# Is there a shorter and more opinionated version of "How to ask a good question?" that we can direct new users to?

The advice in how to ask a good question is good, but reading through the whole thing takes a while and, IMHO, requires some familiarity with the site to interpret. It also presents the reader with choices in many places. For example, describing your own background is suggested by one answer as a way of providing context for a question, but isn't required.

Is there a shorter and, ideally, more opinionated guide for asking a good question, especially one tailored to new users?

• So you wanna say that new user would read 2 to 3 titles and would be informed of all rules. Finding shortcuts is not a good way. I feel it is good that "how to ask a good question" has big answers because this will help users to get familiar with the site rules. What would happen if they don't develop a habit of reading long answers and someday receive a very answer in their question?
– user876009
Sep 3 at 16:59
• I'm not saying that a new-user-question-guide has to be complete. Rather it should be short, easy to understand, and easy to comply with. I am sympathetic to new users who ask a question, are told to improve it, but aren't sure how to make it "good enough". Sep 3 at 17:06
• @GregoryNisbet: Why do you want it to be "more opinionated"?
– Joe
Sep 3 at 17:08
• a) I think it would be more effective if it presented people with fewer options and b) I want to use it as a yardstick for determining when the author has improved a question to the point where I can answer it. Sep 3 at 17:10
• A similar post here, but concerns only latex. Sep 3 at 17:15
• @GregoryNisbet: Thanks for clarifying. I understand how that could be useful, but I am also concerned that an opinionated version might not reflect the consensus of the community—it might just be one user's opinion. I think your suggestion could work, but it would depend heavily on what exactly the guide says.
– Joe
Sep 3 at 17:16
• @Gregory In fact, it's a good idea for all answerers to study the post, so you can spontaneously recommend a way or two to an asker to improve their question. It will also help remind answerers that questions lacking the post basic features the How to Ask need to be improved before answering. It's not site's problem to tell you when the author has improved a question to the point where I can answer it. You need to know the post yourself to know that. Sep 3 at 17:48
• Maybe an actual example (with bias on the topic most considered by new users: calculus, geometry?), could enlight more or simple enlight, to get the basic idea. Sep 3 at 18:26
• @VerónicaRmz. An example which created some controversy : About three months back I sent a user the page referenced by Gregory. The context is that they had a problem statement and a link to another MSE question that contained context, and I wanted them to include at least some part of that context in this question for self-containment. Pat came the reply : "People capable of writing "mathematically clear" questions are of course free to disregard the suggestions on this page". It had me troubled for some time, and I completely understand some part of Gregory's sentiment here. Sep 4 at 6:53
• I believe this exactly answers your query: math.meta.stackexchange.com/a/33236/80734 My one beef with it is that its suggestions mostly increase the length of a post. One also needs to consider being concise. (And also, being an opinion, you might not agree with it) Sep 4 at 11:05
• All else being equal, isn't being more opinionated versus being less opinionated a bad thing?
– john
Sep 12 at 4:37
• @john, I'm realizing now that "opinionated" might not have been the best choice of words. I meant an answer or guide that "takes an unambiguous position on the correct way of doing things" as opposed to saying a few general principles that might conflict with each other, or avoiding taking a position, or taking a position but with a large number of caveats. I've heard the word "opinionated" used this way to describe software before. AFAICT in the software context, it contrasts with "configurable" or "flexible" and isn't an inherently negative quality ... and that's the meaning I intended. Sep 12 at 5:10

This Answer to How to avoid downvotes for beginner's questions? is relevant, as upvotes usually accompany Good Questions. Here I build off that Answer, giving instructions with examples. (For some justification, see the linked Answer.)

1 Use Mathjax where appropriate.
Tutorial link | Reference Link $$\rule{10em}{0em} %this is to space the table out in portrait mode on mobile. sorry for the hack$$
Good: $$x=\frac{-b\pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a}$$.
2 Try to solve the problem yourself first, and then summarise your efforts and what went wrong. If your question is about a calculation, consider typing out the whole calculation.
3 After writing a title, look through the auto-generated list of 'similar questions' to avoid posting a duplicate. If you found a related post but you can't understand it, don't just say "I saw this Q on this site before"; give the link (see point 5). More on searching
4 Ask about specific issues that are possible to answer authoritatively (in principle). Good: "Why does the proof fail in three dimensions?"
Bad: "How can I solve it?" with no further context.
5 Don't require users to click on any external link. Key parts of the Question ought to be typed out, and any necessary illustration embedded (if you have 10 reputation). Supplementary links are fine.
6 Give the source of, or motivation for, the question. "in Generatingfunctionology by H. Wilf, 2nd ed, page 234..." is better than "I saw it in my combinatorics textbook".
Also, if it smells like a contest question and has no source, I closevote and downvote.
7 Describe your level of math education, and other things that you suspect are relevant background material. e.g., "I took one year of undergraduate mathematics in the UK, but had to take a break", "We just proved Heine-Borel so perhaps we need to use it."
8 Use a descriptive title that is easy to read (and don't use only Mathjax). If your title doesn't grab the attention of the right people, you won't get an answer.
Also, "Does $$b^2-4ac<0$$ imply that $$P$$ has no roots?" is better than "$$b^2-4ac<0\implies \{x:P(x)=0\}=\emptyset?$$".
9 Get to the point quickly; details can come after the "punchline".
Also pay attention to paragraphing and punctuation.
Questions that are easier (and shorter) to read attract more Answers. This is somewhat of an essay-writing skill, but no more so than writing any request for assistance.

Other opinions:

1. Some questions of a more exploratory type aren't so suited here, even if they follow the advice above or elsewhere. For instance, "Here's something I created (e.g. I generalised a definition) Is it useful?". If you don't know if it is useful, asking "Has this been done before?" is also bad. Perhaps consider writing a blog.

2. There are certain topics that generate a bad kneejerk reaction here on Math.SE, due to e.g. a certain math video going viral (or even Getting Things Wrong). In my experience, these are usually questions on Logic, open problems, and divergent series (beyond merely proving divergence). In these types of questions, you should distance yourself from the popsci and address the actual mathematical problem (in particular, be very rigourous). If you must ask directly about the popsci, consider if somewhere else like the more informal Mathematics chatroom, or a math-related part of reddit is more appropriate.

And finally: following the above advice is no guarantee you will get an answer.

• I think that this is reasonable advice, though if it were up to me, I would promote the suggestions about motivation, source, and background, and demote the suggestion about showing work.
– Xander Henderson Mod
Sep 14 at 12:54
• @XanderHenderson That is indeed how I ordered it myself (see revision 1); but someone decided it was important enough to reorder, and my impression is that math.meta "prefers"(?) the advice that is better suited to improving questions that say...could be homework, so I left it. Sep 14 at 13:06
• Personally, I find it presumptive of someone else to edit your answer to reorder the points (it would have been much more polite of that editor to engage in a discussion, as I have tried to do here), and I would be curious to know what evidence there is that the meta community here prefers "effort" over other kinds of context. Indeed, I see people constantly equating "context" to "an attempt", and complaining that such attempts are useless noise.
– Xander Henderson Mod
Sep 14 at 13:09
• @XanderHenderson well. :) I will try to figure out why I have "prejudice" against my own opinion...perhaps it is just the crossing of two streams that I have not yet reconciled in my own head Sep 14 at 13:13
• (also @XanderHenderson to be fair (and as you can see as a mod), in the lengthy deleted comments, the editor did engage in some discussion, but iirc I did not bring up this particular point on their edit) Sep 14 at 13:22
• Oi... I did not even look to see if there were deleted comments. :\ It is a shame that the discussion is now missing.
– Xander Henderson Mod
Sep 14 at 13:27
• @Xander ha, I expected the interface to be like how it is with deleted answers (in some cases a horrid mess that almost makes me want to log out). I'd say that the commenters (me included) decided we were distracting from the advice :) Anyway I can't spend time looking through meta posts atm but I will update when I can (or can't) justify the order Sep 14 at 13:33
• To address a point raised here in the comments, I value "showing work" quite highly. Even just the slightest hint of what the asker has tried gives me a big clue to where their understanding on the problem broke down, and helps me to write an answer directed to their true misunderstanding. Sep 16 at 10:34
• "That is indeed how I ordered it myself (see revision 1); but someone decided it was important enough to reorder." This is inaccurate. Someone suggested reordering the points, you responded by saying "good idea, i hadnt to thought to do that when converting the original post into a table" (or somesuch), then I helped to make various minor edits and reorganise some points while at it (based on the consensus), and in the comment chain explicitly made clear that the edit was to be rolled back if it didn't suit. Sep 21 at 14:29
• @RyanG Because the comments were deleted, there was no indication that the edit had been a collaboration. I am leaving the comments here because it maintains the record, and clearly indicates that the edits were made collaboratively. Deleting the previous thread caused confusion.
– Xander Henderson Mod
Sep 21 at 15:10
• @RyanG This turned out a lot messier than I expected. I’ll say: (1) thanks for pointing out the actual fact of the matter, I had already forgotten that the original arrangement was not my own, sorry; but I do personally value having the source higher. I felt like enough people disagree so I did not consider fighting the (minor) point and hoped to better represent ‘consensus’. (2) I do agree the discussion was good. And (3) I’m not deleting my comments in meta anymore to leave the discussion up :) as nice as it would be to have a clean comment section Sep 21 at 17:58