I am often seeing questions which are phrased as commands or how to solve. As if it is the duty of members to respond.

I am not suggesting a load of obsequious verbiage. But just something that gets the direction right: who is asking what of whom.

I have never cast a down vote, but have a strong inclination to do so.

I think it is a privilege to participate in such a forum and have access to such generous and helpful participants.

Questioners should have some awareness of this.

Perhaps others are not as bothered by this as I am. And I don't have a specific fix other than perhaps a moderator or one who edits the question might make some comment.

I don't know if it's my place to do so or if it's appropriate in the guidelines of how things work here

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    $\begingroup$ You should downvote if you think the question shows no effort or is rudely asked. Relax a bit. You should find these things humorous, especially when people say things like "Please give me detail answers ... no hints please" or "could you please answer the question by September 23 ...". $\endgroup$
    – William
    Sep 5, 2012 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. Guess I need to lighten up. $\endgroup$
    – user12802
    Sep 5, 2012 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Andrew: Just do what you think is right. Myself, I do not downvote. That is not necessarily universally best. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2012 at 1:58
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    $\begingroup$ Instead of (or along with) downvoting, it's best to leave a nice comment encouraging them to ask better questions. $\endgroup$
    – user856
    Sep 5, 2012 at 2:00

2 Answers 2


"Epidemic" suggests that they number of such questions has been growing dramatically, but that's not the case as far as I can see. They've been with us for all of the year I've been using MSE.

There's also a lingering debate on how to deal with them. Many commenters are quick to chide new users for their use of the imperative mood specifically, which I think makes it quite difficult for those users to understand what the problem with his question is. After all mathematical style uses the imperative mood all of the time ("Let $n$ be an aribitrary integer." "Consider the function $f(z)=e^z-z$." "Proceed by induction on $n$", "Take successive square roots of the result until you reach an irrational", etc). There's nothing wrong with the imperative as a grammatical device.

What is wrong about the questions you speak about is that they consist entirely of a verbatim reproduction of a homework exercise, usually with no words at all spoken by the asker to the reader. This makes it difficult to gauge what it is the asker needs help with, and is demotivating for answerers because it looks like the OP is just asking us to cheat on his homework for him.

The relevant policies and FAQs do encourage users not to post questions that consist exclusively of exercise text. The problem is that many new users don't read that guideline, and it is hard to see what we could be doing to force them.

A different problem is that the users who ask these bad question often get fully worked solutions as answers. The question may be downvoted, but for a user who cares neither about reputation or about learning something has little incentive to ask good questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I'll change the verbiage. Maybe there is some self-selection on my part since I typically look at questions at my level (pretty basic) so perhaps those questioners haven't yet developed the "mathematical (questioning) maturity." $\endgroup$
    – user12802
    Sep 5, 2012 at 0:36

I think it is difficult to come up with a single decisive recommendation here.

Yes, imperatives sound rude in the light of the voluntary nature of this project. But, I agree with Henning Makholm that these imperatives are usually just so because they verbatim homework copies, so I am not offended by the imperative as such. But if there is no sign of the OPs own efforts after that, it bothers me and I suggest to at least ask in a comment "What did you do? What are your partial results? Where are you stuck?". Personally, I'm no big friend of downvoting though. But at least if several such questions are submitted in quick succession by the same poster, I think that as many downvotes as possible should be made (accompanied by a comment hinting to the rudeness expressed rather by the lack of own effort than by the imperative formulation). On the other hand, a verbatim reproduction of the problem statement may be better legible for the rest of us than a reproduction in his own words (with the most important conditions left out, with ambiguous formulations and what not). Then again, such a bad re-formulations of the problem statement would at least clearly exhibit that the OP did not even grasp well what the problem is about - hence it is possible to discuss in comments what is really meant and give the OP a chance to think deeper about the problem.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 That's fairly close to my view, except for the "...as many downvotes as possible". Instead, I tend to be more lenient (esp. for new users), and strive for more constructive actions. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2012 at 18:47

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