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I very much appreciate that math.se is designed for users for all levels, and I think that I really gain something from interactions with users of higher and lower levels of mathematical sophistication than myself. However, I sometimes get frustrated when I am looking for an answer to a more sophisticated question and have to slog through pages of similar but lower-level questions. For example, I was recently looking for information on the existence of solutions to general systems polynomial inequalities, but came accross mostly questions like this one or this one. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these questions, but they are more basic than the ones I am after.

This leads me to my question: should tags be added to indicate not only the subject area of a question but also the level of sophistication? I feel that this would not only make it easier for people to find answers searching the site, but would give answerers an idea of the level of sophistication of the questioner so that they can gear their answers accordingly. Of course, it does have the downside that sometimes questions are actually much deeper than the questioner believes. I have tag creation privileges, but I figure that this move would require consulting with the community.

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  • $\begingroup$ Isn't the sophistication of a question/answer and relevance to your needs pretty apparent on reading through the search results? I don't think tags can do -everything- for you. Otherwise it wouldn't be called search, it'd be 'getting exactly what I want'. (to be blunt, I've never really figured out what the big deal is about tags; the search software should figure that out for you instead of you having to tell it). $\endgroup$ – Mitch Apr 26 '11 at 20:13
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Some tags do have sophisticated and unsophisticated versions, such as [number-theory] vs. [elementary-number-theory]. If you think the distinction is important enough to warrant tagging, don't hesitate to make the new tag (the sophisticated or unsophisticated version depending on existing usage) yourself.

On the other hand, if you're talking about adding tags which only describe the sophistication level, I'm not sure this is a good idea. It seems like it might lead to unnecessary debate over the actual sophistication level of a particular question: for example, there are a few existing questions of the form "this Diophantine equation is easy to solve. If I change it like this, is it still easy to solve?" that lead to open questions, but it's unclear what the sophistication level of such a question ought to be.

In a situation like the one you describe, ask a new question, link to the old ones and describe what's different about your question.

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Your first link actually has a sophisticated answer by Bill Dubuque (that had 0 votes when I entered the thread).

I do not see the problem just posing the general question and maybe indicating that you looked through some other questions, but they were too special. People might then point you to an existing thread, but they will hardly blame you if it is hard to find.

I do think that what you are interested in is the sophistication of the question and the answer and not of the questioner. In addition, down-tagging of the sophistication of the questioner leads to obvious social problems.

I certainly think that questioners should indicate their background knowledge.

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    $\begingroup$ Huh - I had missed that answer because I only read the top couple. It certainly is very interesting, but I think the reason it has so few upvotes is that it is beyond the scope of the OP's question. $\endgroup$ – Alex Becker Apr 26 '11 at 6:56
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    $\begingroup$ The accepted and upvoted answer is the best fit for the question and the questioner, but the sophisticated answer is useful exactly for people like you searching for a more general answer later. $\endgroup$ – Phira Apr 26 '11 at 7:05

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