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I asked an elementary question on the site recently, and of course no one would answer it. I think this is an unnecessary limitation of the site.

I think elementary questions have their place here. These are the kinds of questions that a student might ask during a lecture. They are not the kinds of questions you might get in a problem set. You don't arrive at these questions after you've done some work, you arrive at these question before you've done any work.

These are questions you might have when you are first starting to understand the subject -- perhaps you read about it the paper, or you're working on a programming project that requires you get a deeper understanding of a field you've never studied, or you haven't studied in a few decades.

Right now, StackExchange discourages these kinds of questions. They would like you to "do some work". So you give up on StackExchange and Google sends you to odd paragraphs in odd textbooks and overly detailed Wikipedia articles. It takes a bit, because most of these sources are typically on the wrong level and cover a lot of material that isn't the answer to your question. Even StackExchange's previous answers tend to be about a very specific tricky problem that is related to your question, but never seem to just answer the simple question directly.

So my question is: wouldn't it be great if the first item in that Google search was StackExchange, with a short direct answer to the most common short questions? (Including stupid questions, like mine.) I imagine there are more searches for simple stupid questions than anything else. What's the harm?

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    $\begingroup$ Questions about elementary topics in mathematics are welcome. Posts which contain only a mere problem-statement usually transcribed from an exercise, verbatim, whether elementary, or in intermediate, even advanced questions, are not welcome. You should link to the question you are talking about, so viewers can see what you initially posted, and any attempts you made to edit it. I'll take a few minutes to link to example of good, welcome questions on elementary topics. (give me some time, cuz I can't do it immediately). $\endgroup$ – Namaste Aug 12 '17 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ Also, you misunderstand the community's standard for questions on Math SE. It is not that you must have started solving the problem you face, but rather that you need to briefly state the context and your efforts (why are you interested in the question or where did it arise, what do you know, what you have tried, ...), and it is good enough. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Aug 12 '17 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Is this the question of which you are speaking: math.stackexchange.com/questions/2389907/when-is-mmt-invertible ? $\endgroup$ – Namaste Aug 12 '17 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ The question you asked yesterday (your most recent question states: "Is this always true? "If the rows of $M$ are a set of non-zero linearly independent vectors, then $M M^T$ is invertible." $\endgroup$ – Namaste Aug 12 '17 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ This is a bit of an aside, but I'm genuinely curious -- are you using textbook exercises as a model of how one is supposed to ask questions of others? $\endgroup$ – user14972 Aug 13 '17 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ I've added context if any you are still interested. $\endgroup$ – Charles Gillingham Aug 13 '17 at 5:01
  • $\begingroup$ Also, it doesn't sit well with me that people are down voting this discussion because (I'm guessing) they disagree with the proposal. This isn't a vote, it's a discussion, and the votes just push the discussion away. $\endgroup$ – Charles Gillingham Aug 13 '17 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ Also it's kind of passive-aggressive go back and down vote old answers of mine from 2014 (when I casually tried to help someone out by simply posting a pedantry-free answer.) $\endgroup$ – Charles Gillingham Aug 13 '17 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ Having said that, I never mentioned down votes in my original proposal. I honestly just want to find a site where I just ask a question and get an answer from an expert, similar to what you see at other StackExchange sites. $\endgroup$ – Charles Gillingham Aug 13 '17 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ Google sends you to odd paragraphs in odd textbooks and overly detailed Wikipedia articles. It takes a bit, because most of these sources are typically on the wrong level and cover a lot of material that isn't the answer to your question. And it's very possible a stackexchange answer will suffer the same problem unless the asker exposes some information about their level by showing how they got stuck in their attempts. The reason wikipedia and google do that is because they don't get that input (but we have the opportunity to gather and use it, so we should.) $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Aug 13 '17 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ I believe people have downvoted this post for two reasons: a) many disagree that elementary questions are discouraged, as @amWhy mentions in the top comment, and b) many disagree that short context-less questions belong here, as you can see by the many links in my answer. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Aug 13 '17 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ You say that you want to find a site where you can ask a question and get an answer from an expert. You can get answers here, but only if you ask well-proposed questions. You say you want similar to things such as other StackExchange sites, so perhaps it might enlighten you to view StackOverflow's 'rules'. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Aug 13 '17 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ "Questions asking for homework help must include a summary of the work you've done so far to solve the problem, and a description of the difficulty you are having solving it." - StackOverflow. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Aug 13 '17 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ Like @hardmath, after seeing the context you've provided I have voted to undelete, and also voted to reopen and upvoted. I hope you realize that the context is in fact far from useless, since nobody here had any clue that you encountered it in an optimization program. In that case, you need to look into numerical stability; assuming invertibility always suggests that your program is susceptible to numerical instability. You may hence also wish to ask about it, apart from your original question. $\endgroup$ – user21820 Aug 13 '17 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ I don't recommend deleting this thread. And it's not like a meta thread should negatively affect you or anything, but leaving it may be beneficial to others. If you want, you can self answer. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Aug 14 '17 at 10:56
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First off, most users do not discourage elementary questions. However, many users will discourage short posts with very little content. Lack of content often implies lack of effort and a desire to abuse the site by letting other people do work for you. This goes against what many believe the site should be for, which is partially, as you say, to move StackExchange up the Google list, but at the same time, we don't want peoples' homework at the top of this list, as that would put a bad look on our site.

They would like you to "do some work". So you give up on StackExchange and Google sends you to odd paragraphs in odd textbooks and overly detailed Wikipedia articles. It takes a bit, because most of these sources are typically on the wrong level and cover a lot of material that isn't the answer to your question. Even StackExchange's previous answers tend to be about a very specific tricky problem that is related to your question, but never seem to just answer the simple question directly.

No, this is not what we want from you. I mean, sure, it'd be nice if you looked through some stuff and did your own research before posting questions, but that's not what we aim for when we ask you to provide your work. What we want from you is context. This helps us make sure we a) don't tell you what you already know, b) don't respond beyond your area of understanding, c) make sure we aren't doing your homework for you, and d) assures us you aren't wasting our time. This doesn't even include that giving more context is almost always helpful for everyone, even you! By providing more content, it'll become easier for you to answer your own questions, which saves us some trouble as well. And this applies to questions of all levels, not just elementary questions.

Now, this isn't to say you can't ask homework questions or elementary questions at all. In the event you want to ask such questions, I highly recommend you follow the guide to asking homework questions.

However, if you do, don't expect everyone to give you full solutions. Indeed, for homework-style questions, many users will promote incomplete solutions, or hints. Taking from a quoted text:

Providing an answer that doesn't help a student learn is not in the student's own best interest, and if a solution complete enough to be copied verbatim and handed in is given immediately, it will encourage more people to use the site as a free homework service. In the spirit of creating a lasting resource of mathematical knowledge, you may come back after a suitable amount of time and edit your response to include a more complete answer. Or even better, the student can post her or his own correct answer!

So please cope with us, we have our reasons for wanting more from you, and they come with good intentions.

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  • $\begingroup$ I am not a student. Just wanted a simple answer to a simple question, in much the same spirit a person might ask for directions. I wish this site was useful to people who aren't students as well. $\endgroup$ – Charles Gillingham Aug 13 '17 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Charles, it is; a number of its users who ask questions certainly aren't students. But, as already noted, one must meet people halfway. At least mentioning a question's provenance goes a long way. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Aug 13 '17 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ So, I'm beginning to understand that the idea is keep people from using the site to cheat on their homework? Is that what you all are saying? Shouldn't somebody just come out and ask me if I'm cheating on my homework? That would be more direct a less confusing for someone unfamiliar with the site. $\endgroup$ – Charles Gillingham Aug 13 '17 at 5:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Simply Beautiful Art. I'm starting to understand (as the previous comment makes clear), but I still think you haven't answered my question. What's the harm? The answer to my question was just "yes", and it could have been answered in a few seconds by anyone familiar with the field. Note that I'm talking about elementary questions, not homework questions (or suspiciously homework-like questions). $\endgroup$ – Charles Gillingham Aug 13 '17 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ @CharlesGillingham To your second comment, people lie. The only thing we can do is close things we think look like homework questions, and that might include some of yours. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Aug 13 '17 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @CharlesGillingham To the third comment, what is the benefit to the site if you only ask questions who's answers are simple "yes/no" forms? Such brief questions are much better suited for chat rooms. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Aug 13 '17 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ I don't recall ever mentioning "homework" in my comment, @Charles. :) Personally, I think relevant background is a good way to gauge what answers would be best understood by the one asking; there's no sense in using high machinery on a kid, a lot of times. Or put in a different way: no use thwacking a non-specialist with your field's reference doorstop unless you take the time to adapt. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Aug 14 '17 at 5:17

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