I have this question in mind. I included the "standard" way to solve the problem in a "background" section as well as the general approach to solve these types of problems.

While writing the question, I wanted to clarify where my question was coming from (as well as why I was thinking about a particular solution), but in hindsight, it is not necessary and potentially not even relevant to the question. I'm afraid that it is cluttering what may already be a vague question and decreasing the likelihood of comments and answers.

Should a part, or the entirety, of the background be deleted or rewritten?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think the question is fine as it is. You've gotten five upvotes on it, no downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 7 '18 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ No, it should not be removed in general. Many of the best questions on this site are somewhat like blog posts, with detailed context. There are net 8 upvotes at the moment. I would guess one possible reason why there aren't answers is that the question - even if short - is technical, not a routine thing that can be answered off the top of someone's head. I'll put a small bounty on it to see if it can get some more attention. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 '18 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert wow thank you very much! I suppose two answers together should suffice to ease my concerns. Thank you both $\endgroup$ Jun 7 '18 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ Not a strategy generally available: my best question was my first question on MO. Something i had fiddled with for a long time. I had a number of pdfs, some my stuff, some articles by others. i put those on a web page and got interest and a wonderful answer from an expert (K. Buzzard). Maybe the point is that my baby way of approaching the problem would have just annoyed an expert, but placed elsewhere it was not really in the way (I just summarized the little progress I had) while allowing him to see exactly what the question was. We still do not know whether the thing is if-and-only-if. $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Jun 7 '18 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @WillJagy fair enough, I went out of curiosity to see your question, seems great! Thanks for your story. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 '18 at 0:30
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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me of an anecdote of Dr. Benjamin Franklin about eliminating logically unnecessary words. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Jun 8 '18 at 16:48

I would say as long as you make the question easily discoverable and self-contained, extra background (within reason) is harmless and usually helpful.

In general, I would recommend putting the question at the very top, clearly marked, and preceded only by any context that is necessary to understand the question. Further, the additional background, etc. should be clearly marked as such and, more importantly, that there are no further questions in that background. Basically, I should be able to start at the top of the question, read down and know when I can stop reading because I have the the entirety of the questions your are asking. I should be able to simply not read the background and still have all I need to answer your question.

In your case, while you do clearly mark the questions (unless there are additional ones in the following sections which I haven't read), it is "below the fold" and not very self-contained. I have to scroll down to even see that you have a marked "questions" section, and then that refers to details contained in a solid page of text above which is certainly not all necessary to understand the question.

I doubt this has had much to do with the lack of response to this particular question, but I've definitely dropped questions that made it too difficult for me to find what question was actually being asked. My first reaction to multi-page questions is usually not anticipation...


No, absolutely not - no more so than mathematics papers / textbooks should be stripped of their abstracts, introductions, remarks, helpful examples, etc. to the bare-bones theorems and proofs. Of course, there are good and bad ways to write a question, just like there are good and bad ways to write a paper, as Derek has pointed to; but as long as it's clear which bit is your question and which bit is extraneous information, I think a certain amount of motivation and background is good.


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