See this question about an origami paper for example. It's a very specific question about a particular theorem the poster did not follow (or in this case the answer did not match that of the paper).

Personally, I think such questions are great. They provide a nice break from all these CW questions we've been seeing. These questions actually have a correct answer, and are usually technical, and indeed it would be hard for the poster to find the solution anywhere else (other than emailing the authors of said paper).

I just wanted to know if the community finds such questions acceptable. If so, we can include it in the FAQ (if we're going to have a list of example questions in the FAQ).


2 Answers 2


Yes, in fact one of the five example questions from the definition period of this site reads

In [ACM citation] I'm confused how the authors arrived at [assertion] from equation 2?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ yup. it's a relief actually. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2010 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ I remembered reading that question, and didn't know where I'd seen it. Thanks. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2010 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ fyi direct link to that question which had strong support $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Jan 22, 2012 at 17:05

I don't mind seeing such questions here, but I think we should also somehow encourage people to try asking the authors directly first. In this case, for instance, I don't know that it was really necessary to subject the authors to public embarrassment for what amounts to a typo. And by not contacting the authors about this buglet, we forego the chance to have them include a correction in their online publication list or (in more serious cases) in the journal in which the paper appeared.

  • $\begingroup$ should we then require them to indicate that they've already asked the authors, and if not should we recommend closing the question till they do ? that might be one option $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2010 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that the authors should be contacted for the purpose of correcting errors. But, as a grad student I often feel reluctant to email authors about small things like this, especially when it could be a mistake on my part. I'm sure a lot of students would just let the matter drop rather than email the authors if they were not confident of their own answer. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2010 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ Also, often authors will not respond (or if they do, they do so after a long time). This is understandable, since they are busy people and possibly get many queries about their papers. I would imagine that some would prefer to receive a few emails about actual errors in their papers (even after being discussed publicly) rather than receive many emails only a few of which are useful. Often there is a simple misunderstanding of notation or something similar which can be solved by people here, and don't require the original author's attention. $\endgroup$ Sep 1, 2010 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Robin: Asking for help with understanding a paper is perfectly fine here. And also questions about possible errors are fine if you add something like: "I tried to contact the authors last month but I haven't got any response". $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2010 at 9:06

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