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Every visitor to the site is invited to scroll through the tour page:

tour

The most concrete advice that it offers is in two boxes:

math

This page is moderator-editable. I'm bringing this subject up to gather opinions on how it can be made a more effective guide for new users.

I'll post some specific ideas as answers, so they can be discussed separately.

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    $\begingroup$ Props for bringing this up. I've been meaning to take a look and read the whole thing. Real life has been in the way lately :-( $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Mar 15 '15 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ The current tour webpage is terrible in my opinion. It says in no uncertain terms that Math SE is for people to get answers to math problems. Most people won't even scroll down to read the tiny text about what kind of questions are expected, not to say click on the link to the homework FAQ. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Mar 21 '15 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @user21820 If that's not what the site is for, then what is the site for? $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Mar 21 '15 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @MattSamuel: The site is for getting help in learning how to solve math problems, not primarily getting the solution. I am certain that most users who post their homework expecting full answers think that this site is just like Yahoo Answers, only better because the answers here are mostly correct. They care nothing whatsoever about providing their own thoughts about the problem. I thought that was obvious from my subsequent sentence about the kind of questions expected here and the homework FAQ. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Mar 22 '15 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ @user21820 "Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about math." $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Mar 22 '15 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ @MattSamuel: That is exactly the problem. As you can see from the answers to this very meta question as well as throughout the rest of meta, it is clear that not every question about math is welcome here! Which is why that quote is downright misleading. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Mar 22 '15 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @user21820 This is why it was comforting for me to discover that the rantings on meta appear to be a minority view trying to impose their will on the rest of the site. $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Mar 22 '15 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ @MattSamuel: Oh so you think it's a minority? I'm not so sure about that. If you're right, then I of course have nothing to say, though I would be disappointed. But why is that majority that you refer to not coming to meta to engage in the issues pertaining to how the site is run? For example the top answer below has 29 upvotes and only 3 downvotes. Either way, I will be happy if you could get more people here to engage in the discussion. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Mar 22 '15 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ @user21820 They probably already got tired of it, as I am growing. It's easier for the people who don't share your views, all we have to do is answer questions and go through the review queue trying to prevent questions from being closed inappropriately. (I actually don't know how effective Leave Open is in preventing a question from being closed, but at least it makes me feel better that I've shared my opinion.) $\endgroup$ – Matt Samuel Mar 22 '15 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MattSamuel: I don't think "leave open" does anything. If you want a question to stay open I suggest you edit it to a form acceptable to more people. And by the way, I myself don't close about half or more of the questions in the review queue when I go through it. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Mar 22 '15 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @user21820 "Leave Open" does something. When a certain number of users click "Leave Open" (I think 2 or 3, not sure), the question leaves the review queue. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 22 '15 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi: Ah okay thanks for that information! $\endgroup$ – user21820 Mar 22 '15 at 14:42

11 Answers 11

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Add "Homework problems that show no effort" to the red list.

This is already in the linked FAQ, but this makes it more explicit.

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  • $\begingroup$ Simultaneous post with mine, though mine was a minute earlier. :) $\endgroup$ – user147263 Mar 15 '15 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ Oops... Should I remove it? $\endgroup$ – Qudit Mar 15 '15 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ Your proposed text is somewhat different, so I think it's ok to have both suggestions. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Mar 15 '15 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ I'll leave it then. I slightly prefer my wording, but I think both would be an improvement. $\endgroup$ – Qudit Mar 15 '15 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think linking to this page, as Woodface does, is critical for whatever bullet establishes this point; new users might not know what "effort" means to the community here otherwise. (And it might help users acting in good faith find other ways to write a good question, even if they really do have no idea where to start on a solution) $\endgroup$ – Milo Brandt Mar 16 '15 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Meelo That's a good point. I edited it. $\endgroup$ – Qudit Mar 16 '15 at 3:35
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Drop "Solving mathematical puzzles" from the "green" list. While certainly there can be good questions about maths puzzles, we as a community have set some conditions that in my opinion collide with mentioning it here in this generality.

I could live with replacing it with "Understanding the mathematical content of puzzles" or something similar. This would be more in line with the scope that MSE defines for questions about puzzles.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, please. The second paragraph in particular would be a big improvement to many "puzzle" questions. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Mar 16 '15 at 12:22
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Drop "primarily opinion based" from the red list. It is redundant there, because the same advice is given in bold on the left.

The red list is already quite long; it should be more focused on the issues specific to the site.

enter image description here

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Drop "History and development of mathematics" from the "green" list. This is not meant to make it off-topic, but rather to de-emphasizes the subject here, given that there is another site dedicated to the topic.

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Drop "numerology" from the red list. I don't see it a sufficiently large problem to warrant inclusion here. It's enough that numerology is listed in the off-topic list in the help center.

Crank posts do present a problem here, but they are usually not of the numerology kind.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 to this suggestion once I took the viewpoint of starting with a blank list and asking if it ought to be included. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Mar 15 '15 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ And if it becomes a problem, we can always put it back in. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Fischer Mar 15 '15 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ In honor of Pi Day that was earlier this week, let me quote one of the three quotable lines from the movie Pi. "As soon as you discard scientific rigor, you are no longer a mathematician; you're a numerologist." $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Mar 16 '15 at 10:26
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General suggestion for the red list: since it is preceded by

Don't ask about...

it should not have "questions" within list items.

For example, "Don't ask about... questions about typesetting equations" obviously doesn't flow.

"Don't ask about... typesetting equations" is shorter and more consistent with the green list.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually you also don't want people to ask about questions about typesetting equations; it's just that this should be sufficiently rare that there's no point in mentioning it ;-) (Such a question could be e.g.: "Is the following a question about typesetting equations?") $\endgroup$ – celtschk Mar 21 '15 at 14:22
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Restrict "Software that mathematicians use" as present in the "green" list, in line with the gist of this thread.

I propose to replace it with "Using software for mathematical purposes".

This way or another, we need to make clear that questions about software should focus on the mathematical application, not on the technical side.


Update: Given the controversy over this subject in the past, and the inability to word this in a satisfactory way, I side with the commenters: we need to remove "Software that mathematicians use" from the list.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe "Using software to solve mathematical problems". But it appears to include: "I need to solve $\cos x = x$, how do I do it in Matlab?"... and this sort of questions are usually closed as off-topic. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Mar 15 '15 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Woodface It's intricate. I think it's hard to find a good wording that conveys what we mean. For now, I think we'd best keep it as the bottom listed entry on the list. If we find it too hard to specify in one line, it might be better to remove it from the tour and instead include a few lines on this topic in the help centre. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Mar 15 '15 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ I think we need to just specify that questions about software should be about the mathematics behind the algorithm, rather than technical questions about the programming or operations of the software. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Mar 15 '15 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ I think it would be better to delete this entry, since if the question has some mathematical content then it is on topic, whether or not software is used. Otherwise we will keep getting questions like "What is the command for doing X in system Y?" $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Mar 16 '15 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ Siding with Bill. Unless somebody comes up with a good way of formulating this. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Mar 16 '15 at 10:27
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Add something along the lines of "Correctness and wording of your proofs" to the "green" list. (I'm not too happy with the wording at this point.)

This type of questions is relatively common, generally not frowned upon, and stimulates learning. There are perhaps some issues regarding answerability and long-term value, but if nothing else, I think it's a good way to stimulate people to show their work.

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    $\begingroup$ There has been a separate meta thread about these. I find this type of question is typically too subjective, and barely answerable. If the proof is OK, what answer can we write except "the proof is OK"? If the question focused on the mathematics, instead of on "grading a proof", it would usually be much better. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Mar 16 '15 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl Mummert, how, then, do you propose the community deals with the contrast between questions in which the asker has shown as much effort as actually giving an answer/proof to his question (and is asking about its correctness) and questions in which the OP went only halfway? In order to get an answer should askers with full solutions actually leave out a bit of the solution in order to get an answer? $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Mar 16 '15 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ Would it be possible to add something to encourage people to tell why they believe their proof needs to be checked (which point they're unsure about in particular etc.)? I don't know how to state that concisely enough though... $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 17 '15 at 8:22
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In view of the whopping +73/-6 score to this thread, I think it is justified to add an entry in the "red" list.

Proposal: "[Don't ask about...] Advice on choosing courses, programmes, areas of study, or thesis topics."

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5
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Add ("emend" would be a better word) the following to the "red" list: "Do not ask about..."

Typesetting mathematics (but please read our tutorial about typesetting mathematics properly)

This is similar to the

Hints on mathematical problems (but please read our FAQ about homework questions)

entry on the "green" list.

The tutorial is by far the most upvoted question on meta, but there is no mention of it on the tour page (as far as I can tell anyway). Without fail, I see at least one comment every single day that links a new user or an existing user to this helpful tutorial (I was also given the link to it when I first joined MSE).

Adding the link to this tutorial on the tour page is a small change that would likely be very helpful.

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Is the line "Anything not directly related to math" really necessary in the "Don't" list? This one goes without saying (there's "math" written everywhere on the website), and the list is already getting quite long. I don't really think questions that have nothing whatsoever to do with math are really a problem here: usually they have at least some connected, however little, to math (so that the asker wouldn't be deterred by this sentence), and otherwise they would get closed rather quickly.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure. It is of the kind "that goes without saying", but the ability of internet users to ignore the glaringly obvious has baffled me before. Oh well, we can always put it back, I guess. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Mar 19 '15 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin But such people would ignore the tour page to begin with. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Mar 19 '15 at 15:39

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