The fuel of MO is the research level questions in mathematics.

In most (regular) users' summary I look, there are much more answers than questions, as if the opposite position would be doubtful or suspect.

Question: Is it a problem if I post a lot of questions?

In my opinion it's as suspect to have much more questions than answers, than to have much more answers than questions, and in fact, in absolute, I think there is no suspect position. Nevertheless the ability of giving answers seems much more recognized than of asking questions.

Some of the high reputations users did not post a question for more than 1 year, more, some of them never posted any question at all (I don't understand why, but it doesn't matter).
Perhaps some of them have really very few questions to ask, but in my opinion, most of them retain willingly their questions, either for not being suspect or for not sharing their original ideas.

What could be "normal" is the following: for a mathematician early career, the ratio #Q/#A should be very high, for then decreasing to around $1$ mid-career, and then to around $0$ late career.
An early career great user with a ratio $< 0.1$ is far from this model.

I would be interested by a Data Explorer query classifying the users by their ratio #Q/#A for a given interval of reputation. If someone have such a query available, let me know, else I will try to program it.

  • $\begingroup$ @WillieWong: you're right, I don't understand what does it mean, so it's a bit useless. Now it's a discussion, so what're the main statements for you, and what do you think about (if you're able to discuss)? $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ One thing to consider is also that there are simply more answers than questions. Sure, this does not at all fully acount for this effect, but still it is a non-negligible effect. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Mar 4, 2014 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @WillieWong: about your link I read: << On posts tagged feature-request, voting indicates agreement or disagreement with the proposed change rather than just the quality or usefulness of the post itself >>. But my post is not tagged feature-request so an up or downvote is not about the fact of being agree or not agree with my statements. What I require is a discussion, then a downvote should mean that the user thinks it's useless to discuss about these subjects... I think it is very useful, that's why I've posted this question. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ "The ability of giving "good" answers seems much more recognized than of asking "good" questions." Who says they are good questions? As I have commented before on meta, asking questions is cheap. Finding good questions is non-trivial. Moreover, sufficiently vague/confused questions require much more effort to make sense of than they do to ask. So I am not at all convinced that those who ask more questions than they give answers are under-rewarded on MO $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Mar 4, 2014 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: why did you remove your first comment ?, it was relevant for me. Anyway, about your last comment, I count $48186$ questions, whose $9380$ are unanswered. I don't know the number of answers, but it seems there are on average 2 answers by questions. So the "mid career" ratio could be on average $1/2$ instead of $1$, so that "early career" users should be far from 1/10 or 1/100. Then, as you said, we need others explanations for a complete understanding of the phenomenon. What do you think about this Omertà, as I try to explain in the post and in comments of Stefan's answer. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ I deleted it because on rereading it it felt too cryptic. but here it is again (except minimal variation) "A very general point to consider is whether one thinks of MO as a tool to an end or an end in itself." By which I mean that if one holds the former opinion, while certainly the site could not work if nobody wanted to ask question, it should also be recognized that then it would also be somewhat pointless to have it in the first place. So, if ever we run out of questions, so what, let's call it a day and do something else. (Of course I know this is an oversimplification.) $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Mar 4, 2014 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi: First, I don't think that all my questions are "good", but I think some of them are. Next, there are not only "good" questions on one side and "bad" questions on the other side, but a continuity between "good" and "bad". I think many users retain themselves to ask too much questions, because of the Omertà I talked about. Finally, I don't think there is a correlation between the fact of being "well-written" and being "good" for a question: sometimes a vague/confused question becomes very good, the transformation is an effort, but both are useful (the asker and the improver). $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see why you are so concerned about how many questions other users post. I have to say that your "opinion" about the reason many high-rep users rarely post questions is simply wrong, at least in my case. For the most part, when I have a question these days I have a pretty good idea of who would be a good person to ask and I just ask them directly. This works because I have a fairly broad network of colleagues and collaborators; there is rarely a reason to resort to MO. But I enjoy answering questions here. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyPutman: interesting, of course you're free to do as you like, nevertheless your questions (and the answer coming from your network) could interest the MO community. In my case, when I have research level question, I write it on MO, and sometimes when I know a good person to ask, I send to him a link to the post by email, and if he answers me and he is not a (regular) MO user, I report his answer as CW. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ That sounds like a lot of extra work. Also, I suspect that most of the people I correspond with who don't already use MO know about it and are not interested in it for one reason or another. I see no reason to try to pressure them to use it. I have fun answering questions here, but not everyone does... $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ The reason for the downvote seemed fairly clear to me when I read the question (though I can only speculate of course). The tone, both in the question and in the comments of the OP is very accusing towards those who answer much more than they ask, and implies that these people are motivated by selfish reasons. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2014 at 8:26
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    $\begingroup$ @TobiasKildetoft: I'm sorry if my tone sounds like that. I don't want to accuse anybody, neither those with much more answers than questions, nor with much more questions than answers, nor anything else. I would just denounce an Omertà through which people retain themselves to post too many questions for not appearing as "suspect", and in this case, the motivation would be more the fear than the selfishness. Anyway, I'm reassured by the answer and some of the comments. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2014 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ I think your use of "Omertà" is a very poor choice of metaphor. There are no police, no criminals, and no dead informants here. If you feel compelled to use colorful language, you may want to consider describing a culture of shame instead of external intimidation. For example, I have had conversations at work about the scarcity of questions from Japanese mathematicians here. $\endgroup$
    – S. Carnahan Mod
    Mar 5, 2014 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ @SébastienPalcoux: The difference is that an answer which an expert can easily give may still be very valuable for the person who has asked the question. $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Mar 5, 2014 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @SébastienPalcoux: No, I don't think so. -- I think a "good" question is one which an expert in the respective field finds interesting. -- There are lots and lots of questions nobody has a clue how to solve, but from whose solutions one cannot expect to learn anything interesting (stupid example: "Is the number of prime factors of $10^{10^{100}}+1$ odd or even?"). In mathematics (and in sciences in general), the art of asking a good question is not to find a hard question, but to find one whose answer gives interesting new insights. $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Mar 5, 2014 at 21:36

1 Answer 1


There are multiple ways in which one can contribute to MO:

  • asking questions,

  • answering questions,

  • editing other people's questions or answers in order to improve them,

  • commenting on questions or answers,

  • voting (up/down, close/reopen) and flagging,

  • contributing to discussions on Meta,

  • and probably more.

What people do is entirely up to them, and - provided it is done well - any of these kinds of contributions is appreciated. In particular, I think it wouldn't make sense to officially make suggestions on numbers of questions people should ask or on numbers of answers they should provide.

Anyway it is probably more difficult to bore people by providing lots of valid answers than by asking lots of questions. -- But I think whether people are bored depends (within reasonable bounds, of course!) not mainly on how many questions you ask, but rather on what questions you ask. What I would advise against is asking a lot of relatively similar questions -- rather I'd suggest a somewhat broad spectrum of questions, if you ask many.

Apart from this, I think you will find yourself received better if you don't criticise other people for their voting behavior and the like.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm agree with you about all the other possible contributions. I focus on questions and answers. Don't you think there is an Omertà, about the ratio I talked about? Don't you think the ratio of the OP conditions the votes of the post ? Don't you think that many regular users retain most of their questions for not appearing as "suspect" because of this Omertà (this could explain why the ratio is very small for most of the regular users)? $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ About the point of asking a lot of relatively similar questions, you're right, sometimes I post a question with several suites. But each suite is a useful and strict specilization or augmentation of the previous one, and I've no choice of posting a new question because too big edit are not allowed. In my opinion, it's MO itself which could be improved about these points. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2014 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ Note that all these different contributions are not recognized equivalently regarding to the reputation points: question gives 5pts/upvotes (I disagree, I would prefer 10pts), answer 10pts/upvotes, editing: 2 pts, commenting 0pt/upvote (perhaps 1pt should be better), voting and flagging: nothing. So I note that our reputation is really not representative of our participation. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2014 at 14:28

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