

One trend that I'd really like to see increase is closing questions as duplicates that are duplicates, merging questions (which is done via flags to the moderators) that should be merged (meaning they are duplicates that both survived and both have good content), and otherwise keeping our Q&A maintained.

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    $\begingroup$ Phys.SE's forthcoming policy is very bad. They consider people idiots who do not capitalize "I", when used to express oneself. IMO beginners should not be supposed to do that much of research. "Someone who is new to the subject may find it extremely difficult to research on google etc because they are not familiar with the specific terms and do not know which keyword should they try to search on google." Please don't make this website like Phys.SE. $\endgroup$ – user103816 May 19 '14 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ SE is a for-profit organization. They want to make every SE site a community which does not care to help others. They are making only Q2A websites. We should make a community not a Q2A website. IMO helping future users at the sake of not helping present users is not a good idea. I do not know about others but I, for one, am against SE policies. The policies of Math.SE should be independent from the SE philosophy and goals. $\endgroup$ – user103816 May 19 '14 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ We have made a community, and our practices are often not what SE had in mind. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 19 '14 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ @user31782: I always find it odd when people do things like visit a site for X, and say "X is bad we should make this a site for Y". Why not go just go to a site for Y instead? What about all the poor people who actually want X? $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl May 19 '14 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ I would point out that the top comment by @user31782 does not reflect the policy at Physics at all (of course anyone who actually clicks on the link will see this). $\endgroup$ – David Z May 27 '14 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Your link does not point to any policy at Physics.SE. So precisely what do you refer to? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jun 1 '14 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill Sorry for the confusion. I'm talking about the proposed policy that user31782 linked to in the top comment. Nowhere in that question or its answers does it say anything about considering users idiots for not capitalizing "I" or similar mistakes. I just wanted to point out the factual incorrectness of that statement. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 2 '14 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Thanks for clarification. Is there any concise summary of the current Physics.SE policies? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Jun 2 '14 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ Let me rephrase the relevant point in the top comment of mine. "He( and 7 others who upvoted his answer) consider people stupid who do not capitalize 'I', when used as a pronoun." $\endgroup$ – user103816 Jun 2 '14 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque currently we don't have a policy. The purpose of the linked question is to establish such a policy. Though perhaps the word "policy" is a little strong, since the only intended consequence of insufficient prior research is downvoting; I'd really call it a guideline for question askers. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 2 '14 at 9:02
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Not sure if I should answer but this question. But as many others on meta it seems to reflect a lack of understanding of how SE works. Even if we have policy guidelines, it would be naive to think we should have some detailed set of the rules the will establish what to do in every single case. The community standard is fluid and evolving.

It does not matter if I or you are right or wrong regarding a question shows enough prior work or not. Just vote using your best instincts. The aggregation of votes is what matters. If you ask people how many coins you have in a jar, everyone of them is going to be very far from the true number but when you average their opinions, you tend to be very close to the truth.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi Sergio, I've posted an answer as a comment to your answer. $\endgroup$ – user103816 May 20 '14 at 15:14

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