Here I only ask questions and do not (can not answer for lack of knowledge) answer any of the questions.

Sometimes I feel it is bad. Some questions that I know answer to are either closed as not research level or already has very good answers.

What does MO community think about this? Is it a good practice to just take help from this site and do nothing in return? I used to do something at MSE but am not doing here.

  • At Mathematics Meta: Is it annoying that I don't answer questions and just ask? and other posts linked there. (It is a different site, but since there is an overlap between the users of the two sites, the discussions might be worth mentioning.) – Martin Sleziak Jul 7 at 5:28
  • thanks for the link @MartinSleziak – Praphulla Koushik Jul 7 at 6:32
  • @ThomasRot I thank you for your comment.. Are you saying you have suggested to read something but I did not respond for that.. please do let me know.. i have no shame in asking for apologies.. I ask for apologies in that case and I want to become better.. or is that comment was made in general sense? – Praphulla Koushik Aug 14 at 13:34
  • @ThomasRot Hehe :D semi general means it is specific to me as welll.. please do let me know :) I will change for better.. – Praphulla Koushik Aug 14 at 13:39
  • 2@ThomasRot I will surely look at that.. no need to delete :) – Praphulla Koushik Aug 14 at 13:42
  • This one is from Mathematics Meta again - but probably it is at least to some extent applicable also here. There are some suggestions how a user can do useful stuff for the site by things other than answering: How can non-experts best contribute? – Martin Sleziak Aug 19 at 6:06
up vote 60 down vote accepted

It's fine in my opinion just to ask and not answer questions, and conversely I think it's fine just to answer and and not ask questions.

In time you will probably acquire enough knowledge to feel comfortable and confident answering questions as well, but there's no particular hurry.

Either way, if your questions or answers are well received, you are seen as adding value to the site. We need all kinds here.

  • 4
    Ok ok. That is very nice of you. Thank you. – Praphulla Koushik Jul 6 at 20:57

I am more or less in the same situation in the set theory sub-community where there are some very well-informed colleagues who can provide really high-quality answers to almost every question that I can answer. I also tend to ask many questions there.

Based on my personal experience, MathOverflow community is mostly concerned about the quality of users' contribution (i.e. research level mathematics) rather than its quantity (i.e. the number of one's posts) or type (i.e. the question, answer, or comment). That is why almost everywhere on this site you see guidelines and comments encouraging people to post as high-quality stuff as possible rather than rules dissuading them from asking many genuine nice questions. Note that:

  • Nice questions are in fact the main source of generating high-quality material on this site as there will be no informative answer if there is no one to bring up a related interesting topic in his/her question.

  • Many high reputation answerers strongly encourage those active community members who provide nice questions, particularly because it allows them to share their knowledge more easily. This happened to me on several occasions when some users of high standing gave me public or private compliments concerning some of my posts.

  • If you are in doubt whether the other users are satisfied with your contribution style, you may pay more attention to the feedback from the community. I personally check my vote/post ratio as an (not completely accurate) indicator of my contribution quality. As far as it is higher than 10 vote/post per month (i.e. average nice question/answer), I assume that the community is more or less satisfied with my contribution. If it drops beneath the mentioned self-imposed threshold, I consider slowing down my asking rate, spending more time on searching around the topic and even consulting some colleagues about the content of the question before posting it, in order to improve the quality of my posts.

As the conclusion, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking a lot of questions without answering any if your questions are high quality enough for this site and if you are able to be always nice and respectful towards other colleagues who may express some critical views towards some of your posts. Good luck with your contribution to MathOverflow! :-)

You have mentioned that you answer some questions on Mathematics. Already this can be considered as giving back to community, even though it is on another site.

This should be mentioned with the caveat that many MathOverflow users have strong opinions why Mathematics is actually a bad site. Probably anybody who spent some time around this site has noticed a few mentions about this - mostly on meta (And it goes also the other way round, there are many people with not very good opinion on MathOverflow.) So you have to decide for yourself whether or not you consider contributing to that site a useful thing to do.

Mathematics has much higher traffic than MathOverflow and an average question there is on lower level than most questions here, so it is a bit harder to find interesting questions there. Since you are most likely interested in more advanced staff, it probably would make sense to add a few areas you are interested in to your favorite/watched tags and simply check only questions in those tags. Or simply bookmark a link to search which returns questions in the tags where you are most likely to add answers. (Notice that search results can be sorted by recent activity, or you can choose the unanswered tab which is more likely to contain questions where answer is missing.) And there are also other ways how to find interesting or more advanced questions, you could find a few discussions about this on Mathematics Meta.


If you feel that you want to give something back to community (or "do something in return" as you have put it), answering is not the only way to do that. There are many other things which are useful for the site and some of them do not require too much from the user. Even though it was posted on another site, at least some of the answer posted on Mathematics Meta in a related discussion apply also here: How can non-experts best contribute? (Although one should keep in mind some differences between the two sites.)

  • You can help the site with editing. Even if it is just correcting a typo or helping user with MathJax/MarkDown. Occasionally replacing a dead link with a working one.
  • Retagging questions which are missing some tags or are tagged incorrectly is also useful. If you want to help with this, it is good to be familiar with Frequently asked questions about tagging on MathOverflow. I have wrote a bit about edits and retags in another recent answer of mine.
  • Flagging what needs to be flagged. (For example, it only takes six spam flags to remove a post. So if you notice a spam post be sure to flag it - you will help to make space for on-topic questions on the site.)

And there are probably many other ways how you can do something useful for a site.

  • I do not enjoy editing some one else’s question or answer.. I will flag.. – Praphulla Koushik Aug 19 at 13:28

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