I have just seen something which annoyed me very much.

I am wondering why this question was closed. I am also wondering why none of those closing the question took the time to tell the OP why the question was closed. This last bit is what annoyed me.

The given reason is that it is "not a real question". So, apparently "it's difficult to tell what is being asked [there]. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form."

Okay, sure, fine, that was perhaps the best fitting reason for closing it. But the poor OP who has only just joined this site! It is not difficult to tell what his question is asking. It is not ambiguous, vague, incomplete, rhetorical. It can be reasonably answered in its current form. Okay, perhaps it is overly broad, but not really. Not enough to warrant closing (just answer the first few so they get the idea - all the questions are basically the same and it comes down to the OP not understanding the concept rather than wanting help with the specific questions). My point here is that, as far as the OP is concerned, their question has been closed for no apparent reason.

Now, I believe the reason that the thread was closed it because the OP has just copied and pasted some questions and not said what he has tried. If this is the case then one of the people closing the question should say so. If it is because it is too broad then say so! Please, please give new users a helping hand rather than slamming the door in their face. Be friendly. Be nice. Be communicative!

Note 1: I am not saying that this question should not have been closed. That is a different discussion. Rather, I am saying that instead believing that closing a question makes everything better, we should be helping the OP understand how to ask their question in a way that will ensure them a helpful answer. As this what we are here for: helping people.

Note 2: This is about a specific question, and yet I do not think this behaviour is localised to this question (how could it be?). I have not tagged it as [specific question] for this reason. However, I do not mind what tags this question has so save the comments for the question at hand and edit the tags if you feel it appropriate.

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    $\begingroup$ I used to put more effort into explanations. And, I was not involved with this case. However, it gradually sunk in that many users are really quite nasty. For those with enough rep, see meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/8960/… and math.stackexchange.com/questions/347807/… Meanwhile, I have always felt that a few days observation of the site would reveal what little makes an acceptable question. $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Apr 3, 2013 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ Can you perhaps elaborate on what you mean when you say "many users are really quite nasty"? Are you meaning the person who has asked the question, or the person telling them to pull their socks up? I have seen both being nasty. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Apr 3, 2013 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ user1729, in this case I mean the person asking. Some of this episode was mentioned on Chat, let me see if I can place a link here. chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/36/2013/4/2 at 2:26 am look for the word "teenager," then again just before 3:27 am where I asked about the episode. $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Apr 3, 2013 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @WillJagy: Hmm, that helps a bit, but obviously my rep isn't high enough to read the thread and you don't seem to chat about it too much. Reading between the lines though, it seems that the user whose question was closed took offence at this, started a Meta thread and then threw insults. Is this (roughly) correct? I suppose this example is pointless of those deleting it did leave comments which were subsequently deleted. However, that is a rather large assumption. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Apr 4, 2013 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ Your description of this episode is about right. If you are really interested, you can email me and I can send it as a half-dozen screen captures. As far as the direction of your original question, the reason I reduced my explanations is that some OP's will scream "Up yours, this is a truly great question." I think you are probably more concerned with the newcomer who does not think he is God's gift to mathematics. $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Apr 4, 2013 at 19:06

1 Answer 1


I think you are trying to be reasonable, so I will provide you a reasonable answer. (An aside: sometimes it's best to type when you are heated, then cool down and read it over before you hit the submit button.)

Last week, I submitted this question here in response to the closing of a question. It was a decent, if elementary, question, one for which I had a ready solution. My solution was clear and appreciated and I earned rep points for that. A good deal, overall, until someone complained that the problem belonged to some website in which other students were tasked with solving it.

A moderator made the decision to close the question, which I found infuriating because how are we supposed to know when a question like that is tainted? (Answer: be wary of any homework-like problems.) I think the answers I got satisfied me; it turns out that the question got re-opened (with my solution accepted) a week later, no harm done. (The other students presumably submitted their answers.)

My point is that questions can be re-opened when the OP edits the question according to the standards of the site. I agree that this question should have been closed because the OP was rattling off problems and was essentially looking for a human answer key.

One more thing - this is a sticky point with me, and I have already upset at least one person over here about it. Other folks may differ with me on this, but we are emphatically not here to help people. We are here because we enjoy doing mathematics. If we help people, great, but I used to earn money doing that privately. This is not a volunteer site or organization; if you want to do that, there are many deserving organizations that could use your time and talent. Because we enjoy doing mathematics, we are annoyed by people who come here because they do not enjoy doing mathematics but expect us to do their work for them anyway. This is why such questions as that which you described get closed.

(Sorry for the rant, but I feel pretty strongly about it.)

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    $\begingroup$ "questions can be re-opened when the OP edits the question according to the standards of the site" — exactly. $\endgroup$
    – Isaac
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ I think I have three points to make to your reply. Firstly, when I say I was "annoyed", I am a rather mild-mannered person and so I never generally change my communication style when I am annoyed. Indeed, I have re-read over my question a few times since I posted it and do not think I come across as anything other than level-headed. Perhaps you can tell me where I come across badly? (Actually, I wonder if it is just my first line - it perhaps gives the reader the impression my bood pressure is rising before they actually delve into the main text?) $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ Secondly - what @Isaac said. How are they to know what the standard are? As far as the OP is concerned, their question is fine. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ @user1729: 1) Your last sentence came off to me a bit worked up: "But really I do not care so save the comments for the question at hand and edit the tags if that is what floats your boat." But seriously, I was not nor am upset by that. Just pointing it out. 2) Our job is to explain those standards to the OP. We have a ready-made FAQ (which all should read before entering IMO). Closing the question forces the OP to learn what we explain. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Gordon
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Thirdly, I am already familiar with the story from last week. I understand it was frustrating, but I do not thing it is overly relevant. It was closed for different reasons. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ 3) You are right - it was closed for a different reason. I just wanted to share my frustration with you. Here's something a bit more relevant though: math.stackexchange.com/questions/324647/… This dude had his question closed because it was just thrown at people. It got reopened because people told him what they expected, and he did a hell of a job in explaining precisely what he wanted. (Of course, the problem is difficult enough that there have been no takers anyway, but never mind.) $\endgroup$
    – Ron Gordon
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ In the example you give there is a comment from Gerry Myerson, reading "Voting to close. No sign of effort from proposer, no attempt to put into context, to explain interest. Needs much improvement to be a suitable question for this site." My question is asking why people do not take the time to write such a simple comment! $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ (Also, I should say that I respectfully disagree with you on our reasons for being here, but different people are here for different reasons. I suppose though you could turn around my sentence in the question and say "we are not here to be unhelpful to people", and I think closing question in this way is unhelpful. It is unhelpful because the OP will not be able to re-open the question (as the OP knows not why it was closed) and thus there is no opportunity for the community to do its thang.) $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ On the former comment I agree - the OP is owed an explanation and a chance to get his question re-opened. On your latter, sure, we are not here to be unhelpful. And don't get me wrong, I love helping people out. In fact, few things get me more happy than appreciation from the OP for a lucid explanation. But my motivation to be here is a love of math overall. I really have little sympathy for the poor slobs who write "Help!" or "SOS!" or whatever in their questions. If our mission here were to help people, then we should give folks like that priority, right? $\endgroup$
    – Ron Gordon
    Apr 2, 2013 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ No, that is not right. One can be here in large part to help people and still feel that some are more deserving of help than others. I am here for a number of reasons. I find it difficult to rank them by importance, but the top three are certainly that I like teaching, that I enjoy helping people, and that I like mathematics and am better equipped to teach and help people with mathematics than with anything else. Your statement that we are not here to help people does not apply to me. $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2013 at 9:28

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