This question is the first that I've seen that has been closed as not a real question when the post contains just maths and no words.

Should this type of post fall under this type of closure?

In the past, the only posts I've seen closed for this reason are those which consist only of vague discussion (such as this one).

I haven't been able to find more detail on the potential reasons for closing as not a real question, so I've asked here. Note, I can't actually vote to close at this point in time, but I would be interested to know anyway.


It is worth noting that one of the two integrals in the original post featured in a post from the same user a day later. The second post is much better written and was answered within 10 hours.

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In this case, the reason for closure could be No question at all but this reason is not in the list and Not a real question is its closest approximation. Re your question, if you are saying that the post was closed because it "contains just maths and no words", I wonder how you know as a fact that this is the reason. –  Did Jan 23 '13 at 6:53
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The example you give is pretty much maximal in not being a real question. It doesn't even contain a statement one might want to have a proof or explanation for. It is impossible to figure out what OP wants. –  Michael Greinecker Jan 23 '13 at 8:45
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The implied question is obvious. Worse, the question was closed in less than an hour and a half with no comment even suggesting how the OP could improve it. This closure is grotesque, and the deletion of the post makes it even worse. –  Brian M. Scott Feb 2 '13 at 21:05
    
I see that I can't vote to undelete, since a moderator deleted it. Yes, folks, it would be nice if the OP had actually stated that they were looking for help evaluating the two given integrals, but was anybody actually uncertain that that's what they were looking for? If you'd like the OP to be more courteous, say so, but don't close and then delete the question because they didn't bother to use their words. –  Cameron Buie Feb 3 '13 at 4:14
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I agree with Brian. The correct course of action is to ask the OP to improve his question, not to close it without comment. I think the Math.SE community has failed on this one. –  Chris Taylor Feb 4 '13 at 9:34
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@ChrisTaylor: the closure text states "It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, see the FAQ." You should feel free to add to it, but you cannot fault other users for not otherwise asking the OP to clarify. –  Willie Wong Feb 4 '13 at 9:56
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@Cameron: what are you talking about? See math.stackexchange.com/posts/265889/revisions The post was not deleted by moderator. To address your other question, just taking a quick glance at the question without thinking too hard, my first thought was whether the OP is asking to show that the two integrals are equal (which may result from some funny change of variables without evaluating either integral). –  Willie Wong Feb 4 '13 at 10:00
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@Brian: See my comment above: the deletion of the post happened automatically. If the OP can't be bothered to clarify his question in view of the closure text, I don't see what's so "grotesque" about a post being heavily negatively voted and closed by the community being automatically deleted. If you want to discuss the closure/downvotes then fine, a discussion can and should be had about how we treat questions into which the OP put not even the minimum of efforts; but don't set up a strawman argument with this deletion nonsense. –  Willie Wong Feb 4 '13 at 10:04
    
For reference: see point six of this Meta.SO explanation on how automatic deletions happen. –  Willie Wong Feb 4 '13 at 10:18
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@Willie: Like Cameron, I did not realize that the deletion was automatic. For the rest, though, I agree completely with Chris Taylor: we failed the OP. It’s quite clear that he was asking how to evaluate the integrals, and if there was any doubt, a quick look at his other questions should have resolved it. Closing a question in an hour and a half without even leaving a comment is unconscionable. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have discouraged the OP. –  Brian M. Scott Feb 4 '13 at 22:32
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@Brian: and considering that this meta question is asked to discuss the closure, I encourage you to post what you wrote above as an answer to provide a balancing point of view from that one I placed below! –  Willie Wong Feb 5 '13 at 8:27
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The question is no longer deleted, and has 2 votes to re-open. The OP still has not provided a question to go with the formulas, however. –  GEdgar Feb 5 '13 at 16:09
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Indeed. Although a comment posted yesterday explicitly suggested to do so, and the OP was logged on the site 1 hour ago. –  Did Feb 5 '13 at 18:22
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@BrianM.Scott: Is it the reader's responsibility to go through the OP's previous posts to find the meaning to the intended question, or is it the OP's responsibility to make the question clear in the post? I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your comments about the deletion of the post, but I do think the onus is on the OP to make sure they present the question in such a way that it is easy to understand (and hopefully answer). –  Michael Albanese Feb 6 '13 at 10:49
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@Brian The "questioner" has asked enough questions before and been around for long enough that he could have learned how to ask questions properly. I agree that it would be an overreaction if this would have been the treatment of the first post. But the situation is entirely different. –  Michael Greinecker Feb 6 '13 at 12:31
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Just for the sake of having an answer, since Did and Michael have already said what I really wanted to say.

Quite obviously $$ \{ \text{Real Questions} \} \subseteq \{ \text{Questions}\} $$

And quite evidently, the linked post $\not\in \{ \text{Questions}\}$: it contains no question marks, it contains no statements that can be interpreted as a demand, and it contains no statements that expresses doubts.

Therefore $$ \text{linked post} \not\in \{\text{Real Questions}\} $$ by the definition of subset.

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Sure. I suppose my confusion comes from the fact that I have seen other questions on this site with two or three words more than the example (words like "How to find" or "Show") which have not been closed. In my opinion such questions aren't that much better than the example, but maybe this difference is enough to protect it from closure. –  Michael Albanese Jan 23 '13 at 20:46
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This is specious: the implied question is obvious. –  Brian M. Scott Feb 2 '13 at 21:04
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I strongly agree with Brian here, and I think that this answer justifying the action taken in mathematical terminology is cute, but unproductive. –  Chris Taylor Feb 4 '13 at 9:36
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The best questions on this site include not only a clear description of the problem, but also a description of where the person asking the question encountered the problem and what they have already tried to solve it. That is the standard that we should encourage for all questions.

So the following fake question is already poorly composed, although it is at least clear enough that we can try to answer it:

How do I integrate $\int \sin(x)\,dx$?

That question is poorly written because it lacks all context about why the person wants to integrate this, and what sort of integration they could do. It demonstrates essentially the least possible effort for the questioner to state the problem. When I have the energy, I leave comments on these sorts of questions to let the asker know that we wish they would provide more information.

On the other hand, if we remove the words to yield the "question"

$\int \sin(x)\,dx$

then, in my mind, we do not even have a genuine question left. I think that, in such a situation, we should leave a comment explaining that a formula on its own is not a question. But I would also vote to close a question of that form, because I don't see it as a question in the first place. It demonstrates less than the least effort needed to write a precise question.

Personally, I don't give much weight to the fact that we may be able to guess several possible questions from a formula. If we would like to see more well-written questions, we should be clear with question askers that this is not a site for hurried, poorly-written ones. The main way to do this is with comments that clearly explain our expectations... if the problem we are dealing with is that the asker did not use enough words to communicate their intentions, we should not make the same mistake.

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In general, my expectations are aptly described by the following paragraph: "It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, see the FAQ." –  Did Feb 5 '13 at 18:19
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