My question is-

Should we include the source from where we have obtained a question?

Let, a question has been asked in a particular exam/paper/ or anywhere. Is it a good idea to include the details (name specifically) of the exam/paper/ or anywhere from where I have taken the question?It may help future readers.


As from the discussion so far, it is quite imperative that the answer to the above question is "yes". So now, we further update the discussion to-

What should we do to get this point across other users so that they ought to provide context (source) on all applicable questions? How should we spread this idea among other users?


All users willing to volunteer may please copy the below text and paste it as a comment for applicable posts on the Main site:

This looks like a problem collected from or inspired by some source. According to discussions in Meta, we aim to include sources for all applicable questions. Please [edit] your question to include the source. Refer to Is it a good idea to include source from where a question is taken?

Here is the code:

This looks like a problem collected from or inspired by some source. According to discussions in Meta, we aim to include sources for all applicable questions. Please [edit] your question to include the source. Refer to https://math.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/29290/is-it-a-good-idea-to-include-source-from-where-a-question-is-taken

NB: The " [edit] " automatically creates a link to the editor tools for the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I think including the source of a question, particularly when quoting, or asking about an older contest question, is imperative. In other cases, providing the source of a question is one form of providing context, and helps others establish the level at which the question is being asked, so as to answer more appropriately, to that level. Whether it is mandatory to include the source, is a good question. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Oct 20 '18 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ In general, I do not see how a policy about the inclusion of the source of a question would be problematic. Perhaps I'm overlooking certain scenarios. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Oct 20 '18 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, there are going to be cases in which a question from an asker emerges after proving $X\to Y$, and they want to know if it also holds that $Y\to X$. Or, a question springboards off of other work/reading, but even in such cases, asking users to provide that background, isn't a bad idea. E.g. "in Jane Doe's Linear Algebra, Chapter 7, I was asked to prove that foo implies fum. I was able to do so, but it seems that the converse ought to be true too. I can't think of any counterexamples, so if I'm overlooking something, I'd like to ask: Is it also the case that fum implies foo?" $\endgroup$ – amWhy Oct 20 '18 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ "You can tell us where the question comes from." is one of the paragraphs in the Provide Context section of How to ask a good question. This post seems also a bit related - although it is rather old and discussion was only in comments: User asking exercises from textbook without so identifying. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 20 '18 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ I would also like to point out that in some cases, posting exercises without attribution is simply intellectual theft. One ought not do that. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Mod Oct 21 '18 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ Okay... so the comments here second the opinion of providing context. Is there anything that we should do to promote this idea among other users? $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 21 '18 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ What about if you read a paper and that raises a question in your mind that is not even suggested by the paper? $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Oct 21 '18 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ Its not a bad idea to include the paper if the question is influenced by the thing written in the paper @RobertSoupe $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 21 '18 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question: "is it a good idea ... " is resoundingly "yes!", and not at all surprisingly. Perhaps you meant to ask, primarily, "What should we do to get this point across to others?" or "ought askers be required to provide the source of their questions". That's the only way to make it more than "a good idea", but a "necessary component" of a good question. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Oct 21 '18 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Edited the question according to your suggestion ;-) $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 21 '18 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ Often quoting the source helps. If the reader is familiar with the source the (s)he may be able to provide a better answer (for example explain the hint already given there, or perhaps indicate which particular theorems are needed, or worse point out that there was a typo in that source). $\endgroup$ – Paramanand Singh Oct 22 '18 at 1:08
  • $\begingroup$ @tatan I think, given the existing answers and the amount of time spent discussing them, that it might be more productive to ask a new meta question instead of editing this one. I'm quite sure nobody will perceive this as spam. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Oct 22 '18 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ The text for cooying-and-pasting needs a couple of cooy-edits to make it more grammatical and easier to read. My suggestions: (i) delete you have from the first sentence; (ii) We aim to including needs to be We aim to include. $\endgroup$ – timtfj Dec 23 '18 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ @tatan It looks right to me—both the text version and the code version. :-) $\endgroup$ – timtfj Dec 23 '18 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ I just now saw this meta question (I'm not in meta all that often), and as someone who often posts comments in questions in which I ask for the source, I do this when the question is really strange/ambiguous in some way (like being miscopied, or misrepresented from what someone said, or seen in some random place on the internet, etc.), and it often seems that the subtext for posting the question is to ask whether the question is "fair" or "correct" or "solvable". My feeling is that before investing a lot of time on the question, people might want a sense of how legitimate the question is. $\endgroup$ – Dave L. Renfro Jan 2 '19 at 18:38

Posting a question from elsewhere${}^1$ without reference could be considered plagiarism. While not illegal, it is considered to be very bad in academics.

${}^1$In particular, posting your homework problem without reference.

  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. There's some ethical obligations about it. Your choice of words definitely bring out aptly what I tried to say but couldn't (I am not a native English speaker). What do you thing we should do to spread this idea among the other users? $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 21 '18 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ I am sceptical as to how true this is. I mean, some questions are standard ("solve $\int e^x\sin(x)dx$" or "prove that every group of exponent two is abelian"). I don't think anyone "owns" these questions, and I suspect that the times someone can really "claim" a question are very rare. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Oct 27 '18 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ (possibly it is related: no-one "owns" a theorem. The copyright is on the exposition, not on the results...) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Oct 27 '18 at 10:54

For homework, if I am told what book it is, have the book or have taught from it, I can give a better answer.

For contest preparation questions: lately I have been amazed at the number of questions that ask to prove things that are simply false. I often ask for the source, and am usually told it was a "friend." The last time I pushed an OP on this he confirmed that it was a friend, but added that it was from an entrance examination for a university, which is not so good either. Oh, in some cases a question turns out to be an open problem.

I could go on; I think of including the source of the question as an error-correcting measure, more quickly reaching a correctly typed version of a question that is not just a waste of our time.

  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. Ofcourse this makes things more professional and easier for both OP and the answerer. What do you thing we should do to spread this idea among the other users?(Ofcourse most people don't include source at this moment.) $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 21 '18 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ @tatan I have been trying to spread the idea for years, with little success. I don't know what to advise $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Oct 21 '18 at 14:52

Just some ideas about your last point:

(1) We can emphasize the need for citing one's source for a question, or the motivating source, in the event that one is inspired to ask a question based on another source, in the devoted meta thread "How to ask a good question [on MSE]" (brackets mine). This will allow us to actually have a "policy" link to provide to both askers and answerers in the two subsequent suggestions.

To this end, I would suggest that another "answer" be added to the linked post (How to ask a good question), imploring askers to include the source of their question, so that it does not appear only as one possible way to include context. It will still count as context, but I think there needs to be more emphasis on the necessity of providing the source of one's question, and encouraging any additional context that might be helpful.

(2) We can suggest the inclusion of the source of a question immediately below no-context questions to help the user: (1) establish context, and (2) help get askers become aware that citing the source of a question is one expectation we have of questions asked. (Providing a link to the above mentioned post will help verify this policy).

(3) We can also encourage answerers to refrain from answering questions which lack any mention of a source; this is particularly crucial in the event the question is a contest question, or a question from an exam, or even a homework-like question. This can be mentioned in a respectful comment below an answer. (Providing a link to the above mentioned post will help verify this policy.)

  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. Now its to see if and how this is implemented. $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 22 '18 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ I have commented on a few posts in the main site and edited this question. Others may help! $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 22 '18 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ For eg. see here-math.stackexchange.com/questions/2952345/… ... Do you think this is going in the right way? $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 22 '18 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Looks good! I also think that you might want to add an "answer" directly to the "how to ask a good question" post, speaking specifically to the need to include the source of one's question. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Oct 22 '18 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ Done! Do check it out ;-) $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 22 '18 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Great job! Thanks for doing this! $\endgroup$ – amWhy Oct 22 '18 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a way to periodically review how this thing is actually working out? $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 22 '18 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @tatan: It won't be a bad idea to revisit the question, especially if the problem of lack of identifying sources continues. I think if you and I and a few others take the initiative to bring this to user's attention, either linking this post, or the "how to ask a good question" post, mentioning the need to cite the source of one's question, there will be additional uptake among others. Big changes usually start with smaller changes; and then the more users that see the question as to source? below questions, the more apt they'll also be to ask such a question in the future. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Oct 22 '18 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ I had pointed out the fact in this question and this is how one user responded. What should I do now? ;-( math.stackexchange.com/questions/2967171/… $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 23 '18 at 8:56
  • $\begingroup$ @tatan I flagged the comment as "unfriendly or unkind", which it certainly is. (You can do so too.) I upvoted your reply to the comment, as well. $\endgroup$ – amWhy Oct 23 '18 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ – Soham Oct 23 '18 at 10:47

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