As has been noted in the past, particularly in Question self-destruction: why don't experts ask more questions? and in Does reputation correlate with the question-to-answer ratio?, and also here, this site has the peculiarity that, in overwhelming proportion, our 'expert' users, by multiple measures, tend to ask very few questions. Now, whether this is a 'bad' thing or not is debatable, but I think most people would agree that it would probably be beneficial to the site's level and interestingness if more of our 'expert' users asked more questions.

Now, I just passed a question-asking milestone (I am as of today the single recipient of the socratic badge in the first three pages of the rep table), and I'd like to use the occasion to have a critical look at my question-asking history and pick out patterns and question types that I think would benefit the site, and the internet at large, if they saw more widespread use from our more experienced users.

In particular, I'm increasingly bugged by arguments along the lines of "but I'm paid to ask questions", which can be seen e.g. here (and heck, which I've repeated myself, e.g. here), but which on further inspection just don't work. For one, the existence of MathOverflow, a place with very high-quality content powered by people whose day jobs typically include asking questions, pokes a gaping hole in that argument. More generally, though, if you tune your antennas to the right frequency, there's plenty of questions to be had about the world - many more than can rightfully fit inside anyone's research programme.

More importantly, I think that good questions improve the site and by extension they do improve the internet. For many of the patterns below, they're things that I could probably have worked out on my own (or just let go without following them up), but for which I think the Q&A threads they've left behind form a valuable lasting resource that benefits everyone in the long term.

So, without further ado, here are some ways to ask questions that I think are perfectly compatible with the life of an 'expert' user of this site (in the various meanings of the term) which I think would be very valuable if they were used more often.

I'll shut up now, so over to you: go out and ask questions!

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Nice, congrats on that badge. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    May 28, 2017 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure if it's worth an entire answer here, but I still stand by the whole being paid thing. But it is different in my field than in math, and probably also than in physics. With only a handful of labs that do the same work as we do, it's critical to guard our ideas until we can get them funded. We just got funded for an idea we started asking internal questions about 6 years ago and never answered. The only things I can comfortably ask questions about are things that are way outside of my area, where I am definitely not an expert. $\endgroup$
    – tpg2114
    May 28, 2017 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 Sure, the questions that are directly relevant to one's research are a tricky area, but the point is that there's plenty of questions that don't fall inside that area - and even inside it, there's often technical questions about stuff that's already known that are still valuable (e.g. they would provide very valuable resources to future grad students learning the ropes) without giving away valuable research questions. Either way, I think you are probably underestimating just how small the research communities are in mathematics - the 'only a handful' still applies there. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2017 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ I would suggest a different reason: most "experts" in any field already have a network of peers to talk to. Working in industry, I would be much more confident of getting a good answer to a technical question from that peer group than from "some guys on the internet" - and for peers within a large multinational company, there are no issues of confidentiality, commercial secrets, etc. On the other hand, I might well ask a question about a topic like gardening on SE if nobody in the office seems to know the answer! $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    May 29, 2017 at 3:25
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Should I now call you Dr. Strangeask? $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    May 30, 2017 at 12:02


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