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I only found out about MSE around the end of my degree, so I didn't get to ask that many questions. However, had I known about it earlier, I could see myself wanting to ask questions, having thought about them, but having nothing tangible to say.

Forcing me to show my work, would be forcing me to show absolute gibberish with no hope of salvation and possibly, as a consequence, get my question closed as being unclear.

Recently I saw this happen with another user (who is clearly willing to make an effort). The question was closed as being unclear, even though its clarity is transparent and judging by the OP's comments, sharing his work wouldn't do much good either.

This question is specifically addressed to anti-PSQ people.

What could this user have done differently, considering their technical knowledge limitation (i.e. not having any proper work to share), to ask the question in a way to minimize the chances of it being closed?


Edit: Clarification - Many people mentioned context as if somehow lack of context was the reason why the question was closed. I don't understand this. It was hinted by a user that, despite the fact that officially the only reason for the question being closed was that it was unclear, the real reason was lack of context.
If this is the case, then one very important assumption behind my question doesn't hold. People really should choose the proper reason for closure, how else are people supposed to know how to ask a good question?

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    $\begingroup$ That question was put on hold as "unclear what you're asking" (all five votes), not for missing context [and "what one has tried" is only one type of context; sometimes it is good or even necessary context (a "What did I do wrong?" question needs some information about what the asker did), at other times it's not very good context]. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Fischer Feb 2 '17 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielFischer My memory tricked me, I had planned to ask this a couple of days ago and I thought that part of what occurred in the comments was actually in the question. I think my question still stands as relevant. I tried to clarify it a bit more. Edit: I'm guessing it was you who fixed the typo: thanks. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Feb 2 '17 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ In many cases the clarity obtained in a problem statement is due to a joint effort by the OP and Commentators/Editors asking for points to be cleared up. Placing a Question on hold is a bit of stick to go along with the carrot of learning that can take place in this process of clarification. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Feb 2 '17 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ @hardmath OK. Did you happen to see my exchange of comments with the OP? Is it your opinion that they can be incorporated into the question in order to make it clear enough to reopen? $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Feb 2 '17 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ I did read your exchange, and you gave a good effort. I will expound at more length below on where I draw the line. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Feb 2 '17 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Git Gud: I think that showing work is often the least useful form of context, and context is the key thing that is missing in a PSQ, not work. In this case, the asker gave no clue where they encountered the problem, why it is interesting, or really any other useful information about the problem. Those are all more interesting forms of context. If someone wants to ask a standard homework problem (like this), it is not unreasonable to ask them to put some effort into writing it a well composed post. That was the compromise worked out to allow some homework problems to be posted. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Feb 3 '17 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps related: Can we stop the “Show your work craze”? Both arjafi's answer there and section about context in How to ask a good question? explain quite well that other things than your attempt are can count as adding context and what can they be. (Which is the point which several users made in the above comments.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Feb 3 '17 at 6:14
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    $\begingroup$ I absolutely agree with what the Op is implying here. In addittion I'd like to add that even though there are answers to the OP's question; a user should not have to do all this research and ask questions about how to ask a question on this site. The site even has a slogan "Don't ask to ask; just ask". However most new people will have to ask how to ask something because the standard of questions is so high. $\endgroup$ – user400188 Feb 4 '17 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ @user400188 The disparity between S.E.'s alleged philosophy (as they are written in the rules) and the standard for asking questions is what bugs me the most. They are tremendously inconsistent. I might be more in favor of having stricter rules, but I absolutely cannot accept contradictory rules. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Feb 4 '17 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Git Gud: it has been an issue for a while that some pages written by SE.com don't accurately reflect the policies of this site (which are different, it seems, from some other SE sites). However, I think it's impossible to fix. Even if we wanted to try to have some kind of vote about what the policy should be on this site, we have no way to do so and no effective way to enforce the outcome. This seems to be the flaw in this kind of massively interactive site (Wikipedia is the same way): policy and practice can be wildly inconsistent depending on who is involved in a particular case. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Feb 4 '17 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ @GitGud When a question is closed (put on hold), there is nothing keeping you from continuing the conversation in comments, or in a chat. That the site is not a blog seems to escape you. I empathize, that in some cases, a little such help in comments goes a long way, and have engaged in many such discussions, not always successfully. But the bottom line is that it is just as much, if not more, the responsibility of the asker to ask an understandable question. As much assistance you tried to give the asker, all I see is your effort, not the asker's. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Feb 4 '17 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ What's a PSQ??? $\endgroup$ – Omnomnomnom Feb 4 '17 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Omnomnomnom Problem statement question. Basically questions that basically consist of the problem statement and nothing more. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Feb 5 '17 at 2:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Omnomnomnom: Once upon a time, we talked about people posting their homework questions. Some people objected to the notion that we could discern whether a post is a homework question. Other people noted that most of the discussions about them applied more broadly than just to homework questions. That's the context in which the term PSQ came from. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Feb 11 '17 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ What I like to see is some little bit of evidence to suggest the asker is not just posting his homework expecting us to do it for him. For the question that you cite, I think I would have concluded that's not the case. $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Feb 11 '17 at 15:33
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Let us look at the question in detail.

Let C be the class of all subsets of $\mathbb{R}$ which are either countable or are the complement of a countable set. Show that C is a $\sigma$ field.

Here OP could recall what being a $\sigma$ field means. It seems OP knows this, but spelling it out would

  • make the question accessible to more users and avoid risk of mismatched conventions. (For example, I'd know the substance well-enough to answer, but I was not certain what a $\sigma$ field is. Yeah, I can look it up, still.)

  • help clarify their own thought-process.

  • count as context pleasing anti-PSQ people (to stay in tone with your question) and reduce the need for showing work.

  • allow prospective answerers to write an answer exactly matching their definition, including choice of letters etc. At that level of misunderstanding it might be useful.

This is what I have right now:

(i) $\varnothing$ $\in$ $\emptyset$ since $\emptyset$ is countable .

What in the world is that supposed to mean and how does it related to the task at hand? Likely OP wants to show that the emptyset is in C but that's not what's written. (The original is somewhat better.) Note had they spelled out the definition that they implicitly refer to it would be clear what they even want to do. As written it's not at all clear. Yeah, I can guess it, but that's not the same.

(ii) A $\in$ C since A is countable since given C is countable.

What is $A$? Is it the name of the full set in the definition OP keeps referring to but did not bother to state. Or, is this a generic subset and a totally misguided attempt to show the 'complement' part. (On second thought, I'd guess this, but my honest first guess was the other option.)

(iii) $\bigcup^\infty_{i=1}A_i$ $\in$ C, is true since $A_1,A_2$, are countable then so is $\bigcup^n A_n$ since a countable union of countable sets is countable.

Here it is relatively clear what is intended.

I need help understanding (ii) and (iii).

To sum it up, as far as I am concerned it'd suffice they had recalled the definition as they have it in front of them before embarking on their attempt that keeps referring to it.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding (i), the asker actually started by writing something different. See the first version. Still I think the "What in the world is that supposed to mean and how does it related to the task at hand?" remark is warranted and to which I reply: my point exactly. The OP is showing his work (possible because he's forced to in order not to have his question closed), but because he has nothing shareable to say, that's what came out. "Or, is this a generic subset and a totally misguided attempt to show the 'complement' part ", this. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Feb 2 '17 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ My point is that the unclear parts are due to the OP showing his work. What you argue in your answer is that the question has some unclear parts. I don't agree that providing the definition of $\sigma$-algebra is essential. It's a basic definition in this context and, as far as I know, there's a unique definition (apart from tiny, irrelevant variations), contrarily to what happens when taking about basic facts regarding $e$. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Feb 2 '17 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ I know the first version was different, I addressed this in my answer. My point is that the problem is not that the OP shows their work which happens to be wrong and confusing but instead the problem is that they do not include the relevant context, the definition. You asked what this OP could have done differently; I tell you they could have recalled the definition. Now you reply. This is not essential, which is besides the point since I explain, you deeming it essential or not, how I'd have found it helpful to avoid confusion. It's now unclear what you actually intended with your question. $\endgroup$ – quid Feb 2 '17 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ I understood your answer. I was just giving you my feedback. I'll proceed differently next time. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Feb 2 '17 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ @GitGud could OP have given the definition, yes or no? Would giving it alter the chances of the question getting closed? If you want to be argumentative about a closure you disagree with be upfront about that. I might not even have closed the question myself. To imply OP could not have done anything differently is just not true though. $\endgroup$ – quid Feb 3 '17 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ Picking (ii), more or less at random, the issues I see have more to do with basic written communication than mathematics. For example, is the second appearance of "since" supposed to be a justification for all of "A ∈ C since A is countable" or is it justification for "A is countable" or is it for something else? $\endgroup$ – Dave L. Renfro Feb 6 '17 at 16:38
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Rather than focus on what the OP of the Question could or should have done "better", I'd note your exchange with the OP, eventually including in one Comment:

You're confused about something, but I can't tell what it is.

I'm in complete accord with your effort to engage the OP. Your tone was constructive and directed attention to a threshold issue, is $\emptyset \in C$?

The off-topic close reason is something I resort to when a Question's author does not engage at all with the requests for clarification (I often indicate several ways to add context besides "show your work"). This is not the issue here. Rather the issue is being unsure what the OP is hung up on in trying to apply the definition of a $\sigma$-algebra (or "$\sigma$ field" as the OP put it).

If the intent is to help this particular poster, I'd be unclear how to do that. So I'm validating the present status of the Question being closed for unclear what you are asking.

Taking the OP's confusion out of consideration, I'd look to see if the $\sigma$-algebra construction (countable $\cup$ co-countable) has been verified in an existing Answer to another Question, and pre-emptively note that in a Comment. If it hasn't been dealt with thoroughly at some point in the past, it is an interesting/important enough fact to deserve a proof now.

To go that route I would give the OP a day or two to revise and edit the Question, and then (assuming no satisfaction) I'd turn my hand to editing it myself.

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  • $\begingroup$ "If the intent is to help this particular poster, I'd be unclear how to do that. So I'm validating the present status of the Question being closed for unclear what you are asking". If, in fact, this is the intent (I don't even know), then I think I can agree with this. It's also a good point that this question might have been asked already, I didn't think of that. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Feb 4 '17 at 12:21

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