It's a well known problem that a new user often doesn't ask a question properly, e.g. asks a PSQ.

Perhaps the user can be suggested to check just this table, (to begin with), instead of the current 2 links (details and title which are part of the whole page: How to ask a good question., and the other suggested sources)?


Calvin Khor, is the author of that table.

He built off from the answer of user2661923.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for suggesting that I (and other editors) did alright summarising the info. Still welcoming suggestions for improvement. I tried to clean up your post but feel free to revert for any or no reason at all. I myself have not been linking to it, I will try to do so going forward. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ For the record, I did link the post above and the post which it links (which is this one) in some comments, and I observed a mild improvement in the responses. It's not bad to have a more direct and concise version saying "do this, and your question gets better". A caveat : We should not be asking users to edit if their question is to be closed for other reasons (duplicate/not belonging on MSE). $\endgroup$ May 22 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ Let's say this works, then it's all fine and dandy. I'm more worried about this not working, and we continuing to point the finger at ourselves for this. We can bend our backs when we're catering to new users, but shouldn't break them in the process. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'd assume this is a request to change the link/wording on the Ask Question page? $\endgroup$
    – Andrew T.
    May 24 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewT. My answer below tries to persuade that it's much more effective to install some message on our homepage. $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Jul 2 at 6:02

2 Answers 2


More of a long comment than an answer.

I like the table a lot, but in my opinion, it's probably too long. I can't imagine any new user who would be prone to posting a PSQ reading much of it. (There are plenty of new users who would, but I think most of them would not post a PSQ.) The difficulty is in distilling what the key advice to new users to avoid bad questions is, and I suspect there's a lot of disagreement about that amongst long-time users—reasoned disagreement, but disagreement nevertheless.

For instance, my own priorities are (elaboration is for Math Meta readers, not new users):

  1. No drive-by asks.

If you ask a question, stay for ten minutes to see how people respond to it. The majority of down-votes and close-votes and comments soliciting improvement happen during that time. (I wouldn't mention this to new users, but of course long-time users can get away with a drive-by ask because they know how to ask good questions, by and large.)

ETA: As Sarvesh Ravichandran Iyer points out in the comments, there may be reasonable justifications for drive-by down-voting and close-voting. Personally, I feel that these should be considered in a "totality of circumstances" way, being relevant factors but not overriding ones.

  1. Tell us everything that's even halfway relevant (but put the most important stuff first).

Questions are not usually down-voted and close-voted for too much information. It happens, but PSQs dominate them by a large margin. Combined with #1, we can advise new users to edit the question down if it needs it. There's plenty of advice on the table and other places as to examples of good context, but the primary thing is to get new users to want to post context.

  1. We bite, but almost always in the service of better questions.

There's no denying that we aren't always welcoming. I don't criticize this by and large, because we get a lot of terrible questions from lazy new users, but well-intentioned new users sometimes get blowback. It's important that people don't lose heart and give up the attempt entirely.

And honestly, for me, that's it. There are other things that are a pain (like not using MathJax or searching for duplicates), but I'm willing to give those up in the service of Lord Brevity. I expect lots of people have different priorities, though. It's a conundrum.

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    $\begingroup$ Incidentally, I think it would be good if people didn't drive-by down-vote and close-vote, either. Too often I see a post with problems, which gets comments, down-votes, and close-votes. The OP then responds to the comments appropriately, but the down-voters and close-voters have since gone away and the question languishes because the assumption is the question is too flawed. $\endgroup$
    – Brian Tung
    Jun 7 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ On many occasions, I have voted to close (and downvoted) not with the intention of having OP improve their question, but literally to drive the attention of experts elsewhere, to better questions (although the close reason matches, of course). So if those are drive-by, then I've very much dealt with some questions in a drive-by fashion. Most of these cases were "clear-cut" closures at the time of voting. The scale of the site demands that I cannot explain and discuss everything I do, down-vote, close-vote. $\endgroup$ Jun 9 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ @SarveshRavichandranIyer: That's a fair point. I'm more talking about situations where the OP is sincere but not knowledgeable about mathematics and/or the site traditions. You're probably right that those cases are less common and the bare PSQs you describe are more common. $\endgroup$
    – Brian Tung
    Jun 10 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ You know, Brian, there are occasions when I'm not very confident about what I'm doing. But I like to keep two principles in mind while voting to close. One is usefulness : of the post, of the action of closure, of the previous contributions of the OP. The second, is scale-appropriateness. I cannot be idealistic about every action that I take, that's just how many questions I go through. Decisions between (i) doing nothing (ii) keeping the question open (iii) voting to close (iv) voting to close with comment etc., cannot be quick and accurate, and even consistent, dare I say. $\endgroup$ Jun 11 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ It becomes very difficult to scale-appropriately weigh factors like (i) OP interest (ii) is OP's effort enough" (iii) is this a duplicate of something? (iv) Are there answers already that refute the proposed close reason (v) How "high level" is this question to me? (vi) Does social media count as a "source?" (This stumped me recently) All these minor factors aren't written in gospel anywhere. If I had the time, I swear I'd spend 5 minutes on each of 12 questions, and perform the idealistic action. Without closure, this site will go down : we all have to lift closure's reputation out of a bin. $\endgroup$ Jun 11 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ But I'm in full agreement of everything you've said, and thank you for saying it : someone needed to be this concise about what we want to do, and I think you capture what a lot of people would love to say. +1. $\endgroup$ Jun 11 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ @SarveshRavichandranIyer: Thanks, and I take your original comment to heart and have acknowledged it in my extended comment/answer. $\endgroup$
    – Brian Tung
    Jun 11 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ +1 : (also) to your response. Writing as the author of one of the articles under discussion, my perception is that reasonably conscientious Math students (still) regard my summary as punitive. Therefore, based on that experience, I like your answer better than the article that I wrote, especially your comment about drive-by's. $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, I think that whatever article that new users are shown, should contain something brief, like your answer. Then, the user can be shown gradually more complicated elaborations. That is, they might be provided a link to Calvin Khor's answer, which links to mine, which links to a base document. $\endgroup$ Jun 14 at 18:45

Adding to Brian's comment-Answer. Several months ago, even though StackExchange doesn't seem amenable to subsite-specific changes, I was triggered to idealistically shoot off the following feedback via the Contact link. Their reply was so stock that I don't remember what it said.

This feedback will need to be fleshed out (for example, I've not explained what's unique about our situation, and focused exclusively on PSQs) if it is to be properly submitted as a feature request. Perhaps it could be collated and summarised. I have redrafted it (no mention of the EoQS as it is punitive, non-universal and non-timeless), and am leaving it here for now. (To avoid unnecessary bumping, the latest edit of this letter/Answer is probably here.)

Please also refer to Martin's comments here.

Feedback: Mathematics StackExchange acutely needs a site-specific notice

To a casual visitor who has just stumbled on Mathematics StackExchange, it is simply a forum for asking mathematics questions (yet it is really not); understandably, students in search of homework help continually deluge this site with “problem-statement questions” (PSQs) that very quickly get downvoted, closed, and deleted by the community who additionally then have to manually issue, in the Comments section, friendly reminders to the culprit.

Now, few people actually read Terms & Conditions or instruction manuals; likewise, it is unrealistic to expect that visitors will have read the Site Tour or anysuch before posting their PSQ.

And while first-time posters are currently flashed a generic “Asking a good question” modal window after clicking Submit, the message may be ineffectual, appearing too late—a user, ready to fire off their PSQ, is inclined to wave it off as another T&C—and failing to communicate the key point about site standards, that is, that PSQs, being deleterious, are unwelcome.

To be clear: PSQs severely degrade the quality of Mathematics StackExchange, as they add noise and obstruct good questions from surfacing on Google.

This issue continues to consume a great amount of the collective resources of the community: the abovementioned routine needlessly repeats many times per hour.

To address the above, it is imperative to install on this subsite's homepage a single-line notice—visible before users start composing any PSQ—pointing to such a table of Guidelines for Attracting Answers, which practically sums up Mathematics StackExchange's ethos and communicates that its goal of being a useful repository of mathematical Q&A is incompatible with being a homework service. (Such a notice would neither be glaring nor break the visual consistency across the StackExchange sites.)


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