Here's a recent question closed for being too broad. It seems a little personal-advice-y, but too broad? It seems like a reasonably straightforward book request.

Is it because the question contains 4 sub-questions? Or does it violate some other rule here that I'm not aware of/haven't thought of?

If the people who closed the question are reading this, I'd appreciate it if you could leave a comment on the question to tell the asker why the question was closed.

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    $\begingroup$ I did not vote to close, and had I seen it, I probably would have debated closing it for being too "adivice-y". That being said, there seem to be two distinct questions there: (1) please recommend a good calculus text and (2) please recommend a good linear algebra text. For that reason, I can understand the close reason "too broad" (even if I don't have a strong opinion on it). $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Feb 26, 2019 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ @theo You're right: perhaps the close reason was not an ideal reflection of the problems the post has. Beyond that, isn't it clear that the post should be closed? We have ample recommendations for calculus texts. We have ample recommendations for linear algebra texts. Why should a mashup of the two be considered worth keeping? That's what runs through my head, anyhow, when weighing the options. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Feb 27, 2019 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @rschwieb A good answerer might be able to pair up books nicely between the two subjects (e.g. "I think ___ is a good linear algebra book, and ___ is a good calculus book to read in tandem, as the writing styles are fairly similar"), but otherwise I'd agree, it doesn't add much to the site. I would like to see, though, the asker pointed towards the (multiple) questions that would provide them answers, and perhaps a comment justification why the comment is being closed ("too broad" fits, but plenty of open questions ask two or more questions, and I think a quick comment would be good). $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2019 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @rschwieb This actually speaks to a something I don't quite "get" about the site, but I haven't managed to collect my thoughts into a good meta question. Are we here to collect questions and answers, or to help people? Closing the question would serve the former purpose, but fail the latter. How constrained are we to the close reasons? If we found, hypothetically, a question that we were sure would help nobody else (for whatever reason), but had effort demonstrated to solve it, wasn't a duplicate, and wasn't too broad, should we close it? Are we allowed to close it? $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2019 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ @TheoBendit Are we here to collect questions and answers, or to help people? I don't understand why people reference this as some sort of "dilemma". I think doing the first accomplishes the second. Aren't we helping people by making good answers easy to find? Wouldn't generating a custom answer for every request (aka "helping every person") actually harm the user by reducing the searchability of what we have, and teaching them not to bother to search for existing things? I think keeping good content and training them to search better makes them more self-reliant. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Feb 27, 2019 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ @TheoBendit And sorry if that sounded negative or ranty. I wanted to keep it in one post, but was bumping up against the comment size: I mean everything in the most positive possible way :) Let me also add, that this doesn't mean I think that nothing is new under the sun. I just think that any new content for existing posts that's worth keeping can be smoothly integrated either by 1) incorporating with old questions or 2) adapting the question suitably. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Feb 27, 2019 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @TheoBendit You also raise a lot of other questions, but I'm afraid to begin to address them in this space because they deserve threads of their own, almost! :) $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Feb 27, 2019 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @rschwieb (I don't mean for this to sound ranty either, but bear with me.) Let's look at what happened with the linked question. I personally think it's a decent question. The asker has clearly been researching, and wants some details about these recommended books. The question was closed, with no answers, no comments (except my barely helpful one), and a vague indication as to what was wrong with the post. Nothing about the close reason indicated to the asker what they needed to do in order to get the answers they needed... (to be continued) $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2019 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @rschweib There was no indication that their question was a duplicate of other questions, where they could find the answers to their question, or whether they should keep looking. As I said, I can see for curation purposes, closing (and picking on the most immediate problem: its breadth) is a fine thing to do, but for helping purposes, the asker got very little help. (I have one more comment to make.) $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2019 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @TheoBendit Yeah, you're right, someone should have included pointers to existing questions, or at the very least said "search for existing posts for each of these subjects individually." I usually do, but apparently didn't this time :S Unfortunately, although there is some research effort apparent, the balance of his/her questions seems to be all opinion and advice based, stuff we tend to avoid. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Feb 27, 2019 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, in a closed question, we can dodge the restriction with comments. We can often help the asker by delivering a good comment, even if the question is closed (in this case, a couple of links would suffice). But comments aren't really designed for helping people in depth. They can barely facilitate this discussion! An answer would be a better form for helping some people with their questions, even if they don't hold much value for the site. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2019 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ @rschweib Often the purposes of curation and helping people overlap, but I think they differ in key situations. The other big one is "I have no clue" students. They produce rubbish questions, almost out of necessity. But talking about them really would take us off-topic. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2019 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


Our guidelines are to ask only one question per post. That question is asking two questions: please recommend a good linear algebra text; please recommend a good calculus text. When a single post asks multiple questions, it may be closed as "too broad". It'd be better for the poster to split them into two separate posts.

The text under the closure notice refers to this. It says:

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once.

Separately, book recommendation questions often don't work well in the Stack Exchange format. They often degenerate into opinion polls or lists of items, and those kinds of questions aren't a good fit here. Such questions risk being closed as "opinion-based".

Here's my advice about how to make those questions work well:

  1. Read the site guidance. Read Is it appropriate to ask for references and book recommendations? and follow the guidelines there.

  2. Do your research first. If you just want to know what's a good book to read, this site might not be the place for that. Instead, I suggest you do your own research. There are good ways that you can get a very good sense of what books are well-regarded. First, look at a set of top university math departments, and see what textbook they use in their course on that topic; see which ones are frequently used. Second, look at reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Between that you should usually be able to identify a few reasonable candidates; and normally, any one of those will be fine.

  3. Articulate a specific need. Don't ask "what's the best book on X?" or "what book on X should I read?". Instead, identify your specific objectively verifiable requirements. What topics does it need to cover? What level? What do you want to learn? (Proofs? Foundations? Intuition? Practical skills?) What kinds of background do you have?) Show your research, what books you've already come up with, and why you've rejected them. What requirements do they feel to meet? If you just ask for a good book or a book recommendation, you're calling for opinions; this site is best for objectively answerable questions, not opinion polls. Everyone has their own criteria for evaluating books, so asking for the best book to read will be inherently subjective.

  • $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson, Ah, I didn't realize that. Thanks for the feedback on the tone. I've edited the answer to depersonalize it. Hopefully it now provides a more useful explanation of why such a question might be closed as "too broad", and isn't condescending. I removed the statements about whether book recommendations are on-topic and the links that you reacted to, to focus on giving my personal advice on such questions. This isn't a copy-paste; I'm writing this from scratch based on my experience and personal opinions how to make those questions work well for everyone. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Feb 27, 2019 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ It reads much better now. Thank you for making the edits. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Feb 27, 2019 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ If the user splits them into separate posts, I'm pretty sure all the parts would be duplicates. That's another problem with the question. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Feb 27, 2019 at 16:54

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