The FAQ states:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

This bit is highlighted.

This sentence has an obvious meaning, which is wrong. Almost none of the questions here deal with practical questions about actual problems that the OP faced. Rather, this bit is boilerplate text common to various stackexchange sites. On many of those sites the obvious meaning may well be appropriate, but here we should say something else.

Am I correct? If so, what should it really say?

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    $\begingroup$ What if you are a graduate student studying something. Then an actual problem that you face may be anything you don't understand and couldn't figure out. No? $\endgroup$
    – MBN
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ @MBN: would this mean that some questions are only valid if the person asking them is actually a graduate student? Also, "practical". $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ Grad. student is just an example of a person with an actual problem that he faces. Obviously it doesn't matter whether the person is a student or not, as long as he asks a questions about an actual problem he faces. $\endgroup$
    – MBN
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know what you understand by practical, but to me that part is fine too. It is practical to learn various things, so asking a question about it makes it a practical question. For example how to solve a certain type of problems in say quantum field theory. $\endgroup$
    – MBN
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ @MBN: So you're saying "actual" and "practical" are fine as they are, because what they really mean is something like "anything you don't understand and couldn't figure out"? Perhaps make that an answer? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ It is not what I said. $\endgroup$
    – MBN
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ Then I'm afraid I'm not sure what you're saying. Feel free to elaborate on your view in an answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand what is unclear! To me practical doesn't necessarily mean something like "how to paint my fence" or "how to calculate grocery bills". For a physicist, even a grad. student, a practical could (and does) mean something else, a question here, which is considered excellent, could easily be a practical question. Why don't you say what you understand by practical and why it bothers you in the sentence above? $\endgroup$
    – MBN
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ Very well. I amended the question to include links. While "practical" can be interpreted in an unusual way, surely the obvious meaning is more or less the opposite of theoretical. See also dmckee's showcase below. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 17:30

2 Answers 2


I think my answer here says it all (and some of the other answers as well).

Basically, it's a rule that makes sense for the SOFU trilogy, and not for science sites.

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    $\begingroup$ In that answer you suggest: "You should only ask answerable questions that will be useful to others". This sounds sensible to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 18:49

Of course, us experimental types can have practical physics questions.

That's because we're practical people.

Take that you smarty-pants people!

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    $\begingroup$ Shame that the career fair never mentioned sticking tiny thermometers up the posteriors of ants, I would surely have become an "experimental type"! $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ It is hard to read this without mentally emphasizing on the links. It is impossible to read this without laughing. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 8:19

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