I have recently flagged several questions for migration to math.stackexchange which were fairly clearly not about mathematics research and related topics. It was clear that in some cases these new users were simply unaware of the existence of math.stackexchange. [To be honest, I do not actually know how common this situation is, or whether it became more common after the migration to the stack exchange network.]

Prompted by the above situation, I want to ask if it is possible and/or beneficial to add a short sentence to the page where one asks a question saying something to the following effect:

If your question concerns mathematics, yet not at a research level, consider asking at math.stackexchange instead. [Edit: This sentence is only meant as a vague preliminary suggestion. As several people have pointed out, it is inaccurate and would probably require modification. See also quid's answer below for good ideas (especially the first and last quote blocks).]

and add a link there to math.stackexchange.com. The goal of this measure would be to reduce the number of questions asked at mathoverflow which actually belong on math.stackexchange.

The above sentence could maybe be added to the "How to ask" box shown on the right side of the page for asking questions. Also, it could be shown only to new or unregistered users, although I am not sure this exception would be helpful.

PS [This may require its own separate question]: It is useful to quantify the effect of such measures. If we were to test the above proposal for a short period of time, could we measure its efficacy? Here are two scenarios:

  • We show the above message to everyone for a month, say. Can we measure the difference in the number of questions closed as off-topic (too basic, really) or migrated to math.stackexchange before and during the test?

  • We show the above message to a randomly selected sample of (new?) users. Can we measure the difference in this case? I assume it would be harder. Perhaps the software does not even allow for the implementation of this scenario.

Edit 2: I have changed the suggested sentence above to address some concerns. The comments and quid's answer give a more complete overview of the possible messages.

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    $\begingroup$ I for one am quite squeamish about pointing people toward MathStackExchange, given that I'm not active there and don't feel like I have a good sense of their community standards. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ Modulo the usual sorts of caveats and qualifications that underlie the phrase "research level mathematics", and also the fact that history questions, teaching questions, etc. are also often admissible. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ In view of Steven's squeamishness (probably shared by others), how about something like: if you are unsure whether your question is at a level which would make it of interest to professional mathematicians, then you should probably not ask it here. Consider whether it would be more appropriate for a different site (such as MSE). $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 0:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Todd: Those are good suggestions. On the other hand, the longer and more intricate the message, the less likely it is to be read... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ True (and we've struggled in the past with how to say such things). "Is at a level which would make it" could be replaced by "would be", and "whether it would be more appropriate for" by "asking at". Other than that, I don't have any bright ideas at present. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ "If your question is not about research level mathematics, you should ask it at math.stackexchange." says literally that everything that isn't reasearch mathematics should be posted on MSE. I would prefer a formuation like ""If your question is not about research level mathematics, it may still be appropriate at math.stackexchange." $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker: Perhaps one could place the 'not' somewhere else and stress that in any case the question should be a math question, like "If your question is about mathematics, but not research level, it may still be appropriate at math.SE" $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael: Thank you for pointing out that my statement was not well formulated. I just meant it as a vague guideline or idea. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ “migration to math.stackexchange… which were fairly clearly not about mathematics research” – an intriguing approach, especially in absence of any examples. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 7:48

2 Answers 2


This is more a comment but a bit long.

There was some discussion to include mention of math.SE prominently, for example Noah Snyder suggested repeatedly, getting quite some support, that the short summary should read

MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for research mathematicians. We accept mathematical questions at the Ph.D. student level and higher. Questions of all levels are accepted at our sister site Math.SE.

What we had when he said this was

MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for mathematicians.

now we have (this was the 'hover text' poll)

MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for professional mathematicians.

Note that this is in part fixed in form as

"Name of the site" is a questions and answer site for "scope".

Where "Name of the site" and "scope" also appear elsewhere, such as in the 'hover text' (I do not know if these are the official names of these parametrs but still that this is fixed in form, at least as a default, seems true).

In these discussions François G. Dorais said he would not like to mention another site there as this is not the place, but (if I understood him correctly) the ask page would be a good place, so what we are talking about now.

To make more precise what the suggestion is in OP as I understand it: Presently we have (on https://mathoverflow.net/questions/ask the site for asking a new question) a box:

How to Ask

Is your question about research level mathematics?

We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed.

Provide details. Share your research.

If your question is about this website, ask it on meta instead.

visit the help center »

asking help »

Where there are links (I did not reproduce) to the help center, to how to ask, and to meta.

Now, if this is possible, I would find it a very good idea to add a sentence on and link to math.SE in this box. (Possibly not exactly the one suggested but something along these lines, for example, since some seem to be worried to tell people to ask on math.SE we could provide it more as information.)

Say like adding (but this is rough just to get the idea across):

Is your question about research level mathematics?

If not, note that questions about mathematics at any level are welcome at math.SE

What I do not know is if this is technically possible (in an easy way). Since again this box seems to be fixed in form the only thing being specific to MO being the "research level mathematics", which is the "on-topic" of MO (and also appears elsewhere on the site). [This perhaps also in part addresses a concern raised by Todd Trimble, as there it can more or less only say the "on-topic" so if we do not intend to change this it must be "research level mathematics"; what the "on-topic" means precisely is to be defined in the help-center, where there is ample space.]

And as a reply to Steven Landsburg: I can understand why somebody would not want to individually suggest a question to be asked elsewhere (but this is not what this question is about), yet collectively and abstractly "we" suggested and suggest all the time other sites (in the official documentation). Thus, the question is not whether we do this at all but if we should do it at this precise place in addition (to other places where we do so already).

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for writing all of this. This is very useful information, with many good suggestions! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ Editing the "How to ask" block is possible: meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/2346/… $\endgroup$
    – user35354
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 6:30
  • $\begingroup$ @MadScientist: Thanks for that information. It will be useful if this discussion leads anywhere. The link you provided does not seem to address how to change the text in the "How to ask" box, though. Can it be done by moderators? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ @RicardoAndrade No, only by SE employees. To get it changed you would make a meta post and propose a new text. Once this has been discussed and the community shown some support the moderators can ask SE to make the change. $\endgroup$
    – user35354
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like the enhancement of the fact, that MO (of course also MSE) is a network driven of people and not a(nother) (bureaucratic) institution where I put in my (homework or not) question and a coin (or reputation or even a bounty) and a slot provides me a scribble with an answer. So I'd second formulations which are along the line of quid's proposal "MathOverflow is a questions and answers site for research mathematicians. We accept " . This is at least a bit personal... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ @quid and others: Would now be a good time to make a post with one or two suggestions for what the text in the "How to ask" box might be? Is there some way of getting some more opposing feedback to this idea before we make such a post, so that we can take it into consideration? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ @RicardoAndrade: personally I might wait a bit more; the post is in principle tagged as feature request, not too much time has passed and no moderators commented in any way so far. In general or perhaps on the principle it seems there is not much opposition. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: Thanks for the insight! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ It's possible. Physics.SE has also done it recently . $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 12:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Dimension10 thank you for the information this is good to know. Not only is the text different there is also a link there; so this would be exactly what is desired. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: By the way, I forgot to add the link: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/questions/4357/… . $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2013 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ I would replace "Questions of all levels are accepted at our sister site Math.SE." with "Our sister site, math.SE, accepts questions of all levels." $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 17:29

I like the idea of explicitly pointing (new) users to MSE on that page. However, I know from my own experience that I hardly ever read that “How To Ask” box. I might have the assumption that once I know one of these boxes for own of the sites, I should know them all. After all, on most sites the box says essentially the same thing.

For this reason, I'd even favor something more prominent, which is not the same as on other SE sites. Something in the left part of the page, either above the title box or between tags and submission button. That way, people will be more likely to notice it. In understand that because this is clearly different from how other SE sites look, it might be harder to implement, but I'd leave the details of how to implement this out of the discussion for now. If there is a strong vote to have this feature, I'm sure SE devs will be able to make it work.

I also realize that this more prominent position may be considered obtrusive by some users. So I'm deliberately posting this suggestion and asking for your votes. Vote up if you agree that the “How To Ask” box is not prominent enough and therefore suboptimal, but vote down if you think a box on the left (perhaps only for new users) is too obtrusive.

  • $\begingroup$ IMHO the usual rep-points-based discrimination may relieve 95% cases where a new MO question is created of this hypothetical obtrusion. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 7:51

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