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There's a lot of talk about PSQ (problem statement questions).

It was recently suggested in this question that PSQ should be an issue at the upcoming election.

From the aforementioned question:

"Since it wasn't clear, a problem statement question is a question that essentially (and often, literally) consists of nothing more than the statement of a problem".

And from the FAQ:

What kind of questions should I not ask here?

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.


I'm not claiming the sentences above are contradicting, but certainly aren't on the same page as each other.

When I first found out about MSE, I asked a few questions (which aren't associated with this account, by the way) and from actually having lost the time to read the FAQ, I thought I was supposed to ask questions exactly by typing nothing else than the PSQ (if it happened to be one).

If you're gonna have an issue with PSQ, at least make the FAQ more clear. Having a special section for homework questions isn't the solution. It may be the case that a question is a PSQ and it isn't homework.

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  • $\begingroup$ Look at the What kind of questions can I ask here section. The only bullet that PSQ can be construed to fall under is the "hints on mathematical problems". But just in case you think that simply posting a question is a way to ask for hints (and haven't yet learned that many people on MSE tend to give solutions, even if you explicitly ask for hints), following the associated link leads to the more detailed FAQ does contain the request Please do not just copy and paste the exact question text from your homework sheet. along with a list of things that should be included. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl May 10 '13 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ ... but I can understand the desire to make it more prominent. Unfortunately, the only part we are allowed to modify is the What kind of questions can I ask here section. See a previous question I had. $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl May 10 '13 at 8:04
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Would this be an improvement?

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page. But it may be is helpful to say in what context you encountered the problem, and what your thoughts on it are.

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  • $\begingroup$ Personally I like that. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud May 9 '13 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's good, but due to the nature of the FAQ I think that PSQ should be discouraged in it's own little paragraph under the "What kind of questions should I not ask here". I think that something along the lines of "Your question should include what approaches you have have tried already and any relevant context to the problem. Questions which are nothing more than the statement of a problem will make it hard for users to provide a useful answer." Possibly this should also include something like "and they may be considered rude". $\endgroup$ – Tom Oldfield May 9 '13 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ @TomOldfield The text you propose appears to assume that the asker is a student who needs help with homework. There are very different kinds of question askers. There are excellent PSQ questions both here and on MO. For example, do you consider this PSQ question rude? On the other side of the spectrum of difficulty, did the lack of visible effort make it hard to provide a useful answer to this question? $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 9 '13 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ I see your point, and certainly there will be good PSQ. The rudeness aspect depends on the user reading it and the question itself, which is why I thought that the statement should only possible include something about it, and it should be kept light (hence the "may"). Again, not all PSQ are difficult to answer as they are (in fact, I think that most are quite easy to answer, even without extra information) but I think that $a)$ it is good for the asker to think about where they are having problems and $b)$ it should be the norm to provide such information, rather than an optional extra. $\endgroup$ – Tom Oldfield May 9 '13 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ I like this, but instead of saying "...it may...", it would be improved by saying "...it is...". (More strength in the sentence). Regarding @TomOldfield's comment on discouraging PSQ's on the FAQ: I'm not sure if everyone agrees with that yet... but I really don't know. $\endgroup$ – apnorton May 9 '13 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ @anorton Included. It's a CW anyhow. $\endgroup$ – 75064 May 9 '13 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ We can only modify the What can I ask here section: see here $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl May 10 '13 at 8:07
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I very much agree with you in principle, I think that the FAQ certainly should be changed to, at the very least, discourage PSQ. Whilst I don't agree with them personally, I think that the more important factor is that the community seems to have, for the most part, decided that they should be discouraged. (See, for example: Proposal: Discourage questions that are nothing besides a problem statement).

However, I would just like to say that I don't feel that this opinion on PSQ disagrees with the FAQ, I have always interpreted "chatty and open-ended" to mean that questions should not be phrased in an excessively informal way, and should not contain an excess of irrelevant information. (Irrelevant meaning not related to the question or your approach in any way.) Especially since the reason this type of question seems to be discouraged is to prevent the website becoming a "forum", I think it is reasonably clear that "chattiness" is to be discouraged, rather than "providing excess information".

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    $\begingroup$ $\text{I have always interpreted "chatty and open-ended"...}$, where as I haven't interpreted it that way. The important thing here is to know if the FAQ is clear enough and I'm the one who's at fault for misenterpreting or not. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud May 9 '13 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Git Gud I'm sure it's not just you, just putting my interpretation out there! $\endgroup$ – Tom Oldfield May 9 '13 at 21:51

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