I searched the meta but could not find any question with an answer to this, the closest was this question but it deals with the level of the mathematics and quality of the question.

I've read the FAQ, and it says that math.se is for "is for people studying mathematics at any level".

In my case, I do not study math, per se. I do sometimes delve into math from my main field of study, software development. I believe many people on this site are also interested in math from the perspective of other sciences (signal processing comes to mind).

I am sure a purely mathematical question is welcome here. But the problem is I suck at math, and most of the time I ask someone about a math problem, it is because I could not understand the Wikipedia definition. This is what I see when I read Wikipedia:


So most of the time I Google until I find a site that explains the subject like this:

                               Derived DFT

(source) (also, I know Fourier Transforms are much more complex and tricky than that and that the image shown does not clear up most of the concept.)

What I want to get at is:

I'm for all accounts a math "dummy". Would it be welcome for me to ask questions to be answered in laymen's terms? Such as "Could you please explain this formula in natural English"?

(but I'm not asking this specifically about formulas, I mean to ask anything math-related in laymen's terms, such as why something is the way it is in math while trying not to resort to obscure abstractions (to a non-mathematician)).

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    $\begingroup$ Many of the highest rated questions and answers on this site would appeal to laymen. $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2012 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ One thing I noticed. Some layman's terms questions are quite tricky, and some questions end up having quite complicated rigorous answers. Morals of the story: please metion the word layman's terms in your question, and most users will give you very nice answers. Also, there is a tag: (intuition). Try to use it. $\endgroup$
    – user2468
    Apr 14, 2012 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ That's some serious math rendering bug you've encountered on Wikipedia ... $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2012 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @TheChaz Well, defining "laymen" is hard. In many fields it's easy because a layperson in medicine is everyone who did not study medicine, but we're supposed to remember math from school, and I know I don't. So a layman may either be someone who doesn't understand the Riemann sphere, or logarithms. $\endgroup$ Apr 15, 2012 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ @J.D. Yes, I'll mention that onwards. Also, nice tag! I'll use it. $\endgroup$ Apr 15, 2012 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm I should have posted it as an animated gif, because sometimes they change places. But I'd have to record it overnight, because they only do that when I'm not looking. $\endgroup$ Apr 15, 2012 at 6:54

2 Answers 2


I'm for all accounts a math "dummy". Would it be welcome for me to ask questions to be answered in laymen's terms? Such as "Could you please explain this formula in natural English"?

Most certainly. All that's asked is that the question is nicely phrased, and that you show that you've done some legwork. Most users will be more than happy to help explain things in your terms with that.

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    $\begingroup$ Wow, I wasn't expecting such a friendly answer, thanks! :) (since you have such high reputation, I will accept this answer because I'm sure you know the site well enough.) $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2012 at 8:04
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    $\begingroup$ However, there are other sites (such as "The Art of Problem Solving" artofproblemsolving.com) where requests for elementary explanations of basics may be more appropriate than here. $\endgroup$
    – GEdgar
    Apr 14, 2012 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ @GEdgar That is good to know. However the StackExchange infrastructure is so good that it's worth the effort so I'll try to write questions well enough for the site. $\endgroup$ Apr 15, 2012 at 6:28

People here will generally try to tailor their responses to the perceived level of the person asking the question. And if a response is at too high a level to be useful, then point out the part that troubles you and ask for more explanation.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is indeed reassuring. However I think it's best to note in the question itself that a certain part is above my capabilities, which I'll do. :) $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2012 at 8:15

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