I've been part of both communities for half a year now and despite the fact that I've not being particularly active I am surely interested in the good practices in posting questions in here and the other exchange.

What sort of questions are supposed to be asked in MO compared to the ones asked in SE? Is it okay to post undergraduate/graduate level mathematics questions on MO and not on MSE which is research-oriented or is it the other way around?

Also, not aware until recently that cross-posting is not widely accepted (I've done it for 2 questions I posted in the past 4 months, again, unaware of the fact that is not good-practice) what are the cases for it to be allowed? How much time should one wait for its unanswered questions to be cross-posted on the other exchange?


1 Answer 1


It makes sense to talk about the core communities of each forum, so that it becomes easier to understand the scope and the differences. Not being active on the mathematics forum, I will give my belief, which hopefully matches the intent, of the community for that forum.

MathOverflow has a community of professional mathematicians employed in academia and industry, graduates and undergraduates who wish to learn at a deep level the work the professionals discuss, and other professional and nonprofessionals who are similarly inclined. This community (specifically those who are doing graduate level study) is at or near the forefront of the body of mathematical knowledge, trying to increase it. Their goal is to discuss things at this forefront. In particular, they normally don't do homework problems, unless it is closely related or extendable to their work. They also share references, so that members can educate themselves enough to get close to the forefront.

I believe mathematics.stackexchange has a wider variety of members, including many from MathOverflow. Here the focus is not on the professional frontier, but on topics and areas of wider interest. Perhaps this includes a competition problem, or a new twist on a problem regularly taught in classes. Sometimes a standard problem is discussed, to reveal a way of thinking that prevents people from seeing a solution, and how to change that to make the solution more apparent. The members here are interested in exploring mathematics at many levels, not just professional. However, solving routine homework problems or reviewing old contest problems is not part of the intent. The community is looking for new and interesting mathematical topics.

Both communities are willing to help new members if it looks like the new member will fit in and help further the forum mission and serve the interests of that community. If it looks like that won't happen, they won't devote the time. As a result, one should find a way to contribute well from the start. Most often this is to provide a good answer, but sometimes one can start with a good question.

What makes an answer or a question good? That such a post serves the community interests. For MathOverflow, this is a well written post that normally talks about a specific topic in the forefront and asks an accessible mathematics question or gives an accessible answer to such. (There are some exceptions such as big list questions, which I won't discuss here.) For the other forum, it is a well written question or answer that makes a community member feel their time was worth spending in reading and thinking about it, usually because they learn something from it.

To answer your questions, read the fora and see which posts are well received, and try to imitate those. Use the meta to vet your first or your challenging post to see if it fits community norms and will be seen as a positive contribution. You can also search meta for specifics about cross posting and other items which reveal the nature of good posts and bad.

Gerhard "Go Find The Blue Mud" Paseman, 2020.06.04.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Gerhard for your thorough and detailed answer; it is now much clearer to me how to interact with the community. Not being a researcher myself but a grad student of Appl. Math. one thing I still am unsure of is how to discriminate between homework routines and forefront topics. For example: this one I understand, from you answer, is more suitable for MSE whereas this is for MO right? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ Both are good questions. If mathematicians do their jobs of understanding and explaining well, today's research becomes tomorrow's homework. The emphasis however is not on homework versus research. It is instead on being useful to the community or clogging up the information pipe. Practice writing well. A good homework exposition may influence future research by inspiring the right questions. If you are unsure, ask on meta for an opinion on the writing. Gerhard "Always Looking For Good Content" Paseman, 2020.06.04. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Will do, thanks again for your patience. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 8:39

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