In case you missed it, there's a new close reason:

Seeking personal advice. Questions about choosing a course, academic program, career path, etc. are off-topic. Such questions should be directed to those employed by the institution in question, or other qualified individuals who know your specific circumstances.

I realize this close reason was created specifically to deter academic advising questions. But the wording is more general than that. In particular, can I use this close reason to close any question that seems to be asking for personal advice, unlikely to be useful to anyone in the future?

I'm thinking in particular about questions like Failed Calc 2, Next step to learn mathematics for a high school student, and a significant other number of the questions under the tag. Some questions are supposedly about specific textbooks, which might be okay, but they still read like personal advice (see this and this). These do not seem to be of great quality or wide applicability to me.

Yet, not all personal advice questions should be closed, else we should get rid of altogether. And there are certainly on-topic advice questions: Can I use my powers for good (even if it does have some personal detail, it's pretty generally applicable), and others.

So: under what conditions should I vote to close something as "seeking personal advice"?

(A related question)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think that it suffices to retain some of the best questions about advice as closed questions, used for reference but not as a benchmark for new questions (I forgot the SE slang for this). The rest I'd say we can get rid of. $\endgroup$
    – Lord_Farin
    Aug 30, 2015 at 8:55
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The tag advice is quite useless as a tag in my opinion, but this is orthogonal. Most any question could be framed as asking for some kind of advice. The usage is also quite mixed. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 30, 2015 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ @6005 the "Can I use my powers for good" question was later closed and locked as Seeking Personal Advice (during "hat" season I noticed, Perhaps locking a question gets you a "hat"?). Meanwhile, many related questions are untouched. $\endgroup$
    – Flounderer
    Mar 31, 2016 at 23:00

2 Answers 2


I've definitely faulted questions for this reason. (This was before the closing reason existed. I'm a bit surprised there's now a reason dedicated to it: I did not think there were enough to warrant a dedicated entry.)

To me, the archetypical question of this type is something like "what should I write my undergraduate thesis on?" Your "Failed Calc 2" link is of the same flavor. Why are such questions not very useful?

  • They most likely will probably only help a single person at a single point in time. (Yes, maybe more than one person will be helped, but not a lot.) Someone who knows the person's individual circumstances is in a much better position to offer good advice, and speculative internet advice may actually be harmful in comparison.

  • It doesn't really have an answer.

  • It falls very clearly under this description [in the FAQ] (https://math.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic):

    [What not to ask here] Questing seeking personal advice for choosing a course, academic program, career path, etc. Such questions should be directed to those employed by the institution in question, or other qualified individuals who know your specific circumstances.

This FAQ point can go a long way toward helping judge what can be closed with this reason.

The "Next step to learn mathematics for a high school student" example might have a useful answer. A good answer would help a large audience, but then again it is extremely general. Keep in mind also that questions like "Where do I proceed from here" may already have a good unclosed answer elsewhere on the site. This is especially true for questions of the sort "what books on subject X should I study?"

"do Carmo or Pressley as introduction to Differential Geometry?" Pretty clearly seeks an opinion in addition to soliciting advice. The answer could be yes, no or maybe so. "Kline, Lang, Silverman…which author provides thorough and rigorous Calculus up Multivariate & Advanced Calculus?" is like a book-request. It is not very good but might survive if rewritten.

You're right: there is some discretion involved in leaving some of these open if they are particularly well written. Exceptions like that are always the wildcard here. Usually there is something about the post that sets it apart.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It should be noted that that part of the FAQ was added simultaneously with the close reason. $\endgroup$
    – Lord_Farin
    Aug 31, 2015 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin Ahh, I did not know that. Thanks for adding that. My main motivation for citing it is that it contains concrete criteria for applying the close reason. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Aug 31, 2015 at 18:16

I would have to say the advice tag should be used when trying to incorporate mathematics in the human perspective, I mean like being simply curious, ex. the high school not asking simply for career direction, but generally a moral standpoint like "What should I study further in school, to grasp a firmer hold on proofs, to prove inconsistency in my favorite chess game?" Not question on marks and GPAs personally, because sure math is numbers, but there is no such thing as being perfect at math, you can't stamp math learning with a number or average, rather treat it like a language, understand that math is natural progression not competition, math is meant to help our world-view not hamper it. To ask a question, understand the question, studying math is like studying morality once said by Aleksandr Danilovich Aleksandrov.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I would say questions of the type you mention are adequately serviced by the soft-question tag. $\endgroup$
    – Lord_Farin
    Aug 30, 2015 at 20:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Now that you mention that could be so, but most "so called" advice questions are worried about the politics behind the math, not so much the math itself. $\endgroup$
    – Sunny Mann
    Aug 30, 2015 at 20:07

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