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I have a question regarding the guidelines for providing context in questions. Specifically, I'd like clarification on whether mentioning solution attempts (no complete step by step solution) falls under the category of providing context.

For instance, if a user only states,

"I have tried by putting $y=\tan x$ in the integration question, but I failed,"

or

"I have attempted to solve the limit using L'Hôpital's rule,"

or

"I tried using partial fractions decomposition,"

Does this qualify as providing context according to our community guidelines? Can this be regarded as Good questions?

"You have a question, and if you post it here, you've probably attempted, and failed, to solve it yourself. It is much easier for others to judge the most appropriate "level" for an answer to your question if you provide these attempts. So you'll receive answers better suited to your specific needs." qouted from Provide Context.

I'm unclear whether "provide these attempts" implies simply mentioning the attempts or if it entails presenting the full solution attempt until encountering a problem.

Thanking You.

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    $\begingroup$ For what purpose are you asking? Are you asking whether it qualifies as enough context to not close the question? Are you asking whether it qualifies as enough context to not implicate the EoQS standard? Are you asking whether it is enough context to make the question a good fit for this site, or the sort of good question we want to encourage? These are different questions. I encourage you to edit your question to provide more, erm, context (sorry for that). $\endgroup$
    – D.W.
    Nov 13, 2023 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ @D.W. edited. Reason for asking: I want to ensure that my future questions align with the best practices outlined for this community. I will be able to understand which questions are good. $\endgroup$
    – O M
    Nov 13, 2023 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ The best way to understand context is to remember that it's for readers and potential answerers. Is there anything apart from the problem statement that (a) Makes you interested in the question and the field it comes from, (b) gives you good pointers or directions on how (not) to answer the question? A sentence like "I tried using partial fraction decomposition" does not contribute to point (a) and doesn't contribute to point (b) because it doesn't make clear whether partial fractions actually work or not, which a detailed attempt would do. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2023 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think saying "I tried so-and-so theorem but it didn't work" is good enough to be context. Anyone can do that. What's better is showing the nitty-gritty details so that someone more experienced can point out the error. If I asked something like, "I need help calculating the net outward flux of the field $F$ across the boundaries of the solid $B$. I tried using the Divergence Theorem but I failed", I don't think it would be a good question. But if I asked that same question and wrote out the partial derivatives, triple integrals, spherical coordinates, etc., then it'd be better. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2023 at 0:17

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I have noted in the past that I, personally, do not believe that "an attempt" to solve a problem is a very good form of context. It is the minimal level of context which the community has decided is sufficient. In my opinion, a "question plus attempt" is actually a pretty bad fit for this site, because it encourages people to duplicate questions by adding nonsensical fluff to their questions in order to fulfill a bureaucratic requirement.

However, one liners like

I have tried by putting $y = \tan(x)$ in the integration question, but I failed,

I have attempted to solve the limit using L'Hospital's rule,

and

I tried using partial fractions decomposition

are not even attempts. An attempt shows the work that someone has actually done. Suppose that an asker has used the substitution $y=\tan(x)$. Maybe the problem is that they made a transcription error somewhere in their computation, flipped a sign, and the reason they are not getting the "right" answer is because of a silly mechanical error. Maybe the tangent substitution was actually the right thing to do, but the asker got lost in the computation; or maybe it was the right thing to do, but the asker made some deeper error (e.g. leaving out the Jacobian when performing the change of variables); or maybe it wasn't even the right thing to do. Without seeing their work, it is impossible to know what they actually did, if they were on the right track, or if they were completely lost.

So if an asker is going to use "an attempt" at a solution as context, that attempt had better be complete, and the asker should point to specific parts of the computation which are troublesome, or which they suspect might be in error (since Math SE is not a homework grading service).

Better context would be a short discussion of, for example,

  • What is the background of the asker? Have they taken college calculus? analysis? graduate analysis? What level of answer are they expecting?

  • Where the problem comes from? Is the asker taking a class? which class? in what country (because different parts of the world tackle the curriculum differently)? is the problem from a text? or an instructor's notes? or somewhere else?

  • What tools are available? Textbook problems tend to come at the end of a section, and tend to employ specific tools which are introduced in that section.

So, for example, a better version of one of the questions implied by "I have attempted to solve the limit using L'Hospital's rule" might be something like

I am trying to evaluate the limit $\lim_{x\to 0^+} x^x$.

I am taking an introductory calculus course at an American community college, which is being taught out of Thomas' Calculus, 14E. This exercise is from the end of section 7.5, which introduces L'Hospital's rule, hence I expect that I am supposed to apply this theorem somehow.

The limit appears to be an indeterminate form of the type "$0^0$", but L'Hospital's rule only applies to limits which are of type "$0/0$." How am I supposed to evaluate this limit?

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    $\begingroup$ If "an attempt" is just a "minimal level of context which the community has decided is sufficient". Then, "Without any try question" might be framed as: Where the problem comes from? Is the asker taking a class? which class? in what country (because different parts of the world tackle the curriculum differently)? is the problem from a text? or an instructor's notes? or somewhere else? $\endgroup$
    – O M
    Nov 13, 2023 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @OM I really feel like you are trying to create a list of criteria which must be in a question, which is not the point I am making. There are many forms of context, which are outlined in the meta post math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/9959 . I have listed only a couple of ideas here. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Nov 13, 2023 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ One very important reason why students tend to use a method is that they've seen similar problems being solved before using this method. I have benefitted immensely from context of the form " I tried this method because I saw similar questions 1,2,3 solved using that method and the expression for question 2 is very similar to mine" in the past. A list of similar questions make for great context. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2023 at 8:43
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Kudos to you for asking, and for wanting to understand the norms and values among this community! I appreciate and admire that. If you are asking and thinking about this, I think you are on a great path.

No. I don't think this is something you should aspire to. I think you should aspire higher.

I would suggest that we back up and first understand the broader mission and purpose of this site. Then, I would encourage you to tailor your use of the site towards participation that will contribute towards that broader mission.

A complication is that the community does not have 100% agreement about the mission of the site. I have seen at least two camps on this site. One perspective says, the mission of this site is to build up an archive of knowledge that will be useful to others in the future. The format of the archive is as high-quality questions and answers. From that perspective, what makes a question useful is if it is likely to be encountered by many others in the future, and if it can be answered in a way that will help others. A second perspective says, this site is to help others who are learning mathematics, and to be a site for high-quality help in the form of questions and answers. Different people might identify with these two perspectives to a different extent.

The guidance you are reading about context is the result of a difficult compromise between these two camps, about the minimal requirement that can be acceptable to both camps -- or at least, tolerable to most people. As a result, many might say that it is a minimum bar, and we'd encourage you to aspire to a higher standard.

Now, with that perspective, I hope it is clearer why your proposed format is not a good fit for this site. It is unlikely to be useful to anyone else ever in the future unless they are looking at the same exact exercise-style task. And, it does not help people who want to help you, because it provides little information about your current level, what progress you have made, what you are stuck on, or what level of detail is needed in the answer and what we can assume you already know.

Also, I suggest that you re-read the advice on How to ask a good question. The section on "Provide context" says a lot more than just "show an attempt". If you got the impression that all you need to do is "show an attempt", then please re-read that answer again. It lists some of the reasons why we are asking for context. Those reasons include "help the potential responders to your question give you the best help you need", help "others to judge the most appropriate "level" for an answer to your question", "provide some motivation", "tell us where the question comes from", and "indicate your own background". And, again, in my mind, just providing an attempt is not enough to make your question a good one.

Finally, I would not even consider your examples to constitute showing an attempt. I would not consider "I have tried [...], but I failed" satisfactory, because it does not tell us what happened when you tried that or how far you got or at what step you got stuck or why you failed.

How do you ask a question that will be useful to others? Well, when you are stuck with some exercise-style task, think about what is the conceptual challenge that is preventing you from solving the exercise. Exercises are intended to give you practice in the concepts you learned in class, and test your understanding of those concepts. So, treat your failure to solve the exercise as a symptom, and try to identify the root cause. What concept or technique are you struggling with? Can you identify a generalizable question about that concept or technique? Do you not know how to perform a substitution? Do you not know how to choose among multiple strategies for integrating? Do you not know what are the main strategies? Can you formulate a question that will be useful to others in the future, even if they are working on a different exercise, and is concrete enough to be answerable?

See also https://cs.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1284/755 for some tips on how to formulate a question that will be a good fit for this site.

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I have a question regarding the guidelines for providing context in questions. Specifically, I'd like clarification on whether mentioning solution attempts (no complete step by step solution) falls under the category of providing context.

As other responses have indicated, your question relates to the issue of what the primary overall purpose of this site is. I posted this article on MathSE protocol that provides a guide on how to influence MathSE reviewers to upvote rather than downvote the posted question.

Suppose that one assumes that the primary purpose of the site is to provide useful math questions and answers, one also assumes that the posted question is too elementary to be useful, and one also assumes that the posted question shows work in a well organized manner, and in excruciating detail. Then, one could argue that the shown work is irrelevant because the math problem discussed is not useful.

I have found the viewpoint in the previous paragraph to be much more theoretical than real. That is, MathSE reviewers are human, and MathSE is unundated with questions that do not follow the protocol mentioned in the linked article. So, when a MathSE reviewer encounters a question that does follow the protocol, it is in fact like a breath of fresh air.

Based on questions that I have posted, and questions that others posted that I have reviewed, I have almost never seen a posted question that followed the guidelines in the linked article downvoted. In fact, such questions are almost always upvoted instead, simply because the (human) MathSE reviewers enjoy the breath of fresh air.

Once the question is upvoted, among other consequences, it makes the question more noticeable in a positive way, and therefore increases the attention (and possible comments/answers) that the question receives.

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