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Archive-name: math/algebra-help/guidelines-FAQ
Posting-Frequency: every 2 weeks
Last-modified: September 5, 2011
Copyright: (c) 2002-2011 Darrell Ryan

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Welcome to  The complete posting guidelines and answers to
frequently asked questions can be found at:

PDF and DVI formats can be found at:

Below are some general guidelines from the main document to help you get
started immediately.  These guidelines are not intended to be formal rules
that in any way govern the newsgroup.  They serve only to identify what have
come to be accepted as norms.  In this spirit, it will be nice if you
attempt to follow these guidelines.  Doing so may result in a more enjoyable
visit.  Not doing so may result in a less enjoyable visit, that's all.

Q1.  Who should use
Q2.  What can be discussed on
Q3.  What general format should my article adhere to?
Q4.  Can I post the same question to other newsgroups
          in addition to
Q5.  Can I get (or provide) help with a homework assignment?
Q6.  Can I include binary files?

Q1.  Who should use

Anyone seeking (or providing) help with any topic related to algebra.  This
may include students, parents, tutors, teachers, or anyone else having an
interest in algebra.  This newsgroup is not moderated, so various others who
have no business here (e.g. spammers,) will also post articles asking for
help of a different kind.  Ignore them, killfile them, report them to a
proper authority, do whatever you wish with them--but please do not respond
to them in the newsgroup.  Doing so only further decreases the
signal-to-noise ratio.

Q2.  What can be discussed on

As the name implies, exists primarily for the purpose of
seeking help with algebra.  Anything remotely related to algebra in some
form or fashion is usually welcome here.  Specific topics suitable for
discussion include, but are not limited to, anything covered in a jr. high
school, middle school, high school, or undergraduate algebra course, or
their equivalent in countries other than the U.S.  This does not necessarily
mean that only "algebra" in the high school sense of the word is discussed.
Other areas of mathematics are also discussed with varying frequency, e.g.
geometry, trigonometry, calculus, probability and statistics, linear
abstract algebra, and number theory, just to name a few.  Educators also
share teaching practices and experiences.  Discussions concerning
calculators and their (ab)use also occur with some regularity.

These are just some of the topics that are suitable for discussion here.
While some areas of these subjects (or other higher mathematics) may be
better suited for other newsgroups, as a general rule if there is someone
listening here who can help you with your question, chances are they will.
And, usually there is someone listening.

Q3.  What general format should my article adhere to?

For best overall results and readability, try to use a simple fixed-width
font (e.g. Courier New).  Also ensure your newsreader is configured to post
in plain text, not HTML.

Don't ask questions that are too broad, e.g. "Can someone help me with
algebra?"  Try to narrow your question to the particular topic or process
you are concerned with, e.g. "Can someone explain to me the process for
solving a quadratic equation by factoring?"

Use a descriptive subject line.  Readers will have a general idea of what
your message pertains to prior to downloading (and having to read) the
message body.

Don't do:

Subject: HELP!


Subject: Solving quadratic equations by factoring

Clearly explain the problem and include specific instructions, whether they
be to solve, simplify, etc.  If possible, try to reproduce the instructions
to the problem exactly as they were given to you.  Also, consider telling
the group the level of math you are at.  There may be (err...will be)
different methods of approaching your problem, so if the group knows your
particular competency level (grade, course, etc.,) they can formulate a
response suitable for that level.

Place math expressions on a single line if possible.  Your expression may
not "line up" the same way on all newsreaders, especially after being quoted
multiple times.  These problems can be minimized by placing your expressions
on a single line.

Don't do:




If you need to use multiple lines (e.g. a passage showing the individual
steps of solving an equation, listing a matrix, etc.) be sure to always
begin each line of the object or passage at the beginning of the "line" in
your editor (no preceding spaces,) and end each line with a hard return.  In
general, anywhere there is a math expression on a line by itself, that line
should end with a hard return.  Use "in-line" expressions sparingly (math
expressions that are side-by-side or interspersed with normal text,) and
only for very short expressions that can survive line-wrapping and quoting
with minimal distraction to the reader.

Don't do:

Here's how I proceeded in solving this equation:  x2 + 5x
+ 7 = 1, x2 + 5x + 6 = 0 0 on one side, (x+2)
(x+3) = 0 ...factored, x = 2, 3.  The answer key says the
correct answers are x = -2, -3.  Where did I go wrong?


Here's how I proceeded in solving this equation:

x2 + 5x + 7 = 1

x2 + 5x + 6 = 0 0 on one side

(x+2)(x+3) = 0      ...factored

x = 2, 3

The answer key says the correct answers are x = -2, -3.
Where did I go wrong?

Be sure to explain the specific step(s) you are having trouble with and
include your attempt(s), even if you know they are wrong.  You will receive
more useful help if you do this.

Use plenty of parentheses, brackets, etc. if an expression may otherwise be
interpreted in more than one way.

Don't do:



(x+3)/2     or     x+(3/2)

Don't Do:



x^(3c) + 7     or     x^(3c+7)

For more information, see the section on importance of parentheses at

Q4.  Can I post the same question to other newsgroups
      in addition to

Of course, assuming the subject matter is on-topic for the other newsgroups
(consult the FAQ or charter for the other newsgroups to see.)  There is,
however, a right way and a wrong way to go about it.  The wrong way is to
send separate posts to each newsgroup.  The right way is to "cross-post,"
meaning to include all the newsgroups on the Newsgroups: line of a single
post.  By cross-posting, replies in one newsgroup will automatically be
sent by default to all the other newsgroups the original post was addressed
to.  If you don't cross-post but instead send separate posts to each
newsgroup, a reply in one newsgroup is posted just to that newsgroup and not
the others.  This is considered poor netiquette, so please don't do it.
Although it may not bother the original poster, it can be a big
inconvenience for those replying to the post.  It can be very frustrating
taking the time and effort to post a detailed response, only to learn later
the question has already been answered basically the same way in another
newsgroup (perhaps the person does not subscribe to all the newsgroups).
This situation can be avoided by properly cross-posting your question.
It's better for the original poster too, since he need follow only one of
the newsgroups to see the responses from all of the newsgroups.  Also, you
should cross-post to only a very few newsgroups (say, two or three.)
Addressing too many newsgroups may result in the post being filtered out by
way of a personal killfile or similar mechanism (for instance, a spam filter
at the server level).

Q5.  Can I get (or provide) help with a homework assignment?

If you are a student you can get excellent assistance here, but don't expect
too much if you just want someone to do your homework for you.  If you post
something like "I need answers to these problems...NOW" or the like, you
will rarely get what you ask for.  Several regular contributors are either
professional educators, or at the very least "concerned others" who enjoy
helping others while keeping the muscle between the ears limber.  Most would
rather help you understand a process, as opposed to just cranking out an
answer to your problem.

Don't get the wrong impression from the above paragraph.  If you are having
trouble with a problem on an assignment, or any other algebra problem for
that matter, don't hesitate to ask for help.  This is what the group is for.
However, you are more likely to receive useful responses if you explain
specifically what you do not understand about the problem, include your
attempt at solving it, and ask for specific guidance with the process for
arriving at the answer.  This indicates to potential responders that you
have a sincere interest in knowing how to do the problem, as opposed to
giving the possible impression that all you want is the answer.
Additionally, letting others know specifically where you are having trouble
will probably lead to a more useful response that is tailored to your needs.

If you follow these guidelines, who knows, you might just get the answer as
well.  Ultimately, it is a decision made by the people responding to your
inquiry as to how much detail they provide.  Some prefer providing just
enough detail to steer you in the right direction, for very good reason.
Others may offer more detail, which may or may not include the answer to the
problem.  Even if someone does give you the answer, it is the process you
are expected to focus on.  Giving an answer without also giving some
explanation of the process certainly does not "help," and is rarely seen
here.  When it does occur it is usually frowned upon, so please think twice
before giving an answer without any explanation how it was arrived at.

Q6.  Can I include binary files?

This is a "plain text only" newsgroup.  Please do not attach binaries.  If
you want to show the group a graphic, HTML document, or other type of richly
formatted content, consider placing it on your web server and providing the
URL within your article.

Don't do:

Consider the attached bitmap of the graph of f(x).


Consider the graph of f(x) at

The complete document includes specific examples of how to type various
mathematical expressions, answers to frequently asked questions, a reference
section for common facts and formulas, and more.  The complete document can
be found at:

Contributions/suggestions are welcome at

Darrell Ryan

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

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Send corrections/additions to the FAQ Maintainer: (Darrell Ryan)

Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM