I have noticed a user (won't name names) that close voted questions with the custom reason "this question is completely trivial: answer".

Should we write our answers in answers or in close votes? What if the question is completely trivial?

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    $\begingroup$ Since when did closing for "triviality" become compatible with "a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields"? $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 22 '17 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M.isn'tamathematician (Agreed, of course) $\endgroup$ – user223391 Apr 22 '17 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what you're asking. I guess you're talking about filling in your close reason in this box that arises when you go through the process of closing a question via Close>Off-topic>Other. Correct? $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure Apr 22 '17 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I think it's fine to fill in a reason in that box - that's what it's there for. And I think that answers in comments are just fine if the responder feels it's appropriate Having said that, I think that teachers of mathematics should be careful with the word "trivial". It's often the case that what seems trivial after years of experience is not so easy for a student to see. It seems to me that the more important question is "should questions be closed because they are "trivial"? $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure Apr 22 '17 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, Zachary is apparently not asking about the virtue of putting in a custom close reason, but the propriety of someone putting in "this is trivial" as the custom close reason. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 22 '17 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Strictly speaking, it may actually be a vote to put the question "On Hold" so that the OP can correct it to eliminate the unwanted trivial answer. We have all seen questions where an answer like "the constant zero solves it" is given immediately. $\endgroup$ – GEdgar Apr 22 '17 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkMcClure That's what I mean. I'm asking if it's okay to close questions because they are trivial, and answering the question with a close vote. $\endgroup$ – user223391 Apr 22 '17 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ Here is an example. Mods please remove this if it is breaking a rule math.stackexchange.com/questions/2241955/… $\endgroup$ – user223391 Apr 22 '17 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, you had a different example in mind. The one I'm aware of had a mod admonish the user "I'm sorry, but trivialities are not off-topic." $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 22 '17 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @ZacharySelk I don't think that question would be considered "trivial" by most US Calc II students. I definitely don't think it's a good reason for closing it. $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure Apr 22 '17 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ @GEdgar amusingly the example provided later could qualify, it asking how to show "that the series converges or diverges" :-) [That was not what the closer had in mind in that case though.] $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 22 '17 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ I want your thoughts on this question : Is it trivial? math.stackexchange.com/questions/2247577/… Does this deserve to be closed for being too trivial, and the author not putting enough effort on his part? There is an answer too, was it correct to answer such a question? $\endgroup$ – астон вілла олоф мэллбэрг Apr 23 '17 at 5:45
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M. The reasoning of the closer could be the question is not presented well (lacks context etc) and is not interesting in itself ("trivial"). Therefore it should be closed. This is the flip-side of "do not close interesting questions for lack of context only." This is compatible with the views expressed by the user in question and is ultimately rtaher more permissive than what others promote, possibly including meta OP. Also see for example Did's comments on main (I happen to agree with Did, but that's tangential). $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 23 '17 at 11:45

I am responsible for such close votes so I would like to say a few words about them.
Indeed, it is true that MSE is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. But I have noticed that in the last year the volume of interesting questions has become considerably smaller, while the volume of utterly simple questions has increased enormously, and I would raise two points:

  1. Do we really like this trend? Are we fine with MSE being flooded by questions like prove that $\sum_{n\geq 1}\frac{1}{n}$ is divergent, then prove that $\sum_{n\geq 1}\frac{1}{n+1}$ is divergent, then prove that $\sum_{n\geq 1}\frac{1}{2n+1}$ is divergent?

  2. Is it so impolite to state that something really trivial is trivial? I agree that the convergence of $\sum_{n\geq 1}\frac{\sin n}{n}$ is not, but the divergence of $\sum_{n\geq 1}\frac{1}{n}$ is one of the pillars of Calculus. These days many students try to avoid making any effort, and desperately look for help also when the solution is under their nose, or just requires opening the right page of their book and studying. It might be highly unpleasant to hear, but "in order to achieve real experience, to study is better than to scream for help at the first hurdle" contains a hard truth, in my opinion.

I went with something like This question is completely trivial - this is the reason - now please move on. I did not mean to be rude, I simply wanted to express my opinion through a vote, opinion that is better articulated in the two points above. Anyone is free to disagree and I am glad to discuss it.

And about David Richerby's Answers should be posted as answers, not comments or anything else well, that is the theory. The practice is that, quite often, users replying to such kind of mundane questions get downvoted together with the OP. The comment section might be inappropriate for posting a very brief answer, but at least such answer does not incur in downvotes.

  • $\begingroup$ If you're worried about downvotes to a correct answer, post it as CW. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm May 2 '17 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm: that is wise and interesting, thanks for pointing that out. $\endgroup$ – Jack D'Aurizio May 2 '17 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JackD'Aurizio Thanks for your response. As far as I'm concerned, it's just fine to close a question with a comment, as you've done. The only recommendation that I would make is that you avoid the word "trivial" or any of its synonyms. It's just simply not the case that the harmonic series is a trivial matter - particularly, to those who are just learning it. On the contrary, it's a "cornerstone of calculus". Your "trivial" remark was applied to $\sum 1/\log(e^n+e^{-n})$, which is a couple of steps past the harmonic series. While not trivial, it certainly qualifies as repetitive on this site. $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure May 3 '17 at 0:05

If somebody decides to close a question because they think it is not substantive enough, then indeed it is desirable that they articulate this and provided some details. The "other" close reason is a good place for it. The user could just as well vote "lack of context" and write a comment separately. Would you also ask if this is alright? Or, they could just vote to close and keep their reasons to them. Would this be better?

Indeed, the discussion in this very meta-thread shows the advantage of being detailed regarding ones reasons. It allows discussion about the merits of said reasons.

Whether or not the practice of closing for such reasons, in general or in specific cases, is good or not is orthogonal. If you want to discuss this, I suggest you ask a separate question where this question is not conflated with the technicality where the reason is inserted.

To recap, I fail to see what could be wrong with using the "other" text-field to record this information, it being extremely close to simply posting a comment with the respective content.


This isn't appropriate for two simple reasons.

  1. "The question is easy enough to answer in 445 characters" isn't a reason for closing the question. It might be a reason for downvoting (it's consistent with, but does not imply, "This question does not show any research effort...") but it's not a reason for closing.

  2. Answers should be posted as answers, not comments or anything else.

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    $\begingroup$ "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 23 '17 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Whereas, for this very simple problem, ... $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Apr 23 '17 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ 1. is a strawman or an error in basic logic. No one argues for closing every question that admits a short answer. The (true) assertion that the question admits a short answer is not a reason for closing, does not exclude that some particular question that admits a short answer should be closed. 2. is somewhere between an oversimplification and a misunderstanding. Of course one can provide information that amounts to an answer to motivate ones vote to close. This then should not be given as an answer post. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 23 '17 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ Make your mind up. In 1, you claim that the answer is not the reason for closing (in which case, it should not be included in the close reason); in 2, you say that the answer is part of the reason for closing. And yet you accuse me of making errors of basic logic. Note that closing means "We should not answer this question." An answer can never be a reason for not answering. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Apr 23 '17 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ Please read more attentively what I write. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 23 '17 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ @quid I suggest that you read more carefully what I write. You accuse me of bringing up a strawman by claiming that somebody has argued for closing every question that admits a short answer. I never wrote any such thing. So i guess that makes your point a straw-strawman. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Apr 24 '17 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ '"The question is easy enough to answer in 445 characters" isn't a reason for closing the question.' What is the relevance of this remark to the discussion at hand? $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 24 '17 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ @quid The relevance is that we are discussing whether providing an answer in a close reason is appropriate. If the answer itself is not part of the reason for closing, it is inappropriate to include it in the close reason. The answer itself cannot be the reason for closing, so the only remaining possibility is that the triviality of the answer is the reason. And that isn't an appropriate reason for closing a question. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Apr 24 '17 at 10:33
  • $\begingroup$ 'The relevance is that we are discussing whether providing an answer in a close reason is appropriate.' I do not understand how this makes your observation relevant. Say, let us assume the question is easy enough to answer in 445 characters is a reason to close it. According to 2 it would be still not appropriate to insert an answer there. Anyway, it seems your 'argument' boils down to: it isn't appropriate to close a question for being trivial, because it is not appropriate to close a question for being trivial. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 24 '17 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @quid No, my argument is that it isn't appropriate to include an answer to the question in the close message because of an argument that uses, among other things, the claim that it's inappropriate to close a question for being trivial. I am not making the circular argument that you attribute to me. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Apr 24 '17 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ I still do not understand how your observation is relevant to your argument (whatever it may be). Unfortunately, you made no attempt to clarify this in your last comment. On a positive note, I tend to agree that if the nature of answers to a question was never relevant to the decision to close a question, then it would be inappropriate to include it there. That would be peculiar claim to make though, given that some fixed close reasons do reference the nature of (prospective) answers. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 24 '17 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ For example, SO has a "typo" close-reason. If such a question is to happen on this site (which is quite possible though much less frequent) I'd argue the most appropriate course of action would be to close with a custom 'off-topic' reason that very well can include the specific typo, viz., the answer. Like "I am voting to close this question as off-topic because the phenomenon asked about does not actually exist; it goes away once in the sample code the constant c is initialized with the correct value 1.23, and not with 12.3." $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 24 '17 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ Answers for trivial questions on this site are often posted as comments. Here "trivial" does not refer to the level of mathematics, but to the fact that the question is answered in standard texts or is trivial to answer with a moment's thought. Sometimes the goal is for the OP to answer the question themselves. In any case it is not always true that every "answer" should be posted as answer on this site. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert May 11 '17 at 3:13

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