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The usage guidance for the tag says:

For questions about the formulation of a proof. This tag should not be the only tag for a question and should not be used to ask for a proof of a statement.


Questions with this tag are about the presentation of a mathematical proof. Questions might include:

  • Should I include [x-mathematical detail] at [y-part of this proof]?
  • Is the following a sufficient proof of [x-mathematical tidbit]?
  • I have written the following proof, could I somehow improve it, does it have good flow/can I improve readability?

The usage guidance goes on to say:

But this tag is not for asking someone else to write a proof for you, or for how to answer some question. Questions such as: My professor asked me to prove the Pythagorean theorem and I don't know how to begin are not to have this tag.

Browsing through the questions tagged and not tagged , I see that the earliest questions are indeed about how to structure a proof well, and how an attempted proof can be improved (that is, following the first and last bullet point above).

However, most1 (if not all) of the newer questions seem to instead be asking:

  • how to begin attacking a problem, or how to continue an argument forward after getting stuck; or
  • whether there is a proof of some statement that uses specific ideas or tools.

It seems to me that the tag is not meant for either of these use cases. The few questions that I found that are not of the above kind are those that ask:

  • whether an attempted proof is valid,

and it seems to me that the tag is sufficient for the above case, though this is also mentioned as a valid use case in the second bullet point in the usage guidance.

Question. Based on the current usage of the tag, is there a need to either revise its usage guidance, or to retag many of the questions that currently use it?

Of course, differing points of view are also appreciated, so the answer could very well be "Neither, the usage is fine and here's why …".


1For clarity, my assertion about "most" of the recent questions being of this kind comes from the following: I filtered the questions to contain the tag and not contain the tag , sorted by "newest", and set each page to show 30 questions. Then, every 50 pages I viewed 10 randomly selected questions on that page. Almost all the questions I chose were of the kind I described above, until the last page.

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    $\begingroup$ What can I say? I'm tired of telling users that the proof-writing tag should not be used simply because that user does not know how to solve a problem. $\endgroup$ – José Carlos Santos Jun 10 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ @JoséCarlosSantos You're more experienced on this site than I am. If it is indeed a losing battle as I infer from your comment, then perhaps even burnination could be an option? I hesitate to suggest something drastic like that right off the bat, though, so I did not mention it in the post … $\endgroup$ – The Amplitwist Jun 10 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ In this case, it seems to be a reasonable suggestion. $\endgroup$ – José Carlos Santos Jun 10 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ I've also seen something similar, in some occasions, related to the tag logic. Some new users use it wrongly in posts that have nothing to do with the specific math area logic. But since in math, is all about logic, they think it's an appropriate tag. $\endgroup$ – Verónica Rmz. Jun 10 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ I also think that the proof-writing tag should not be deleted, because I consider it to be important; days ago mod quid commented (on his chat-room and/or math mods office) about the importance, not only of the math per se, but in the big importance of the writing. Maybe a different name on the tag would improve the misleading use of it. $\endgroup$ – Verónica Rmz. Jun 10 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ For more info about the writing in math, don't ask me heh :p, I think you could ask moderator quid here: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/83225/whatever-quid I asked there too. $\endgroup$ – Verónica Rmz. Jun 10 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @VerónicaRmz. Just to clarify, I have no issue with the purpose or usefulness of the tag based on the given usage guidance. I just think that in practice it is being added mostly to questions it should not be applied to, so some kind of action seems to be called for here. $\endgroup$ – The Amplitwist Jun 10 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe it could be renamed to something like "proof-structure" or "proof-presentation" that would be a little less inviting to people who aren't checking the wiki and just thinking "I'm writing a proof, is there a tag for that?" $\endgroup$ – Mark S. Jun 10 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ I think that tagging generally is poorly done, especially by some new users whose tags bear little relationship to the content of questions: but this betrays a lack of mathematical understanding more than anything else. Tidying up all the tags would be a major exercise. Finding the right tags can be a challenge for someone with only basic knowledge. Maybe some basic tagging tutorial material could be provided to help new users navigate ... $\endgroup$ – Mark Bennet Jun 13 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkBennet I think I agree with you, but I feel you're making very general points? I mean, we now have over 13,000 questions tagged proof-writing, so perhaps at least this one tag needs some specific attention (more than just general improvements to assisting new users with tagging). $\endgroup$ – The Amplitwist Jun 13 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ I added a comment not an answer - it struck me that proof-writing might be part of this "not quite knowing" phenomenon. But I agree that tags overused and misused on this scale are an issue. $\endgroup$ – Mark Bennet Jun 13 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ Back in 2012 there was a discussion about proof-writing. The proposal to deleted tag ended with a negative score. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jun 14 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak Thank you, Martin! I probably should have mentioned that myself in the first place. I'll just add that there were around 400 questions with this tag at the time of the proposal to delete the tag, and today there are around 35 times that number. $\endgroup$ – The Amplitwist Jun 14 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ Since I linked to the post which also discussed (proof-strategy), I'll add that this tag is now blacklisted. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jun 14 at 9:56

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