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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?

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    $\begingroup$ 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? $\endgroup$
    – user876009
    Sep 3, 2021 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ 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". $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2021 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ @GregoryNisbet: Why do you want it to be "more opinionated"? $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Sep 3, 2021 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2021 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ A similar post here, but concerns only latex. $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2021 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Sep 3, 2021 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ As is, no one ever requires that every asker, on every post they ask, full fill all suggestions listed, There is a menu, for example: How to ask a good question when I have no clue? Not every suggestion applies to everyone. I try to, when I link it, point out what might be most relevant to the asker, in that post, and tend to tell them to take two suggestions for there to improve your posts. I am not in favor of catering to folks who don't care to read, nor folks like you, who want the asker to edit it, already, so you can answer it right now! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Sep 3, 2021 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Sep 3, 2021 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2021 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$ Sep 4, 2021 at 6:53
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    $\begingroup$ 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) $\endgroup$ Sep 4, 2021 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ All else being equal, isn't being more opinionated versus being less opinionated a bad thing? $\endgroup$
    – john
    Sep 12, 2021 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2021 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ Notice also, that the user has the option to check, a more short version on how to ask. And, that is mentioned twice, (one in the first bulletin, and the other, in the second bulletin). $\endgroup$ May 21 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ In my experience software developers sometimes slap "opinionated" into a description of their framework or into their blogpost title because it is popular for some reason. Possibly it is to deter pushback against their design choices. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jul 14 at 19:27

1 Answer 1

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$\begingroup$

Because

  • solving your immediate mathematical problem is secondary to this website's goal of being a repository of high-quality, useful, searchable mathematical Q&A,

and because

  • you want to help readers to formulate an appropriate Answer for you (points #5 to #8),

here are some guidelines for attracting Answers:

Advice Examples and comments
1 Please use MathJax!
Tutorial | Reference $$ \rule{10em}{0em} %this is to space the table out in portrait mode on mobile. sorry for the hack$$
Not readable:   x = [-b+/-sqrt(b^2-4ac)]/2a
Not searchable:image instead of MathJax
Good:$\large x=\frac{-b\pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a}$
2 Give a concisely descriptive title. Bad: “Isn't my book doing this math about differentiation wrongly?”

For technical reasons, purely MathJax titles are probably a bad idea, however, do use MathJax as appropriate.
3 Avoid creating a duplicate Question: after writing a title, check through the auto-generated list of Similar questions. More on searching
4 Do pay attention to paragraphing and punctuation.

Get to the point quickly, giving details after the “punchline”.
Be considerate of your reader; Questions that are easier to read attract more Answers.
This is somewhat of an essay-writing skill, but no more so than writing any request for assistance.
5 Explain what motivated the problem, and give its source. E.g., “This equation arose while modelling the physical phenomenon of...”,
“In Generatingfunctionology by H. Wilf, 2nd ed., p. 234...”,
“In Question 3b of the 2021 International Mathematical Olympiad...”

If your Question relates to or continues from a previous post on this site, please link to it.
6 If relevant, describe your level of mathematics education. E.g., “We've just proved Heine-Borel, so perhaps we need to use it”,
“I took a year of undergraduate mathematics in the UK including a computational linear algebra module, but it's been a decade since I've...”
7 Show or summarise your attacks at the problem. Make a serious attempt at solving the problem, and showing your work in excruciating detail is better than not showing your work.
8 Be specific about, or at least narrow down, what you're struggling with. Bad: “How to solve this?” with no further context
Good: “Why does the proof fail in $3$ dimensions?”

Pose questions that (in principle) can be answered authoritatively.
9 Type out key parts of the Question.

Don't require users to click on an external link; supplemental links are fine.
Also see Point #1 above.

If an illustration is necessary, please embed it (requires 10 reputation points though).
10 Proofread for typos and ambiguities. Taking a 5-minute break then re-reading your post out loud may be helpful.

NB: This table was initially built off How to avoid downvotes for beginners' Questions.

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.

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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Sep 14, 2021 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2021 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Sep 14, 2021 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @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 $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2021 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ (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) $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2021 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ Oi... I did not even look to see if there were deleted comments. :\ It is a shame that the discussion is now missing. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Sep 14, 2021 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Mosher
    Sep 16, 2021 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Sep 21, 2021 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ I like how this is presented, in a table. It's true that, that whole page, even thought just 2 parts of it are suggested to check (details and title), could be confusing? for a total new user. Perhaps this could be suggested to check instead of the other links. $\endgroup$ May 21 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ @ryang done! thanks again for the suggestions. At this point I think you've put in more thought than I have. If I did something silly in the most recent edit feel free to fix it yourself. The last line was there because some people have asked on meta why they weren't getting an answer. But its not like the line was very informative by itself and should probably be dealt with more comprehensively elsewhere (some sort of "what is Math.SE" page?) $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ This table format is great! Kudos to all of you who created it. $\endgroup$ Jun 28 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ Ideally, the Mathematics StackExchange homepage notifies users of the above table. @CalvinKhor I went in to add a bad-example title, and ended up making yet another round of edits, quite numerous! (If any change isn't preferable, please just revert it.) $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Jul 14 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ I began looking at the changes groggy pre-coffee and antagonistic, but these are honestly good changes :) @ryang $\endgroup$ Jul 15 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ @CalvinKhor Haha. A bit sheepish about still making edits a year on, so thanks for endorsing them. Really hoping that our table (it should be "frozen" by now, but then again, I've never been correct about this...) gets referred to even more frequently. $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Jul 15 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Mathematics StackExchange! As this site is meant to be a useful repository rather than a Do My Homework forum, it's common courtesy to show what you've already tried, and really narrow down what you're struggling with. Most people here are glad to help once you've adequately motivated the problem. [Quick Guide](http://math.meta.stackexchange.com/a/34067/21813) to attracting answers and preventing your question from being deleted. Good luck!$\quad$ Please feel free to use/adapt this sample advisory. $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Jul 19 at 4:01

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