Lately there seems to have been a surge on the number of soft questions. While some soft questions are interesting, most seem to be of the type "what do you think about some stuff?" and are not really about mathematics. These questions just seem to generate several long answers containing mostly opinions. This is not a good sign, is it?

Shouldn't we concentrate in mathematical questions?

  • $\begingroup$ Heh, you're not the only one; t.b. was noting the recent spate of soft questions on the main site in the chatroom a few days ago. But we do have a consensus on what "not a real question" and "not constructive" mean for these sorts... right? $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2011 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M., yes, I sometimes do vote to close... $\endgroup$
    – lhf
    Nov 4, 2011 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ Discussing (or should I say chatting) about soft questions is to be expected. It is always easier to do that than to focus on the matters at hand. It has nothing to do with mathematics really. I expect it to happen in other communities. Akin to bikeshedding. $\endgroup$
    – lhf
    Nov 4, 2011 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ I understand perfectly (and so far as I can tell, there are people here who are still trying to come to terms with the bikeshed); I have to wonder if the "please don't ask too many of these" in the tag description for soft-question was seen. Maybe if I put it in all caps... :D $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2011 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ I also think we should try to steer people into asking mathematical questions. This soft trend of late (the worse is, the soft questions we are getting are quite bad...) is quite suboptimal. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2011 at 10:42
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    $\begingroup$ I also think that it is important that the moderator set CW on these questions even without flagging (in case, of course, they find them CW-worthy). It may put the flames of soft questions a bit in order, since it will be quickly revealed to everyone involved the no reputation can be gained from this approach to the site. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 4, 2011 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ The SE blog has an entire post on using Community Wiki which makes some points relevant to this issue. Community wiki shouldn't be used to allow bad questions on the site, that was not the intention behind the CW feature and it also doesn't work well. $\endgroup$
    – user9733
    Nov 4, 2011 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Fabian: I agree that bad questions have no place and should be closed. Some soft questions, however, are fitting and good. I think that soft questions should be set CW even before a user flag them, if the moderator sees them. If this is done with the addition of closing the soft questions, it may help to calm this flood of softies. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 4, 2011 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ +1 @Fabian. However, as has been discussed before on this meta, we use CW slightly differently than how was summarised in that blog. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2011 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf: just because a question is soft does not mean it should automatically be CW (though usually softness makes the case really compelling). Like Mariano said: many of the recent flood of soft questions should just be closed; CW or not. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2011 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ @J.M. please don't use "not a real question" to close these questions, especially when there is an actual question (just one that is overbroad or admits highly subjective answers). The "not constructive" closure reason exists for a reason. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2011 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ An example of the previous comment is math.stackexchange.com/q/78258/1543 where t.b. wonders out loud why the four existing votes before I overrode as the moderator were for "not a real question". $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2011 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Willie: No, of course not. Not all soft questions needs to be set CW. However there are many questions that in my opinion should not have reached so many votes without being set as CW in the first place. Some questions are completely off topic, non-mathematical and have no actual place on this site other than the fact that there is a majority of mathematicians here - these should be closed. Most of the other very subjective questions should have been set CW without a user flagging the questions, e.g. this thread, which has 4 closing votes too $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 4, 2011 at 14:53

1 Answer 1


I don't think we should discourage soft question. Questions like

Can I use my powers for good?

How To Reach The "Next Level" of Mathematics

What are some common proof strategies in mathematics?

do far, far more to promote mathematics and encourage future mathematicians than yet another "help me solve this homework problem" question.

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    $\begingroup$ Why choose between homework and soft questions? Can't we encourage something else?.. $\endgroup$
    – Grigory M
    Nov 6, 2011 at 10:07
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    $\begingroup$ This is not a "promo to mathematics" site. It is a site for asking mathematical questions, and receiving mathematical answers. Soft questions do a lot more damage than homework questions in this aspect. I agree that there is quite some room for soft questions here, but this is far far away from them being encouraged. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Nov 6, 2011 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ Of course it's a "promo to mathematics" site! Everything you write here will be read by thousands of students and amateurs curious what mathematics as a field of study is all about. We are the most visible ambassadors of mathematics on the web, second only perhaps to the editors of Wikipedia math pages. Soft questions (that are nonetheless genuine and somewhat related to math) do not cause any "damage" (other than adding a tag to the site you can easily choose to ignore.) Arrogant and hostile reactions to those questions, on the other hand, most certainly do. $\endgroup$
    – user7530
    Nov 6, 2011 at 11:09

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