I propose that MSE introduces an onboarding process for new users.

Problem statement:

  • Too many PSQ's & MSE used as a homework-completion site

  • Growing resentment of "rep-farming"

  • Conflict between longstanding users having different aspirations for MSE

  • Dilution of quality content

  • Hostile environment to new users uneducated on community standards

  • New users made to feel unwelcome

  • Poor / nonexistent coaching of new users

In my opinion, in order to onboard new users, the solution should achieve the following objectives:

  • Make new users feel welcome

  • Educate new users regarding community standards and site policies

  • Confer privileges to new users only upon conforming to community standards

  • Ease the frustration of current contributors to MSE

I think this can only be achieved by dually a) educating new users about basic standards and b) witholding the answering of questions until users comply with same basic standards:

  • No Problem Statement Questions (PSQs)

  • Require Latex for writing maths

  • Explain what you have tried and where you are stuck. Or sufficient other background behind the question to give prospective answerers context to position their answer appropriately.

I believe the means to achieve this is a triage queue as previously suggested here:

  • All new users begin as a "triaged user".

  • Questions from users subject to triage go to a triage queue:

  • No question in triage queue can be answered

  • Users tick to confirm the question:

    • Has no non-latex maths or scanned images etc.
    • Is not a PSQ
    • Has sufficient context to demonstrate effort or to position an answer
  • Failure on any count gives the user a WELCOMING and educational message such as a link to the MathJax reference etc.

  • Once any user consistently asks questions that pass triage first time, they become a non-triage user.

  • Users falling into bad habits can be added by multiple diamond mods back onto the triage list.


  • Well the main difference here is a moratorium on answering non-compliant questions. We already do all this moderation. The trouble is, while some users are carrying out this moderation, others are answering the question, so the offender gets their homework done and never has any incentive to buy into community standards. As a result, we end up moderating the same users over and over again for the same reasons. The difference with triage, is that it will require a minimal level of effort from the new user to start to buy in to community standards in return for their homework solution. Consequently, under the improved system, the quality of questions will improve and the amount of moderation required, and resentment, will reduce.
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    $\begingroup$ I support, if not all the details, the general sentiment of this post that we don't do a good enough job educating the newbies about what is expected from them. And how can they improve their inputs. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2018 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to support this in principle, but I'm concerned about discouraging new users who are not mathematicians, not in courses, but stumble on interesting questions they can't answer. Sometimes these are from programmers, sometimes parents asking about kids' homework, sometimes people who want a recreational/probability controversy settled. OPs are often very grateful for answers that are (for us) pretty elementary. I like these questions and would hate to make them harder to ask. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2018 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ @EthanBolker <sufficiently interesting> box: Selected questions pass triage irrespective of site policy, if moderators find them "sufficiently interesting". I guess the advantage of the current system is a broad range of people currently get to see these questions, so interesting questions are currently more likely to fall within somebody's area of interest. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2018 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila would you prefer the three levels solution? $\endgroup$ May 23, 2018 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ Do the three levels mean time travel, portal gun, and a sword? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    May 23, 2018 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila On one hand we have "MSE is for mathematicians of all abilities" but on the other, if my 6 year old daughter posted "what is the square root of $9$?" we would have downvote, close, delete. $\endgroup$ May 23, 2018 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ When I was six years old my father taught me long division, and how to use a calculator. And he is a historian, and not even remotely a mathematical person. I'm sure that you could teach your daughter how to find the square root of 9, or 16, or even how to approximate the square root of 15. Without anyone online downvoting that question, or closing it, or deleting it. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    May 23, 2018 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertFrost In general, it's not that simple to use Stack Exchange for a 6 year old, at least if they want to follow ToS. See meta: How do I use Stack Exchange if I'm under 13 years old (16 in the European Union)? Whether or not a question about square root of nine would be downvote/closed is a separate question (unrelated to the age of the OP). And it was discussed before: Is there a lower bound to the level of the questions that can be asked in here? $\endgroup$ May 23, 2018 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ I really like the idea of a triage queue. But I think that to avoid the effect of new-user-question becoming completely invisible (and not enough users visiting the triage queue), one can insert (some of) the triage questions in the question list on the main page, only visible for those users which have enough reputation to pull them out of triage. In this way they still get visibility, but cannot be answered unless officially unlocked. I think the necessity for this depends on how many users will visite the triage queue. $\endgroup$
    – M. Winter
    Jun 1, 2018 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ I don't like the idea of making it difficult for new users to start participating in this site. We already have the ability to downvote and to vote to close; that functionality seems sufficient to me. I say keep the system simple and accessible. (By the way, I've seen a fair amount of good questions that did not use Latex. Requiring new users to learn to use Latex seems particularly forbidding to me. What if for example a parent wants to ask a math question about their child's homework but does not know Latex? I would be frustrated if I were not able to answer such a question.) $\endgroup$
    – littleO
    Jun 1, 2018 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @M.Winter but then high rep users would see the new user questions, and it seems to be a subset of the high rep users who get most frustrated by a subset of the new user questions. Maybe it would be better if people filter the triage questions from the front page themselves? Also, less skilled mathematicians seek questions they can answer. They are more likely to find them in the triage queue. Non askers can still edit and rewrite in Latex, and the question is still visible, just not answerable. It could also pass triage by 'sufficiently interesting' anyway. $\endgroup$ Jun 2, 2018 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ Although i agree with what you're trying to propose , i dont think it'll work well . Since youre handing over the privileges of deciding whether to accept a question to the users, you can escape the fact that "rep farmers" might use that (or rather misuse) that to their advantage . Also this would require creation of a new privilege . We have the ability to downvote and flag, and I think users should be educated to use those tools more and help keep the community clean $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2018 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ BEGIN QUOTE Hostile environment to new users uneducated on community standards \\ New users made to feel unwelcome, \\ Poor / nonexistent coaching of new users END QUOTE I've been saying for years on "meta" that hostility to new users is a problem, and that when questions from newbie's are down-voted or close-voted, the reasons should be explained to them in comments. I have no idea why these proposals have been answered with hostility, especially from some of the most experienced users. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2018 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ One should not call MathJax "LaTeX". People who master MathJax and mistakenly think they've mastered LaTeX will suffer considerable pain if they encounter actual LaTeX and find that they don't know it. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2018 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ @TheIntegrator Users are pretty good on the whole. If the system tells them to coach the asker or question up to a certain community standard before answering the question I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they'll do so. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2018 at 9:08


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