Motivation: I think it's good to encourage newcomers to MMA and MMA SE to continue participating here as they continue to learn Mathematica—especially when their first questions are closed for being a "simple mistake". How can we do this?

Two ideas (and subquestions):

1. Vote-to-close and upvote

On this site we see lots of newcomers to Mathematica (and therefore Mathematica stack exchange) asking questions that are closed without answers because they "arise due to a simple mistake, syntax error, or else are easily found in the documentation" and are resolved immediately in the comments.

But closing a question—especially someone's first—because it's essentially "too simple to be worth answering" has a lot of "intimidation power". I think it's worth taking measures to reduce this.

When I vote to close a question for this reason, I like to upvote the question as well. This might seem contrary to the "upvote only useful questions" policy, but I think of it this way: the question will be closed soon and therefore the votes "won't matter" (to the site), but the asker will still know that their asking of a question—and therefore, more importantly, their presence on the site—was still valued. As such, they might be more likely to stick around and feel comfortable asking future questions.

But is this a good idea? Do various site metrics factor in upvotes even on closed questions? Are there any reasons to not do this?

2. After-the-fact comment with encouragement, explanation, and resources

I've seen the "Welcome to MMA SE!" comment template (often from user bbgodfrey) appearing on questions from new users (see here for example), and I think it's great!

I've seen an analogue of it for questions about to be closed for simple mistakes, making clear that this process is just routine site clean-up, and asking OP not to be discouraged from further participation—for example, the comment by user rhermans here.

I'm wondering if it would be useful to automate this process. (Or both processes, if bbgodfrey is doing all this manually!) Is it within the capabilities (and interests) of the mods to set up a bot that performs this task? How difficult would this be? Or would an external "bot" account be useful? And would it be a good idea?

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    I share your concern that the absolutely necessary cleaning up a policy that keeps this site decent is intimidating for new users. We should do what is possible to be at the same time kind with the people and firm with the policy, and that requires an explanation. I'm not sure about the automation though. It's easy to identify automated answers. I tend to give lesser weight to things that don't come from people. I'm happy to change my downvote to an upvote for a new user that did should effort improving a question, but wouldn't vote up a question just because the user is new.
    – rhermans
    Oct 11, 2021 at 9:47
  • People visit MSE, I hope, because of the high quality (I hope). An expectation of high quality intimidates the incompetent by nature. I was intimidated when I joined. (So was trying to get in on a ball game in the parks in NYC, when I moved there. Newbie-intimidation was just a part of life to me.) Vampire slaying is, or was, intimidating. Posts like this over recent years seem to argue against it. But MSE has always been one of the kinder ones. If the OP is polite and appreciative, they often get an answer in the comments, even when the Q is closed.
    – Michael E2
    Oct 14, 2021 at 15:29
  • Good question. A lot of simple questions are answered in comments. If the originator acknowledges that this solves the question, it is unlikely that this fixes the problem, its unlikely that anyone will answer. Questions that won't get answers should be closed.
    – mikado
    Oct 20, 2021 at 21:41
  • I have commented in the chat that probably users could get a page after posting, prompting them to continue working on the question after submission, probably with a checklist and a kind explanation of possible outcomes (ignored, answered, closed, etc.). There may be a missed opportunity there.
    – rhermans
    Nov 23, 2021 at 9:24

1 Answer 1


I think the limited functionality of the site without reputation is a limiting factor as well, and considering the way SE encourages people to gain reputation is to ask a question it's no wonder some silly questions get asked.

For example - I recently found an (almost) solution to an issue I was having, but needed clarification on one or two things. Instead of being able to comment on the question (which requires 50(!!) reputation), SE encourages the submission of a whole new question.

I feel a lot of people would find themselves in a similar situation, where they have a basic question that is 95% answered in another thread, but they can't tack onto that thread and have it answered locally and with context, and instead have to make whole posts about it.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but Mathematica has a very steep learning curve and it can be pretty easy to be discouraged. I think the more support we can give to newcomers the better...but maybe that's just me.

  • I think the question asked about policy to deal with newcomers asking basic questions that end up closed as "simple mistakes", not about explaining why there are so many "silly questions" as you put it. While it's true that reputation is a limiting factor, I think it's broadly accepted that such restrictions are necessary to keep the quality of the site and that the barrier is not hard to cross for anybody with a minimum level of commitment.
    – rhermans
    Nov 12, 2021 at 9:53
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    But if the existence of trivial mistakes were the point to discuss, I would disagree that reputation restrictions are the cause (-1). I would argue that people just do not bother to read any significant amount of the documentation before asking. It's mainly laziness and the cause expressions like LMGTFY or RTFM are so prevalent. Articulating a good question is hard, people don't like doing hard things. Much easier to dump a bad quality question and expect other people to guess what they mean.
    – rhermans
    Nov 12, 2021 at 9:59

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