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I noticed that some of the MO questions that get closed are clear-cut going against the MO-guidelines eg. "here is the link to my new result" or "here is the jpg file of my homework question".

In https://mathoverflow.net/questions/ask, on the right, there is a pane with a link to https://mathoverflow.net/help/how-to-ask, but I was wondering maybe we can also do something similar to the Reddit-format of editing questions: basically have a short list of guidelines listed on the right of the editor so that they are clearly visible as the person is editing their question.

There is a beautiful list here https://mathoverflow.net/help/on-topic, under "What kind of questions should I not ask here?" that we can include a shortened version

So that while the OP is editing their question, they can't help but stare at the "do not" rules.

Here is the reddit/math page to get an idea

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ I think that the tag (asking-questions) would be suitable here. The content of the sidebar on the right is customizable, one can read more details here: The new ask page is now live on the network! Perhaps it is worth mentioning that user is shown some basic information when they ask their first question - this part was created and customized after the discussion here: What should the modal window for first-time askers say? $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2023 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ I see. Thank you. Then my feature request is to add a "second layer" of defense. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2023 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ So that while the OP is editing their question, they can't help but stare at the "do not" rules. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2023 at 6:45
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    $\begingroup$ On Mathematics, the sidebar text was modified back in 2015, see Shog9's answer here: Show "how to ask" advice before a new user asks a question. (Just in case looking at the text on other sites could help when discussing what should be used here on MO.) $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2023 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ I think that adding the tag (discussion) might improve chances that some users might notice this question and provide thier input on the content of the sidebar. (Without that tag, the question doesn't get into the community bulletin. The other conditions are score at least +3 and not older than 14 days. Still, the moderators could add the question into the CB simply by adding the (featured) tag.) $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2023 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that the MO-specific (as opposed to generic SE question-asking advice) question guidelines are not as easy to find as they could be. When I want to link to them in commenting on a well-meaning but off-topic question, it's always a bunch of clicks, and I have to figure out how to get there every time, since it's not that often. Yes, I could bookmark, but it shows how hard they are to find the first time from the front page, as opposed to during asking a question. Once people are writing their question, rather than thinking about whether this is the place for it, is almost too late. $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts Mod
    Oct 22, 2023 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRoberts In some cases, one could create such a comment faster using the templates collected here: Comment template for questions more appropriate for MSE. More to the point, do you think that perhaps this question could be featured (in order to gain more attention and gather more input from the MO users) - as suggested in the above comment and in the MO chatroom? $\endgroup$ Oct 23, 2023 at 5:45
  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I think some additional clarity regarding what kind of questions we’re looking for would be nice; judging by the amount of obviously out-of-place questions (as highlighted by Thomas), the current infrastructure leaves people ambiguous on what belongs here and what doesn’t. $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Oct 25, 2023 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRoberts Is there anything else I can do to promote this feature-request? I just saw yet another question "here is my homework". People can always revert back to not having any short-list of rules, if it is not helping filter. $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2023 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ I can try to write some suggested shorthand-list of the existing MO-guidelines. $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2023 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ @ThomasKojar I suggest writing as comprehensive answer as you reasonably can, and see what people think of it via votes. If there seems to be some support then that would be helpful. $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts Mod
    Nov 20, 2023 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ This suggestion from 2022 seems a bit related, too: Feature request: add short "about MathOverflow" section to the front page. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2023 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I still prefer having it inside the editor rather than front-page. That way the user is forced to look at the guidelines while typing their question. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2023 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ Answers to this question on Meta Stack Exchange list some examples of the sites where the "Draft your question" pane is customized: What site-specific changes can be made to the Ask Question page to help askers on that site write better questions? $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2023 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ One of the moderators added the (featured) tag, so the question will now be shown in the community bulletin for some time. Hopefully it will attract a bit more attention and some feedback from the Mathoverflow community. $\endgroup$ Dec 22, 2023 at 5:42

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This is based on the information in the modal window which was created here: What should the modal window for first-time askers say?

The answer is a community wiki - feel free to edit it further, if you have some improvements.

Is your question about research-level mathematics?

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe the bullet points should be a bit shortened? (So that this does not take too much space in the sidebar.) $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2023 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ To me, the most vexing problem with questions is that many of them are poorly stated: (i) some of the terms and symbols used in the post are undefined, even if they are not common; (ii) quantifiers are missing or ambiguous; (iii) multiple questions are asked in one post. Do you think this concern can be added to the list? $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2023 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @IosifPinelis As I said, I do not want to make this text too long. Why not posting as a separate answer a suggestion which includes the issues that you've mentioned? (That way, we would get some feedback from other users about such version, too.) $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2023 at 19:41
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After a recent influx of questions "here is the jpg to my homework", I thought I should get the ball rolling and post one suggested list based on https://mathoverflow.net/help/on-topic and https://mathoverflow.net/help/how-to-ask

  • Did you read What topics can I ask about here? and How to write a good MathOverflow question??
  • Mathoverflow is intended for questions on current science research areas in mathematics. Have you visited Math.stackexchange.com or other math Q&A sites?.
  • Mathoverflow is NOT for questions about homework from high school or university.
  • Mathoverflow is NOT for questions about standard textbook material from undergraduate/graduate courses whose answer is already known.
  • Mathoverflow is NOT for proofreading/announcing/advertising your (or other people's) work. Questions of the form "Is my work on this famous conjecture correct?" will get closed.

I noticed that questions on Homeworks and big-conjectures are the two main culprits of closed questions.

Any help on modifying the language of the above points or adding more is much appreciated. Or if you have some other list in mind, please consider posting it as an answer, I would love to see it. Then by voting we can decide a good enough list.

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  • $\begingroup$ Should "Mathematics", "Homework", "Textbook" be capitalized? They are in the middle of a sentence. (I will add that I am not a native English speaker.) $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2023 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ I am just trying to draw their attention. We can have them lowercase. I will change it now. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2023 at 7:40
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At Martin Sleziak's suggestion, I am posting a previous comment, now somewhat extended/detailed, as an answer:

To me,

the most vexing problem with questions is that many of them are poorly stated:

  • some of the terms and symbols used in the post are undefined, even if they are not common
  • quantifiers are missing or ambiguous
  • multiple questions are asked in one post

Indeed, I think foremost concerns about questions should be that they (i) be clearly stated and thus easily understood and (ii) be attractive to potential answerers.


Added:

At Martin Sleziak's further suggestion, let me propose the following formulations to address the mentioned concerns:

  1. Make sure that all the terms and symbols used in your post are defined mathematically, especially if they are not common for most mathematicians.
  2. Make sure that all the necessary quantifiers, "for all" and "for some", are present and carefully placed.
  3. Only one question should be asked in one post.

Rationale for Items 1 and 2: These items are to address the concern that questions should be clearly stated and thus easily understood. I think this concern is distinct from that about background information. When I see "Make sure that the question includes the necessary background", what comes to my mind is describing the motivation and/or importance and/or context and/or pre-history of the question -- all that quite apart from the specific request to define all the terms and symbols used. I would see presenting such background information as a good thing, but usually not necessary in order to understand the essence of the question.

Rationale for Item 3: Asking multiple questions in one post will usually make the post less attractive to answerers, and then the asker would not benefit either. Moreover, existing guidelines say "avoid trying to answer questions which [...] request answers to multiple questions".)

Of course, the short list of guidelines for writing better questions should be short. So, I am wondering if the highlighted concerns and the proposed items to address them can compete for a place on that short list with other suggested items.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't your first bullet point fall under "Make sure that the question includes the necessary background" - which is included in my suggestion? Or would you prefer to add to this something specifically about undefined symbols and undefined notionts? (So there are just two remaining issues. For the last one, I could see something like "Do not ask several unrelated question in one post." I wasn't able to come up with a good suggestion for the second bullet point.) $\endgroup$ Jan 11 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak : (i) When I see "Make sure that the question includes the necessary background", what comes to my mind is describing the motivation and/or importance and/or context and/or pre-history of the question -- all that quite apart from the specific request to define all the terms and symbols used. I would see presenting such background as a good thing, but usually not necessary in order to understand the essence of the question. $\endgroup$ Jan 11 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak : (ii) I think one may want to ask many more or less related questions in one post, which will usually make the post less attractive to answerers, and then the asker would not benefit either. On the other hand, existing guidelines say "avoid trying to answer questions which [...] request answers to multiple questions" -- without mentioning the relatedness condition. $\endgroup$ Jan 11 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak : (iii) For the 2nd bullet point, which concerns a very frequent problem in my experience as an answerer, I would suggest "Make sure the necessary quantifiers, 'for all' and 'for some', are not missing and are carefully placed". $\endgroup$ Jan 11 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps you could try to include in your answer specific wording that you have in mind - in that way maybe some other users could comment on it and suggest improvements. (I am writing this fully aware that probability that some other people join this discussion and that is added on MO is not very high.) $\endgroup$ Jan 12 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak : I added specific wording. $\endgroup$ Jan 21 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I have noticed. From the voting so far, none of the proposed wording has much support from the MO community. (And the question has at the moment 10 upvotes and 2 downvotes, so that doesn't show great support, either.) I have linked to this question here: Should there be a banner with some basic info about MO in the right sidebar? - we'll see whether that might bring a few visitors here, too. $\endgroup$ Jan 25 at 8:15

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