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    • CommentAuthorMariano
    • CommentTimeOct 17th 2011 edited

    I know it is a little annoying to have to come up with gentle phrasings, but... can we avoid the style of Alexander's comment on It made me feel out of place...

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeOct 17th 2011

    I doubt you will get any concurrence on following any convention on such messages, especially as most users can post one. However, if you see one or two styles you like, you could copy them with attribution. For more examples, you could check the recent history of accounts that give such good messages, and copy those for later cut and pasting.

    Gerhard "Ask Me About System Design" Paseman, 2011.10.17

    • CommentAuthorMariano
    • CommentTimeOct 17th 2011 edited

    Well, my point is that I think we should simply not play the you-are-off-topic-because-we-are-so-special card. If we can agree that it is not a good idea to use it, we can gently convince others... and that does not imply agreeing on a standard message or anything even close to that. Was my initial point not clear? :/

    • CommentAuthorgrp
    • CommentTimeOct 17th 2011

    My reading of your initial point was that the example to which you provided a link was less than exemplary in politeness and handling of redirection. While I agree that it is not the style I like to see, my response to your initial point is again that others will do what they will, regardless of what you and I agree upon or whom we can convince. My further response is recommending proactive preemption of such comments by you providing one from your own collection. I have in some of my recent pages a small collection which you can use with attribution, or slightly modify to make them your own. Not that I hold mine up to be shining examples; I encourage you to borrow from other users' examples as well.

    If you want to try the route of convincing others, you have my moral support.

    Gerhard "But Not My Athletic Support" Paseman, 2011.10.17


    Mariano, I am hereby upvoting your two statements.


    I agree with Mariano's proposal. We do this on TeX-SX ( The point is not that every user has to use one of these comments. The point is two-fold:

    1. By having these comments, we make it easy to be polite. The polite message always takes longer to type than the impolite one, particularly when one is annoyed at have to wade through a slew of off-topic posts. By providing these templates we make it as easy to be polite as to be impolite (if not easier). If one doesn't have time to compose ones own polite message, one can simply cut-and-paste the stock one and know that it contains the necessary information in a polite way.

    2. By having these comments, we make it clear that one should be polite. Oftentimes we're impolite simply because we don't think. It's hard to be empathetic to User2845. The prominence of this list makes it clear to users that politeness is the expected behaviour.

    To counter Gerhard's point, yes others will do as they please. Their behaviour is not my responsibility. But if I get in first with a polite comment - and such a list makes it easier for me to do so - then the overall politeness of the site goes up. Moreover, although others may do as they please, hopefully by example they can be persuaded to be a bit more polite.


    I think having standard comments is a great idea, it's way less work for everyone and thus will result in comments being left more often and more quickly, while also being phrased with more thought.

    • CommentAuthorMariano
    • CommentTimeOct 18th 2011

    (We could add a

        a[href='/faq'] { background: #ff9900; padding-left: 10px; padding-right: 10px; } 

    to the CSS , or even a

        a[href='/faq'] { background: #ff9900; padding-left: 10px; padding-right: 10px;  font-size: xx-large; }

    to the CSS of the ask-a-question page, and damn the W3C for banning the BLINK element!)

    • CommentAuthorEmil J
    • CommentTimeOct 18th 2011

    (There’s text-decoration: blink instead. I never wrote this.)

    We are special. Very few others spend their working hours on matters most likely of little or no use that only a very small geographically disbursed community has an interest in.

    (Do I need to spell it out at this point that special \neq superior? The original questioner had it right in his or her comment - this site is not very useful since it only helps a few people in matters of dubious overall utility, however much personal interest there might be.)
    • CommentAuthorShevek
    • CommentTimeOct 18th 2011
    I liked Alexander's comment. It was more informative and more precise than most comments explaining why a question is not appropriate. It explained quite clearly what the site is all about. I do agree that we should be careful not to come across as condescending, but saying "This site is intended for mathematicians doing original research" is better in my opinion than just saying that a question is "inappropriate for the site; see the FAQ". I would leave out the stuff about "which nobody knows the answer too ...".
    I think that we should strive to be friendly and not arrogant, even to people who submit off-topic questions. I do not think that comments like Alexander's are helpful for the general image of the mathematical community. I strongly support Andrew's suggestion, for the reasons that he outlines.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeOct 19th 2011
    I agree that Alexander's comment comes across as too harsh, but I do like the clarity of it. I think most visitors from outside mathematics do not understand what "mathematician" or "research" mean: they read "questions of interest to mathematicians" as "questions of interest to someone taking a math course" and they think of research as what you do when you write a term paper (i.e., research is studying anything that's new to you). From this perspective, our objections to their questions don't seem valid, and they conclude that we are just snobs who are biased against easy questions or people without math degrees. So the ideal response should convey that the site really is intended for something very different, without coming across as harsh or condescending.
    • CommentAuthorJDH
    • CommentTimeOct 19th 2011
    Perhaps the phrase, "professional mathematics research" would better convey the desired meaning.

    If we are honest, we will admit that many questions that remain open, and even get upvoted highly, are questions which are not at all research-oriented but which arise from simple (sometimes idle) curiosity. So "questions of interest to professional mathematicians", or the like, is probably closer to the truth.

    I wrote recently that the mantra "not research level" as a pretext for closing questions is probably over-applied as it is; we need to bear in mind that a main function of Mathoverflow is to provide a forum for mathematicians to ask questions of one another outside their domain of expertise, which almost always means questions which don't qualify as "research-level" for the experts. (It's annoying when a mathematician of high standing is told by some graduate student that his question might be more suitable for stack exchange; it's as if you can't ask a naive question anymore!)

    1) I don't like "professional mathematics research" because (a) most people don't know what professional mathematicians do, and (b) it excludes people who are not and have no intention of being employed as mathematicians but still doing research.

    2) I think really the only way of explaining the audience for this site that is clear to the general public is something like "people trying to solve mathematics problems to which no one knows the answer".

    3) I agree with Todd - I probably came across a little too strongly on "questions to which only a few people know the answer" (depending on how "few" is interpreted).

    4) I'm not advocating for them to be completely abolished, but I feel like it's a good time to push back a little bit against "idle curiosity" questions.