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Formatting Math as Text (page 4 of 4)

Sections: Common algebra notation, Set and logical notation, Other math notation, Notes on posting

Whatever notation you use when you post a math question, you should take the time to be neat, organized, and clear when you post your questions. Define your terms and variables; don't expect the tutors to read your mind to divine your meaning. Include the actual question and its instructions; you'd be surprised how often this information is left out. Write an intelligent subject line, but include everything within the post; don't put crucial information only in the subject line. Show all the steps you've tried, even if you think they're wrong; and state clearly what is the difficulty you're having.

Compare:   Copyright Elizabeth Stapel 2005-2011 All Rights Reserved

Poor posts

Good posts

Subject: HELP!!
how do u do
Subject: finding intercepts algebraically
Here is the question I'm working on:
3) Find the x- and y-intercepts of the graph of
3x + 4 = y algebraically.
I can find intercepts from the graph (as long as 
they're whole numbers), but I'm having trouble with
the "algebraically" part. How am I supposed to do
it "algebraically"? If you could show me a similar
example, so I can work this one on my own, that
would be great.
Thank you for your help.
Subject: HELP!!
how do u do
Subject: graphing 3x + 4 = y
Here is the question I'm working on:
5) Graph the equation 3x + 4 = y
I know how to draw the points and then the line once
I have some points, but I'm not sure what points I'm
supposed to pick. Is there any secret, or is it up
to me? Can I pick whatever I want, or are there
certain x-values I should use?
Thank you for your time.
Subject: HELP!!
how do u do
Subject: finding slope and intercept of 3x + 4 = y
Here is the question I'm working on:
7) State the slope and y-intercept of the
graph of 3x + 4 = y
I know in the slope-intercept formula, "y = mx + b",
that m is the slope and b is where the y-intercept
is. So am I right that they just want me to read off
"m = 3" and "b = 4" from the equation? That seems
too easy. Am I I missing something? (I've been out
of school for twenty years, so I'm not feeling very
Thank you for your comments and corrections!

The three "poor" posts are word-for-word the same, but you can tell from the "good" posts that they aren't actually the same question.

The problem, of course, is that "HELP!!  how do u do it?" doesn't actually say anything. The left-hand column's posts would be very frustrating for a tutor to try to deal with, and are much less likely to receive a helpful reply.

Instead, take your cue from the right-hand column's "good" posts:

  • Take the time to spell words correctly: use "algebra" and "solve" instead of "algerba" and "slove".
  • Write words out completely: use "you" instead of "u", "know" instead of "noe".
  • Capitalize properly: use "I" instead of "i", and use capitals for names and at the beginnings of sentences.
  • Punctuate sensibly: using periods at the ends of sentences is helpful; using twenty exclamation marks is not.
  • Space your math generously (using fixed-width fonts, if possible) and use all-black type: The statement "3x^2 + 4 = y" is much easier on the eye than is "3x^2+4=y", especially for those of us old-timers who have to squint at your posts through bifocals.
  • You're asking somebody for help, so ask clearly: Don't post cryptic text-message-lingo stream-of-consciousness math, as it is highly unlikely that the tutors will be able to figure out what the heck you meant.
  • Be friendly: Avoid posting things like "math sux" or "i hate math" or other expressions of hostility.
  • And be considerate: Tutors at free services are volunteers, people who work, eat, and sleep in addition to helping students; they aren't sitting at their computers with bated breath, just waiting for your question to come in, and they're not getting paid, so ask nicely and be prepared to wait as much as a couple of days for a reply.

And always, always, always remember to say "please" and "thank you".


Thank you.

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Cite this article as:

Stapel, Elizabeth. "Formatting Math as Text: Notes on Posting." Purplemath. Available from Accessed


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