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Right now, there are 4 ways to vote to close a question as off-topic.

  • "This question does not appear to be about research level mathematics within the scope defined in the help center."

  • "MathOverflow is for mathematicians to ask each other questions about their research. See Math.StackExchange to ask general questions in mathematics."

  • This belongs on another StackExchange site, say Math.StackExchange.com "Q&A for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields"

  • Custom reason

I spend some time trying to figure out how to vote when any of the first $3$ reasons could be used, and when the question is actually closed, I often see that there is a split among the votes to close, sometimes $2$ chose one way, $2$ chose another, $1$ chose the third. I don't think this is helpful. Even if all of these are obviously correct, it suggests there is disagreement about the question. So, sometimes I just agree with earlier votes to close.

Could these reasons to close be clarified so there is less overlap, or combined as redundant, or combined as not worth distinguishing?

I presume the difference between $5$ people voting to close as "See Math.StackExchange to ask general questions" and "this belongs on Math.StackExchange" is that the latter migrates the question while the former doesn't. If there were no such distinction, they would be completely redundant. I guess the reason to vote for the second and not the third is that the question has some flaw to be fixed, or maybe we anticipate that the question would be closed on MSE and automatically bounced back. However, I don't think this is stated, so closing with the second option doesn't tell the OP whether/how to fix the question before reposting it.

See also Revamping the closure reasons.

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    $\begingroup$ One should only migrate a question if one is very convinced it is a good fit for the target site. The second option is there for the many questions that are off-topic on MO but where one thinks they might be about alright on math.SE since they are a math question (as opposed to being certain they are a good fit there). Using this does not necessarily mean the question has a flaw; it could also mean the person voting thinks they are not well-informed about the standards of math.SE and thus does not want to send anything there. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 17 '14 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ But the first option could be dropped in my opinion. In the old times it was common to write a comment and to technically close with a general reason. Now, this is exactly what "other" does. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 17 '14 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ The first option is useful for the occasional questions that aren't really about math at all. I also use it for exceptionally poor questions (e.g., obvious homework questions with no effort shown) that I don't want to encourage sending to MSE. On the difference between the second and third options, I agree with what quid said. $\endgroup$ – Eric Wofsey Aug 18 '14 at 5:03
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    $\begingroup$ Numbers are not necessarily mathematics. Numbers which would be written out as words in formal writing are definitely not mathematics. So why the mathematical markup? Do you enjoy slowing down page render times just for the fun of it? $\endgroup$ – TRiG Aug 19 '14 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @TRiG: I think typesetting numbers often looks better and helps to make related numbers stand out. (For consistency, I should have spelled out the first $3$.) It also lets people control the size to make them even more legible. If you are seeing a significant slowdown due to rendering a few numbers, you might have something misconfigured, and you should work on that instead of complaining about style. $\endgroup$ – Douglas Zare Aug 20 '14 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ As far as I can remember, the only two reasons I've ever needed are "does not appear to be about research mathematics" and "not a real question". I wish we still had the latter. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg Aug 20 '14 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg "unclear what you are asking" is very often a substitute for the latter, and "too broad" covers quite a bit of the remaining ones. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Aug 21 '14 at 7:39
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: The problem with "unclear what you're asking" is that the wording invites the author to clarify or add further details, whereas often it's quite clear that the question (or non-question) should just be closed. $\endgroup$ – Steven Landsburg Aug 21 '14 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Douglas: Years ago I was writing musical reviews in some e-zine. The zine was Norwegian based, and the writers were mostly Europeans, the majority of which were not native speakers. So at one point the editor hired a guy to analyze each one's style to point out our major weaknesses, as well to write some general guide of rules. One of them was that numbers between zero and ten (inclusive) should be written as a word, rather than a number, when context doesn't require them to be written numerically. This would be the case here, and had I been your editor now, I would have said something. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 22 '14 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf Karagila: My editors have contradicted both common sense and each other. I believe many editors feel the need to say something or else they will look like they contribute nothing. The most popular style guides disagree about which numbers should be written out in common English, and I choose to disagree with some antiquated conventions for the sake of readability. In case you really want to discuss my writing style and agree with TRiG's stupid suggestion that I must "enjoy slowing down page render just for the fun of it" then I suggest making your own question. $\endgroup$ – Douglas Zare Aug 22 '14 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ Dougles, with my well configured Arch Linux, Openbox windows manager, and sufficient amount of processor power, RAM, and bandwidth, I don't experience any difficulties with some rendering issues. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 22 '14 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf Karagila: $\textrm{Darn, then I guess I have to try harder.}$ $\endgroup$ – Douglas Zare Aug 22 '14 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ @EricWofsey I know it is used sometimes like this but I consider this as not optimal. For example I consider the closure mathoverflow.net/questions/180091/… as not optimal since there is no explanatory comment and sending OP just to "on-topic" is not that helpful. I'd consider it as better if this was closed with "other" that would "force" someone to write a comment. Or, we could come up with new custom reason for those usecases. Put differently, my problem is that this custom OT reason is not really custom at all but as general as it gets. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Sep 4 '14 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenLandsburg yes I remeber a discussion on that about a year ago. In some very abstract sense I might agree with you, but in practice first I do not think it is that important and second it seems somehow nicer to leave open the possibility that that OP might have a valid question to ask (even if it seems very unlikely). $\endgroup$ – user9072 Sep 4 '14 at 18:24

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