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Half a section of the FAQ can be edited (just copied the image from math.SE):

alt text

It was recommended we just include the on- and off-topic stuff, e.g. copied from Super User:

Super User is for computer enthusiasts and power users. If you have a question about …

  • computer hardware
  • computer software

and it is not about

  • videogames or consoles
  • websites or web services like Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress
  • electronic devices, media players, cell phones or smart phones, except insofar as they interface with your computer
  • a shopping or buying recommendation

… then you're in the right place to ask your question!

Any suggestions what to put there?

(BTW, just to be clear, we can also add extra sections in that area, like cooking.SE, but the last section must be followed by that "Please look around..." paragraph, making it hard to deviate from the on-/off-topic theme.)

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Physics - Stack Exchange is for active researchers, academics and students. We welcome questions of all levels, but please stick to the following topics:

The following types of questions are not allowed:

  • Obvious "do my homework"-type physics questions ("A 4kg ball is traveling at 8m/s in the x direction, how do I find...")
  • Pitches for your own personal theories or work (Don't link to your own site if you can avoid it)

A work in progress, any suggestions are welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ Be specific if you want a specific type of answer - actually one could say more than this about what types of answer to expect. Also one could ask whether specificity of the physics of the question alone will guarantee a the type of answer that is required for the level of the OP's knowledge. Other factors to discuss could be: multiple embedded questions; unreferenced but explicit claims (which immediately generate a comment question for the ref.); certain aspects of the wording; [cont..] $\endgroup$ – Roy Simpson Apr 12 '11 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ even how one references linked Stack questions (e.g."Why did my linked answer get downvoted?" is not part of a physics question.) These ingredients add ambiguity to the question, making the answers wander all over the place trying to identify the real question and overall making the site less useful. $\endgroup$ – Roy Simpson Apr 12 '11 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Roy: good points to bring up, although not all of that has to go into the snippet we add to the official FAQ. For this bit we only need to outline what makes a question on topic or off topic. $\endgroup$ – David Z Apr 12 '11 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ In light of Roy's comments I removed some bits that aren't directly relevant to on-/off-topicness. Since the previous revision seemed to be generally supported, I'll go ahead and add that to the FAQ header. It can still be changed (and I'll edit in the revisions I just made if there are no objections after a little while). $\endgroup$ – David Z Apr 12 '11 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ I would actually talk explicitly about what is off topic here. The two points being made are about homework (on-topic, but too localized) and funny stuff (on-topic, not a real question). That section of the FAQ should also state off topic things - for example, non-epistemological, philosophical questions are off-topic (why does the universe exist?), or questions about say, which university is best for physics, etc. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Apr 12 '11 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz Other Stack sites have provisions for your last suggestion under terms like "subjective or argumentative". I've added something similar to the Not Allowed section. $\endgroup$ – Nick Apr 12 '11 at 22:52
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Here's an excerpt from an email I sent to Robert Cartaino back in the early days of the beta period. (The bold formatting I just added; the links were originally there) Although I probably wouldn't write all the same things today, I think this could be relevant in refining our FAQ excerpt.

I think the biggest issue that the physics site faces right now is publicity. But it's not just a matter of attracting as many people as possible to participate: we need to attract people who are going to ask the right kinds of questions, neither too low-level nor too high-level.

On one hand, any physics Q&A site has a tendency to attract a certain number of so-called "crackpot" questions, which are either not well formulated or not answerable using established physics. It can be a subjective determination, but I think What is an "Idea" in terms of time space and matter? and What is the most efficient way to destroy the universe? and Why is there something rather than nothing? are decent examples (especially the last one). We've been reasonably lucky not to get a whole lot of these so far, but undoubtedly, as the site becomes more popular and reaches out to a wider user base, they'll become more and more frequent. I'll say up front that I don't want to see these kinds of questions tolerated on the site, since I think they misrepresent the scope of physics as a science. (Of course, if the community disagrees with that, I'll go along with them, but then I probably would not remain an active participant on the site.)

Although it's hard to characterize good physics questions in general, they typically ask about the result of an actual experiment that has been or could be performed (How does one measure the mass of a galaxy? And other such large quantities.), or about a calculation using a well-formulated theory (Deriving the speed of the propagation of a change in the Electromagnetic Field from Maxwell's Equations), or about a definition of a recognized physical concept or quantity (What is the definition of momentum when a mass distribution ρ(r,t) is given?). As I stated in one of my answers on Physics meta, I think the best way to "enforce" the kinds of questions we want to see on the site is by asking good questions, not by closing bad ones, thereby setting an example for people who come along to ask questions in the future. And of course, in order to have a lot of good questions, we need to expand the community with more people who will ask good questions. That means that, generally speaking, the kinds of people who we most want to attract are college students who are studying physics or a related field, or people at a higher level of study in physics, up to and including full-fledged researchers. My sense is that most people who have not studied physics at the college level would not have a sense of what distinguishes a good physics question from a bad one, and although this certainly doesn't and shouldn't disqualify them from being able to ask questions, it does mean they're not the kinds of people that the site really needs in order to succeed.

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There should be a section on the reasons for "closed" and maybe some links to show examples of closure: migrated to other boards, or the reasons. New users might be really discouraged from asking again if they get a close, and most of them read the FAQ, so they should be prepared.

I think a close look at closed questions should come up with a list of no no's.

"Leading to arguments", for example has been used for closing.

Here is a link for such a closure: Why do people still talk about bohmian mechanics/hidden variables

with the explanation: closed as subjective and argumentative

even though there were many answers, some reasonable.

Another has closed as too localized because the problem was answered and no need for more answers.

etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree that there are very many different types of reasons for closure. Another common example is "is duplicate". Yet another (that has caught me out a few times after answering) is "migrated to another Stack site". $\endgroup$ – Roy Simpson Apr 7 '11 at 11:07

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