A number of times recently I've seen a new user drop a simple question (some bad, but some OK questions), and it's got some misunderstanding of what they're working on or a confusing explanation, either of the question itself or the work done. Now that question could be improved (maybe even self-answered) if the user would only stick around and read comments.

So - is there a way to advise users that they should check back every five minutes or so for comments and other responses? Maybe in "How to ask a good question"? While giving such advice in a comment is still worthwhile, it's often not getting read fast enough to improve save-able questions.

If this advice already exists, it probably could benefit from a little more prominence.

Added: Perhaps as observed there is shyness or language issues holding some new users back - the issue of (apparent) non-engagement is the same though. Now I wonder whether we need to make sure that new users know that comment responses would still be viewed favorably as engagement. We shouldn't expect question-level standards of language or precision in comments, even though we may also urge them to clarify and expand the question itself as needed. One point here is that established users need to make sure they do not appear hostile to such comments (while still pressing for detail if needed).

As a side observation, if I am debating on whether to vote a question up or down, new user engagement will often weigh on the positive side.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes. Notice that sometimes, it's not that the user isn't there paying attention to the comments, it's just that, it might take a considerable amount of time to grasp them. You might also suggest them, in comments, to click on Follow the answer, so that they don't miss subsequent comments or edits. $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2021 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ I sometimes suspect that if someone asks a question and immediately goes away, the question is probably homework. They think that when they come back in the morning it will all be answered. $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2021 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ "they should check back every five minutes or so...." What an absurd suggestion! $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2021 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I’ll clarify that I mean immediately subsequent to posting - so check back say four times in the half-hour after posting. Would you still consider that absurd? $\endgroup$
    – Joffan
    Apr 9, 2021 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Verónica yes I was considering whether a possible help might be to have notifications on by default , for the first two or three questions asked. They could still be turned off of course, but that would imply a level of commitment to understanding the site which is not always apparent. $\endgroup$
    – Joffan
    Apr 9, 2021 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ It's my understanding that users do get notified of comments on their questions, Joffan, so I'm not sure what you mean by "having notifications on by default". $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2021 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ You always get the message icon active - if you're on the site. There's some other pushier notification available too I think - e-mails? Anyway I was really responding to Vero's comment on Follow notification. $\endgroup$
    – Joffan
    Apr 9, 2021 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ From what I have observed, new users with borderline questions from a site policy standpoint (brief attempt, some terms not defined, and no latex), will often receive a comment asking for clarification, several downvotes, and eventually question closure. While I imagine I would want to improve my question after one or two of these events, I would simply through up my hands after all of them (if I was a new user). My suggestion to keep new users engaged is simply to send less negative feedback at once. $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Apr 9, 2021 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ Well, when I ask any question, I am a bit restless and do check every 5 or 10 mins for any update (it's very convenient on mobile device). In fact I am not able to focus on other things on that day. That explains why I have asked only a few questions so far. $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Apr 9, 2021 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ I confess I'm a member of the "fire-and-forget" brigade myself. After dumping a question on MSE I go away, log into another website, and get on with something else entirely. It may be over an hour later when finally I get back to my question to see if somebody has answered it. Sometimes they have, sometimes they haven't. Goes 2 ways. Several answers I've posted to questions which have had zero acknowledgement for. I don't think it's anything you can police. Can't be bothered with fake politeness, me. If you don't like me, then don't answer my stupid question, stupid, is how I think. $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2021 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ @PrimeMover - that's OK if you know how to ask a question; you don't need to hang around to learn more about expectations of the site and clear up what it actually is that you're asking. I'm only talking about the first two or three questions of a new user. $\endgroup$
    – Joffan
    Apr 9, 2021 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ The idea is to convince the new user that we are here to help you out. Like we can ask as a first comment "did you try integrating by parts, it is not so difficult" and then "once you have tried integration by parts let us know any issues and you can use mathjax tutorial to post your attempt". $\endgroup$
    – Paramanand Singh Mod
    Apr 9, 2021 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Joffan How about "If you take such-and-such an approach, you find it is fairly straightforward", or "... you will find it works out to a simple expression" and so on. I too find things like "It's really not so difficult" sound condescending. $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2021 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon When I first started answering q's on this forum I used to go with "here is a hint as to how to start, now proceed from here" but I was soundly scolded in the comments and voted down for not having provided a full answer. My personal view is that this is unhelpful because it does not offer the questioner the opportunity of learning by doing. However, it is appreciated that this is a q-and-a repository rather than a site set up specifically to teach students. $\endgroup$ Apr 11, 2021 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ This question really hits home for me. Part of the reason I've been reluctant to engage frequently with commentators is that on many websites this is considered poor form and excessively argumentative. But now I know the culture here is different, I'll try to get over this reluctance. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Slater
    Apr 14, 2021 at 10:04

1 Answer 1


This may be a controversial answer, but I think the low investment of users in non homework cases maybe due to the following:

  1. The mathematical maturity of the user is not enough to understand the content of the comment and they are shy to ask clarification.
  2. The user is either preparing for an exam/ a course, so they can't spend more than some reasonable time on one particular point which is confusing.
  3. The answerer/commenter doesn't seem to understand what the OP is asking/ the phrasing of OP and doesn't ask for clarifications on that.

These are reasons I myself have given up on some questions I have asked. To make the previous statement less bad, I try my best to attend and read through each answer I get even if it's months after and write answers to old questions if I ever end up figuring them out because I think that it may help someone else who has the same / similar query out.

As an answerer, the only one you can control is the 3rd point, there is a certain skill to be able to understand what others are saying. I won't say I am the best person to advice others on this, but I can definitely say that this is a thing for a person who wants more of their answers to be accepted to think about.

And as a final point, if the question is well phrased, then it doesn't matter even if OP abandons because the question is for helping a large group of people rather than giving special help to OP.

Even answers to exercises and problems can be helpful (even if OP doesn't attend to it) , I have found many example questions/ edge case questions which have helped me in my studies by browsing MSE.

P.S: These are just my views

  • $\begingroup$ I don't have much to argue about there; my quandary here specifically is how to emphasize to new users the value of actually engaging with the community, at least immediately after they pose a question. That would allow some of the issues described (#1 & #2) to actually be uncovered. The behaviour of people answering, #3, seems like a separate topic. And well-posed questions are also not an issue here, the point is vague and ambiguous questions that don't meet standards. If the asker is reading & responding to comments, this issue does not arise (even if other issues do). $\endgroup$
    – Joffan
    Apr 10, 2021 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ What you are saying is the 'effect', I am trying to address the cause. I think if the cause is correctly addressed then it at least becomes clear to what issue we are trying to fix. $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2021 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think in the case I'm discussing we even get as far as what you're calling here "cause". You're addressing a different (and perhaps valid) problem of driving people away; I'm addressing a problem of people not engaging sufficiently in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – Joffan
    Apr 10, 2021 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ Right, so if people aren't engaging, then that means there are barriers which keep them from engaging. The correct course, would be to identify the reasons why they wouldn't be engaging, it would be good if you could add the reasons you think they aren't as an answer/ edit to your question @Joffan $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2021 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ Another point is language barrier. $\endgroup$
    – PNDas
    Apr 11, 2021 at 6:51

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