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I find it quite strange that every time I discuss mathematical writing, some people suggest closing the topic.

For example:

I can clearly see that the tag is meant for discussing such matters: Various aspects of writing mathematics, such as style, notation, grammar, frequently used phrases and common mistakes. Do I miss something? If discussions are not allowed, I think the tag's description needs to be revised or the tag itself should be removed. The user Peter even thinks the tag should not be present at all.

I always try to keep the background of mathematical writing questions as hidden as possible to avoid creating barriers with too many technical terms. However, it seems that users don't appreciate this. They think it is not a mathematical question.

Even more interestingly, when I go to English Stack Exchange, they suggest coming here for discussions since they say it relates to mathematics. See this Is the sentence "For every integer 3<k<15 " written correctly? You can see that someone said " That's not English, it's Mathlish." and "This question would probably get better answers on one of the math stackexchange sites, where they could also share how to express this in mathematical notation " And there were even some people who agreed. But in fact, it has the tag mathematics.

This truly makes one feel caught in a dilemma.


I encountered the unfriendly situation on English Stack Exchange, but I assume it was just an isolated incident. Recently, I asked the following question, and I received positive feedback. Even though many non-mathematical individuals may have different opinions, I believe this is normal.

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    $\begingroup$ According to the help center article, math grammar is not in the on-topic list but it isn't in the off-topic list either. Personally, I am quite divided so I would most likely hit 'skip' if this ever came up. However it does look like your question on English was never closed and even received an upvote and answer. $\endgroup$
    – bobeyt6
    Sep 15, 2023 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. But many people in the comments think it's inappropriate. In fact, I received downvotes before in a similarly question, with many people opposing it, and I deleted the question. $\endgroup$
    – licheng
    Sep 15, 2023 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ I have a persistent feeling that some people in there might be misunderstanding something, or perhaps I've misinterpreted something myself. So, I feel like going back to English Stack Exchange to ask writing-related questions again, hoping to receive better feedback. $\endgroup$
    – licheng
    Sep 15, 2023 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ Well. I just see a similar discussion; see math.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/29111/…, and there were also many comments, but opinions were varied as well. $\endgroup$
    – licheng
    Sep 15, 2023 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ Every post averages around 100 views seen by the active users on the main site. I think some of those viewers are picky about what constitutes a good post in their opinion. I say this because your first two links have 101 views and 74 views, but your third link has at least 4 thousand. I'm willing to bet some of those 4 thousand people aren't as picky and active on the main site, and I've noticed this with posts that gain views in the thousands. It seems like a bunch of people found your third post helpful. Even if I was good in English, I would've skipped your posts in the close votes queue. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2023 at 6:26
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    $\begingroup$ The existence of a tag doesn't mean much. I could create a cake-recipes tag – that wouldn't make questions about cake recipes on-topic. Also, downvotes here on meta don't mean it's a bad question, only that the downvoter disagrees with the position being presented. I'm happy to see questions about math-writing on math.stack. For the specific questions you've posted, I'd say, do what you will, and if the editors of the journal you publish in don't like your choices, they will edit them. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2023 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think any of those three questions are a particularly good fit for MathSE. All three are purely grammatical questions. $\endgroup$
    – davidlowryduda Mod
    Sep 15, 2023 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ The problem that I, personally, have with the highlighted questions is that none of them are really particular to math. These are questions which could be answered by anyone with a solid knowledge of the conventions of English writing. The fact that certain phrases come up more in mathematics than in other places does not mean that questions about those phrases are on-topic here. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Sep 15, 2023 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson has exactly summed up my feeling about the first two listed questions. The third one is at least in connection with a well-known mathematician, and Math.SE denizens might be expected to know, better than English.SE users, the different pronunciations that Euler's name has in different places. But otherwise, English questions should be asked in English.SE. Not because of (or at least not solely because of) any rule against those questions here, but because they are a better fit for that space. $\endgroup$
    – Brian Tung
    Sep 16, 2023 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ Your question mentions your experience on English Stack Exchange. But what's on-topic on English Stack Exchange is not relevant to what's on-topic here. The fact that it is off-topic on English Stack Exchange does not make it on-topic here. Not every question has a home somewhere on the Stack Exchange site. People may make lots of well-intentioned suggestions about where you could try to post it, and I'm sure they mean well, but folks on English Stack Exchange aren't necessarily authorities on what is on-topic on Math.SE. $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Sep 20, 2023 at 6:35
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    $\begingroup$ I think that learning to write idiomatic Mathlish is important for undergraduate students, and there should be room on this SE for that. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2023 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know for sure as I don't frequent the tag, but my expectation about the type of material on mathematical-writing on Math.SE would revolve around organizing the math to be presented. Such as When should I split a Theorem with a very long proof into a sequence of Lemmas and Propositions?, How do I best describe the background I assume the reader to have? or Is it ok not to include examples of a definition? Looks like the language of the text is totally irrelevant when pondering such questions!? But, this is just my .02 cents. It is likely that I'm missing something major. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2023 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ Does anyone who frequents the chats more often than I do know if any of them are particularly likely to be helpful for this type of question? If so, this seems to be a more suitable avenue, since these questions may often require some back and forth to establish the context, and there would not be the concern over deleting such a question (obviously). Unless the question wants commemorating as an official Q&A, maybe this is preferable. $\endgroup$
    – Brian Tung
    Sep 25, 2023 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianTung This is the sort of question which could likely be quickly resolved in the main math chatroom. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Sep 28, 2023 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson: Then that sounds like the ideal place for the occasional grammar question for math exposition that doesn't really bear directly on mathematical issues. $\endgroup$
    – Brian Tung
    Sep 28, 2023 at 3:37

1 Answer 1

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Math.SE's strong suit is content involving reasoned mathematical arguments. Grammar as conventionally regulated does not fit comfortably into that mold.

Indeed math authors have special license in writing unconventional words or notation provided that definitions are given when such usage is introduced.

That would add to the difficulty Math.SE Readers face in offering opinions on grammatical correctness. That said, there are some ways to add to ones chances of getting a helpful response.

There is a recognition of good opinion-based Questions and Answers. This depends on appealing to successful experience in doing something closely related in what the OP is attempting.

Context is crucial here (as always). Are we asked to advise the OP how to express an idea unambiguously? Are we asked to help interpret something written by a third party? Pronunciation of names has as a matter of professional experience been discussed here, though typically it would be tangential to writing a math article.

If the concern is about how to express oneself clearly, then context requires making ones meaning evident, likely in some verbose manner such as illustration by example.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do remember noting, though, that my school mathematics textbooks were far better proofread, far more punctilious about punctuation, than most of my other textbooks. (My geography textbook was alarmingly bad.) $\endgroup$
    – TRiG
    Sep 19, 2023 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ @TRiG: I suspect this is simply an example of survivorship bias. A minor grammatical error might invert the order of quantifiers, displace a pronoun's antecedent, or otherwise alter the semantics of the statement. In geography, that's not so bad, because at least you have maps and other illustrations that can correct obvious misstatements. But in math, if you get the order of quantifiers wrong in (say) the epsilon-delta definition of limits, then you do not have a recoverable error. You have gobbledygook, and you'll have to issue a correction. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Sep 29, 2023 at 1:41

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