I mean “trivial” in the sense of questions that can be answered by:

you’re missing a ;, you'd probably have seen it if you hadn't been looking at this code for two hours already

An example may be found here, which triggered this very meta question.

I left a comment and voted to close it as “too localized”. I saw someone else leaving an equivalent answer. The possible solutions as far as I can see:

  • close as “too localized”; help can be given in comments, because it’s useful to the OP, but it's not useful for future visitors
  • close as a duplicate of a single “how to find and solve syntax problems” question, with a good community wiki answer
  • keep open
  • 2
    close as localized, I think. doesn't add to the site (I was the answerer)
    – acl
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 23:02
  • I'd agree with that, but I'd think we want to do so in a polite way. If some of the answers given help people solve a class of similar code mistakes, maybe the submitter can be asked to reword their quesetion into something more general and more likely to be of help to others?
    – nixeagle
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 23:05
  • 2
    I'm wondering if it is worth posing an FAQ style question - "What checklist of common syntax errors should I watch for?" with a community-wiki answer formatted as a nice checklist. - oh, I see that this is your second solution. Count my vote for that one.
    – Verbeia
    Commented Mar 25, 2012 at 23:12

3 Answers 3


I like option #2:

close as a duplicate of a single “how to find and solve syntax problems” question, with a good community wiki answer

  • this is a good option, but the CW answer needs to be written well.
    – acl
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:59
  • 1
    With the caveat that we may need multiple "find and solve" questions for different classes of syntax errors. Would be nicer to have than a smorgasbord of cases in one gigantic question.
    – nixeagle
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 1:31
  • We need to compile such a list. The question is: how are we going to organize this effort, so that it really takes of and leads to something useful? Perhaps something along the same lines as we did in @szabolcs community text editor when we were outlining tags during commitment phase? Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 22:13

I think that the example you linked (this) is not a good example here. While I agree on that questions with simple typos should be closed (or at least reformed to something more useful if the question allows), there are such syntactic misunderstandings that are basically conceptual and not due to missing an operator or misspelling something.

I find the given example a perfect manifestation of the former, as even the documentation of NMinimize states this:

NMinimize[f,x] minimizes f numerically with respect to x.

It might be confusing for a new user to understand the differences between f, f[x] and other forms like f[x][y], etc. Consequently I voted to reopen that question.

Also, in such conceptual misunderstanding cases the title should be rephrased to reflect the actual problem.

(So my opinion is a +1 and a -1, cancelling out each other.)

  • I agree with you however I upvoted that question since it could make a good opportunity to really good answers.
    – Artes
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 22:13

I think it is difficult to establish a general rule for that kind of questions. If they appear too often it would be rather a bigger problem.
When I said that it shouldn't be closed I meant that such questions should be treated more seriously. In general it appears that to give a good answer to a trivial (or even stupid) question is more difficult. In this special case I find rather a wide range of possible reasonable answers which could be helpful to almost the whole mathematica.stackexchange comunity.
For example one could give a complete reason why a function should be called as f[x] rather than f in functions like NMinimize, why it is slightly different than on purely mathematical level. This point of view makes question much more interesting. Making a good justification of this issue would be really enlightening. I mean almost every Mathematica user (knowing it for at least 2 months) could give a simple answer to a newbie however there are more interesting levels of justifications. Another example of question which was a bit annoying at first was for example Generate a Unit Circle Trigonometry. I do not downvote but then I really wanted to close that question right now, however afterwards there appeared two interesting answers which made that question more reasonable. In comparison this question is much more interesting and really makes sense. The only problem was than since it had been closed there was no more interest in it.

  • first let me say that I am not defending my answer to that question; however, I fail to see how this is anything but a simple syntax problem. it's not really different from maths, either: suppose I told you "minimise f wrt x and y"; this is clearly ambiguous, so I need to say "f(x,y) wrt x and y". to make that question interesting, one would need to pretend it was about the differences between pure functions and "functions" like f[x_]:.... but it isn't... sometimes, a cigar really is just a cigar.
    – acl
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 19:47
  • There can be a global minimum or local one. Mathematically proper meaning is to minimize a function (say continuous) f in a given set A(say compact). So I don't understand what you mean by "f wrt x and y" versus "f(x,y) wrt x and y". I have none against your answer, however one could add more interesting remarks concerning syntax as well as the structure of the system.
    – Artes
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 20:38
  • My point was, it seems to me that this was a misunderstanding regarding syntax and nothing more; and the "f wrt x and y" vs "f(x,y) vs x and y" was meant to indicate that it's not like in discussing maths every day with colleagues we can safely drop the arguments (f(x,y) and f(y,x), for instance), so it's not really a question of maths vs mma. I don't see how whether f is continuous or not and whether the domain is compact or not has anything to do with this (but this discussion seems to rapidly be becoming unproductive).
    – acl
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 21:35

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