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Since I've started using MSE, I've been waiting for that moment where I could contribute by means of answering questions. Everyday on this site, that moment seems farther and farther away.

Whenever I come across a question that I might be able to answer, I would first obsess about whether it's correct in the first place, and if I'm confident in its validity, I notice that some of the quicker guns have already provided an answers, at the very least using the methods I would have used. Consequently, I don't post my answer.

Another thing, quite frankly, I don't know much mathematics(at this moment). In a way, my lack of knowledge kind of makes me feel like I'm abusing this site by only having asked questions to this point(I have answered a question or two in the past, but deleted it since I wasn't satisfied with its quality).

I can't help but feel somewhat insecure about my presence here. How is this usage of MSE perceived by the rest of the community?

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    $\begingroup$ Look at older questions. Among the unanswered questions, there certainly are some you can also answer, and if they're not new [a couple of hours is sufficiently "old" for that], they're not likely to get an answer while you're typing. (Although that can happen from time to time.) $\endgroup$ – Daniel Fischer Nov 22 '14 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ Your questions are appropriate to the site, so you're contributing - and really, the only criteria here is that you ask questions in good faith (i.e. to learn) and include the context of your own efforts. Good questions make prolific answerers happy, since we like to answer things that look like the OP might have actually put thought into before posting here (and will likely put thought into reading our answer) $\endgroup$ – Milo Brandt Nov 22 '14 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ Write your answer and post it anyway, even if there is an accepted answer so long as you don't basically repeat everything in an already posted answer. Your explanation may be different. It is good for you and perhaps for the original poster to do since your explanation may very well communicate on the OP's level better. $\endgroup$ – JohnD Nov 23 '14 at 6:18
  • $\begingroup$ By asking questions, you are creating opportunities and room for answers, which is as good a thing as filling that room up ;) $\endgroup$ – user3459110 Nov 28 '14 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ To me this older discussion seems (at least to some extent) related: How can non-experts best contribute?. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 2 '14 at 8:09
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This has been brought up before, but it's good to have a reminder every now and then.

  1. Write answers. Even if there are answers out there, don't hesitate to write an answer of your own. It will be good for your own mathematical progress, and unless you'll somehow end up typing in spam or something very offensive (you know, what with quantum mechanics suggesting that it has a non-zero probability) this is not going to lower the level of the website.

  2. It's a Q&A site. Notice that the Q is there first. This site strives for quality questions. If you can't answer anything, or you're not feeling ready to take that leap, just focus on making your questions as best as they can be, and this will be an incredible contribution to the site as a whole.

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  1. You can contribute by editing. For example, there are almost 10000 posts with an image and no TeX. Typically, these contain formulas presented as an image instead of LaTeX. Some of such posts are best left in the proverbial dustbin, but many would benefit the site if they were better presented. (Note that the query includes the score).

  2. You can look for duplicates and flag them as such. For example, the question how to prove this is most likely a duplicate, but who is going to find the target? And by the way, titles like this one are unfortunately not rare, bringing me back to the subject of editing. There are not enough users willing and able to edit posts.

  3. You can also contribute by voting. Downvotes especially are in short supply: this year, only 7% of all votes cast were downvotes. Downvotes remove bad questions from the front page, facilitate their automatic deletion, and enable deletion of egregiously bad answers. Additionally, they factor into automatic rate limits and eventual post bans.

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    $\begingroup$ Or, by downvoting, your favorite, right? $\endgroup$ – Passing By Dec 4 '14 at 2:44
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, added them as item 3. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Dec 4 '14 at 4:35
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    $\begingroup$ Why don't you add the evidence -- if you have any -- that downvoting is effective, and that there are no "reasonable" alternatives to downvoting that would not be annoying or hurtful to many. $\endgroup$ – Passing By Dec 4 '14 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ I mean, I don't expect this level of evidence for everything. But you are doing something that many have expressly stated they find annoying or hurtful, so, if you choose to engage in downvoting, which has this effect on many, it seems like a justification that the benefits outweighthe costs would be in order. $\endgroup$ – Passing By Dec 4 '14 at 4:50
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You know how some of those "quicker guns" get their answers out so quick? With dense answers that need a lot of unpacking for those who haven't studied the particular concept at hand as thoroughly as they have. "Oh, that's easy, you just apply the Schmuckelberg-Hill lemma for the odd cases and you're done." Huh, what? What is the Schmuckelberg-Hill lemma and what does it have to do with what I asked? Are the even cases trivial or inapplicable, and if so, why?

What I'm saying is: if you see a dense answer like that and you understand it but unpacking it would take more characters than comments allow, go ahead and post your unpacking as an answer. Editing others' questions and answers is another way you can be helpfully involved here.

You really shouldn't obsess about how your usage is perceived by the community. I'm sure right now there's at least ten people in the 'community' who think I'm a total idiot who has no business being here on account of one or two minor inaccuracies in a couple of my posts. But I know for a fact that I have taught a couple of things and I've learned a couple of things, so that makes it all worthwhile for me.

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    $\begingroup$ LOL (+1) Reminds me of the (true) story that in some math competition a contestant managed to baffle the judges by appealing to Müller's theorem at a critical step. The judges were undecided, and rewarded the guy with partial credit. He later confided to the team leader that it was meant to be a joke. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 23 '14 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, it now turns out that there really is a Schmuckelber-Hill Lemma, and the joke's on me. In that case. Laugh long and heartily! $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 23 '14 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ As far as I know, there's no Schmuckelberg-Hill lemma. $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Nov 24 '14 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ The way an answer is expressed can make a big difference to the person who asked the question. Just for fun, I remember coming out of an exam, having repeated my lecturer's proof of a theorem, and realised in the middle there was a hole in it - just went for it. Talking to a friend afterwards, I discovered he had done exactly the same. We both came out OK - he's a professor now, and has probably forgotten. I certainly still enjoy maths, even though it isn't my day job. My advice would be to enjoy writing answers, and try to convey what makes the question interesting to you. $\endgroup$ – Mark Bennet Nov 29 '14 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ I think it is the Schmuckelberg Justin Bieber Hill lemma. $\endgroup$ – copper.hat Dec 1 '14 at 18:04
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In addition to what other people have said about how to build up to posting good answers, remember that there would be no good answers without good questions. So if you are posting good questions, you are contributing value to the site, not abusing it.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an excellent point. A really good answer will inspire awe but a really good question makes me think about things I never considered before which is much more enlightening. A good question is just as, if not more, important as a good answer. $\endgroup$ – Cameron Williams Dec 1 '14 at 23:16

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