On MathOverflow there is a link on the top bar "How to ask", giving a very detailed guide for formatting and asking good questions.

It is of no doubt why a question needs to be good, especially in these sort of Q&A sites. We thrive on good, if not great, questions. Ones that can be answered by many people, in great length and in specific detail.

Furthermore, a well stated question is a good incentive for the answerer to write a well written answer. It shows the OP has tried to solve it, has tried to think about it, and from my personal experience it is always much much more enjoyable to explain mathematics in great detail to someone seeking out these details, and wants to understand them.

However, we don't want to solve someone else's problems either. We instead, I think, want to encompass the topic and give the needed detail and understanding - if we go by the fish metaphor: we want to give them the fishing rod and teach them how to fish, not just give them a fish each time.

For this a question stating the progress and work of the OP, and possibly their background on the topic and/or other relevant topics is a very useful thing. Even further when dealing with homework problems (when the OP admits it is a homework problem and wants some hints, and not just for us to solve it since the deadline is in two hours (cf. this question's comments).

As I typed the title for this question, several relevant discussions on the meta came up:

I was wondering if we should endorse such page for math.SE as well, to write a guide for those whom are willing to try and write better questions?

After all, these people who want to write better questions form the core of users we want to have here - people who ask good, well presented questions (of course we also want a core of people who write good answers, but this is not the issue here).

Any thoughts about the topic will be appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ For some perverse reason, I have the tendency to actively ignore questions with something like "I don't have time, deadline in 2 hours" in the body... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M.: What about questions that such comment appears in the comments? :-) $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ It's fair that some personally dont want to answer homework questions, but I dont think its fair to abuse the comment section of a question in an attempt to discourage other people from answering the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @persononinternet: I believe you misunderstand the idea behind this Q&A site. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ I think having a "How to ask" page on math.SE is a great idea. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 3:56

1 Answer 1


The problem with such pages is not creating them, but rather, convincing users to read them before posting.

In my experience the types of users diligent enough to read hundreds of words on "how to ask" are exactly the kinds of users who really don't need to. And the converse is sadly all too true.

We do already have a general "How to Ask" page at ...


... and that is linked from the sidebar when asking a question, when the title has focus, and when the body has focus, as asking help »

enter image description here

There has been some talk of allowing this particular to be customized per-site, but we haven't implemented that yet.

  • $\begingroup$ Jeff, to some extent I tend to agree with that. I do not agree, wholly, with the claim that those who would read it are those who don't need it. There is a gray area of users that need it and will read it. We just got to give them the opportunity. As for the current page, I didn't even know we had one. Perhaps put the link in a slightly more visible location; not to mention the fact that if there is no customized per-site option I don't see how my request is even relevant. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ I completely agree that the people who need to read pages like this are the least likely to do so, but that's not their full value. They are also valuable as places to point to when pointing out that someone has done something wrong. Compare: A: "Hey, why did my question get closed?" B: "Because you're an idiot." with A: "Hey, why did my question get closed?" B: "Read this page to find out how to ask a question here.". The latter is much less incendiary as A then realises that B is not being vindictive but merely going along with the conventions of the place. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 17:53

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