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Yesterday, a question was posted asking for comments on a fully detailed solution to what was obviously a coursework question. The OP's solution was essentially correct, just overly complicated. The question received three answers, including one from me, which was confined to simplifying and correcting the OP's own solution.

I had, and still have, little doubt as to the suitability of the question for Maths.SE, or the suitability of my own answer.

Today, a different user has posted a request for help with the same question, giving only the most general idea of how [s]he proposes to go about solving it.

This is almost certainly an exact (not even abstract) duplicate of the earlier question. Normally, I would have no hesitation in flagging it as such. But if I do that, then the asker of today's question will thereby be directed to an effortless solution.

I don't know what to do.


Links, as requested in the comments:

Finding $n,m\in N$ such that $|\sqrt{e} - \frac{n}{m}| < \frac{1}{100}$

Question regarding Taylor remainder

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    $\begingroup$ "to what was obviously a coursework question." err.. no, you cannot know this for sure, unless OP themselves confirm this. I mean, isn't it possible that someone asked this during self-studying, and so this is not homework? $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ @VerónicaRmz. I thought it was enough to make the verbal distinction between "coursework" and "homework". I agree that it could easily have been a self-study question rather than coursework, although in the light of today's exact duplicate, I think it was probably homework. In any case, I have made no criticism of the question. $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 16:45
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The first question you should have, when looking at a post, is "Does this question meet the standards for quality on Math SE?" If it does not, then you should vote to close it for this lack of quality.

If a question is of sufficiently high quality to merit inclusion on Math SE, the next question you should have is "Is this question a duplicate?" If so, then you should vote to close it as such.

If the question is of high quality and is not a duplicate, then no other action is required (unless you feel like providing an answer, or have some edits which you would like to make in order to improve the question somehow).

Note: "Is this asker attempting to cheat?" is not one of the questions which is part of this thinking. I am all in favor of stopping cheating attempts, but (1) Math SE has no official policy on cheating, and (2) even if it did, it would be essentially unenforceable—how can be possibly distinguish between the good-faith efforts of a self-learner and attempted cheating? With respect to suspected cheating, you must act according to your own conscience. That being said, please do not accuse askers of cheating—this is hostile and rude. If you suspect cheating, the best thing to do is move on.


In this case, I am of the opinion that this question is not of high quality, and can be closed for lacking context. A link to the other question, in the comments, would be fine. That being said, I am not sure that the older question is really all that much better—it is kind of a notational mess, and I (personally) have a pretty low opinion of "attempts" as context.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not a great fan of today's question, either, but it doesn't seem so bad that I would feel justified in voting to close it on grounds of quality. (If it did, then of course my dilemma would have been easily resolved, just as you say.) My main worry is that someone will come along and post a full solution. So far, people have been giving good hints in the comments, and I don't want to interfere in what might be an educational process for the OP. $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @CalumGilhooley Based on your comment, your answer to my first question is "Yes, it is of sufficient quality," and your answer to my second question is "Yes, it is a duplicate." So... vote to close as a duplicate. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 14 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ I see you've added something to your answer. I most certainly do not think that today's questioner was trying to "cheat"! I think the question was asked in good faith, even though it showed little effort. That is why I did not want to interfere with it. (So little did I want to interfere that I held back from giving a link to the question, until asked to do so. I thought it better to discuss the issue in abstract terms, if possible.) $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @CalumGilhooley The answer is meant to address the general, abstract issue. You raised the question of providing an asker with an "effortless" solution, which seemed like code for "I don't want to help a cheater" or "I want to force the asker to put in some effort". Again, that isn't one of the criteria (except tangentially, in that we demand context). $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 14 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ You must be aware that people quite often rush to post complete solutions even when the questioner would obviously be satisfied with a hint; and you will probably agree that that is no reflection on the questioner, but on people who answer too hastily. $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @CalumGilhooley I am not sure what you are after here. Answers on Math SE should be complete answers (per past meta discussions, there is some room for hints-as-answers, but this is pretty narrowly scoped), so if all an asker wants is a hint, then the question is almost certainly off-topic (in addition, perhaps, to being of low-quality, and/or a duplicate). I am not sure what the speed of answers has to do with it---if you, in your opinion, determine that the post should be closed, you can act accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 14 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ In Maths.SE, we try to avoid having questions that are exact duplicates of one another. We also try to avoid handing out answers to homework questions. In this instance these two values come into conflict with one another. I thought it was clear that my question was about how to resolve this conflict of values. As for what I am "after here": I thought the tag discussion made that clear, too. Questions where values come into conflict seldom have pat answers, and I do not expect there to be any. If I have not been clear about any of this, I'm sorry; but I cannot see how to clarify my question. $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @CalumGilhooley Who says that we avoid "handing out answers to homework questions"? This isn't articulated in the policy anywhere. What we have is a policy which demands context. Yes, the policy is written, in part, to discourage homework, but, unlike Physics, we have no homework policy. So, again, if you think that a question lacks context (which most "homework" problems do), vote to close for lack of context. In short, I don't see this clash of values to which you allude. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 14 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ Your comments in response to Xander were absent from your original post. Do not expect users, nor mods, to read your mind. Your post here is far to ambiguous, so you get comments trying to deal with *your ambiguity". $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 14 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy I described yesterday's question as "obviously a coursework question". In the light of today's exact duplicate, I tentatively reclassify it as "probable homework". I made this verbal distinction already in my question. I still judge it to be a perfectly good question for Maths.SE. It even contained its own solution, which I judged to be valid, needing only simplification, and one small correction - unless I was the one in error! All that, too, is already contained in my question. You or someone else may think I misjudged that question, and can post an answer or a new question to say so. $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks you for explaining the matter clearly. I wasn't previously sure if you were criticizing the post yesterday for being homework, in which case I was confuse. Thanks for clarifying! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 14 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ In any case, the post today was closed as a dupe of yesterday's post that you answered. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 14 at 17:52

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