# Can we please be more generous to elementary beginners?

This question: Given that $$\arctan(1/5) + \arctan(1/8) = \arctan(1/p)$$, how to find the value of $$p$$? (now deleted again) was originally closed as "off-topic".

Here is the original title:

Tricky Trig question - Given that arctan(1/5) + arctan(1/8) = arctan(1/p) find the value of P.

And here is the original body of the post:

I understand that you must use the tan(x+y) rule. And for a start, I let x = tan 1/5 and let y = 1/8. But what happens to arctan(1/p)?

A user answered and edited the attempt in the post (colors mine):

I understand that you must use the $$\tan(x+y)$$ rule. And for a start, I let $$\color{red}{x = \arctan 1/5}$$ and let $$\color{blue}{y = \arctan 1/8}$$. But what happens to $$\arctan(1/p)$$?

I later edited the format of the title and made it to a concise question with a question mark. Also, I edited the body of the post in a slightly more readable way.

Given that $$\arctan(1/5) + \arctan(1/8) = \arctan(1/p)$$, how to find the value of $$p$$?

Attempt

I think that one should use the rule for $$\tan(x+y)$$. And for a start, I let $$x = \arctan 1/5$$ and let $$y = \arctan 1/8$$. But what happens to $$\arctan(1/p)$$? I do not know how to go on.

After the edit, I voted to reopen the question. It was then deleted once by active users in the CRUDE chat room. After it was undeleted by three users (including myself), a user (who voted to delete the post previously) rollbacked the post to the original one and then immediately voted to delete the post again while it is "on-hold". (See the timelines for mentioned activities.)

I refuse such a strong action of deletion to a post like this. The OP did have a well-formulated though elementary mathematical question. True that the original attempt was a mess. However, I think a beginner like this one could certainly have difficulties in articulating his/her own thoughts clearly. For a beginner who is asking this level of questions, if he/she was really able to clearly identify where he/she was stuck, following strictly the "how to ask a good question" guide, then they would be very likely to be able to answer such question on his/her own and have no need to ask a question on MSE at all.

For such beginners, I think we could be little more generous to help since

Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields.

Can we please be more generous to elementary beginners?

[Added for responding to criticism in the comment below. Since the response is quite long, and highly related to some points I would like to emphasize, I think it good to write it here.]

"That has little to do with being elementary."

It does. I am in particular talking about questions asked by "elementary beginners". I am not talking about "elementary questions" per se. There is a huge difference between how an expert/experienced learner asks an elementary question in calculus and how a beginner (who is still learning Calculus 101) asks a "routine" homework exercise when such exercise may not sound "routine" to the beginner at all. I am talking about human beings. The first sentence in the Tour site says in particular people (studying) at any level, not "question" at any level. Moreover, I have clearly stated above that "I think a beginner like this one could certainly have difficulties in articulating his/her own thoughts clearly."

"Please make sure to include in your reply why 𝑦=1/8 is due to confusion as opposed to being sloppy. Otherwise, please, explicitly acknowledge that the post was indeed sloppy."

I hate to be rude, but would you PLEASE read my post more carefully before making a misleading judgement?! I clearly wrote that the question (the one in the edited title) is clear while OP's original attempt was not satisfactory: "The OP did have a well-formulated though elementary mathematical question. True that the original attempt was a mess." Also, I have already explicitly colored the parts that were changed in the second version of the post.

Again nobody took the time to explain to OP what they could do to avoid common pitfalls on the site.

People can learn things by positive actions. One can learn how one's thoughts/attempts were a mess and likely avoid making similar mistakes in the future by simply reading well-written solutions. Also, reading an edit which articulates clearly a possible attempt is a way to learn. Yes, one might say "how the heck do you know what OP thinks; one should be responsible for him/herself and no one needs to take such burden of teaching." True that we are not mind readers. BUT, there are people who ARE willing to help by positive actions. I do not think such help is so detrimental to MSE that we should eradicate such posts by the strong negative action of deletion.

• The post was very sloppily written. That has little to do with being elementary. Unfortunately no one explained the problems with the post to OP. As for your meta post, it's generally better to formulate an honest question or to attempt to start an actual discussion rather than to write yet another plea. That the question is elementary really misses the point. Tangentially, some other users advocate for poorly phrased more advanced questions. You see where this is going? Either we do nothing for the quality of the site because everybody has their own set of exceptions or we are more uniform. – quid Apr 4 '19 at 18:48
• Of course the "either" above is a false dichotomy, since we could decide on some set of exceptions. But my vote won't be for including carelessly type standard calculus exercises there. We already have tens not to say hundreds of thousands of those. There is really zero need for more of those as far as the site is concerned. – quid Apr 4 '19 at 19:06
• Quid of course it has a LOT to do with being elementary. I just can not believe a moderator wrote his or her comment in such a hurry way. Downvote to your comment. You are violating the being nice rule by simply unfairly assuming my attention for posting this question is bad. – user9464 Apr 4 '19 at 19:13
• you Yourself consider a question as careless while there are LOT OF PEOPLE only see confusion and simply trying to help. – user9464 Apr 4 '19 at 19:15
• Not the first time such rollback downvote close deletion behavior is encouraged. I am so surprises that when such matter is brought out for discussion, a moderator is so hurried to take sides. – user9464 Apr 4 '19 at 19:20
• Again nobody took the time to explain to OP what they could do to avoid common pitfalls on the site. Not you, not the answerer, not all those upvoters. This is not the best way to help. If you ask me, it's a misguided way to help (and that's assuming positive intentions). – quid Apr 4 '19 at 19:23
• Please make sure to include in your reply why $y=1/8$ is due to confusion as opposed to being sloppy. Otherwise, please, explicitly acknowledge that the post was indeed sloppy. – quid Apr 4 '19 at 19:26
• I think that this post is just going to be a rehashing of discussions that have been had over and over again over the years... here's a post with virtually the same sentiment. From 7 years ago. – user296602 Apr 4 '19 at 21:08
• @Arctic, yes, deleted by moderator quid, so users can't vote to undelete now. But users can flag for moderator attention, if they think a moderator shouldn't take such action on a question under active discussion on meta. – Gerry Myerson Apr 4 '19 at 22:22
• "I think that one should use the rule for $\tan(𝑥+𝑦)$. " clearly indicates an attempt no matter how stupid one thinks this is. While we are still having a discussion, which related to the linked post, the moderator should really not use his/her power to eradicate a post by a new user, which significantly violates the spirit in the Code of Conduct. The comment under the deleted post: "This question did not comply with our guidelines for how to ask good questions." is nothing but the moderator's own view. – user9464 Apr 4 '19 at 22:23
• This question is probably not the best choice to argue the general principles because it is surely a dupe of many others on the (arc)tan addition formula, e.g. here for a random example. – Bill Dubuque Apr 4 '19 at 22:25
• @quid fyi: in the past some mods have even (temporarily) undeleted questions so that all users could view them during meta discussion. This restores transparency - which is important in matter like these. – Bill Dubuque Apr 4 '19 at 22:56
• @quid seems to forget that moderators make extremes more moderate, and not more extreme. – user645636 Apr 5 '19 at 14:54
• It's not at all anti-quality-control. it's simply they changed the functions stated, Therefore decreasing the usefulness of answers to a question without knowing of the improper understamding the OP has. That's missed information by the future answerers. rolling back edits just to force deletion, is a crap tactic at best. – user645636 Apr 5 '19 at 15:30
• But, I also agree with Bill. This question is essentially a duplicate of many others. After all, basicall it is about knowing the tangents of two angles and then asking what is the tangent of the sum. Therefore I support keeping it deleted. The best way to help new users is to teach them to search the site. – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 5 '19 at 15:30

While I am preparing (slowly, due to lots of urgent foreground tasks) a longer post about deletion on math.se, let me quickly suggest a simple guideline:

Do not roll back improvements to a question unless they clearly make it worse or conflict with the question's intent.

This means, in particular, to not roll back clarifications and context (unless the author disagrees with them), LaTeX and formatting fixes.

As usual, please vote this post up or down depending on your agreement/disagreement with my guideline.

This is the second time that I am seeing "punitive" rollbacks (someone improves the post, then someone else rolls the improvement back, supposedly because the OP didn't "deserve" to have their question improved). While I understand the reasoning behind them, I think generating good content for readers is more important than training askers. This holds doubly so when the "training" is done in a way that is neither instructive nor helpful.

I did cast a delete vote on this specific question, though -- something I rarely do, but found justified in this case because it is literally a numerical example of a known formula.

• Punitive rollbacks are abusive, and I think they should be dealt with directly by the moderators - they're no better than vandalism. But I don't think that necessarily happened here - the first round of editing radically changed the asker's words and basically redid their entire work. A rollback might not be the best way to handle this, but undoing the first edit was good IMHO. – user296602 Apr 4 '19 at 21:48
• While I agree with your proposal, this is not really the main point of the question imo. One just shouldn't roll back improvement, whether or not the OP is a newcomer or not. – Arctic Char Apr 4 '19 at 22:08
• My post was also referencing math.stackexchange.com/questions/2982612/… . But I think it applies here just as well: Maria Mazur's edit (revision 2) fixed a tan/arctan error, and Jack's edit (revision 3) improved the formatting (question in title only -> question in post) and the wording. Both of these are clear-cut improvements if you ask me. – darij grinberg Apr 4 '19 at 22:54
• @darijgrinberg The first one is an improvement only because it changes the asker's wrong idea to the answerer's right idea. That's fundamentally altering the question, and is inappropriate. – user296602 Apr 4 '19 at 23:21
• Bongers and Henning, One could say that revision 2 changed the ("messy"/"sloppy") attempt, but not the question itself. OP did have a well-formulated clear mathematical question: "Given that $\arctan(1/5) + \arctan(1/8) = \arctan(1/p)$, how to find the value of $p$?" There is no typo, no ambiguity at all and revision 3 only changed the format regarding this part. And "I think that one should use the rule for tan(𝑥+𝑦)" clearly indicates that OP has something in his/her mind. On the other hand, an "attempt" is an attempt, is not a solution, no matter how silly it looks like. (cont.) – user9464 Apr 5 '19 at 12:33
• (cont.) Even matured mathematician could start from a nonsense attempt when doing research. I think it is way too harsh for us to require that every single word in a beginner's attempt should make sense. – user9464 Apr 5 '19 at 12:33
• I support this answer. I also want to remind everybody that the asker does not "own" the question. The users with the privilege to edit questions should IMNSHO use it when they want to "rescue" question. Here is one earlier related discussion. My rather radical edit got a relatively positive response at that time. Admittedly that may have been partly due to it still being my moderator honeymoon with the crowd. – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 5 '19 at 15:10
• "If you are frustrated that your efforts to edit the post got invalidated (and same for the answerer) then be up-front about this, and don't only talk about supposed injustice or unkindeness inflicted on a new user." I could almost assume such words as a personal attack. Considering that an "if" statement is used, in which the assumption is completely pointless, I take it as a false-implies-everything statement. (cont.) – user9464 Apr 5 '19 at 18:10
• @quid: Could you please post an answer, so that the community may vote your position both up and down? – Kevin Apr 5 '19 at 20:15
• @Kevin excuse me, but the entire thread is predicated on the notion that the question should be treated according to a specific set of standards because the OP is new, (assumed to be) mathematical not mature, did include some 'attempt'; and maybe some other things. I react to this. The question is of basically no value, so much so that users rather critical of deletions in general are of the opinion there is no point in keeping it or making an example of it. Alright it is possible that you already downvote the question because of this, but if not, I am a bit puzzled what your point is. – quid Apr 5 '19 at 22:24
• @quid: I pinged you to let you know of my answer, to give you an opportunity to comment on it, and to downvote it, if you so chose. I did not realize that that would be interpreted as "bullying," for which I apologize. – Kevin Apr 6 '19 at 0:04
• "it does not seem there is much opposition to the deletion of this particular post." @quid, the post was undeleted by vote of three users. Two more users joined those three to vote to reopen. As it was redeleted-by-moderator, we can't really know how much more opposition to deletion there might be, but I note that my comment elsewhere on this page, hinting that a moderator ought not take such action, got six upvotes. All in all, it's not clear to me that there isn't much opposition to deletion. – Gerry Myerson Apr 6 '19 at 2:37
• @quid If the votes on the (many) opinions in this answer mean anything, then likely they target the highlighted boldified opinion "Do not roll back improvements". Anything beyond that is a wild guess and should not be used as the basis of any argument. If you want your meta answers to be useful for polling then it is essential to constrain the answer to a single opinion. In the past some meta answerers have abused this ambiguity to try to gain support for unpopular opinions. Nowadays we should know better. – Bill Dubuque Apr 6 '19 at 22:37
• @quid As I mentioned above, I think it is a dupe with nothing novel so it should be deleted. But I think we should be more concerned here with the general principles, hence my remarks. If we have any hope of reaching good compromises on contentious matters then we must strive to assess them as fairly as possible. – Bill Dubuque Apr 6 '19 at 23:00
• @quid, no need to get dramatic here. I did not call you evil, and I didn't make any reference to a "poor new user". – Gerry Myerson Apr 7 '19 at 2:31

(Posting as an answer, rather than a comment, because I'm curious how many will disagree.)

I think the "little to do with being elementary" dispute strikes at the heart of the underlying issue here.

We expect our questions to be well-formed, clear, and considered. We like them to have a clear, unambiguous answer. We want both the question and the answer to be helpful (and of interest) to future visitors of the site, not just the person who posed the question. We prefer them narrow, in the sense that we can isolate and obliterate one piece of misunderstanding in a compact single answer.

We tend not to like having to intuit (or, as is often the case, outright guess) the genuine source of confusion in the question. We tend not to want to have to explain things that have been explained over and over again, or indeed explain things that the asker already understands but has neglected to mention.

The site's own guidelines reflect this, if you look at the reasons for closing questions.

But, the problem is, this heavily biases against people earlier in their mathematics education. Writing the kinds of questions that we like requires mathematical maturity. It's a skill in itself to be able to reflect and determine what you do and don't understand, let alone pinpoint a specific lack of understanding that's causing you problems. In my experience, mathematics students don't tend to get reliably good at identifying what they don't understand until university (at least). Some students never develop it, and finish their mathematics education under the impression that believing that you understand something in mathematics is a trap for fools, and that there's always some hole in your understanding that someone could point out.

Mathematical maturity is also important for clear communication of mathematics. We ask students for their thoughts on a problem until we're blue in the face, but even if the student has had a myriad of thoughts about a problem, there's no guarantee that they'll be able to communicate even a single one of these thoughts to us. It's even harder when the communication is written, not verbal.

Personally, I honestly believe that a majority of low-level PSQs are written without context, not because of a lack of effort in solving the problem, but simply because the student is incapable of communicating their problem beyond reciting it word for word. When you press these students for more details or thoughts, they may respond with more context, but our own influence in this process should not be ignored; without us asking the right questions, I just don't think they're capable of further mathematical communication.

So, in short, both our personal preferences and the site's guidelines implicitly bias in favour of higher level mathematics, simply because the questions we like require mathematical maturity to formulate.

I'm not necessarily in favour of explicitly changing the guidelines, but I definitely agree that we should be more lenient on beginners.

• Mathematical maturity is a very high bar and certainly not required to write a reasonable question. It's definitely not required to make sure you aren't making careless mistakes like the ones that were corrected in the referenced post. Frankly, I'm more inclined to believe that it is just plain maturity that is relevant. – Derek Elkins left SE Apr 5 '19 at 5:08
• @DerekElkins Well, I'm looking at mathematical maturity as a sliding scale here. A person who can ask a good question may not be "fully" mature yet, if that indeed means something. But, I do think it is a high bar that we implicitly prefer our askers to clear, and I do think it discourages beginners from asking questions. Also, which careless mistakes are you talking about? – Theo Bendit Apr 5 '19 at 11:28
• @TheoBendit Fully in agreement of "personally, I honestly ... communication". I think this is why our reaction to even the most blatant of PSQs has to be milder than what has been shown in the post. I am sure we all have made mistakes in this site, but we give up on people improving too early,despite the fact that when we were making mistakes, others didn't give up on us too early. This answer is nice because I have actually taught students from grades 10 to 12 and at the undergraduate level, and they all have issues even verbally communicating their problems, let alone writing it. – Teresa Lisbon Apr 5 '19 at 13:14
• A lot of the observations in this post are correct. However, the current question still seems one where OP just is not really invested in the post. Note: No accept. No reaction at all. And no it is not because OP certainly was discouraged or something. It seems the first close vote and downvote was cast after OP had already left the site (for now). It seems they got what they wanted and left. Maybe to return once the need something next time. That's fine with me to some point. But I think we should stop to pretend that surely OP tried as best as they could when it just does not seem likely. – quid Apr 5 '19 at 15:27
• @TheoBendit There was, at the very least, a seeming typo ($y=1/8$ v. $y=\arctan(1/8)$) that was fixed by others, not the OP of the referenced post. Obviously, everyone makes typos, but it is a careless mistake, and a careless but potentially substantive mistake in two lines of text. – Derek Elkins left SE Apr 5 '19 at 20:51
• Isn't part of "being lenient with beginners" to assist them by editing to clear up wording and formatting, without violence to the underlying intent? I've gotten negative feedback for doing so, and it seems that the rollback described in the OP is against this spirit of collaboration. So I may be projecting, but I found that part of the account disturbing. – hardmath Apr 6 '19 at 1:13
• Many good points raised here. I want to add the point of view that another major reason for lower level material becoming a target for the janitorial staff is that, at lower level, the chances of a question being an $n$th near duplicate variant increases. I'm not saying that this would necessarily be the most decisive factor, but it definitely plays a role. – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 6 '19 at 16:32
• @TheoBendit +1 for the answer, and the final "we should be more lenient on beginners". P.S. I had my share of arguments about that here in meta, which went sour at some point where I dropped off. This is my first comment/post in many months, and likely the last for another long time, so don't expect followups. – dxiv Apr 7 '19 at 6:32
• Thanks, Theo. Understood. My choice of phrase was not well thougt out. At one point the meta discussion was dominated by C.R.U.D.E. activists to an uncomfortable degree. For us to solve the problems the site is facing, it is necessary that we get more wide spread participation in meta affairs. Otherwise the "policies" won't be palatable to a large enough fraction of users, and hence won't be sustainable. Of course, a wide discussion will increase awareness of differing opinions, which, among reasonable people, will reduce the friction. – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 8 '19 at 8:57
• @Jyrki Lahtonen: This isn't an argument, just a comment. I agree that more participation on meta is needed. I am interested in the idea that the site was dominated by those users. In my mind, a key source of the problem is from when meta was dominated by users who claimed that we can't possible tell which problems are homework and so we should require context, rather than just using our normal sense of which problems are homework. But now, when homework problems are posed with no context, we find that even the lack of context is not a good reason to close homework questions. – Carl Mummert Apr 9 '19 at 3:01
• The other issue, in my mind, is that I am not convinced the moderators are willing to enforce guidelines even if they are set by clear consensus on meta. I am not sure how else this site, which is an independent SE community driven by its users, can establish its own policies. For example, we have not even found a way to address delete/undelete cycles or multiple delete/undelete votes by the same users. – Carl Mummert Apr 9 '19 at 3:03
• @CarlMummert: I've also no idea why Math SE moderators hasn't yet firmly enforced guidelines, but for the time being it's still okay. I'll note that in the recent SO moderator election many candidates were parading their close+delete statistics as indicative of their commitment to moderator work. The newly elected users said "I've voted 10000+ times to close and 14000+ times to delete for a total of 37000+ votes." and "I have nearly 11k helpful flags (18 decl), 13k close votes and 5k delete votes.". – user21820 Apr 9 '19 at 11:59
• Just a note on the "C.R.U.D.E. activists" @JyrkiLahtonen mentioned from years past --- some of us got tired of losing the fight and stopped contributing, as the onslaught of unstopped PSQs and apparent support on Meta for their existence became wearisome. – apnorton Apr 9 '19 at 23:51
• @quid - I do think the moderators enforce the most basic guidelines. I was thinking about the issue of our community developing new ones. Concrete example - I don't think I have ever seen a clear statement from the moderators that, if the community developed a well-supported own policy about repeated close/reopen votes, the moderators would stand behind it and enforce it with warnings and suspensions. Without that kind of support, I don't think the community is likely to really develop such things, or even a framework to develop our own policies beyond the basic ones we inherited from SE. – Carl Mummert Apr 11 '19 at 15:39
• Of course, that is just one issue, which may not have much consensus. There are many other issues where the community could in principle develop a framework to make a binding decision about something. I think this can make the site quite frustrating from time to time - there seems to be no system to develop a binding consensus about anything, so users who are not violating the most basic 'rules' have essentially carte blanche to ignore even a strong consensus about more anything that is more subtle. – Carl Mummert Apr 11 '19 at 15:42

Vote on the question, not the user.

A good question is a good question, regardless of the user's account age or account status. And a bad question is a bad question, regardless of the user's account age or account status. If a user has chosen not to familiarize themselves with the site standards, and has gone ahead and posted an off-topic or low-quality question, then so be it. This is independent of question level or the difficulty of the mathematical content.

Polite and kind comments directing them to the relevant site guides are great (and we should be very generous with those, especially for brand new users), but that's orthogonal to the moderation actions involved in downvoting, closing, or deleting.

• Disagree, I am always more generous to new users and their early question, and include both an additive and a multiplicative bias when evaluating how I'll cast my own one vote. A single up vote on a less-than-perfectly formed question will not break the internet, but the tiny thrill a new user might experience from some positive feedback might increase the likelihood of positive future engagements. – uhoh Nov 18 '20 at 2:03

I have a great deal of sympathy with the general point being made here. I could say a lot - the challenge of maintaining quality whilst genuinely welcoming new contributors to the site is a tough one.

I am not a professional mathematician, but hugely enjoy mathematics - so maybe my approach is idiosyncratic - but I think that in the back of my mind, when I am trying to respond to situations like the one described, I have the question "how can I help the person asking this question to enjoy their mathematics?"

One of the hazards of the site is that some "low quality" questions attract equally low quality answers so fast that there is no time to engage the questioner with how to ask a good question - there is no time to coach good behaviour. It may be that shutting down the possibility of an answer while the quality of the question is addressed could be fine-tuned and protocols around putting on hold could be refined with this in view.

• I agree that what you mention in the final paragraph is a main problem we face. Incidentally, the example given in the question here illustrates it to some extent (the answer is technically sound, but no additional explication or guidance is offered). – quid Apr 7 '19 at 11:16
• I really like this idea. Is it possible to give some general suggestions as to what fine tunings and protocol refinings might be like? – uhoh Nov 18 '20 at 2:06

I feel that the title of this thread is misguided. I see no evidence of this being about the elementary beginner. The asker of your example question has not been seen on the site since March 30th. Looks like they got what they wanted. Therefore I suspect (I hope I'm wrong) that:

• You picked the title with the expectation that this way you get more sympathy for your cause (it may or may not have worked).
• Your real goal is to discuss deletion in general as opposed to deletions of questions by elementary beginners, or
• Your goal is to "protect" the answers to such posts from being deleted.

Anyway, let's assume that you truly want to discuss the way we treat newbie beginners, and just happened to pick a bad specific example (IMHO it behooves you to find a better one).

I could actually get behind the idea of using softer gloves with newbies. Theo listed some reasons. They do run contrary to the fundamental goal of the site of being a repository of quality questions and answers, but let's ignore that for a moment for the sake of an argument.

There are good reasons for handling a post by a beginner differently, but I will not extend the same liberties to answerers of low-quality questions.

I could agree not to delete a post by a newbie, if:

• the first person wanting to answer the question engages with the asker, tries to elicit an explanation for the missing context, points the newbie to the resources and so on, and
• any person wanting to answer the questions spends at least 15 minutes searching the site for (near) duplicates. If they find one, then they must A) post a link to the potential dupe target, B) refrain from answering, but C) are more than welcome to post their answer to the original if they think that is prudent.

Many users do the first bullet, but they are IMNSHO too eager to post any answer.

The thinking here is that the same people who think the new question is worth answering are the people who should do these rounds of checks. In particular if the would-be-answerer is a trusted user, they should take the role of a mentor-on-duty as opposed to rush to answer.

For the record:

• I practice what I preach. I am getting better with Approach0 as well as the on-site search engine, but I spend a signficant fraction of my time on main searching. I have also referred hundreds of new users to our guide for new askers. If all the upvoters to Jack's rant (including himself) would do the same, the problem might be solved. Unless you, my reader, take part in that effort, you have little right to complain about the current state of affairs. The gall... (shakes head).
• The founder of SE, in a blog post suggested that in his opinion a newbie programmer should spend 98% of their time on StackOverflow searching. We may not have yet covered math as comprehensively as they have covered programming, but we are competitive. We should put a lot more effort educating newbies about the available search engines. True, google doesn't grok TeX, and neither does that newbie, so let's be reasonable. More reason to insist that the answerers do their part searching.
• The In search of a question chatroom may be relevant. – Xander Henderson Apr 6 '19 at 20:31
• I repeat: In the case of a low quality question the answerers are also in the focus of my "janitorial" work. If the site were smaller, we could more easily do more to help new users get up to speed. As Shog9 points out this does not scale well for a large site. It is up to the interested answerer to take the role of a mentor. Don't get me wrong, many of them do! It is those users that regularly show up answering LQ question but don't give the noob help in asking that I want to reach. I'm sure we can talk it over. – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 6 '19 at 20:39
• Why do you believe "this does not scale well"? – Bill Dubuque Apr 6 '19 at 22:13
• @BillDubuque The number of people referring newbies to "How to ask a good question" and other similar guides seems to be almost a constant, but the number of newbies is increasing. The ratio is becoming worse. Shog9 at least thinks this is inevitable, when the site keeps growing. I didn't want to believe that, but it seems to be happening. – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 7 '19 at 4:23
• If all the people upvoting Jack's posts would guide as many newbies as I do, the problem might be solved. But, I'm not holding my breath. – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 7 '19 at 4:25
• @BillDubuque see the last paragraph of Mark Bennet's answer. This is closely linked to the high turn-over. – quid Apr 7 '19 at 11:19
• Just want to point out that OP did return to the site yesterday. – user279515 Apr 10 '19 at 22:07

By popular demand, yet another answer.

## The specific post.

The question mentioned in this meta post falls into a category that some consider as not appropriate for the site (including me). It is very common that such questions get closed and deleted. Of course, others disagree with doing this, and the subject of deletions and closures of such posts was discussed to great length at various times. Indeed, only recently at the initiative of OP: What are the merits, if there is any, of deleting (correctly) answered questions in the main site of MSE? and I had provided an answer there.

There does not seem to be anything particular about the post. Thus, focused on this one post, there is no case for creating an entire meta thread to draw attention to it, doing so is frowned upon by some. If anything, a request to undelete it, could have been posted in the dedicated thread.

## Why did I re-delete it right away?

When a post is in a un-delete cycle (the post had been deleted twice and undeleted twice when I acted) it is common practice that a moderator, or moderators collectively, decide the fate of the question.

The reason I acted rather quickly is that due to the high visibility that was just given via the meta post, based on earlier experience, it was a given that un-delete and open-close conflict would rather escalate. Letting play out such conflicts does not lead anywhere. Moreover, as I remarked earlier in a comment, to focus the attention of numerous users via meta on some particular post that until then had low visibility, is not at all ideal and can lead to problems especially when the post-owners are not involved in the meta. The idea that 'the community' would have reached a consensus on this post strikes me as wishful thinking.

Thus, I am firmly convinced that it was the right course of action to prevent drive-by actions of various forms on this one particular post.

An alternative action to achieve this would have been to lock the post (undeleted). Retrospectively, this might have prevented some problems, but as I said, I decided to put the post back into the state where it was prior to the meta post. Moreover, as said, I am also personally of the opinion that such posts should be deleted. While the decision was taken by me alone, I did right away put the other moderators into the loop, saying that if there is considerable disagreement with the post being deleted, then it could be undone. Until now, I still do not see much disagreement against the post being deleted (maybe against how and why it was deleted, but that's a separate concern).

## Comment on the timeline

While the meta OP does a reasonably good job at explaining the situation, I think some clarifications about the timeline might be helpful, especially as not everybody can know this and most cannot know it all at least no easily (yes, partly me fault, see above).

The question was asked on March 29th, in the early evening (all times in UTC, that is "SE time"), was answered near instantly and a first, incomplete, edit happened.

The question was then closed slightly more than a day later (very early on March 31st).

Then a bit more than two days later early afternoon of April 2nd a motion to delete the post started (common practice), via vote and post in CRUDE.

Right after that, likely as a reaction to it but maybe independently, the question was edited for a second time and a competing motion to reopen the post was set in place.

Thus the actual course of events is somewhat different from the impression OP tries to convey (even though what they wrote is not literally false).

## Summary on the post

On its own merits, there is no reason to try to preserved that post. It is routine and very localized, and was presented in a sloppy way. In my opinion, it should not have been answered. As said, the merits of deleting such post got discussed recently What are the merits, if there is any, of deleting (correctly) answered questions in the main site of MSE? and I had provided an answer there (to the same OP).

The simplest answer is to say it does not matter we judge the posts on their merits, a point advocated in other answers. Those that follow this meta know that I am personally in itself not hostile to this approach, and I though this also came through in comments I had left here.

However, those that follow this meta know too that this is not at all in line with historical practice and any number of earlier discussions, and most crucially it is not at all in line with the thrust of this meta post, which specifically focuses on being "more generous to elementary beginners" doubling down and stressing that I did not get it because it was about "beginners" and not elementary questions, about "human beings". So, there I followed there line of reasoning, rather than to simply dismiss the idea with "we don't care, lets only talk about the post."

I will freely admit that I was quite annoyed, actually still am, though I should have handled it better, when this then was completely turned around and I was accused of having promoted the idea that the deletion of the post is only because of the main OP not being responsive. This is not my position.

What I do think is that if somebody considers to make accommodations based on the (presumed) personal context of the poster, which is what that entire thread is about, then they should take the full picture into account. Merely that the account is new and the question is simple does not strike me as sufficient to envision any sort of exceptions, not only but also as it's trivial to get a new account. So, one can always be "new." (I do not want to imply this was the case here.)

## What about being "more generous"?

The initial reaction to the question was generous. It was answered near instantly and even improved, only slightly but still. Then later it was reviewed in view of its suitability to contribute to the pool of knowledge that we try to create and was found lacking. Thus it was put on hold and then scheduled for deletion.

One could say, first, we helped the individual, then once this was done, we switched the focus to the interests of the site. That actually seems like a reasonable compromise between different visions of the site.

The casual and new users often don't mind all that much what happens to their posts down the road. Flags by new users demanding why no answers is forthcoming already are not rare, flags asking about disappearing posts happen sometimes but really it doesn't seem to be of much concern, at least as long as new questions can be asked.

Those that mostly complain are those that answer a lot. Now, that's also understandable, and we can discuss how to balance things out, but that's a separate concern.

• Why did you delete it? I know you left a comment, but this doesn't allow anyone to undelete it. Moderator deletion should be reversible, but it isn't. – Matt Samuel Apr 7 '19 at 12:06
• @MattSamuel how do you propose we resolve a situation were 3 users keep voting to undelete while 3 users keep voting to delete? // On why I deleted, could you please point out specifically what point is open after having read this post and the linked thread? – quid Apr 7 '19 at 13:46
• Given the lack of reply, I take it @MattSamuel you have no proposal and everything is clear now. – quid Apr 7 '19 at 16:55
• No, just busy day. You could've locked it instead. – Matt Samuel Apr 7 '19 at 16:56
• Did you read the post at all before commenting here? 'An alternative action to achieve this would have been to lock the post (undeleted). Retrospectively, this might have prevented some problems, but [...] ' – quid Apr 7 '19 at 16:57
• "a situation were 3 users keep voting to undelete while 3 users keep voting to delete" The question was deleted (by vote) twice, and not by the same three users, and undeleted twice, and not by the same three users. Only one user voted to delete twice, and only one user voted to undelete twice. – Gerry Myerson Apr 7 '19 at 23:54
• @GerryMyerson my question was in reply to the assertion that mod-del should be reversible. It is not, by design, in order to be able to more easily resolved situations like the one I described. It is correct that the current situation does not match exactly the one I described. Yet in essence it is the same. It is arguably even worse that already more users are involved on both sides. // I hope that all those that say 'lock' do realize that this would then deprive users to vote to redelete, so that if 'the community should be able to vote' is the argument there is no difference. – quid Apr 8 '19 at 6:46
• I am quite new to this site, and new to maths, the problem i see with deleting such posts, is that users like me then have to ask those elementary questions over and over again. It’s not easy to understand some of the posts even if they cover the topic i am currently studying, bc of the more formal mathematical way they are written in. I am getting more and more used to a mathematical line of thought, and how to express myself, such posts (and eventually how they are asked) could be to the advantage of other learners – Ang Apr 8 '19 at 19:43
• @Ang Search the site. And then search some more. If your question is elementary, the answer already is there with a high probability. – Jyrki Lahtonen Apr 8 '19 at 20:14

Regardless of the fate of this question, the attention span of the asker should never be used as a criterion for casting delete votes.

I have observed a moderator(!) suggest, in multiple comments on this meta question and its answers, that the OP's lack of involvement with the site is in some way relevant to the fact that their question got deleted. I encouraged that moderator to post an answer explaining that relevance in more detail, but the moderator refused to do so. This is unfortunate, because it forces me to guess what that moderator actually meant by those comments.

Charitably, this was a bad question, and probably deserved to be deleted. But that's beside the point. We should never judge the value of a question by the behavior of the asker. A question's value to readers is substantially more important than its value to the single person who happened to post it.

I don't know if that is what the moderator intended by these comments. I hope it isn't. But I wanted to state, clearly and on the record, that the inattention of the questioner is not a valid basis for deleting questions.

(Obviously, if a question is already eligible for deletion, then the asker's inattention may result in it actually being deleted, or remaining deleted, and in some cases this may happen faster than if the asker was attentive and unsuccessfully tried to salvage their question. But that's a separate issue.)

• @quid: Your ongoing reticence to write an answer, despite clearly holding strong opinions that no other answer expresses, continues to baffle me. – Kevin Apr 5 '19 at 22:46
• Maybe address the point I raised rather then speculating around. Again, if we agree to judge the question on its merits only the entire thread is pointless. (Which indeed it is, if you ask me, mostly since it's a duplicate.) – quid Apr 5 '19 at 22:49
• @quid: I have mixed feelings about this whole thread. I think it is important that we recognize the privileges we enjoy as people versed in mathematics, which may well justify the asymmetry which you are objecting to. At the same time, I think this discussion is a poor example of the problem. Regardless, I decline to convert my answer, which is specific to a single issue, into a broad statement of opinion which would detract from my point. If you disagree with me, please write your own answer. – Kevin Apr 5 '19 at 22:54
• I think your answer in this form is borderline dishonest, especially since your intent is to create vote-turn out, since it is phrased in a way as to appeal to the anti-delete fraction, while when the principle would be thought to its end it would have the exact opposite effect. – quid Apr 5 '19 at 22:56
• @quid: There are no sides. This is about what's best for the site. – Kevin Apr 5 '19 at 22:57
• @quid: I believe that is a false dichotomy, so neither. – Kevin Apr 5 '19 at 23:00
• @quid: I am not attacking you. I deliberately avoided assigning any motives to you, and even said that it was a bad question. Clearly, there is nothing more that I can do to change your opinion of me and my answer, but I have done everything in my power to be respectful and evenhanded here. – Kevin Apr 5 '19 at 23:14
• Obviously your are attacking me. See first comment in this thread, for instance. Anyway, so I surmise that you agree the question can be deleted without issue, you only object to me discussing the idea with meta OP if and how the status and the actions of main OP should be factored in. – quid Apr 5 '19 at 23:20
• @quid: I said exactly what I meant to say in my answer. I deliberately did not say anything else, because I feel conflicted about the other aspects of this meta, and also because I do not feel that this meta is the proper vehicle for discussing those aspects. I find your continued hostility very uncomfortable, and I do not wish to discuss this matter with you any further. If this is an "attack," then I apologize for offending you. Regardless, I will not respond again. – Kevin Apr 5 '19 at 23:24
• @quid Just out of curiosity, do you expect to have a productive conversation starting from "you either completely misunderstand […] or willfully distort"? Moderators ought to be setting a higher example. – user296602 Apr 5 '19 at 23:44
• @quid I'd like to think it's a reminder that there's a person at the other end of the ethernet cables. Whether you find it constructive or not is up to you. – user296602 Apr 5 '19 at 23:47
• @T.Bongers it's certainly true that I could, and likely should have, reacted more diplomatically. That said, the point Kevin tries to make is still very weird to me. They seem to jump on a detail without taking the context into account. Again, the entire thread is about taking the postER into account. – quid Apr 5 '19 at 23:51
• Not sure what the rest of these comments are about, but I wanted to point out that not every asker necessarily has hours of available internet time to respond within a couple hours to edits or suggestions or even answers. – kcrisman Apr 6 '19 at 10:21
• @kcrisman and if they find a question has been closed or deleted in that time, they as the op still have the ability to see what the discussion and reasons for doing so were and can then improve the existing version and request reopening or ask again with improvements, so I think that is a moot point. – JMoravitz Apr 6 '19 at 11:21
• Well, it probably depends - presumably the sort of asker asking this sort of question may not be able to/be willing to/be interested in taking the time to figure out how all that works. "Your question was deleted" sounds pretty bad to a first-timer who isn't familiar with the culture of these Q&A sites, or so I would presume. But point taken. – kcrisman Apr 6 '19 at 11:23

This doesn't answer the question, but I'd like to comment on Theo Bendit's comment:

We tend not to like having to intuit (or, as is often the case, outright guess) the genuine source of confusion in the question. We tend not to want to have to explain things that have been explained over and over again, or indeed explain things that the asker already understands but has neglected to mention.

As a purely descriptive comment, this is basically correct: most people here don't like having to puzzle out what's really being asked, they'd rather read unambiguous mathematical questions, especially when those questions are perceived as elementary.

However one of the things that makes a great teacher is the ability to puzzle out what's being asked in contexts where the student lacks the vocabulary or linguistic devices to directly ask their question. I think the answer-writers on this website should use such questions as opportunities to build this very important muscle, rather than blaming students for not having skills that realistically, someone at their level is likely not to have. Curiosity should be rewarded, not punished. I also disagree with the use of the word "confusion" here. Not having the language to ask the question you're trying to ask is different to being "confused", and I've always found teachers who ask things "what are you confused about?" pretty obnoxious, and usually a lot more ignorant than they realize.

Also, being a good teacher inevitably involves explaining things that have been explained over and over again, or else creating something to do this task for you (like a blog post, or a text snippet that can be copied-and-pasted where needed). That's just part of being a teacher. If you can't be bothered to do this, fine, but please don't harass the OP over this. Just be silent and look for questions elsewhere. Perhaps someone else will come along with the energy to help; why should they be blocked by an [On Hold] tag when they're willing to help? The purpose of these tags should be to stop questions that display no interest in the subject matter, not to block questions that display "too much" interest in the subject matter.

• For this to work everybody would have to show some discipline though. What often happens in practice is that users over-eager to "help" answer based on their reading of the question, worse not even making explicit that their answer is based on some assumption. Then we get competing interpretations etc. If you want to help an asker to clarify their question, by all means do so. – quid Apr 14 '19 at 10:39
• SE even built a feature for that: comments. They still work once the question is on hold/closed. Unclear question -> on hold -> exchange with OP to clarify -> edit -> reopen, is the way to go. Not everybody answers whatever they think might be intended. That's precisely why we put questions on hold. Of course that's arguably a cumbersome process, but let's not forget that we are talking about dedicated teachers here to help, not folks that quickly want to cash in some points for an answer launched in a fire-and-forget mindset. – quid Apr 14 '19 at 10:40
• @quid, is that really a problem though? A good answer to such questions is often of the form: "I think you're asking A. If so, the answer is A'. However, you might also be asking B. If so, the answer is B'. In order to ask clearer questions in future, be mindful of the distinction between X and X'. The difference is Y." – goblin GONE Apr 15 '19 at 3:52
• @quid, continuing... If someone posts the answer "I think you're asking asking A. If so, the answer is A'." and someone else posts the answer "However, you might also be asking B. If so, the answer is B'. In order to ask clearer questions in future, be mindful of the distinction between X and X'. The difference is Y." I consider that the question is fully answered at this point. – goblin GONE Apr 15 '19 at 3:53
• @quid, this happened here for example. – goblin GONE Apr 15 '19 at 3:54
• Yes, it is a real problem, not last because often the answers are not of the form you describe. The example you give is a bit peculiar in that it's not a particularly unclear question in my opinion (it's not a great question for other reasons and I had almost closed it back then, but that's orthogonal). I do not really consider your answer as appropriate, at least not as an answer. Further, the entire idea of the platform is conceived around answering to the point and reasonably scoped questions, not conversational interactions prompted by some question-like text snippet. – quid Apr 15 '19 at 7:51
• @quid, can you elaborate a bit on what (in your opinion) the problem is with the linked question and/or my answer? It seems to me that everything is well and dandy therein, except that I probably should have emphasized that the ambiguity is coming from the word "space"... – goblin GONE Apr 15 '19 at 10:10
• One problem is that apparently it is not clear enough. Another is what is "simple" supposed to mean? Why is OP asking this? Etc. In brief it lacks context. That said, as sometimes comes up, giving context for somewhat natural (counter) examples one seeks is not always easy and not always crucial. It's not that bad. That is why I did not close it. – quid Apr 15 '19 at 19:07
• I don't really grasp your animus against the word "confusion". I've only ever heard it used when a student is trying to digest concepts that have previously been taught. The information on the concept has previously been conveyed, and the student is trying to translate this into understanding. Surely "confusion", in the sense of uncertainty about what is intended, is appropriate, even if it comes from a misunderstanding of the language involved? – Theo Bendit Apr 16 '19 at 2:15
• @TheoBendit, different people interpret words differently, but for me, confusion is an emotional state. "I'm feeling confused..." Usually, when someone doesn't know how to ask the questions they want to ask, it's not an emotional state they're in, it's just that they don't know how to ask their question. Indeed, oftentimes, they're thinking much more clearly than their colleagues and are. They're probably the only student who is not confused about the relevant issues. Calling them "confused" imo punishes them for being a better student than other students. – goblin GONE Apr 16 '19 at 3:16
• Hmm, I'll keep that in mind in future. – Theo Bendit Apr 16 '19 at 4:39