Many times I stumble upon well-formatted and perhaps even clearly written questions. Sometimes it is even the asker, that did everything properly from the start, and not a moderator, that corrected the formatting. However, what they truly lack, is a minimal working example.

One example of such a question is here.

The OP is reasonably well formatted, the equations are certainly readable. The code-block is quite bad due to copy-paste issues (linebreaks with \ and excessive use of subscripts), but that's understandable, many people new to MMA stumble into these pits.

When I encounter something like that in a review queue, I'm uncomfortable with voting to close, because I struggle to justify it. That is, it'll take too much work to figure out whether there's just a simple mistake somewhere or maybe the question is perfectly valid and just really is that difficult, that it needs to be that long. Therefore I usually click on "Skip".

Today, however, I had a change of heart with the linked question. In my opinion, it is

  1. In part, not about MMA, even though the solution is to be obtained with the help of the software.

  2. The code is extremely hard to read and the equations in TeX form are not really straightforward for reduction to a MWE.

  3. It just takes too much effort, really, to fathom out the problem in what essentially is a code-dump.

So I voted to close, because I felt this is work for a "professional consultant". However, I'm not sure, if that's really the right way to go. Maybe I should have simply downvoted on that question. Maybe I should have taken no action at all.

Upvote the question if you feel, this is a true problem, downvote if I'm making something out of nothing, and when answers come, upvote those, you think offer a good approach to this.

  • 3
    Often such questions get closed after a year of no one wanting to put the effort in. -- I don't always dismiss large inscrutable tracts of code out of hand. If pasting and running the code yields an error that indicates exactly what the problem is, I often can answer and never have to understand the code. Mistakes are frequently not subtle, it seems.
    – Michael E2
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 23:04
  • @Michael, I think, in the context of a meta post this is a possible answer. Why don't you make it such?
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 8:31

1 Answer 1


I also voted to close the question you mention and link to, but for a different reason. The person who asked this question has a mathematical problem on his/her hands more than a Mathematica one. After he/she gets that out of the way, there may or may not be a residual Mathematica one. But I see the question as posed as request for help with math not Mathematica.

  • 3
    That seems a little like when the Supreme Court rules on a case by capitalising on a technicality, to avoid having to rule on the actual issue :P as I see it, the core problem is "what do we do about problems that no-one wants to put in the effort to understand?" Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 15:34
  • 2
    @PatrickStevens. I disagree. Those of us who work this site need to avoid taking on math questions that happen to be disguised as Mathematica questions. There is a gray area which can make this a difficult judgement call rather than just a technical issue.
    – m_goldberg
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 16:17
  • @PatrickStevens, you put it bluntly, but you got it. This is more or less my question. And it may sound rude/lazy, but judging by the amount of upvotes my OP got, it does seem to be a real issue.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 19:09
  • @LLlAMnYP and m_goldberg +1 So what is a person with a problem supposed to do? I have several problems too, ones that I can not solve. If I post them on SE mathematics, tons of downvotes and closed because they will see the mathematica code and figure it belongs right here. But the problems require a good working math knowledge too, the kind that members here possess but will figure it does not belong here despite the mathematica code. So you see the predicament...
    – bobbym
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 10:45
  • @bobbym, although m_goldberg voted to close the question as a mathematics question, rather than software-related, my OP attempted to bring up a different issue altogether. I am talking about questions, that are technically on-topic, but leave it to the community to reduce it to a MWE, something I would expect the asker to do first. It's very likely, that after cleaning up the code and splitting the problem into bite-size chunks the asker may find the solution on his/her own.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:29
  • Apart from that, it's one thing to ask "how do I solve an inhomogeneous DE in MMA, I have tried Dsolve[y'[x]-a y[x] == f[x], ...], but that doesn't work" and a whole 'nother thing to give a very specific and long equation useful only to the asker. When someone else comes along looking for solutions, he will benefit from the first case, but will certainly struggle to extract the solution to a similar problem by looking at the second case, even if someone does go to all the effort to solve the longer problem.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:33
  • 4
    The tl;dr is that a question like how to solve linear DEs is useful (apart from the fact that it's in the docs anyway), while a question "how do I solve the DE a[n] y(n)[x] + ... a[0] y[x] == 0 with initial conditions (half a page of subscripted variables)" is hard to read and near impossible to gain insight from and is "unlikely to help future visitors".
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:36

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