A fair amount of first questions are of very low quality. Even so, I think that it is not correct, when a user gets one such first post from the First Questions review queue, to simply downvote it or to vote to close it. The person who posted it should get some comment explaining what is wrong (or, at least, a part of what is wrong) with that post. So, unless the act of voting to close the question will actually close it right away (in which case whoever posted the question will get a message) or if the question seems to have been posted by a troll, I think that one of our etiquette rules should be to leave some critique to the new user (assuming that the question is of low quality). Or to upvote some comment containing such a remark, if there is one.

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    $\begingroup$ If very low quality questions are not closed early, they get answered quickly, after which the asker has little motivation to improve the question. Closing a very poor question isn't the end for the asker: it means improve the post. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 16, 2021 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy What has your second comment to do with my question? I wrote nothing against downvoting, only against doing just that. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ On main meta.stackexchange.com/questions/222954/… $\endgroup$
    – TheSimpliFire Mod
    Jan 16, 2021 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ @TheSimpliFire That's interesting. I did a search here before posting, but not on the Main Meta. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ Most users are students here and they know the rules. Because these rules are the same in real life. Don't ask your teachers and others students for solutions to your homework because no one is going to do your homework in real life and this is the same rule that apply here. If you post a question without showing some efforts it's clear that it will be closed very soon. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ Some users leave that kind of message already, and it's always more or less the same, on questions. It may be a good idea to post a comment automatically, as is done with some close votes (duplicates among others). Apart from that, even if the new user may feel badly about the site because of an early downvote or close vote, they often already know the rules, as Satyendra wrote above. It should be obvious for them that asking without trying is cheating. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ It may be less obvious for answers. Regarding another comon case (new answer by a new user on an old question, often >1 year), given that they are either duplicate answers or plain BS in more than 90% of cases from my experience in review, I would simply block such answers until a certain reputation is attained. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut I surely vote to close many first questions (and I sometimes downvote them). But I think that, at least when we are getting them on the First Posts queue, we should then also tell something to the poster (or to upvote a comment which criticizes the post). $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, I don't think your question deserves to be downvoted or closed. But I think it's an example of what Michael Hardy meant in his profile. If it can't be discussed here, where will it ever be? $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ Here is my take. When I start reviewing I start from the red dot of close queue and by the time I deal with 20 posts there the first posts queue gets cleared. In case there is any chance of getting to first posts, already one has seen far worse questions from those 20 in close queue and there may be less of an incentive to give feedback via comment. However if one starts with the first posts queue I think reviewers will have more chance to give feedback via comments. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Jan 17, 2021 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Jean-ClaudeArbaut You say "I don't think your question deserves to be downvoted or closed." I agree that this discussion is more-or-less on-topic (though probably a duplicate), so perhaps not in need of closure. On the other hand, votes on meta indicate agreement or disagreement. When you suggest that the post shouldn't be downvoted, you are implicitly suggesting that no one should have any reason to disagree with the content of the post. This may not be what you meant, but it is how it comes across. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jan 17, 2021 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson I was not aware of the interpretation votes on meta indicate agreement or disagreement (my bad, it's well known). Thanks for the clarification. With this meaning, of course downvotes are acceptable. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2021 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ Another potential problem are those tests that see if you pay attention, and sometimes flagging or downvoting is the correct answer. In that case, if you can't tell the difference between tests or if they are real new-comer questions, then it's safer to err on the side of caution and just downvote/flag. $\endgroup$
    – KingLogic
    Jan 19, 2021 at 2:44
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. I agree. I remember when I asked my first question on MSE. I couldn't even use math jax until my 10th post(I am not sure maybe until fifth post). luckily I didn't face many downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – Etemon
    Jan 19, 2021 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @philomath It is not lucky, it probably means you did the other things right, like posting attempts, being active with comments, and being receptive to feedback. In fact, looking back at some of your early questions, I think you were far better equipped than most first users. $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2021 at 6:30

2 Answers 2


Originally intended to be a comment, but I find that it is more of an answer than a comment.

I would suggest modifying the website to force newcomers to read the "Asking a good question" (and possibly making it a bit more detailed than it is now) and a small quiz to verify that they have read the rules. This method will reduce the number of new questions that violate the rules, and thus solve this problem.

Thanks to @Ennar in the comments,

You could simply show examples of good and bad questions and explain the difference.

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    $\begingroup$ This entry barrier will run counter to the company's goal of increasing user base and thus less likely to be implemented. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Jan 18, 2021 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Paramanand Singh The company's goal of increasing user base will continue to happen regardless: math.se clearly monopolises the "online math questions and answers" website market. Furthermore, you can see in Joe's answer that the advice on how to write a good question it rather short. I think I actually agree with this answer, so long as the quiz is short and doesn't come across as patronising. $\endgroup$ Jan 18, 2021 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamRubinson: I also agree with the answer, but I doubt if SE overlords will also agree. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Jan 18, 2021 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ You could simply show examples of good and bad questions and explain the difference. I think it will get the point across faster than just writing down the "rules" as if a question was an essay. $\endgroup$
    – Ennar
    Jan 22, 2021 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamRubinson Not just that. They monopolize the online mathematical community. There is no other site one can go to discuss mathematics. This therefore means all users interested in math will join this site. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Jan 23, 2021 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ Downvoted enthusiastically. $\endgroup$
    – David Diaz
    Jan 29, 2021 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidDiaz What do you disagree with? $\endgroup$
    – KingLogic
    Jan 29, 2021 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer does not address the post (preventing harm to new users, and implicitly the community, by effortless question gatekeeping). Suggestions/ideas for changing the quality of questions that reach the first post review queue is a red herring topic. There is prior evidence that you conflate these issues: In your comment to the post you assert that in coin flip situations, close voting is the cautious choice. This is capital eff false. Your ability to gatekeep is not more important than feedback offered to the new user and others through public communication. $\endgroup$
    – David Diaz
    Jan 29, 2021 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidDiaz Right, but if they were to thoroughly read the "Asking a good question," and seeing good examples, then they will start asking better questions, and already learn what good question looks like, so that decreases the chances that we would need to downvote or close. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That's my solution to this issue. If you have a better suggestion then you can add your own answer. $\endgroup$
    – KingLogic
    Jan 29, 2021 at 7:27
  • $\begingroup$ no, no, no. If you have an answer for an entirely different question, you should post a new question. $\endgroup$
    – David Diaz
    Jan 29, 2021 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidDiaz Not sure what you mean, can you elaborate? I think my answer should successfully solve the problem at hand. $\endgroup$
    – KingLogic
    Jan 29, 2021 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you think that the quality of feedback offered to users [the topic at hand], is addressed by improving the quality of question reaching the first post queue [your topic]? $\endgroup$
    – David Diaz
    Jan 29, 2021 at 7:35
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidDiaz The title said "Don't review a first post by simply downvoting it or voting to close it." While I agree that how to improve the quality of feedback is the question, if we decrease the number of low-quality posts, then the quality of questions will improve, and therefore will be no need for closing or downvoting (ideally), and so therefore constructive feedback will be provided. We are not going to provide "constructive feedback" for homework questions that asks you to solve the problem without trying anything or question that just go 'asdfkljasdfv," right? They are sadly too common. $\endgroup$
    – KingLogic
    Jan 29, 2021 at 7:39
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – KingLogic
    Jan 29, 2021 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ There are a long chain of shaky assumptions that must be true for your answer to completely address the question. Don't let the upvotes get to you: you can do better. You can start by valuing other people's time, effort, and intentions in a way that allows you to find value in doing more than mouse clicking. If this is impossible, have you considered not reviewing first posts? $\endgroup$
    – David Diaz
    Jan 29, 2021 at 8:10

I agree that the First Posts review queue calls upon Reviewers to do more than simply downvote and close. The instructions at the top of that page say:

This is the first question asked by a new user. Help them learn to use the site by reviewing their post.

An anonymous downvote or vote-to-close without feedback is particularly unlikely to "help them learn" when new users post for the first time. I note the Comment by Satyendra:

Most users are students here and they know the rules.

The first part of this is unobjectionable. I consider myself a student-for-life, and the purpose of the site is to help learn mathematics. But the second part deserves critical analysis.

In addition to the mechanical rules of how the SE software works and is intended to be used, the Math.SE Community has crafted a tradition of what Questions are allowed to be asked (the traditions vary across SE Communities in substantial ways).

If one voluntarily goes into the First Post review queue, I believe one assumes responsibility for providing constructive feedback about the posts found there.

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    $\begingroup$ But the responsibility of using correctly a site does not lie solely on moderation. The user has to "do his homework" about this too. Maybe it could help to make the... help more accessible, especially when asking or posting for the first time? Anyway, when I arrive in a new user community, my first obligation is to learn its rules. I can only blame myself if I don't and I get frowned upon. And in this regard, Math.SE is absolutely not the worst I have seen. Even on the SE network, it's more friendly than SO, for instance - it's my impression. $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly and furthermore, MSE is not an exo planet with strange and unknown rules. The rules we have here are the same ones we have in real life. To get some help with homework you need to show your efforts thats how ir works in college and high schools. @Jean-ClaudeArbaut $\endgroup$ Jan 16, 2021 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ And everyone is pretending that every "first time user is new to this site." Hah! If you believe that, I'd like to sell you a plot of land on the moon. I can't tell you how many times one question is closed, only to see, five minutes later, the very same question, verbatim, typos and all, reposted from yet another "new user." If careless homework-answer-seekers abuse this site, I'm not going to waste my time spoon feeding them with yet another tutorial on how this site works. To many users are coming here each day to create yet another "disposable" account. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 16, 2021 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ hardmath Do you also believe that when upvoting a new user, it is crucial that you explain to the user why you upvoted? After all, upvoting with no justification can leave a student just as confused: why did I get this upvote, when another question I asked didn't? What was better about this question than the other one I asked? Without explanation, as you're arguing, a vote, whether up or down, can be confusing. So, are you onboard in arguing that all votes, up and down, especially for new users, should be accompanied by a comment from the voter? If not, I think you haven't a point. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 17, 2021 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy Any feedback must be meaningful. An upvote means what it means: good question, and since the guy did it right, he has probably read and understands the rules. A downvote says it's not a good question, but it doesn't say why. It's like a grade: you won't explain a student why he got an A, but if he got an F and you want him to make progress, you better tell him what he did wrong. But in some cases, a question - or an answer - may deserve a positive comment. I do that, sometimes. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2021 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ An upvote doesn't say why the post was good, nor the reason for the upvote, anymore than a downvote expresses why the post is bad. You can't have it both ways, @Jean-ClaudeArbaut $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 17, 2021 at 14:11

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