I recently came across a question which was (at least by my reading) just asking for verification of the value of a limit, and the asker claimed to be pretty sure of their answer already.

I'm fairly comfortable with questions asking about how to start with such a limit, or for a more formal proof, or even justifications of motivation / "how should I start with this?", and so on. However, if the asker appears to simply be seeking verification of their answer, I wonder if it's appropriate to refer them to WA or a comparable automated system?

The reason I ask is that, given the circumstances, whilst a proper answer can be given, justifying the steps and so on, that's not really what the asker is looking for - and if I were to give the answer I think the asker is truly looking for, it would be something as brief as "the limit is $\cos(1)$", which seems ...silly. Furthermore, the fact that they're asking for verification on a relatively mechanical question might imply (at least to me) that they're not aware of the existence of automated systems which allow them to check their solutions.

I'm also willing to back down on the specific question - I wouldn't say it was completely unambiguously a "tell me if I'm right" question, by any means - but in the case that such a question is asked, I'd like to know whether it's appropriate to refer them to / at least alert them to the existence of WA.

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    $\begingroup$ These two older discussions are, to some extent, related: Using automated solutions, such as WolframAlpha? and also this answer to another question. Maybe somebody will be able to dig up something closer to your question. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, I appreciate the referral and these do seem pertinent. I think the distinguishing factor (for me, at least) seems to be whether the asker has any want/need for a more involved solution - I'm certainly an advocate for "teaching a man to fish" rather than "giving a man a fish" (I feel that most good answers on this site speak to this adage somewhat), though for verification it seems that knowing that WA is out there at all might be knowing how to fish. $\endgroup$
    – πr8
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ I think questions isomorphic to this one are good only inasmuch as they are proof-verifications (hence my vote to close). If a question can be answered with a trivial comment pointing to a computer verification of a problem, then I do not feel it's a good fit for the site. $\endgroup$
    – user296602
    Commented Jan 12, 2016 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ That question is more like a statement instead of a question. Unless it get improved, it should be closed/deleted instead of answered in any form. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ It's a question and it is also a valid discussion. I see no reason why it should be closed/deleted. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ I would just post a comment. "That's what Wolfram Alpha is telling me." If you can figure out what is causing the OP's doubt in the calculator's response, then that's worth an answer, in my opinion. $\endgroup$
    – Mr. Brooks
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ There is no equivalent to WA. $\endgroup$
    – najayaz
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 7:57
  • $\begingroup$ @G-man: Because WA gives some very stupid and unambiguously wrong answers to some questions. $\endgroup$
    – user21820
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ @G-man: Not even Cleo ? :-$)$ $\endgroup$
    – Lucian
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Lucian I don't think Cleo falls in the category of automated mathematical systems . WA can at least tell me the weather... $\endgroup$
    – najayaz
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ Also WA can even tell me the meaning of life. Apparently it is surrounded by prime numbers. $\endgroup$
    – najayaz
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 18:18

1 Answer 1


There is a wide gap between Answers that use WA (or other mathematical software) to substantiate lengthy computations and Answers which merely report something that WA says.

At a minimum you should explain how something WA says was invoked and related to the data provided in the problem. If you don't understand the algorithm being applied by WA, at least at a high-level, then it would argue in favor of leaving a Comment rather than an Answer.

In the other extreme you can compare results you get by hand or with self-written program computation to results that WA gives, supplying any necessary reconcilation and explanation of relative benefits of one approach or the other (accuracy, time spent coding, etc.).

Avoid at all costs giving the impression the OP should believe something just because WA says so.


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