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We already have this question: Mathematicians being elitist? which showed the point of view of the community about mathematics and related questions.

But something that annoys me more is this comment by Mike Ounsworth :

FYI to the community: downvotes on questions like this (with no comment) are what make people like me feel "unqualified" to even read this site, and take moths off at a time. I get that people insta downvote anything that looks like a "pure mathematics" question... but really?

Being down-voted is never a great experience. But what I find the most frustrating is not having the reason why it was down-voted:

  • Is it the quality of the answer? (too short...)
  • Is there a mistake in my answer?
  • Is it that you just don't like the answer?
  • Is it the correctness of the answer?
  • Is it that you think the question not relevant?
  • Is it a blunt homework question?

When such thing happen I don't think this helps the community growing.

I try to get more people on the website. I advertise a lot. I have given stickers and gave a lightning talk at Real World Crypto 2017... But if someone does not feel welcome here. All this is for nothing.

As part of personal experience, a few months ago I managed to bring a friend on the website. As a result, he nearly quited the website when someone challenged him on an answer, questioning his ability to comprehend mathematics:

You can nitpick all you want, the fact is that you are stating an isomorphism without justification. Looks like you are just repeating what's in this document without understanding it.

Thus my question:

How to make people feel more welcome in the community ?

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  • $\begingroup$ This is all very nice, but where are the numbers (since this forum perceives itself as a technical /mathematical subject)? It would be enlightening to quantify this issue by displaying a histogram of no.of members vs their reputations. Then we could see if there is a healthy spread of membership or just a cabal of the powerful few. Hopefully this meta data exists as this is a for profit business first and foremost. $\endgroup$ – Paul Uszak Jan 29 '17 at 13:56
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I don't have an exhaustive list. But I have a few approaches to how I try to be nice and encourage people to stay here.

I'll assume the usual "don't be rude" and "try to be constructive" and will skip those (others can elaborate on them if they want).


Don't be an academic programmer, be verbose!

Focus: New questions.

We tend to vote to close questions without giving comments. That's a bad behavior because it doesn't notify / inform the OP (who can't see the close votes on his Qs if he has low reputation). So if you vote to close a Q and there's no helpful comment already, leave a comment yourself. This especially holds if the close votes are for "unclear what you're asking". If it's unclear ask the OP for the details that are lacking / unclear, after all asking precise questions about unclear questions is a core skill at SE ;) . But it also holds for "too broad" and our "off-topic" reasons. If it is too broad, point it out to the OP so he can react and if possible point the OP to directions which would narrow the scope to the point where the question is answerable. If you vote for one of our custom close reasons, please leave a short comment, even if it only points to the relevant meta question discussing the matter and why we don't want the question.


Avoid / explain downvotes - of other people

Focus: Posts from "low rep users" - which may include users with way more than a few hundred rep.

Suppose you stumble across a post that has a negative vote score. Suppose there are no comments. Obviously you didn't downvote it (otherwise you'd have left a comment, right? ;) so be kind and speculate. Look at the post and identify things that might be worthy of a down-vote for a person who uses the feature more aggressively than you do. Then make a comment and explain the OP why this post could be received as "bad". If you can and have the time, make an edit that fixes this issue. If you fail to see reason, up-vote. If you removed the potential reason up-vote. As someone, who has made quite a few posts here, I can tell you, having a negative score on your post is a really bad feeling. It has hit me too before. It usually didn't feel well, especially when you didn't grow yourself a "thick skin" yet, which I'd guess happened for me at least around a few thousand rep points. A negative score indicates that a post needs fixing and it is your duty to help with this as best as you can - by guiding the poster or fixing it yourself.


Feel especially encouraged to upvote posts from new users

Suppose you are a new user here. You don't fully and intuitionally understand how to write a good answer or question yet. It may be short, lacking quotations or have similar issues, which you don't recognize as "bad" yet because you haven't yet absorbed SE's culture. Now suppose your post largely gets ignored, receives neither up- nor down-votes or answers. Would you feel encouraged to continue contributing? I certainly wouldn't as much. Repeat this two more times and I can guarantee you, this person is pretty much lost from SE for quite a while. So what can you do? If there's nothing wrong with a post that you can identify, up-vote. If there's something wrong, comment what is and let the OP fix it so they can be up-voted. Don't automatically assume that the answers from new users are always worse than those from higher-rep users! Sure the higher rep users may have more experience here and formulate more attractively to the community, but the lower-rep users work just as hard if not much harder on their posts, so encourage that with this simple click of a button!

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you SEJPM! As the user at the centre of this, I think you have addressed my concerns very nicely! I will make a post covering "try to be constructive" as I think it does warrant elaboration. $\endgroup$ – Mike Ounsworth Jan 18 '17 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ How did I do with my comments here? Nice enough? $\endgroup$ – mikeazo Feb 2 '17 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ @mikeazo Badly, the user hasn't returned yet }:P (there is just no pleasing some people) $\endgroup$ – Maarten - reinstate Monica Feb 27 '17 at 18:51
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From the perspective of someone who has been active on various places on the Internet since it began, I'd also suggest that if you want to be made welcome anywhere, have a quick read of the FAQ; perhaps lurk a bit to understand local customs, and join in.

There are a number of folks who don't take that simple step - and I think most of the lack of a warm welcome comes down to that.

Call me old and cynical, but there has to be a bit of work from both sides. @SEJPM's post is excellent - the community can be a little more relaxed; but remember, sometimes people just won't be welcome unless they are nice and make at least a little effort.

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As the user who posted both the Mathematicians being elitist? meta question, and the quoted comment, so I feel obliged to chime in.

First, thank you. I am encouraged that some members of the community take this seriously. @SEJPM's post is wonderful and covers many of the big ways that new users are made to feel unwelcome. I will add to SEJPM's post by covering "try to be constructive". With a background in educational psychology, I know that giving good constructive feedback is not always easy - it takes thought and practice!


As SEJPM points out, people who post here often put considerable effort into their posts. New users probably spend time and effort per post than experienced users because they are likely unfamiliar the subject matter, the format of StackExchange, or both. That shouldn't make their question any less real or worthy of an answer.

(Context: I have 1k rep on crypto, and 17k on security.) When I see a question with an obviously weak grasp of the subject matter, I remind myself that for one person to be bold enough to ask it, there must be 1,000 people who would benefit from reading the answer. You know the question is meaningful to the OP, but sometimes it takes work from us to help them get the answer they want, and better yet, writing an answer worthy of ranking highly on Google so others like them can get the answer too!

The golden rule of being constructive: always build positively on what they've said rather than reducing the value of their post. In my experience on SE, this comes in two forms:

1) If you can, Answer the question they meant to ask.

Often they have seen something they don't understand, but don't know enough to google it properly. In this case, there is probably a general misconception in the general public and I try to provide a wiki-style answer addressing this.

I very often use the following patterns when answering "low quality" questions:

Your question doesn't make sense because of X, Y, Z, but I will give a more general answer on the topic that I hope that gets you on the right track.

or

I believe the question you are trying to ask is "blah blah", so here we go!

On crypto, an analog of this is:

Concise and mathematically-elegant answer for the initiated.

--- Horizontal Rule ---

More verbose explanation of the underlying concepts for the masses.

9/10 times I receive positive feedback from the OP. And in fact, some of my top answers (~100 upvotes) have this pattern because by answering the underlying, more general question, it was enlightening to a wide range of people and went viral on the Hot Network Questions.

2) Ask some clarifying questions, and edit / rephrase their question to in light of their responses.

The OP is posting because they genuinely want an answer. They may not have the knowledge or vocabulary to express the idea properly, but you do! Asking for more information or a link to the source can allow you to understand the context of their question and edit that information back into the question. Improving the quality of a question not only helps the OP and the answerers, but also improves the question's googlability to make it more accessible to users months from now who are looking for the same answer!

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