29
$\begingroup$

Let's say a Math Exchange inquirer posts:

1) A homework problem (with book citation)

2) The inquirer's workings towards an (ultimately incorrect) final answer

3) The textbook's answer

4) And lastly, requests help identifying where their math is incorrect? They do not explicitly request a solution.

Given the above, I don't believe there is any cause to downvote the question.

But what if the homework question was posted already on stack exchange and solved a year ago? That context could be cause for some downvotes to the question.

Which leads me to my Meta question: An inquirer has a homework question which has already been solved on Math Exchange a year ago. However, after reviewing that thread and any associated solutions, the inquirer is still trying to learn where their own personal version of their math workings has gone wrong. Under these conditions, is it acceptable to post the homework problem on the stack exchange under the conditions (the list of 4 items) I described at the top?

$\endgroup$
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ I would note the duplicate in a comment or vote to close as duplicate, but I would not downvote because a question is a duplicate. It is not always easy to find prior instances of math questions. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 28 '16 at 14:33
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ BTW if the main purpose of the question is to check OP's solution, it should be tagged (proof-verification) or (solution-verification) to make this clear. You can find some discussions related to this type of questions here on meta. (In fact, perhaps this post should also be tagged (solution-verification.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 28 '16 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that's new to me. I just added that tag to this meta and will do the same on my future SE Math requests of this nature. Thank you for the link too. $\endgroup$ – baverso Dec 28 '16 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ I once asked a question with a similar spirit: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/11606/…, but didn't get a conclusive answer. My personal stance is that such questions, provided they are well-formatted and written with sufficient effort, do not deserve a close vote. I think in order to maximize pedagogical value, a good response to such a question should respect the OP's interest in improving their logic and/or exposition. However, this contradicts SE's stated intention as a Q&A-repository (rather than pedagogical resource). $\endgroup$ – Gyu Eun Lee Jan 1 '17 at 3:59
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Questions asking for proof verification should never be downvoted, let alone close-voted. After all the poster has done some work themselves; they're not being lazy asking others to do everything for them. Even if their question has been asked before on SE Math, it's not their fault if they're not aware of it or couldn't find it by searching. In such a case, a link to the previously posted question is far more appropriate than downvoting. $\endgroup$ – George Law Jan 1 '17 at 11:20
33
$\begingroup$

1) A homework problem (with book citation)

Excellent. This provides part of the context, namely where the problem came from. Sadly, many other people don't even bother to state this, and is one possible factor for closure.

2) The inquirer's workings towards an (ultimately incorrect) final answer

Great. As long as it is readable, it is perfect.

3) The textbook's answer

This is usually not needed if you're asking about mistakes in your solution, unless one's question involves the textbook's solution, such as:

  • Why did they ..., when it seems I can do it another way (or omit it altogether)? Is my reasoning correct?

  • I don't understand this step in the textbook solution: ... It seems similar to the part in my solution where I ..., but their explanation seems to be different.

Whether you provide this or not, it should not be a reason for closure.

4) And lastly, requests help identifying where their math is incorrect? They do not explicitly request a solution.

Current consensus is that such questions are on-topic at Math SE, and almost always far better than those URGENT-PLEASE-SOLVE questions. As mentioned by Martin Sleziak, these questions should be tagged or or both. For specific questions you will have to provide a link to the question if you want reasons for its closure discussed.

5) What if the homework question was posted already on stack exchange and solved a year ago?

This is usually not relevant, because the question is about a particular attempt at a solution. "What is the mistake in my solution?" is very different from "What is a correct solution?" and sometimes looking at correct solutions is not enough to tell you what you did wrong (unless you've a full grasp of logic, in which case you probably will never need to ask where your mistake is since you can find it yourself).

It may be possible that someone has posted the exact same faulty solution as yours before, in which case it would actually be a duplicate question and can be closed, but still no reason for downvoting.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Including the textbook answer is relevant, because it tells us why the OP thinks there must be a flaw somewhere in their attempt. I have a lot more patience with such questions than raw "I don't even know whether this is right; please tell me". $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jan 1 '17 at 21:08
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Your response to point 5 is worthy of an award. People throw duplicates around to seem smug but have no regard for the uniqueness of the individual questions regarding the problem. $\endgroup$ – The Count Jan 1 '17 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm: If the textbook answer caused the asker to doubt their solution, then of course it is relevant and forms part of the context that should be provided in the question. That is exactly why I included two possible situations where it is relevant. I say "usually not relevant" simply because for the vast majority of proof-verification questions I do not think it is relevant. Nevertheless, as I stated, "Whether you provide this or not, it should not be a reason for closure." Am I overlooking any situation? $\endgroup$ – user21820 Jan 2 '17 at 3:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ My impression is that the thread is about questions that basically go "I'm doing such-and-such, but that leads to the wrong result, why?". In that case it is always relevant for the OP to explain why they think their result is wrong -- and if that is by comparing their result to an answer key, that should be stated. And it should then also be stated what the answer key's answer is, such as to enable the answers "your result is actually the same, just written differently" or "your result is right; there's a typo/mistake in the textbook". $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Jan 2 '17 at 3:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm: Yes so as far as I can see that situation is covered by my two bullet points. Also, the Meta question here wrote that "after reviewing that thread and any associated solutions, the inquirer is still trying to learn where their own personal version of their math workings has gone wrong", which suggests that perhaps the textbook solution is not quite relevant anymore, because usually such questions stem from misunderstanding some concept and not a mistake in the textbook or a different but correct alternative solution/exposition. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Jan 2 '17 at 3:53
0
$\begingroup$

I would be far less demanding than you seem to be. I get frustrated when they say "I generally tried this, where did I go wrong?" but if they show enough steps to follow their reasoning I think it is acceptable. It is certainly of interest why they think their answer is wrong, especially if it comes from an answer key, because they could be right and the key wrong. If they just dropped a sign, we can point that out.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .