Recently I've been trying to develop my mathematical writing style, which is largely informed by my experience on this site, into a longer form with an emphasis on interpretation of mathematics rather than mathematics proper (but hopefully with enough of the real stuff to satisfy the reader). While I recognize that this ambition ultimately leads outside of the StackExchange format, I've been experimenting with adapting it — bending the rules a little bit. Here are a few of my recent posts in this "new style" I've been trying out while trying to stay within the guidelines of the format and remaining honest about my thoughts and intentions:

A paradox involving complexity class separations and arithmetical soundness

Lost in space-time at sea


The mystery of Yggdrasil

Reception has been mixed. I've gotten some upvotes and some downvotes and some close votes and a few comments but no answers. In the comments on my most recent post, the last one linked, I've tried to justify why I believe it is appropriate for the format of this site, which I'll repeat in other words here. While the mathematical content is indeed light, I'm hoping that a good answer will make up for that deficit. And I think my non-mathematical language serves a rhetorical purpose of drawing attention to exactly that property of itself, that whatever idea I'm discussing is a non-mathematical one seeking a mathematical interpretation.

All I think I'm really doing differently is being more open and less brief about my mathematical thought process, and expressing it at an earlier stage before it's crystallized into a single real mathematical question. Of course, maybe it never will crystallize. But sometimes it does — I've thought of many well-received questions by following the same process all the way to the end — so my idea is why not talk about that process while it's still somewhat in-play and before I forget all the loose ends and let someone else try to tie it all together. This way not only do I maybe get to learn if there are any crystals, but I can also get information to evaluate the mining equipment I'm providing (the interpretation of the sought-after theory). Making some sense of it is supposed to be part of the fun, not a chore. Either not everybody sees it that way or I'm just not doing it right.

I'll also offer this pre-emptive defense. "Does $0.999\dots = 1$?" is another question of interpretation, and it's actually a great question, the first time it is asked. Duplicates are rightly closed because there's nothing more to be said. If nobody knew the answer then it wouldn't even be considered a meaningful question let alone a great one. My questions probably aren't great like that and they're surely not entirely original but I at least hope that they're some of each and I won't find out if they get closed.

What does everybody else think of this use of the site? Am I breaking the rules or just bending them a little bit, and is bending them okay? Is it okay that I'm bending them on purpose?

Maybe I should just get lost and start a blog, but this place has been my writing host for a long time and it's difficult to give that up. My other choice is something like "aim for exactly $3$ close votes but no more" since although maybe I can handle some downvotes and negative feedback it's definitely not worth writing this kind of stuff on here if no long answers are permitted.

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    $\begingroup$ Probably best to start a log and not post speculations as questions (or answers). Personally, I don't want to see such "thought experiments" on this site. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Dec 14 '17 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ This is a question and answer site and this focus makes it quite effective. If you continue to write things like that, I would recommend separating the formal question and make it self-contained for those who care more about math than fiction. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Dec 14 '17 at 6:30
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how to constructively understand the downvotes. I'm demonstrably foolish for expecting something from this community that's just not on the table. $\endgroup$ – Dan Brumleve Dec 15 '17 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ Another one for the series: cs.stackexchange.com/questions/85327/… $\endgroup$ – Dan Brumleve Dec 16 '17 at 2:20

As the "question" here seems to beg the issue of appropriateness (repeatedly acknowledging an "ambition [that] ultimately leads outside of the StackExchange format"), let me try to be as constructive as possible in advising you.

There is nothing inherently wrong with "trying to develop my mathematical writing style," and so far as it goes, that much is compatible with contributing to the Community at Math.SE. However the Community does provide feedback in the form of upvoting and downvoting on whether your posts show significant research and are useful.

Probably your "ambition" extends beyond good exposition of mathematical arguments. Some authors (Isaac Asimov and Martin Gardner come to mind) became very successful at presenting scientific facts in a colorful and entertaining way.

If that's the sort of ambition you have, I don't want to discourage you, BUT... that is not the mission of Math.SE, in whole or in part. You need to find a suitable writing course or a circle of similarly motivated authors for encouragement and appreciation.

  • $\begingroup$ Basically accurate, aside from the ""s making it look like it's some kind of weird thing. Those guys were inspiring to me and I'd be proud to make progress in that direction although popularizing isn't all I want to do. What's surprising to me is not the "in whole", but the "in part", the apparent zero-tolerance. I'll check out writing circles so thanks for that suggestion. $\endgroup$ – Dan Brumleve Dec 16 '17 at 18:38

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