MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top


I have a proof for a Lemma which splits into an odd and even case.

The proof for the even case was already published by someone else in a different context and the proof for for the odd case is very similar (but not trivial) to the even case proof.

So how should I now proceed about the odd case proof? Is it ok if I make it clear that the odd case proof closely follows the idea of the even case proof, published by someone else?

share|cite|improve this question

closed as not a real question by Mark Sapir, Emil Jeřábek, Felipe Voloch, Bill Johnson, Anthony Quas Feb 1 '12 at 17:46

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Is that hard to just tell the truth? As you see it is only few lines long. – Mark Sapir Feb 1 '12 at 16:32
@Mark Sapir I think you misunderstood me, mentioning that my proof follows the idea of the other proof is the least I would do. But I would still reuse many ideas of the original proof and I don't feel too comfortable about it. – user695652 Feb 1 '12 at 16:45
If the odd case cannot be easily recreated (or even if it can), a few words on how to start it or modify the even case would be appreciated by future researchers. For example, "As in the even case, we partition the set, except we create A' to hold these three elements. The same machinery can now be used, except it deals with these three elements as follows:... " . If you need to reproduce the other proof (with attribution) to make the paper more self-contained, well that isn't so bad either. Gerhard "Ask Me About System Design" Paseman, 2012.02.01 – Gerhard Paseman Feb 1 '12 at 17:07
Also, if you can summarize or exposit the other proof so that it is even more accessible (with the disclaimer that it is your interpretation of the proof), I certainly won't come banging on your door, except possibly to thank you. I suspect I am not alone in such a sentiment. Gerhard "But It's Just My Opinion" Paseman, 2012.02.01 – Gerhard Paseman Feb 1 '12 at 17:11
If you think that your proof follows somebody else's proof, say it. There is absolutely no problems at all. I voted to close as not a real question. – Mark Sapir Feb 1 '12 at 17:22
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Mathematics often progresses by small changes in already extant work. In fact I like to work by writing and rewriting, trying to make things clear, in the first place to me.

You need only say, for example, that the proof for the even case given by X can with some non trivial modifications also work for the odd case.

That seems like progress! Then it is up to a referee.

There are numerous, maybe all too many, examples of writers not mentioning where the ideas came from.

share|cite|improve this answer
Some authors got too far the other way, rendering parts of the paper harder to follow than they should be – Yemon Choi Feb 1 '12 at 18:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.