I'm a graduate student in math and I usually have lots of questions about papers I read. Sometimes my questions are about technical things but a lot of questions I have are about "well-known" facts that I didn't learn from courses or from my background reading. I do think about my question to make sure I can't quickly figure out the answer. What is a litmus test or rule of thumb for asking experts naive questions? Over the years the responses I have gotten were: "It's obvious," "Exercise" (when I never figure out the answer due to lack of knowledge), an ethusiastic response, or uncertainty from experts as to the answer.
I don't want experts to think, "How do you not know this?" I want to develop a reputation as a knowledgeable grad student who has potential as a researcher. A postdoc friend confided in me that he doesn't post questions because he's worried he'll look stupid. And I also don't want to annoy people with lots of trivial questions. But I also know that I have to learn from them, and that it's usually way faster to ask someone in person about their paper than to hit a roadblock in their paper and keep thinking about it.
My algorithm so far goes as follows:
Ask my adviser or some grad students.
Do as thorough an Internet search as possible. Look for the answer in papers that may provide a clue.
Ask my questions on MathStackExchange. If I don't get an answer there ask on MathOverflow.
If MathOverflow answers are unclear or I don't get responses, either discuss the answers with my adviser or email an expert out of the blue.
What would be a more efficient algorithm for asking possibly naive questions, if there is one? The main drawback I have encountered is that an expert can sometimes answer my question right away, whereas independent search would take too much time.