I want to point everybody's attention to two changes that will impact your user-experience here on Math.SE

  • The first you may have already noticed: the old FAQ page has been replaced by a "help center". The announcement on Meta.SO is posted here. As is mentioned, this is a work in progress. If you find that the the new help center page can be improved in anyway, please either leave an answer in the post I linked to above, or open a new or here on Meta.Math.SE as appropriate.

  • The second change will be rolled out next week: the voting to close system is going through an overhaul. Let me summarize some of the more noticeable changes here (though you should keep an eye out at the Meta.SO link above for most up-to-date information).

    • Duplicates: when closing a question a duplicate, you must select a question that already has an answer. (This, however, can be overridden by moderators. So flag away when necessary!)
    • Facilitated re-opening: previously we have relied on meta threads to reopen a closed question. Now, if the OP edits the post within five days of the closure, the question is automatically appended to the re-open votes queue.
    • [On hold]: In conjunction with the previous point, for the first five days after closure, the question will display as [On hold] rather than [Closed]. Functionally it is the same as the previously [closed] questions (no answers can be added etc). After the five days are up, the text will show as [closed].
    • Not a real question and Not constructive: these closure reasons will be removed and replaced by three spanking new ones
      • unclear what you are asking
      • too broad
      • primarily opinion based
    • Off topic: you can now select one of the "standard" reasons for closing a question as off-topic, or you can enter a free-form suggestion. The list of standard reasons can be edited by moderators. (Once this change rolls out, feel free to put in suggestions below for what should be our standard "off-topic" reasons.) For more details please read this Meta.SO post.

      As a side effect, it appears that ordinary users will no longer be allowed to vote to migrate questions. (See Shog9's comment below) Note that perhaps one way to address this previous meta question would be to propose a target site in the free-form field, and also flag for moderator attention.

    • Too localised: is now absorbed into off-topic, so won't be present as an option anymore.

Edit (26/6/2013) The new closure mechanisms have been rolled out. It appears that we have some "standard" closure reasons built-in, including one for homework questions. Please comment below if you have suggestions for the "off-topic" reasons.

  • 26
    There are some good things here. New users, especially, can feel insulted when a question is "closed", but now it will merely by "on hold". – GEdgar Jun 14 '13 at 14:24
  • Please notice my answer here. – Git Gud Jun 15 '13 at 12:21
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    Please note my objections to removing "Too Localized" here. – Old Pro Jun 16 '13 at 2:02
  • Migration-voting isn't going anywhere - but as before, it'll be available only for the handful of sites defined as migration targets. Moderators will be able to migrate to any site (again, as before). The UI for this has changed slightly, but the functionality should remain the same. – Shog9 Jun 17 '13 at 8:11
  • @Shog9: ah, it appears that I misread that answer. Thanks for the clarification. – Willie Wong Jun 17 '13 at 8:12

Since this will be inevitable:

Vote this up if you think Context Missing (see definition below) should be among our "Off topic" reasons. (And down if you think otherwise.)

(Please vote on the idea of having a listing such as this, and not on the exact phrasing I used below. If you think the listing is poorly phrased, you can comment below with suggestions for improvement.)


The proposed listing is (too long in its current state; see this comment below. It should fit within 400 characters!)

...is missing context and/or other details: Your question is phrased as an isolated problem, without any further information or context. This does not match our quality standards. For help recognizing and resolving the issues, you are encouraged to consult this Meta item. Concretely: please provide context, which ideally includes your own work and your own thoughts on the problem. These changes can help in formulating answers more appropriate to your experience level and targeted at your specific points of misunderstanding.

I adapted it from the comment template, but modified it a bit since some of the language won't make sense in a notice for closing the question.


It appears that at roll-out, there is already a specific "off-topic" closure reason for "homework questions". This creates a certain overlap with this proposed reason above. Please comment below with your thoughts.

  • 9
    Perhaps "Context missing" is a bit more descriptive than "Low quality"? Also, we should consider developing/replacing the good homework question into a "good question" thread. This change in the software is a good moment to do so. – Lord_Farin Jun 14 '13 at 14:49
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    +1 ... based on @Lord_Farin's "Context missing" re-wording suggestion. ("Low quality" just seems so insulting.) – Blue Jun 15 '13 at 13:33
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    The phrasing ---"please provide context, and include your work and thoughts"--- couples a friendly request for context with a separate demand for two things: work and opinion. I might be happier with something like "Please provide context, which ideally includes your own work and/or your own thoughts on the problem." Perhaps we can also flesh-out the last sentence along these lines: "Such information helps answerers formulate responses that are appropriate to your experience level and targeted at your specific points of misunderstanding." Less demand-y, more help-us-help-you-y. – Blue Jun 15 '13 at 14:06
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    I'm strongly opposed to including "low quality" under "off-topic". See my answer detailing why on meta.SO – Old Pro Jun 16 '13 at 2:00
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    I have no problem whatsoever to answer questions (including homework) that do not show any effort as long as the question is formulated clearly and correctly and seems interesting to me. Closing such a question will make it much harder to answer (vote to reopen etc.). Please don't. – WimC Jun 16 '13 at 6:35
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    @WimC: making it hard to answer some questions is arguably a benefit. If bad questions are rewarded with prompt answers, there is less incentive for askers to improve their questions. – Carl Mummert Jun 16 '13 at 15:30
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    In the end, because there will now be an option to write a custom reason, the main benefit of having this listed is so that a good, friendly wording could be established, which would likely be superior to many off-the-cuff explanations. – Carl Mummert Jun 16 '13 at 15:31
  • 3
    @Blue: I've edited taking in some of your comments. Note that the post is community wiki! – Willie Wong Jun 17 '13 at 8:04
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    @rbm The post does say "Please vote on the idea of having a listing such as this, and not on the exact phrasing I used below." (It's possible some people have not been voting in this way - I missed a similar sentence on a metapost before and had to change my vote when I eventually noticed it). – mdp Jun 17 '13 at 16:34
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    @Carl: Making it harder to answer some questions is emphatically not a benefit to anyone who wishes to make his or her own choices about what questions to answer without ‘benefit’ of the prejudices of others. – Brian M. Scott Jul 1 '13 at 7:41
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    @Carl: So I gather. I find the whole idea extremely offensive. Apart from duplicates and questions discovered to be from current contests and the like, you (generic) have no business imposing your prejudices to interfere with my ability to choose whether to answer a question. – Brian M. Scott Jul 2 '13 at 19:16
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    @Brian, several unsourced, unmotivated, copy'n'paste questions have been discovered to be from current contests only after one or more answers have been posted. I'd rather be safe than sorry. – Gerry Myerson Jul 3 '13 at 11:22
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    @Brian, we're a pretty sorry bunch if we keep posting solutions to ongoing contest problems and entrance exams and take-home exams, and if we keep posting ready-to-submit solutions to homework problems. We are between a rock and a hard place. – Gerry Myerson Jul 3 '13 at 23:38
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    @Gerry: I disagree completely. So far as I can tell, attempts to cheat on contests are mostly caught pretty quickly, and most of the contests involved seem to be primarily recreational. Cheating on entrance exams is far more significant, but also, in my experience, less common, and it’s not our business to play cop for exams that of whose existence we may not even be aware. Take-home exams are the instructors’ problem, not ours. So is homework. For that matter, if the instructor is using homework properly and paying attention to his students, it isn’t a problem at all. – Brian M. Scott Jul 4 '13 at 3:53
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    @Gerry: Thanks; those are indeed different from the set that I had in mind, which, if I remember correctly, were from the similar codechef.com competition. I don’t see these as a serious problem or as our problem. If we spot one, by all means let us freeze the question until the contest is over, but if we miss one, enh. We are far from the only place contestants can seek outside help, and these contests are primarily recreational anyway. – Brian M. Scott Jul 4 '13 at 6:08

(A new answer instead of editing Willie Wong's because of the long comment thread there.)

There has been introduced a new standard close reason:

This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level.

This will hopefully help to prevent a lot of frustration.

  • 1
    What if the poster asks the question as sort of a challenge? Or what if he thinks he does not want to spoil the users' pleasure to solve the problem? – Makoto Kato Nov 4 '13 at 4:16

After some discussion among the mod team, we've come to the proposal of changing the wording of the "off-topic: missing context" close reason. We plan to update the message to:

This question is missing context or other details: Please provide additional context, which ideally explains why the question is relevant to you and our community. Some forms of context include: background and motivation, relevant definitions, source, possible strategies, your current progress, why the question is interesting or important, etc.

This is in contrast to the prior message which was:

This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level.

Please comment if you have any remarks. (And see Math Mod's Office and Math Meta Chat for further elaborations.)

Note that there is strict limit on the length (400 char.) of the message, which we attain almost exactly to the character.

  • I added the old message to put the new one in context. :) I do think it would be helpful if you explained the motivation behind the change. It looks to me like the OP's work on the problem has been de-emphasized but I'm not sure if that's what the mod team was thinking or not. – Mark McClure Nov 8 at 23:20
  • 3
    I wonder if it would be better to link to the specific provide context answer rather than the How to ask a good question question? – Mark McClure Nov 8 at 23:25
  • 2
    @amWhy I just don't think that it's all that productive to have tens of people discuss about this. The subject of the discussion almost certainly would rather sooner than latter turn from the phrasing of the explication of the policy to the policy. If there are specific observations on the wording, these are welcome. For example, the remark of Mark is an interesting one. – quid Nov 9 at 23:11
  • @amWhy If you see a problem with the new formulation, please, tell us what it is. The idea was that frequent users of meta can comment. We would not have had to announce it before the fact at all. – quid Nov 10 at 0:12
  • 1
    I second @MarkMcClure's suggestion to link directly to the "provide context" answer. – Brahadeesh Nov 10 at 9:15
  • @amWhy yes, this could beneficial. Please proceed like this. Since usually I see the posts on meta (and get notified about questions), the simplest thing will be that you simply ignore them. This for meta. On main, please, raise a brief flag and disengage. – quid Nov 10 at 14:21
  • 1
    @amWhy then I don't really see the point of your two preceding comments. – quid Nov 10 at 14:39
  • @amWhy I was only talking about questions "Why was this closed?" being raised and your wish of me answering them. If they are raised on meta, I'll usually see them and typically address them (if nobody beats me to it), thus no specific action is needed. If a user raises them (in comments) on main and you want me to address them it'll be useful to bring them to my attention via a flag. – quid Nov 10 at 15:10
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    I think this is a big improvement! I especially appreciate the way @quid characterizes "work" as just one form of context in this comment. Thanks to both of you and the moderator team for the work and improvement! – Mark McClure Nov 10 at 16:07
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    I also must say, quite frankly, that I do not understand why a small change in wording (not a change in policy) must be treated with such contention here and, especially, in chat. – Mark McClure Nov 10 at 16:09
  • Mark, you were the user that initiated the interrogation about the change in the moderators' office chat room. – amWhy Nov 11 at 17:00
  • You wrote: "Would anyone on the mod team be willing to comment on this post by Aloizio addressing the change in the "off-topic: missing context" close reason. Specifically: * What was the motivation for the change? * In what substantive way is it different from the old version (from your perspective)? * Am I correct in my interpretation that the OP's work on the problem has been de-emphasized? * Does the change have any impact on how we should vote? – amWhy Nov 11 at 17:01
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    @amWhy I did not "initiate an interrogation". I simply asked for some clarification the day after asking a similar question in a comment on the original meta post but not receiving a response. I asked one question with several specific parts and engaged in one polite follow up. Judging from other comments that I've seen, this appears to have been productive. To be clear, I would not support "an interrogation" of moderators who generally seem to be quite patient to me. – Mark McClure Nov 12 at 17:19

I propose a more informative close-reason (as an alternative to Aloizio's proposed replacement of the "missing context or other details" reason):

This question is missing context or research effort: Please provide additional details, explaining why the question is valuable or important, or why you are interested in the question (source and motivation) and what specific issues you have faced in your attempts to answer it (which helps others tailor answers to address them).

Note that this is in line with the reasons given on the downvote-button.

[Edit: I have rephrased my proposal to avoid the "what you have tried" phrase that some users felt would generate more heat than progress. I have also rephrased it to put value in front.]

  • 6
    "What [have you] tried" is a source of much confusion. – quid Nov 10 at 10:46
  • 1
    @quid: I disagree. Nobody has ever disputed whether a question includes the asker's "thoughts and attempts" or not. All the disputes have instead been about how much is needed. Furthermore, the linked meta post goes into extremely great detail on what exactly "what you have tried" means, under "Include your work". – user21820 Nov 10 at 13:01
  • For example, there is no dispute that this and this have absolutely no "thoughts and attempts" of the asker. – user21820 Nov 10 at 13:19
  • 1
    I'll copy a comment from chat "the issue with it is that it builds the entire process around questions that are mostly poor. To stay with the sand-pearls image. We explain to users how they should at least put sand into boxes rather than simply dumping it, instead of explaining that we do not really want sand all that much to begin with. In the process the notion that we do not really want the sand (even in boxes) gets lost. To counter this is the point." – quid Nov 10 at 14:52
  • 2
    There is no obligation to include "work" as such. It is just one form of context, often not the most useful one, but the easiest one to provide for the asker. This is why it is often put to the fore-front. But over time this lead to the misconception that it is mostly the effort of the asker that is relevant. It is not. It is a last-resort thing, and a compromise, that we even factor this in. – quid Nov 10 at 14:56
  • @quid: At least, you'd have to admit that your first comment was wrong. And as I made extremely clear in my post, what I wrote is in line with the reasons given on the downvote button: "does not show any research effort". Also, as I pointed out in chat, you need to notice the "or". – user21820 Nov 10 at 14:59
  • What? That "What [have you] tied" is a source of much confusion? That's a fact. That there is no disagreement about some post not containing any work is orthogonal. – quid Nov 10 at 15:12
  • @quid: Then I don't get why your comment is relevant to my proposal. There is already a parenthetical explanation of what "what you have tried" means, and unless you provide evidence that my specific phrasing is a source of confusion, it is irrelevant whether others' phrasing is confusing. Also, you haven't responded concerning the fact that my proposal has an "or", so your comment that there is no obligation to include "work" is also irrelevant. – user21820 Nov 10 at 15:22
  • It is an empirical fact that people get hung up on this and based on it ridicule the entire process. Arguments of the form it says "or" and not "and" are too subtle to be useful for the purpose at hand. Anyway, I don't have a keen interest to discuss the new color of the bike shed for still longer. – quid Nov 10 at 15:29
  • 1
    @quid: It's fine if you object to my proposal because "or" is too subtle. It's not fine in my opinion to object to it based on 'reasons' that don't actually apply. In particular, where is the empirical evidence that people get hung up on the meaning of my specific phrasing including the parenthesis? I've used it quite a number of times before and never had any contention over the phrase. – user21820 Nov 10 at 15:37
  • Sorry if you don't want to discuss further, but I'm trying to make my point clear since it's apparently not being understood. – user21820 Nov 10 at 15:38
  • 1
    You use a formulation "what have you tried" (alright the words are inverted) that I find specifically problematic due to the way it is and was (over-)used. I am strictly against this particular formulation. Not each use of it is problematic, but the (over-)use of it is annoying, and this surely would not be helped by putting it into the close reason. – quid Nov 10 at 15:43
  • Are you really proposing another "close-reason", as you say? That would seem a bit much to me. Or are you just proposing a change in the wording in contrast to Aloizio's post? – Mark McClure Nov 10 at 16:13
  • 1
    @MarkMcClure: I am proposing an alternative change in wording for the lacking-context close-reason, instead of Aloizio's proposal. There are a number of reasons why I do not think Aloizio's proposal is very good. – user21820 Nov 10 at 16:30

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