Math SE has a long-standing policy regarding what constitutes a Good Question. The policy is intended to ensure that the collection of questions and answers here is of high quality, is searchable, and is generally of use as a long-lasting reference.

Historically, we have tried to deal with low-quality questions by closing them and encouraging the asker to add appropriate details and context. Unfortunately, it often takes longer to close a question than it does for one or more users to rapidly post an answer. In addition to making it more difficult to clean up low-quality questions, these kinds of answers reward users for their low-quality contributions, and encourage further low-quality contributions in the future. While these answers might help the individual asker, they are not good for the site as a whole.

Strictly speaking, such answers are already in violation of Math SE's policies regarding quality, but enforcement of this policy by the moderators has been relatively lax—we typically prefer to remain more hands off, and let the community moderate itself. However, this problem has grown, and it seems that the laissez-faire approach is not working.

In order to address this dynamic, we will be taking a more active role in moderating the actions of users who post a large number of moderate- to low-quality answers in response to low-quality and/or duplicate questions. Our goal is to do this in a fair and transparent manner. If we find that a user has a tendency to make low-quality contributions, i.e. if we discover that a user answers a lot of "problem statement questions" with hastily written answers, we will warn that user via private message before we take any further action.

We recognize that this looks like a shift in policy, and that some folk may be a little worried. Let me again emphasize that it has always been against Math SE policy to answer low-quality questions, and that our increased enforcement is not a change in policy, only a change in procedure. Let me also reassure all of you that we are not looking to punish anybody, and that we have no intention of sanctioning anyone without first trying to discuss the issue with them.

We would like to ask that the community help us to spread the word regarding our stepped-up enforcement of this long-standing policy. We would also like to ask that the community help us to maintain quality standards. You can help by taking the following concrete actions:

Encourage New Users to Improve Their Posts

If you encounter a low-quality question, don't answer it immediately. Instead, direct the user to the meta post How to Ask a Good Question. Help them to understand what the standards are on this site, and consider offering advice on how they might improve their question. Make it clear that there are expectations for participation in this community, but always remain polite.

Search for Duplicates

Many of the low-quality questions which appear on this site have been answered before, or are a minor variation of some question which has been answered before. Take a few minutes to find potential duplicate questions and, if you find a good candidate, flag the question as a duplicate. This will help to organize the database, and should help the asker find the answer they need. If you find the answers to the duplicate target to be lacking, please feel free to add a new answer to the older question, rather than answering the newer duplicate.

In addition to the built-in searchbar (which has some more powerful options), you may also want to consider using the advice given in the question How to search on this site?. The math-aware search engine approach0 may also be useful.

Spread the Word

If you encounter users answering low-quality questions, please don't argue or fight with them. Politely direct them to this post, and move on. Only a small fraction of the user-base actively engages with meta, and so it is quite likely that many of these users don't even know that they are violating site policy, or that there has been an on-going debate regarding those policies.

Keep interactions Civil

Please keep all interactions on Math SE civil.

When engaging with users (old or new) who have posted (or answered) a low-quality question, remember to remain polite and courteous. Please do not issue unpleasant orders or leave judgemental comments: we will not tolerate rudeness, even when in the context of a honest attempt to improve the quality of the site. Please do not engage in long back-and-forths with other users. If a gentle, polite comment does not change someone's mind, please leave a flag and walk away.

Raise Flags

If you encounter a user who consistently answers low-quality (or duplicate) questions over a significant period of time, and polite references to this post do not seem to be helping, please raise a flag on one of their answers. Use the "in need of moderator intervention" option and let us know what is happening. Again, please do not argue with them about the quality of their contributions, nor downvote their answers in a targeted manner. Raise a flag, and move on.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Apr 29 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ The fourth paragraph implies the policy concerns "low quality and/or duplicate questions" but the final paragraph only mentions "low quality", not duplicate. It would be a good idea to update the final paragraph to make it crystal clear that the policy applies to duplicates too. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 14 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque This procedure really is aimed at low-quality questions. If a question is of high quality but happens to be a duplicate, there is less of a problem if someone answers the question. Duplication is not necessarily bad, and a high-quality duplicate with an answer can later be closed as a duplicate. What is more concerning is users who repeatedly answer low-quality questions (which are likely to be duplicates, anyway). $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson May 15 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Xander That is the worst news I've heard in many years. The problem is that almost always the answers too are duplicates, and often (much) lower quality than the canonical answers. It is very puzzling that you seem to wish to place more emphasis on the quality of the question rather than that of the answers - since it is the latter that comprise the true value of the site. If this is true then I will probably eventually give up the fight against rampant duplication since it is a losing battle without mod support. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 15 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque we are all against rampant duplication. The point is, good duplicate questions are somewhat rare anyway. Let's keep it simple and focus on the clear-cut cases. If you signal somebody that answers many, many duplicates I'll also do something about it. $\endgroup$ – quid May 15 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ @quid I'll let you know about this, thanks. I understand that the focus of the post is probably on the low-quality answerers, but in the elementary tags, duplication is an issue as well. I cannot touch questions in elementary tags with a rod (nowadays) unless I've gone through the whole "Google, Approach0, SearchOnMath, Bill's duplicates pages" list, and most of the time the questions turn out to be duplicates. I can't communicate openly, of course, so I'll flag and alert you to this more specifically from now, especially if I see any markers of this behaviour. $\endgroup$ – Teresa Lisbon May 16 at 5:18
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    $\begingroup$ I am siding with Bill Dubuque here in the sense that in my opinion rampant answering of duplicates is as bad as answering a lot of PSQs. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen May 19 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill Dubuque I do see and agree with much of this, but I really do believe there is a point in going too far in being concerned about this here. At this point after all these years really almost everything is a duplicate. For example, $x^{49} \equiv_{17} 4$ is solved exactly the same way as $x^{141}\equiv_{11} 3$, but the person asking the question may not see that yet, and it often is much easier and less cumbersome for everyone involved to just answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Mike May 23 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Mike It's often impossible for questioners (or dupe searchers) to locate hiqh-quality answers because search results contain many (tens if not hundreds) of mostly low-quality FGITW answers (most users don't realize this since they rarely try to search), Due to this the site is becoming a stream of low-quality FGITW answers, vs. the design goal: to be a library of high-quality answers (easily located by search). If you have neither the time nor motivation to search and organize then please let others do so before exacerbating the problem by contributing further dupe / FGITW answers $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque May 23 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ I'm with Jyrki and Bill on this. @quid, that point is part of this update in policy, just as much as the answering of PSQs. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 31 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I do not think there is much difference in our views in theory. However, I prefer a pragmatic approach. In any case, as I told Bill, if somebody brings up cases where a user answers many 'obvious' duplicates then I will do something about it. In practical terms I think it'll be rare that a user answers many 'obvious' duplicates while not also answering many low quality questions. $\endgroup$ – quid May 31 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, understood, @quid. You are all correct in various ways. I think a good place to start is with answerers duplicate their former answers to duplicate questions. There are a handful of them. But yes, in such cases, like those you suggest, we should flag and explain. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 31 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Accepting your pragmatic position on duplicate answering, @quid. Duplicates form an obvious sore point for me. It became one gradually, and it is difficult to let go. But it also feels prudent to give the EoQS a bit of time, and see its effect on the site culture. After all, a compromise is necessary, so I should not expect more than tolerable discomfort. We (or the moderator team only?) may want to come back to this after a few months $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Jun 1 at 3:41
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    $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen I imagine that we will continue to evaluate the effect this has, and any changes which might need to take place as the situation evolves. Please also note that this post is meant to address users who answer a large number of low-quality questions (this is "low hanging fruit"). Answering duplicate questions is discouraged, and is still contrary to site policy. That duplication it is not the emphasis of this announcement only indicates that it is a lower priority than answering low-quality posts. The fact that it is a lower priority does not indicate that it isn't a priority. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Jun 1 at 4:30
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque Maybe y'all should start downvoting low-quality FGITW answers. This would be an excellent way to ensure that people stop posting them, and that they do not show up in searches. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Jun 8 at 18:54

A week has passed since this post, and I'd like to leave some useful pointers for everyone, which I think will help everyone continue to have a positive experience in the site, and keep the community healthy.

  1. If you already commented a post regarding the EoQS and the behavior did not change, do not rinse and repeat. Please leave further interaction to the moderators. We know that seeing a user going against site policy may be frustrating, but we insist you do not escalate the situation, and refer to the post above regarding a better alternative action. If you feel like the pointers above may not be clear enough, feel free to ask for clarification, but when in doubt, err on the side of caution.

  2. It goes without saying that one should not systematically go through a users posts to comment on their answers to low quality questions. One flag and one comment is enough: give users time to respond to those comments, and give us time to reach out to them.

  3. Seeing changes to the site will take a while (perhaps some months). There are many flags and a few mods. The new enforcement only started a while ago, so please be patient. We are definitely looking at all the flags, and we appreciate all of you pointing to the posts. I hope that in the future there will be a visible improvement to the experience of everyone in the site.

  4. Regarding the above, you may always consult your own user flags on the link: https://math.stackexchange.com/users/flag-summary/current. This may help you keep track of your activity regarding this new EoQS and give you a more concrete picture of how you are contributing to the site. For example, you can check whether your flag has been accepted or not, or whether it yet pending. You may also find this in your profile in the "Impact" box, as the image below shows:

enter image description here

Wishing everyone a pleasant experience in math.SE,


  • $\begingroup$ There's a link to the flag summary on the user profile page. It's under Activity - you click on the number of helpful flags. $\endgroup$ – E.P. May 5 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Also, it might help to define EoQS. $\endgroup$ – E.P. May 5 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ @E.P., see the title of this thread. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson May 6 at 1:16
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    $\begingroup$ Dear users: please do not edit this post to change the instructions it is giving. If you'd like to discuss the instructions, it can always be done. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Tamaroff Jun 1 at 16:00

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