More than once it happened to me that I got stuck in a derivation. Formulating the question on MSE with nicely formatted TeX and describing step by step how far I got then helped me to get forward and answer the question myself.

For me it would be great to post the question nevertheless and answer it right away, if only for later references. But once I know the answer, the question often looks trivial and it feels I should rather delete it.

Note that my question in particular pertains to proofs or proof-like derivations. Does it make sense to formulate the first part of the derivation as a question and the second part that I came up with ans an answer?

Any suggestions or similar experiences: keep+answer or delete?

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    $\begingroup$ See Stackexchange's take on this: math.stackexchange.com/help/self-answer. I'd go with almost always posting it. It can't hurt. (I recognize there is more nuance to your question however.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ Just by the way, this happens on other Stack Exchange sites (e.g., Stack Overflow and Super User) and in real life as well — the process of formulating a question to be clear enough for other people to understand often helps the asker to understand the problem well enough to see the answer.   I agree with hardmath’s answer and tilper’s comment — if you have a non-trivial revelation that others can learn from, you should post it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ I actually had this problem last night. While posting the question, I realized the answer. Rather than posting a question and immediately answering, I just wrote a TeX document describing the question and it's answer. If you want to save your work, but are unsure whether or not it would help the website, just save the answer for yourself. $\endgroup$
    – Aweygan
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ Harold, one suggestion I have for you is: if, by merely taking the time to formulate the question to make it understandable to others is all it takes for you to "get it" yourself; perhaps you should have spent time, before turning to MSE, to articulate the problem, and present it clearly, so you, in the end, no longer have reason to post it? And in the future, this same scenario might help you to solve a handful of questions, on your own, having taken the time to clearly formulate the question. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ In programming, the prevalence of this effect has lead to rubber ducking. $\endgroup$
    – Arthur
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy I intentionally use this site to clearly formulate the problem and usually in this case then delete. But often I wish I could keep the nice writeup at least for myself. $\endgroup$
    – Harald
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 8:04

1 Answer 1


The software allows you to self-delete a Question provided there is no up-voted or Accepted Answer. In the situation you describe it seems there is no Answer posted at all, so in that case self-deleting is an option.

What you describe is something that happens to most of us, and is in itself a valuable lesson to learn (that with sufficient attention to detail, mistakes can be found and corrected). I can imagine that there would be some instances of this which are quite mundane and deserve self-deletion, but also instances that are worth leaving as helpful illustration for other Readers.

If you can summon the energy to write up a self-answer, that may be an indication that the error was of the latter sort. That is, if there is something to explain, it may well be either a common enough trap that others could benefit from having pointed out, or a subtle enough trap that Readers may enjoy thinking through for themselves and checking against your self-answer.

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    $\begingroup$ I second this. If the difficulty in solving the problem was something trivial like "I forgot to bring this fraction into the next step" then I'd say don't bother posting it at all (it sounds like OP is talking about realizing the error before officially submitting the post). But if the error is more than something trivial then it could indeed be helpful to others. But the final decision is always OP's and there's not really a right or wrong way to proceed. $\endgroup$
    – user307169
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 13:03

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