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From the FAQ:

Mathematics - Stack Exchange is for people studying math at any level & professionals in related fields.

I'm looking around and virtually every single question and answer on this site involves things that I've never seen before and are wayyyy above my paygrade.

So my question is really regarding some clarification of the above FAQ quote. Is this website for anyone studying in a mathematical field - or is it for anyone who's studying and their study involves mathematics.

For example if I'm having trouble understanding how to multiply two matricies together, can I ask that here or is it way too lowbrow? What if it's something even simpler, like calculating the ex-tax portion of a dollar value?

Reason I ask is because I'm studying and I've got questions about maths. But I'm not studying maths - or even in a maths-related field, I just have to do maths subjects as a core class to get the credit points I need to graduate.

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  • $\begingroup$ There may be better places for you to go. Try Ask Dr. Math and/or Art of Problem Solving and/or NRICH. (List taken from MathOverflow FAQ) $\endgroup$ – Tom Stephens Aug 14 '10 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom - I'm doing my best not to come across as rude, but why would I care about what's on the FAQ of a site that's specifically designed at high-level mathematics studiers? If I shouldn't bother asking my questions here then I'm 100% OK with that, but the FAQ is very ambiguous. $\endgroup$ – Mark Henderson Aug 14 '10 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ No problem, I linked to it because our faq is not developed at this point - so the description of the site and our standard operating procedures are still under construction. I fear that you are correct in thinking that a question regarding multiplication of matrices would be considered too low brow. $\endgroup$ – Tom Stephens Aug 14 '10 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom - if multipying matricies is too low brow for the site then I think perhaps the site is too high-brow for me and I might have trouble understanding the answers in any case... thanks for the heads up. $\endgroup$ – Mark Henderson Aug 14 '10 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ Argh - please take Jonathan Fischoff's advice below into account before you go. $\endgroup$ – Tom Stephens Aug 14 '10 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Tom - don't worry I'm not gone yet. I'll wait and see what a few more people's opinions are. That, and I don't have a question to ask yet but I'm sure I will in the future. $\endgroup$ – Mark Henderson Aug 14 '10 at 5:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Farseeker: Looks like you just walked into a pile of our dirty laundry, this might be better than late-nite tv. (Not @Farseeker: don't you wish you could down vote comments?!?!) $\endgroup$ – Tom Stephens Aug 14 '10 at 5:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Farseeker: I think you will find that, the more clear you are about your background, the better chance you will have of receiving answers you can understand. This is part of what is meant by well-written questions. After all, a lot of the people answering questions here also teach math. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Aug 14 '10 at 16:10
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Of course everyone is welcome! As long as the questions are well-written.

Example of simpler questions:

etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Examples are always good $\endgroup$ – Casebash Aug 14 '10 at 6:52
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I see you are a programmer. On StackOverflow, most of the questions involve technologies or libraries which you will have never used. A beginner programmer on StackOverflow would be in the exact same position you are in now. Surely you shouldn't be surprised that most of the questions involve techniques that you haven't seen either?

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    $\begingroup$ Actually I'm mainly a DBA, not a programmer, but that's a very good point. $\endgroup$ – Mark Henderson Aug 14 '10 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ Very good point. It makes me think, because when I started at Stack Overflow, I only knew the basics of writing a batch file. From there I evolved a lot, but I still have much to learn, and that's the beauty of it. Maybe the problem is that we've learnt (and forgotten) so much math at school that we may feel much more pressed to know it already. I didn't feel out of place on SO when I only could write batch files, but I feel a bit here, because formulas are so daunting to me and require so much previous knowledge that everyone here seems to have already. $\endgroup$ – Camilo Martin Apr 14 '12 at 6:35
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There are differing views on the nature of the site. In general, if the questions have been well written they have been answered regardless of the level. Even simple questions have led to interesting answers and discussion. I wouldn't worry about asking a simple question, as long as it isn't homework and the question is clearly explained.

Edit I forgot homework is allowed if the OP has explained where they are having trouble and doesn't just ask for an answer. Thanks Casebash for pointing that out.

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    $\begingroup$ Just to clarify, homework questions are allowed, as long as the asker identifies it as such and puts in a decent effort $\endgroup$ – Casebash Aug 14 '10 at 5:22
  • $\begingroup$ @casebash: What do you mean by homework being only conditionally "allowed"? I have seen no policy or decision of the users about this, and it is not clear how one would identify which postings are homework based on information in the question, nor why one would want to make that identification. If the question is uninteresting, downvote it or don't answer it. $\endgroup$ – T.. Aug 14 '10 at 5:29
  • $\begingroup$ @T.: Let me restate my comment: At the current time, if you post a homework question without identifying it or putting in proper effort it will most likely be downvoted or possibly even closed. This may cause some people to think that homework questions aren't supposed to be asked. This isn't the case - we just prefer them to follow these guidelines $\endgroup$ – Casebash Aug 14 '10 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ If by user vote, sure (though closure would strike me as far less desirable than the more positive response of improving the filtering technology). Moderators closing homework questions on their own initiative is out of line at this time, though. $\endgroup$ – T.. Aug 14 '10 at 5:41
  • $\begingroup$ @T. Jonathan's answer makes it sound like homework isn't allowed, when they are. How we should treat homework questions, however, is another topic discussed in other threads. $\endgroup$ – Casebash Aug 14 '10 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Cb: Jonathan's answer discouraged homework, but did not suggest that it's a restricted category of material. Your initial phrasing suggested that homework is "allowed, as long as [some condition is met]", and I want to make it clear that homework is, unconditionally, postable material. As you say, user responses to (what looks like) homework may vary, but the same is true for many other types of non-homework postings such as those considered elementary, boring, philosophical or otherwise inspiring of negative votes. $\endgroup$ – T.. Aug 14 '10 at 5:57
  • $\begingroup$ I, for one, wish people would stop using the word 'allowed.' T's assessment of in what sense homework may or may not be 'allowed' is spot on. $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Aug 14 '10 at 16:02
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Just to add another voice of support: I don't see any reason not to ask about multiplying matrices (as an example). There are many people looking over the questions here who could give very good specific and general advice/assistance for that sort of problem, and I'm sure that a lot of them would be happy to do so.

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There have been questions well below the level of matrix multiplication, and I see no reason why any level should be discouraged, rather than identifiable through the tagging, voting and other indicators (it would not hurt to add more, such as difficulty ratings), so that those who want to read or avoid such questions can easily do so.

If particular types of questions, such as calculus or statistics, overpopulate the site and have little overlap with other subjects, the site can be branched into a stat.SE, calculus.SE, etc. Stat.SE is in beta and somebody mentioned that calculus is under discussion.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, creative tagging is the way to go. People who need a more highbrow atmosphere can simply add tags like algebra-precalculus, calculus etc., to their ignore list. and modify the settings to hide the questions with ignored tags. $\endgroup$ – user1119 Aug 14 '10 at 10:43
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The way that I read the FAQ and the initial site proposal and my personal (non-official) answer as to what I want the site to be is for anyone who's studying and their study involves mathematics.

Please ask your questions, as I can see how the level of the bulk of the questions on the site right now does not necessarily represent that range.

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On a constructive note, Schaum's Outlines on the applicable subjects are excellent sources for persons in Farseeker's stated position. Another great place to visit is a walk-in tutoring center at your school, or you may want to approach another person in your class. Sometimes learning math to fulfill a requirement can put artificial blocks in one's mind - at which point it is hard to see through the frustration and even ask a "properly worded" question. There is nothing wrong with this emotion as long as it is recognized and fought tooth and nail. Remember above all else that nobody was born knowing math - everyone who is in a position to help a person in need has struggled to get there.

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  • $\begingroup$ List of offline resources would be a worthwhile FAQ posting. $\endgroup$ – T.. Aug 14 '10 at 6:48

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