A question was asked about resistance and voltage today which struck me as off-topic because of no apparent research. Also, there was no conceptual discussion which indicated a difficulty about understanding.

At this Meta question the PSE community lays out a comprehensive discussion about sufficient prior research.

When I read the question, I immediately down-voted it and flagged to close, but there were two answers already posted with no down-votes (their privilege).

I suppose my point for asking this question is to raise the issue, again, that we are getting low-quality traffic and people are obliging it by giving answers. I am not complaining about a simple question, but about the fact that a quick web search would turn up the answer already written somewhere.

If we are to enforce the prior research clause, would it be appropriate, in addition to down-voting, to flag as "low quality" so that the moderators would have an immediate better picture of what is happening (rather than waiting for members to close).

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Frankly, that question looks fine to me. It's by no means a great question, but it looks like a genuine confusion with the concepts and the type of thread we're here to answer. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty May 8 '19 at 21:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Whatever happens, homework-like is not the way to close such questions (there are three homework VtCs there). I used the homework reason for the question which prompted this meta post, and I was given compelling arguments about how it's misleading. If you want to close those questions, use a custom close reason which leaves a comment about what counts as prior research. $\endgroup$ – user191954 May 9 '19 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Rishi Because the OP mentions 5 bulbs in series and asks a question about voltage drop in each resistor, I inferred from that much specificity that it is a homework-inspired question. The homework VtC specifically says show some effort. Ohm's Law is very evident as the physics concept at play, and there is no lack of explanation of that concept. OP should have taken the time to at least tell us what they have tried. $\endgroup$ – Bill N May 9 '19 at 12:43

The prior research issue is always a tricky one. The problem is distinguishing between someone who simply can't be bothered and someone who is genuinely confused, perhaps because they are just starting out in physics and don't even know what to Google.

In principle this shouldn't matter because we judge the question not the person. In practice we wouldn't be answering questions here unless we were enthusiastic about physics and eager to help budding young physicists get up to speed, so most of us will cut OPs some slack if we think it is a genuine question.

I saw this question in the review queue and debated with myself whether to vote to close it. In the end I decided not to, but it was borderline and I find myself unwilling to criticise site members for voting to close or for deciding to leave the question open. I think we're pretty good at closing the more outrageous instances of insufficient effort questions so I wouldn't worry too much about the borderline cases.

  • $\begingroup$ John, thanks for your answer. My reaction to the OP is based on the fact that the words voltage and resistance are both in the title, but the author doesn't indicate any effort to do a general search on those terms. Author mentions "5 bulbs in series" which is a very specific arrangement, along with the word series which is a circuitry technical term. From those facts I inferred it was a homework-related problem. Series resistors have LOTS of documentation all around the internet, in books, and even on this site. With all due respect to you, I don't consider this a borderline case but laziness $\endgroup$ – Bill N May 9 '19 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ Be sure to note that I am not saying you are lazy, rather the OP. $\endgroup$ – Bill N May 9 '19 at 12:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @BillN Surely you can recognize that this is a subjective issue? This is why we require a five-user consensus for closure - you cast your close vote; if enough people agree with you, then it gets closed, and if people do not agree with you, then it's because the question is on the fence on a subjective issue. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty May 10 '19 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I recognize that @EmilioPisanty. I was simply laying out my reasoning for why I thought this question was particularly lacking sufficient research, as well as lacking a clear statement of their confusion. $\endgroup$ – Bill N May 12 '19 at 22:16

This does get enforced. This is a community site-scope policy, documented in this meta's FAQ at What counts as sufficient prior research when asking a question?, and it gets used all the time to close questions. For a sampling of questions that get closed with comments mentioning that policy, see this query.

As mentioned by John and on several places in the discussion at the FAQ post, the question of whether a given question has sufficient prior research or not is ultimately a subjective judgement call, and it is perfectly OK for different users to disagree on whether a specific question meets the bar or whether it should be closed under that policy. This is why these closures are not done by unilateral action, but through a five-vote consensus, so that this variation gets averaged out as far as possible.


Personally, I don't think insufficient prior research makes a question low quality (in the sense of the VLQ flag). If there's something more going on, like a pattern of a single user posting many questions without prior research, then a custom moderator flag might be in order, but in general for individual unresearched questions I think it should be sufficient to downvote and/or vote to close using a custom reason (or one of the standard reasons, if it applies).


Maybe I missed something, but I don't feel comfortable about the word "enforce" in the title of the question. One can enforce some law, but I am not sure answers to a Meta question have the status of a law, they may be suggestions, "nice to haves".

I looked at the rules (https://physics.stackexchange.com/help), and I did not find anything cut-and-dried about "prior research". The section on "research" at https://physics.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-ask is categorized as "tips". Again, I may have missed something. So I would think if one feels a question lacks "prior research", one could downvote it or vote to close (although I don't see "lack of prior research" among the available reasons for closure), but this does not look like "enforcement", it's more like expression of a personal opinion.

Anyway, I don't feel we have a duty to "enforce" prior research, although prior research may be nice to have. Should we really demand perfection, especially from new users of the site?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The meta post about what counts as prior research was given the moderator-only FAQ tag, so that counts as an 'official' rule. Lack of prior research is one of the more common custom close reasons (i.stack.imgur.com/RaKUH.png was posted by a 10k user in chat recently). $\endgroup$ – user191954 May 10 '19 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Rishi : No, that does not count as official rule: at meta.stackexchange.com/q/7931 (FAQ for Stack Exchange sites), they write: "For official guidance from Stack Exchange, visit the Help Center." $\endgroup$ – akhmeteli May 10 '19 at 7:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The scope of the site - what's on topic and what's not - is decided by the site community, not by Stack Exchange corporately. This community consensus is agreed through, and documented on, threads on this meta, particularly the ones marked as FAQ. Of course those policies need to be enforced. They are not "nice-to-haves" - they are an essential component of keeping the community moderation fair, consistent, and predictable. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty May 10 '19 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ An excellent example of how FAQs are official indications of policies is the homework close reason: the yellow banner points to an faq-tagged post on meta. $\endgroup$ – user191954 May 10 '19 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty : With all due respect, I cited the rules, you just offered your opinion. $\endgroup$ – akhmeteli May 11 '19 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Rishi : And I cited the rules that do not support your point of view. $\endgroup$ – akhmeteli May 11 '19 at 2:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .