As N.N. notes in his answer to Can/should we get a “How to Ask” page?, there is now a "How to ask" page and it is linked from a helpful-looking box on the "Ask Question" page:

How to ask box

I'd like this box made a little clearer and cleaner, if possible. The problems that immediately jump out at me are:

  1. The first question is missing article (or perhaps a plural-s).
  2. I'm also a little nervous of the "related typesetting system" - it's not clear what that is. How "related" does a typesetting system have to be? Sibling? First cousin? Third cousin, twice removed? I realise that conciseness is key here, but concise and precise are not mutually exclusive. How about "Is your question about TeX or a TeX-based typesetting system?"
  3. Second sentence: I'd rather go for focus than the answer/discussion divide. I'd also steer clear of saying things like "We prefer" as if we've sat down and made a list of all the things we don't like (Questions that give rise to discussion, Word, cats, things that go bump in the night, Paulo's graphics) and decided to ban them all from the site. How about "Your question is more likely to get answered if it is focussed." (and the double s is non-negotiable).
  4. Third and fourth "sentence"s. They aren't. Sentences, I mean. Seriously. Let's be grammatical about this. And "research"? What research? Should I link all of my articles? Is it really going to help someone answer my question on expansion to know what is the Topology of the space of piecewise-smooth loops? What do these mean? For us, they mean "Show what you've already tried.".
  5. The link to the more detailed "how to ask" page is "asking help". Is that "help about asking" or "if you want more help, here's where to ask"?

Yes, I'm nitpicking. But the people for whom this box will be useful are the people new to the site for whom the default assumptions that this box makes (about familiarity with the SE system) will not apply, or at least are less likely to apply. So it's an important thing to think about.

  • Maybe the easiest ways to proceed is to answer this question with a more or lest complete suggestion for how the text in the "How to Ask" box should read? You seem to have a quite good suggestion telling from your points (which I agree with) so maybe it would be appropriate for you to post it?
    – N.N.
    Feb 2, 2012 at 11:48
  • My difficulty with that is that I don't know what the purpose of this box is, and without that it's hard to design a better one. (I mean, I know in general, but I don't know the specifics.) Feb 2, 2012 at 12:08
  • I guess it serves two purposes: 1) to be a last kind of defense against unwanted questions before they are actually posted, 2) and to provide guidelines for writing proper questions. Technically I see it as an extended tooltip because its appearance is bound to the focus of the Title field.
    – N.N.
    Feb 2, 2012 at 12:19
  • trivia: re non-negotiable "focussed", i suggest rephrasing to "if it has a clear focus", to avoid rubbing fur the wrong way for some of us. (i agree with the other points.) Feb 2, 2012 at 15:45
  • @barbarabeeton I've been known to be a little facetious at times. Feb 2, 2012 at 18:03
  • @Andrew -- so have i, but i'm also a born nit-picker. (just today i was grumbling because one of our copyeditors cavalierly marked a bunch of brit-spellings to be changed to u.s. spelling, instead of simply checking to make sure that everything was consistently one or the other. i've learned to deal with "personal preferences"; i have one english friend who resolutely refuses to change the spelling of "shew", even though it places him in a generation older than mine.) Feb 2, 2012 at 18:42
  • @N.N. I had a go. Feb 2, 2012 at 18:52
  • @AndrewStacey Any point in reviewing the text in the How to Ask box at meta.tex.stackexchange.com/questions/ask too?
    – N.N.
    Feb 3, 2012 at 8:17
  • @N.N. Ouch, yes, that could do with a bit of work too. However, I would have thought that it was less important as first someone has to come to meta and thus know that meta exists before seeing it. Let's see if we can get the main one changed first before investing any effort in the meta one. Feb 3, 2012 at 9:38

1 Answer 1


Here's a stab at a mock-up. As I said in the comments, I'm not really sure who this is aimed at - our experience on MathOverflow is that those who should read things like this never do.

How to Ask
This site is for questions about TeX and TeX-related matters.
The questions that work best here are those which have a clear focus, have a context, and show what the questioner has already tried to find an answer.
For questions about this site, please ask on meta.
For more on how to ask a good question, please see the "How to ask" page.

(You'll have to imagine all the links)

Now, that feels far to verbose to me, so suggestions on how to make it more concise are welcome. Indeed, I'll make this CW so that others can edit it and improve it.

(Of course, we don't know if such a change could be implemented yet so this might be a waste of time.)

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