I know the "off-topic" close reason tends to spark debate, but I had to speak up when I came across this question.

I don't understand why this problem was marked as "off-topic," or why it was downvoted so heavily. Someone commented "What have you tried? Where did you get stuck? Don't just ask us to do your homework for you." These sentences summarize the reasons that questions tend to be marked for "off-topic;" my beef with this comment is that it is more appropriate for a rudimentary, follow-a-bunch-of-steps calculus problem, rather than a problem with no obvious starting point.

As many of us know, there are times in mathematics when we're truly stumped; our attempts have lead no where and we don't have a good idea of what to do next. In this case, the question "Where did you get stuck" has very little meaning. Oftentimes, we get stuck at the beginning of the problem. I guess, my question is ultimately:

What should be done when a poster genuinely has no idea what to do? Are questions of the form uniformly bad?

I believe that the answer to the latter part is a resounding no, but I don't know what to be done in general; I am, however, fairly certain that heavy downvoting and closing the problem isn't always the best approach.

Finally, the user later edited the problem saying that it isn't a homework problem; looking back at the problem, I see no reason why anyone would think this is a homework problem at all, yet---to reiterate---the first comment states "Don't just ask us to do your homework for you." Why is this a conclusion that is so frequently jumped to?

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    $\begingroup$ Context isn't just "what have you tried". In general, it's usually easier to give a good answer if the OP tells us a little about where the problem comes from, what kind of tools they have at their disposal and so on. $\endgroup$ – mrf Sep 4 '15 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ I think it'd be better to link to the original version (not one with post-closure expansion) math.stackexchange.com/revisions/1417688/1 which reads in full "Let $\mathcal{U}$ be a non-principal ultrafilter on $\omega$. Let $S:\omega\rightarrow\omega$ be monotone and unbounded. Let $T_{\mathcal{U},S}=\prod\limits_{\mathcal{U}}S(n)$ the ultraproduct as set. What is the supremum and infimum of $|T_{\mathcal{U},S}|$ as $\mathcal{U}$ and $S$ change." $\endgroup$ – quid Sep 4 '15 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Apparently OP had no "genuinely no idea where to start", but somehow managed to eventually find the answer on his/her own! (cf. last edit) And then people wonder why context (including thoughts on the question) is required... I think MJD's answer to the duplicate I'm about to suggest explains perfectly what to do. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Sep 4 '15 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ To extend what @mrf has said, if I know what are the definitions, or basic theorems that the OP is familiar with, then I can perhaps write an answer catering to those definitions. It is not a rare thing that I will post an answer with what I'd expect be a rudimentary definition or theorem, only to find out that the OP is unfamiliar with those things. Sometimes additional coaxing is needed in order to understand what the OP knows or not knows. This can be quite frustrating to both sides. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Sep 4 '15 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ When a user has no idea how to get started, there are still other ways for them to improve the question. For example, they could add more background: why are questions like this of interest? Where did they encounter the question? And they could add more motivation: why is the question of interest? What other problems would be affected by its solution? None of that information requires knowing how to solve the problem. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Sep 5 '15 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert And frequently such "background" plays no role whatsover in composing an answer. So there is no reason to require it. In fact, I cannot even recall the last time I found such information helpful. $\endgroup$ – Gone Sep 5 '15 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ I understand, now. I was misinterpreting the "no context" close reason, and I understand why it applied to the question I linked. It does make it easier to help someone when you have an idea of where they are mathematically. $\endgroup$ – Marcus M Sep 9 '15 at 1:27

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