Leonid predicted that, as the site became better known, we would get more newbie questions. Questions like this one. I don't think we have yet seen an avalanche of such questions, but inevitably we'll get a few each day.

In responding to these questions, I hope we never lose sight of what made us start this site and made us work as hard as we have to make it a success: our enthusiasm about the product. Most of the regulars and high-rep users are not WRI employees. We are plain users who enjoy the product and just want to show off what it can do. At some level, our activity here is a kind of advocacy for the product.

Mathematica is a niche product. Very often, users are on their own with no peers in their workplace with any expertise. Of course they make simple mistakes if they have nobody to ask and the documentation is complicated. Mathematica.SE is the first general help site for the product that didn't have huge email-moderation lags. It is no wonder we have become one of the higher-traffic beta sites in the StackExchange network - something like this site was sorely needed!

Don't get me wrong: downvoting and closing the question I linked to above was exactly the right response. But as we do so, I hope that we remember to do so in a way that doesn't demoralise the first-time posters with simple syntax and other errors, but makes them feel welcome nonetheless, and keeps them coming back with better questions.

I guess this post is just a reminder of what made this community such a community - including the relatively low rate of downvoting and the welcome comments to new users. I am not suggesting that we should refrain from downvoting posts that deserve it. I am suggesting we should continue to post those little welcome comments and generally try to convert first-time users into constructive users with a stake in the site. This will, I hope, inoculate us against some help vampire behaviours and keep Mma.SE the funnest site for technical computing Q&A.

  • Okay, I am duly chastised.
    – Mr.Wizard
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 12:04
  • @Mr.Wizard I am not suggesting you did the wrong thing. I am also well aware that this should not be the moderators' burden alone. I just want to make sure we all remember what made us such a community in the first place.
    – Verbeia
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 12:06
  • 1
    1,2,3,4... Edit war? :^)
    – Mr.Wizard
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 12:17
  • 3
    I'm Australian, so I follow the s-convention spelling (and write "colour", "favour" etc) not the z-convention. Just something I don't think we need to be standardising in our posts :) I left the edit you made to fix the typo (thanks! It's bedtime here so I might not be quite as accurate as I should.)
    – Verbeia
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 12:19
  • I know, I was kidding about the edit war. I recognized "behaviours" as British but forgot that "demoralise" probably was also.
    – Mr.Wizard
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 12:32
  • 8
    I completely agree with Verbeia. While it can be annoying to see that some people cannot read the FM, or are not really social (like here), I don't think it helps in any way to squash(?) newcomers or bashing them hard on the nose. I remember the time when I was a newcomer. Our official motto should be "convert first-time users into constructive users", emphasis being on constructive - and that requires some patience. Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 13:48
  • 1
    This SE blog post is relevant: Kicking off the Summer of Love
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 8:36

1 Answer 1


If you are not entirely satisfied about the level of the questions you receive you should not only answer the incoming questions but educate the poster as well. Suppose a question comes in about how-to code a certain behavior in Mma. You can then answer in roughly three ways. 1) Supply working code, period. 2) Supply working code with an explanation "line by line". 3) Give the OP a little assignment so that he makes progress and might be able to solve the problem on his own. - The experts at Mma StackExchange excel in providing type 1 answers. But the posters and the community at large would benefit more from well explained answers of type 2. Newbies would become medior developers faster and in time the level of the questions asked increases. Type 3) answers may help the individual poster best but they don't serve the community. - My point being. Please add some more documentation and explanation to the questions. :-)

  • 2
    quite frankly, I don't think anyone here has the time to provide "line-by-line" explanations for everything. There is something called personal effort, which is expected of the asker...
    – rm -rf Mod
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 13:53
  • I do understand of course that the experts want to use their time in an =efficient= manner @R.M , but there is no such thing as 'not having the time'. There is only "I want" and "I don't want." Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 10:03

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