# Should questions be to the point or provide context?

In the past I asked questions on SE sites with as much brevity as I could. I did not want to distract readers from my actual question. But this often led to answers and comments along the lines of "why would you want to do this?" or "you shouldn't be trying to do this; here is what you should do instead".

So I started offering background, to deter these kinds of responses. I'm trying to communicate that "yes, I do have a good reason for wanting to do this, and even if you think I'm asking the wrong question, there are complications that make my question necessary all the same".

I did that with this question and asked a LaTeX question that mentioned MathJax. Within an hour enough closure votes came in to put the question on hold, presumably because the users view MathJax as off-topic. But I feel like these voters weren't really reading the question. They were just distracted by the mention of MathJax.

So is the culture here that we should just ask minimalistic questions? Had I simply asked "Can I get superscript behavior in math mode without using ^?" and left it at that, without mention of MathJax, would that be preferable? (And it may be that this cultural question has different answers at different SE sites.)

• I added a comment on your question there right from the start, asking you if that would be a LaTeX question. You distracted in fact the close-voters (including me) with your references to MathJax and edited the question to be a LaTeX question basically/lately when it was at the edge of being closed. I voted for close as 2nd one, when this edit wasn't made. Your question did not mention LaTeX at all in the beginning. So an answer to your question here may be: Elaborate on the context. And the Avenger of all closed questions will appear soon with a comment, I am pretty sure. – user31729 May 22 '15 at 0:18
• the short story is too short the long is super boring about why this is happening. Better go in the chatroom and mention the question and we will reopen it. Reviewers aren't reading any questions any more so this started to happen more frequently. We have to please a few strange users with our questions so that they don't click every stupid button. – percusse May 22 '15 at 0:19
• @ChristianHupfer At the time I went in to make my edit, I only saw one vote to close. "did not mention LaTeX at all"? Of course it did. It asked a math mode question. Must posts include the word "LaTeX"? If you ask for clarification, and the off-topic description tells you to consider editing the question, users should be given half a chance to actually do that: clarify and edit the question. Regular users aren't able to monitor SE posts constantly, and if a question is closed before the OP has a chance to clarify, it's not serving the site. – alex.jordan May 22 '15 at 0:33
• @alex.jordan: Well, then my close vote happened at the same time you were editing. I can't track this back right now. I wasn't the first one who started the avalanche. I well noticed the math mode but then your post orbited around math content on a site etc. and MathJax. This was clearly off-topic for me, and still is, actually. And others had the same opinion, apparently – user31729 May 22 '15 at 0:36
• nice try @ChristianHupfer We can still see the edits on the comments and times you know. If you have a beef bring it on to chat or whatever, don't do childish things. – percusse May 22 '15 at 0:58
• I'm confused if @percusse is meaning to direct that to me? Anyway, this thread is getting off track. It's not meant to be about that question on the main site. This meta question here is simply what it is. Is the preference to be brief or give context? It appears there is no universal answer. – alex.jordan May 22 '15 at 1:06
• My mistake. I am having my fun with a few users who are consistently closing questions and I am consistently objecting them. That's what above is all about. – percusse May 22 '15 at 1:16
• @percusse: If you mean my first comment here -- yes, I edited it, but I did not see that you already commented too. It was so obvious you would do so, that's why I appended in advance. Sometimes there is is a time lag. If that is what you call childish -- it is just a matter of the underlying technology. – user31729 May 22 '15 at 6:09
• @ChristianHupfer Right.... – percusse May 22 '15 at 8:21
• @alex Don’t take it the wrong way, but I think that part of the issue was that your original question was just badly worded. As I read it right now (from the edit history), I’m not exactly sure what you meant and can only understand it from the context of this question on meta and the later edits. Putting, as you seem to have done, the focus on MathJax is distracting from the actual question (a very legitimate one), and your mentioning LaTeX only negatively really made it sound like you weren’t asking about TeX at all. As for this question, I agree with all Paul Gessler says below. – Arthur Reutenauer May 23 '15 at 0:49
• @ArthurReutenauer: It could not be expressed better. Exactly my reasonings/impressions on that question – user31729 May 23 '15 at 7:43

Should questions be to the point or provide context?

I would say, both. I have struggled with this point now and in the past. It is an art (to me, at least) to provide enough background that potential X-Y problems are avoided, but not provide too much information that it confuses the objective or makes the question "too localized" and not of much benefit to others.

To use a sometimes overused Einstein saying: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. In your particular case, leaving out MathJax is too simple, because the answer you were given does not work out-of-the-box with MathJax. This was already pointed out in the comments.

Since a successful answer to your question requires knowledge that you're seeking a solution for MathJax, I would argue that adding that information is necessary in this case. Also, the fact that special treatment is required for MathJax makes it off-topic in that form.

That said, I still think your question (and the current answer) could be useful if limited to (La)TeX usage only, leaving MathJax out of the picture. I searched around and saw \sb and \sp used in several places but not as direct answers to a pointed question similar to yours. Your question is already close to being reopened, but I think it's a better fit for the site without MathJax in play.

However, this leaves you without an answer to your real question. To that point:

As also mentioned in the comments, you may be able to define similar behavior with MathJax, but the success of these workarounds depends on the details of how ^ is used as a control character in your institution's automated process. All of these things are off-topic for TeX Stack Exchange, but you may be able to find answers elsewhere.

• These are just my own humble opinions, of course. I welcome hearing other opinions/discussion on the matter. – Paul Gessler May 22 '15 at 1:22
• Pretty much what I was thinking of writing :-) Of course, we have the usual chicken-and-egg situation here in some ways. To the knowledgeable, there is an obvious question about switching to superscripts in math mode using a token other than ^, but the fact that's an interesting question on its own isn't going to be obvious to someone who doesn't know about it :-) – Joseph Wright May 22 '15 at 6:30
• Well, there are situations where one doesn’t even know what question to ask, and these can be really painful (especially when conscious of it), but I personally think that the plain and humble “minimal working example” approach – which even Einstein recommends as Paul reminds us above ;-) – is the best one. Or, as my father once told me, “when you’re in trouble, just tell people your life story, that usually makes them want to help you”. – Arthur Reutenauer May 23 '15 at 0:58