Suppose I asked a question about graphs; do I always have to precisely define, what kind of graph I mean (directed/undirected, with/without parallel edges, with/without loops, connected or not, with isolated vertices or not), but from the question it could be concluded what kind of graph I "have in mind". Would that justify a downvote or can I hope that people either can also know what kind of graph is meant or point out the defect in a constructive comment?

Just to make things clear: my experience is that the people at MO are very kind and try to help, but in rare cases an unconstructive comment or even an uncommented downvote are possible.

This question is rather aimed at a guideline for downvoting or negative comments and not at critizising the reaction to specific questions.

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    $\begingroup$ "do I always have to precisely define, what kind of graph I mean" Yes! At least you should try to make the question as clear as possible. People from all kinds of different backgrounds will read it (also non-experts in the field); make it simple for them to understand what you mean. Sure, people should still leave rather constructive comments than do something negative, but still your aim should be to be clear and detailed when asking. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Aug 27, 2013 at 13:19
  • 19
    $\begingroup$ It's always a wrong assumption that people think like you do. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2013 at 13:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @quid: I agree, that there is no excuse for being sloppy. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2013 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ I imagine the biggest danger is if the question is meaningless, trivial, or uninteresting for most definitions, but becomes interesting for one specific variant. In that case, common sense would suggest you must have meant that variant, but someone reading the question might not even realize there was a sensible version. $\endgroup$
    – Henry Cohn
    Aug 27, 2013 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ François, my thinking on this is the same as yours. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2013 at 14:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Suppose one in a hundred users of MO fails to have common sense and good will. I note that MO has about 2,000 users. Those 20 misfits will zero in on YOUR questions! $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2013 at 14:35
  • 17
    $\begingroup$ For me, part of the potential of MO is to consult people from outside my area and my "usual mathematical tribe", which to me makes it doubly important that I try to formulate my questions unambiguously and in ways that don't presuppose the audience can fill in the same gaps that I can. $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Aug 27, 2013 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ Also, from my limited teaching experience, and a lot of experience reading shoddy papers, I think it is no bad thing if people are encouraged to make their questions more self-contained, and less reliant on telepathy or shared "tribal background". $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Aug 27, 2013 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ To complement what @HenryCohn says: meaningless, trvial, or uninteresting questions are not unheard of on MO. OP meaning the one interesting variant could by com. sense be assumed to be aware of issues with the others. So cs would suggest to highlight this, and so if not cs suggest they actually meant something trvial :-) More seriously, in abosulute numbers I am convinced cases where originally trivial was reinterpreted to interesting outnumber the converse considerably. The former does less harm than the latter so it is good it is like this but still I wanted to mention it for balance. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Aug 27, 2013 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ I thank you all for the valuable feedback and hope it is also of interest for novices to MO. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2013 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ When I was working on my thesis, I found in the literature a wonderful result that could be used to solve a nice problem I was considering. Examination of the proof revealed that the result required very restrictive additional assumptions that the author had not mentioned, trusting that they would be "clear from context". The problem is still open. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2013 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ I think the title of this question is rather different from the actual question (which is a good question) --- perhaps you could change it to something like 'Must I be precise when asking questions, or will readers fill gaps based on context?' $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2013 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ I changed the question title myself. For the record, it was previously "How much commonsense and goodwill can be expected on MO?" $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2013 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ Let me give a classical example, that makes clearer, what common sense or common understanding can be in mathematics: "is it possible to trisect an angle?" That question in itself has several defects, as it doesn't mention the available means (straight edge and compass) and it is is unclear what is meant by 'an' (a specific one, some or, every). Despite these defects, it is an almost sure bet, that the question will be interpreted as the classical problem (finding a construction that works for every angle, using only straight edge an compass). $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2013 at 6:41
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    $\begingroup$ Your example is exactly the kind of question that I think we should urge the questioner to clarify. How do we know that the question is about compass and straightedge, and not, say Archimedes's construction with compass and marked straight edge? $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Aug 28, 2013 at 7:31


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