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We get posts here that are phrased as if from a textbook or homework; the one I have in mind is Find the recurrence relation, but my question is more general. Such posts will certainly be closed.

A lot of times they are closed silently; they accumulate a pile of downvotes, eventually get 5 close votes, and disappear with no indication to the user of what has gone wrong.

Sometimes such questions get the note "Sorry, this question is not appropriate for MO; please take it to MSE." However, we have had moderators for MSE ask us not automatically to re-direct questions there that show no effort by the user to answer themselves.

So, for such questions, I have taken to posting "MO is not for homework questions" so that the user has some idea why their question has been closed. However, on Find the recurrence relation, this comment was deleted, which I assume means it was inappropriate. (I did ask a similar question about a deleted comment recently, but this is not a duplicate; for that one I couldn't tell why it might be inappropriate, whereas here I can guess, although it certainly wasn't my intention to be "unfriendly or unkind".)

What is better (in particular, more welcoming) language for a question that is phrased as homework that should not simply be migrated to MSE (at least, not without additional indication from the user of what they have tried)? Or are some of my premises wrong?

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    $\begingroup$ CW works on meta exactly the same way as on the main site. For answers, any user can mark their own post as CW. For questions, this can be only done by mods, see also here: Community Wiki in the hands of moderators. (Having said that, I am not really sure this post has to be CW.) $\endgroup$ Dec 27 '21 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ Re: with no indication to the user of what has gone wrong. The OP should be able to see the banner with the close reason. (The one marked as: "Viewable by the post author and users with the close/reopen votes privilege".) Often it contains link to some part of help center which has more information. $\endgroup$ Dec 27 '21 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ I will add a reminder of this thread from 2013: Comment template for questions more appropriate for MSE. $\endgroup$ Dec 27 '21 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ From the timeline, I see that your comment got an "unfriendly or unkind" flag which was declined, and in the same time the comment was deleted. $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Dec 27 '21 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps the questionable premise is that we should be welcoming when people are looking for answers to homework problems. $\endgroup$
    – Matt F.
    Dec 27 '21 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ @LSpice Comments can also be deleted independent of flags which are found to be helpful. -- In fact, most comments which are deleted are deleted because they are not needed any more, or because they don't provide much information, or because they are speculative or too chatty or for similar reasons. Inappropriate comments are fortunately comparatively rare. $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Dec 27 '21 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl, thanks. So maybe "inappropriate" is too strong a word, but I still wonder whether there is some routine comment I can make that is useful for the user, or whether all such comments would be so low-content that it would be better if I do not make them. $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Dec 27 '21 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ There are some older discussions related to being welcoming to new users - although they weren't focused specifically on homework questions: What do we mean by welcoming when we're a site aimed at researchers?, Should we exercise a bit more tolerance towards newcomers?, "Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming." --- are we? (Those discussions might be somewhat related to @MattF.'s comment.) $\endgroup$ Dec 28 '21 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ I suggest something like "Your question seems like a homework problem and, if this is the case, it would be off-topic here. Please have a look at the help center for more details" with a link to the help center. In fact, many people seem to take criticism about their questions very personally and to get angry about it, so it is better to use neutral language, avoiding expressions like "not research-level", "not appropriate", "low-quality" or similar ones. $\endgroup$ Dec 28 '21 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's better to write something like, "You have reached a website intended for questions of math research," rather than "MO is not for homework." The latter might read like a slap in the face to the person posting the question, and, anyway, it presumes facts not in evidence. $\endgroup$ Dec 28 '21 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ I do tend to refer to homework when it is obvious that the question was copied and pasted from a problem set written by an instructor (sometimes even listing the credit points). $\endgroup$ Dec 28 '21 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ OK, how about this: "This site is dedicated to questions of math research. I'm not sure there is a research angle to your question. If there is, please edit something about that angle into your question"? $\endgroup$ Dec 28 '21 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, @GerryMyerson! I like that. Would you consider posting it as an answer? $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Dec 29 '21 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ There was a recent case where the OP claimed the question wasn't homework, but it was clearly an exercise out of a textbook. Someone who is being proactive and working through exercises off their own back should be commended, but gently pointed to a more appropriate place. $\endgroup$ Dec 29 '21 at 3:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry I usually say "original maths research", to emphasise its not just learning stuff or figuring out details, and also explicitly say up front this means at or above PhD level. $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 3:48
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I suggest leaving a comment along these lines (if it seems appropriate):

"This site is dedicated to questions of math research. I'm not sure there is a research angle to your question. If there is, please edit something about that angle into your question."

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    $\begingroup$ I’d replace the middle sentence with a question: “Is there a research angle to your question?” $\endgroup$
    – Matt F.
    Dec 29 '21 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @MattF.! I like that suggestion. $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Dec 29 '21 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe one might also add a link to the help center, so that the OP can look for themselves about the type of questions that fit with the scope of MO. $\endgroup$ Dec 29 '21 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, @FrancescoPolizzi! I took your advice and @‍MattF.'s: "This site is dedicated to questions of mathematical research. Is there a research angle to your question? If so, please edit something about that angle into your question. You may also want to consult the Help Center for more information about appropriate posts." (Included here mainly for the benefit of future C&P me.) $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Dec 30 '21 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ @LSpice If you found a version you're satisfied with, you might add it as an answer - either to this question or here: Comment template for questions more appropriate for MSE. There are several advantages to having it in an answer rather than just in a comment. (Answers can be edited - so the template can be further improved. You might receive some further suggestions in comments under the answer. And also copy-paste is easier from answer, if you want to copy also MarkDown.) $\endgroup$ Jan 10 at 6:18
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A lot of times they are closed silently; they accumulate a pile of downvotes, eventually get 5 close votes, and disappear with no indication to the user of what has gone wrong.

This is not correct; there is a clear indication of what has gone wrong:


enter image description here


I think the author of the question gets an extended message with more information, but I am not sure where I can find its exact content (other than asking an off-topic question just for this purpose). EDIT: thanks to Martin Sleziak for pointing out to me in chat that this is no longer the case.

If you believe that this closing message is not helpful enough, please feel free to suggest improvements. What you suggest here is that someone types a duplicate of that message in a comment on every off-topic question, which seems time-consuming and sub-optimal.

Also, keep in mind that new users have to click through another window that warns them that this website is for math research questions:


enter image description here


So the blame is at least partly on them for not reading the instructions. (We may also suggest improvements to these instructions.)

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  • $\begingroup$ "Silently" is, I guess, an overstatement, but I meant what seems to be the content of your answer: if users have already clicked through one automated message without reading it in order to ask the question, it seems to me that they are very unlikely to read any automated follow-up message. Of course, perhaps they will not read any human follow-up, either, but at least it seems more possible. As to who is to blame … well, I can blame passersby, which will accomplish nothing, or I can try to do better, which might accomplish something, and anyway shouldn't hurt. $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Jan 3 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ To see how the close reason looks like, it suffices to check a few recent closed questions. AFAIK the message displayed to the OP is the same as the users with sufficient reputation can see. (After all, it says: "Viewable by the post author and users with the close/reopen votes privilege".) For low level questions, the users typically use one of these two close reasons: "This question does not appear to be about research level mathematics within the scope defined in the help center." or ... $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ ...or "MathOverflow is for mathematicians to ask each other questions about their research. See Math.StackExchange to ask general questions in mathematics." $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Since you have also mentioned the information shown before posting the first question, I will add a link to Tim Campion's posts about the wording of this text: What should the modal window for first-time askers say? $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak Thanks! I did not link to that thread because, from what I understand, the first-asker information window has changed much since that question was asked, and has incorporated many of the suggestions given there. $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 9:58
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak And I think you are mistaken, there is additional private feedback text visible only to the post author; for instance, this is displayed on an old closed question of mine: i.stack.imgur.com/S4qTq.png . $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 10:06
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    $\begingroup$ Just in case somebody wants to have a look, I'll add a link to a related conversation in chat. $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 19:34

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