On the FAQ it says: "We welcome questions about: • Software that mathematicians use". However, when I went to post a question about , I found this:


For questions involving the application of the program Maple to mathematics. NOTE: questions which focus primarily on the program Maple and not on its applications to mathematics are not appropriate for this site.

Questions "primarily on the program Maple" definitely fall into the category "Software that mathematicians use" from the FAQ. I think either the FAQ should read "Applications of software that mathematicians use" or the tag wiki for is incorrect.

So what's the story? Are questions about software that mathematicians use, not their applications, welcome or not?

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    $\begingroup$ PS.: Here is the question I wanted to post: "In Maple, taylor(exp(x),x,2); returns $1+x+O(x^2)$. How can I automatically convert this result to the same expression with the $O(x^2)$ terms removed? I.e. something like removeBigO(taylor(exp(x),x,2)); to return $1+x$?" $\endgroup$ Apr 11, 2013 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ These two questions are related to mine, but not the same. $\endgroup$ Apr 11, 2013 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ FYI: my maple question was on topic at SO and was answered there. $\endgroup$ Apr 18, 2013 at 20:03

3 Answers 3


I'm very encouraging of computational mathematics questions. After all, it's a large part of my job.

I think it's agreed upon that mathematically themed questions relating to computer software are on-topic. The grey area comes when we talk about technical questions with no immediate mathematical content.

Personally, I don't see the problem with asking even the technical questions here. The main reason:

  • These packages facilitate both asking and answering mathematics questions:

    • Computer results lead to interesting conjectures that would otherwise go unnoticed.

    • Computers can be used to verify small cases (and maybe find counter-examples).

    • Computers can enable looking up an integer sequence on Sloane's OEIS.

A technical obstacle can make the difference between:

I checked the first 1000 cases on the computer and no counter-example was found; the relevant sequence is Sloane's A123456 which did not include helpful links.


I checked the first 3 cases by hand.

Other reasons:

  • These packages have a single aim: mathematics. Even technical questions are about implementing mathematics.

  • The questions are of interest to at least one mathematician (i.e., me).

  • The ability to program efficiently and elegantly matters in mathematics. Not to everyone, but to a non-negligible subset.

There's also a lot of mathematicians who use these software packages which we might attract to the site with these questions.


This is just an initial point, not a complete and formed opinion. Somewhat of a long comment.

There is a distinct difference between the question appear in your first comment, discussing how to perform certain mathematical operations in Maple, and questions such as a recently closed one which asked "How to use “-m memory ” with GAP?".

The key difference, which I think is the fine line between on-topic and off-topic, is whether or not the question is about mathematics in Maple or about using Maple. (Replace Maple by GAP, Matlab, Mathematica, Sage, or any other software up to, and including, pen and paper.)

I think that if your question is about performing particular mathematical operations, rather than "getting it to work (or work better)" questions which are related to the code, and the various options, then it is perfectly on topic. Otherwise it is probably off-topic, although there are bound to be exceptions here and there.

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    $\begingroup$ I would go further and say that if the question is peculiar to a particular symbolic math computation system then it is probably not a mathematical question, e.g. questions like "what is the syntax of the command for abc function in system xyz?" is off-topic on MSE (it belongs on the support forum for the particular system). But the question "are there effective algorithms for computing limits of elementary functions? Are they implemented in any symbolic mathematical computation systems?" is on-topic. $\endgroup$
    – Math Gems
    Apr 11, 2013 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @MathGems Actually, I disagree. First reason is that this line is fuzzy. As an example in this question of mine it would be difficult to separate the mathematics from the programming. Secondly, it can be nearly impossible to find help with some math software, and this is a place where people hang out who know how to use it. As long as the question is well-developed I would not close it. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander Gruber Mod
    Apr 12, 2013 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander No doubt the boundary will probably be a bit fuzzy. But we need to be careful that MSE does not start receiving too many questions on nonmathematical aspects of such systems. This was not a problem for sci.math because there existed dedicated general newsgroups for such topics. But SE does not have such a general group - only a specific one (for Mathematica). That means all questions on other systems may end up here. That could result in quite a flood if the gates were opened too wide. $\endgroup$
    – Math Gems
    Apr 12, 2013 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @MathGems Yes, I agree that there should be at least some restrictions. Perhaps questions such as "how do I implement (mathematical structure) in (CAS system)" should be allowed but those like "how do I use (non-math-related command)" should not. I would support giving a bit of wiggle room for systems which do not have existing forums, though, simply as a matter of practicality (and stricter restrictions on those which do, e.g. Mathematica). $\endgroup$
    – Alexander Gruber Mod
    Apr 12, 2013 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ +1 - very much agree with this answer. I think a question on -m option in GAP would have 100% chances to be answered quickly if it would only be asked in GAP Support or GAP Forum. I've tried to find this question just now, but is seems like it has been deleted. $\endgroup$ Apr 22, 2013 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexanderKonovalov: Yes, it took some digging up but it seems that the question was deleted by the Community user after being closed and downvoted on (and without answers that had positive score). The question was asked on March 14th; closed on April 3rd; and deleted April 20th. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Apr 22, 2013 at 14:06

Imagine this wasn't Math.SE, but Writing.SE.

Questions on how to properly format, say, a rejection letter to a job applicant would be on topic. (Should it be justified? Should the font look formal? Should we write in the passive voice?)

Questions on how to use Microsoft Word, however, would be off-topic.

Convert this notion to Mathematics. A question about an issue implementing an QR factorization algorithm in Maple, I think, would be on-topic. It's not a software thing, it's an algorithm thing; one might just be having issues with the specific implementation in Maple.

A question about how to configure Maple to show its output font in blue would be off-topic. This question has nothing to do with mathematics, but rather peripheral features of the software.

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    $\begingroup$ Now, would a question about whether there is a Microsoft Word template for properly formatted rejection letters be on-topic or off? $\endgroup$
    – user642796
    Apr 12, 2013 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Arthur Fischer: I think that that would be off-topic because it can't be applied generically to word processing software in general. It would be useless to someone using LibreOffice Writer for example, and as such, it deviates away from the topic of writing. Questions that are tied into Maple such that they have absolutely no value for an Octave user would seem not to be a fundamentally mathematical problem. If the question can be generalised to any program or programming language then it's far more central to the topic of mathematics, and I think that that's how the line should be drawn. $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2015 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ The large number of Sage and Pari/GP users would not like that standard. $\endgroup$
    – Emily
    Mar 19, 2015 at 13:12

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