A lot of members have recently noticed a drop in the net question quality on this site. Many of us feel that this is fixable, so I'm trying to take steps in that direction.

Roughly, what we need to do is:

  • Stem the inflow of homework questions
  • Attract more expert users
  • Make participation more enjoyable

What do you think can be done to achieve any of these goals? Robust proposals welcome!

Please don't bring up stuff that's been declined before unless you are reformulating it to be a better proposal.

  • $\begingroup$ (There are some suggestions that have been made in the chat room and are currently being fleshed out in the chat room. Feel free to drop by and help out.) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ I was going was going to post a similar question right now. I would like to know what do researchers want? If they don't like the (increasing) low-level questions, why not subscribe only to the research-level tag and some others? And shouldn't be more professionals asking questions? Another important point is that the front page might give the impression that it's homework only. This must be improved. Could we make the research-tag more visible to new users (it could be like a TheoreticalPSE inside PSE)? $\endgroup$
    – jinawee
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ @jinawee I think the idea of a minisite has been proposed before (and I think it could work with some careful planning), however SE recently removed all traces of the "minisite" from their code since they shut down the facebook.SO minisite. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mean a minisite. Just said that if you follow the research-level tag it would be like being in TP.SE. And could someone edit the About page? $\endgroup$
    – jinawee
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ @jinawee Same thing. A minisite is when you have a view of the site that is exclusive to a bunch of tags. Instead, it would be easier to just use the tag page for research-level as the page they open by default. Or a search page for a combination of tags, like this one $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ @jinawee What about the About page? What do you think should be included? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ In whole SE network ive found physics section to be most humane. Best community ever. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 17:39

5 Answers 5


We talked about it briefly in chat about starting a Topic of the Week event, akin to what is done at Astronomy and Space SE. I had proposed something similar here previously based on what was done at other SE sites discussed therein.

So, how about we look at a just-for-fun Topic (or Tag) of the Week? Here's some of the things that would need to be decided/fleshed out:

How long does each topic run?

Well, the precedent is a week. But sometimes it takes longer to come up with really good questions or answers about highly technical aspects. Maybe two weeks would be better, but then we run the risk of getting tired of the topic in the middle. So I propose a week.

What's the point?

There are three goals this serves. First, it promotes the asking and answering of questions the community deems interesting. Tired of ? Suggest something else you are interested in and get some questions and answers!

Second, it could be used to attract higher-level participants. If there are things experienced members would like to focus on, decide and participate accordingly.

Third, it's something fun to do and will get many people outside of their comfort zones. I don't know anything about most of the tags here, but I would be encouraged to do some digging and ask a question about them if I knew it would get answered by people who know about it!

How are topics/tags chosen?

In the preceding month, a question will be posted here on meta to take nominations for the 4 topics of the next month. Each nomination should be it's own answer and ideally should contain at least one sample question already on the site pertaining to it. The 4 answers with the highest votes at the close of the voting period will be chosen -- let's say the voting period is 3 weeks. If topics should fit in a particular week of the next month, that should be noted; for instance, if a big announcement from CERN will be made in the first week of December, it might be good to put the topic during that week or the week after.

What does the timeline look like? Assuming we get started soon:

  • Nov 1 - Nov 23: Topic proposal and voting period for December's topics.
  • Nov 23: December's topic proposal question locked.
  • Nov 27: Topic schedule for December released
  • Dec 1: First topic week begins
  • Dec 1 - Dec 20: Topic proposal and voting period for January's topics.

and so on.

What constitutes a community decision?

Highest voted topics get chosen. Well, let's say the highest of the 0-or-greater votes. If all the topics are positive and there's a tie, the mods will split the tie up and feel free to nominate again for the next month. If all the topics are at 0 then there is no interest in continuing and we give up. If we can't get 4 positively voted topics, we give up. If all topics are negative, we give up.

In other words, we can only do what the cross-section of community here tells us to do.

What tags should be nominated?

First and foremost, tags that you find interesting. The second goal may be to propose tags in which there is relatively low participation as a means to promote questions and answers in that topic.

What tags should not be nominated?

Under no circumstances should a meta-type tag be nominated! So no , , or . Whatever tag is nominated could have questions from all three of those categories asked during that time, so let's not limit the level of the question, just the scope.

I would avoid overly broad and overly specific tags as well. Something like is very broad and there's already a lot of questions on it so it probably doesn't need to be made a topic (although this is a guideline, not a rule so it could be -- the community will decide whether to use it or not).

Why should I participate?

Why not?

No seriously, why not? Do you know everything conceivable in your field? Do you know everything about every other field? Why not take the chance to read about something new or dig a little deeper into something old? Why not use the site as it's intended -- to pose questions you would like answered, or to answer questions you have the knowledge to answer?

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    $\begingroup$ This is just a work in progress for how to do it; I welcome all comments and discussion on other details I may have missed or the ones I did include. We can flesh it out in chat or through edits! $\endgroup$
    – tpg2114
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ SciFi and Skeptics have also done variation on this idea. Seems to come and go in popularity but since it never seem to generate any push-back it can only be a win. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee Yep. Astronomy and Space Exploration recently started with these, and they seem to be having much success with them. I'm considering trying it over on Chemistry as well. Note that it probably will have to work differently on our site than on Astro/Space, they're much smaller and have a different type of community. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 20:48

A journal club!

(While I assumed this was going to be as an answer to this post, Colin posted it as a separate question. Linking to it here just for completeness)

What do you mean by a journal club?

Many physics departments have informal meetings where (mostly) graduate students meet for one or two hours with coffee, beer, and/or pizza, and discuss a recent research paper. Some departments even require their students to do this. Typically, someone will choose the paper for that week's meeting, everyone will read it before they meet and come up with questions for discussion. Then the group discusses the paper in some detail.

More details, and main post here


Boot up the new book policy

Recommendation questions are great sources of traffic from students of varying levels, and we may want to start accepting them again.

While the SE model usually doesn't work well with recommendation questions, I believe that we may be able to handle them in a way that doesn't exhibit most of the shortcomings of recommendation questions on SE, while not impinging on their quality (indeed, this may improve their quality a lot).

However, we need people to volunteer to curate book questions! The proposed policy involves editing the questions into a certain format, and keeping an eye on the answers to ensure that they stick to the policy. If answers are not doing this, they should be flagged and commented on.

Volunteer to help with the policy here


Firstly, I don't think there is a need to improve participation here anymore than with the Math and Chemistry sites.

I think the problem lies with the attitude of some people who started out thinking that Physics Stack Exchange would somehow be the next Math Overflow. Instead, it's ended up ticking over nicely just like other popular academic sites on the Stack Exchange network, open to a wide range of people including enthusiasts.

However, if you want to "improve" participation more towards Math Over Flow level, then alienate those at the lower level by excluding them from asking questions, and banning homework questions. That way you'll improve participation of professionals , while reducing questions/day and therefore overall participation:

  • 2nd place Mathematics Q&A for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields 494 questions/day

  • 17th place MathOverflow MathOverflow Q&A for professional mathematicians 42 questions/day

Despite physics not being as popular as mathematics, it's still placed 9th, and I don't think there is a need to improve participation in its current form:

  • 9th place Physics Q&A for active researchers, academics and students of physics 51 questions/day
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    $\begingroup$ I would say it's irrelevant whether or not we are in trouble here -- it's about making the site better regardless of the state we're in. (which you seem to not later). Alienating lower level questions is something that IMO may not be that good an idea, and homework questions are already banned (the ones that actually follow the policy are very few). The issue with alienating lower level stuff is that we do get some pretty good questions from that portion of the site, too. And it's nice to cover all physics, not just a portion. We don't want to die a slow death like TP either, as you mention. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ Mathematics allows homework to a large extent, and the majority of their questions are HW though most users filter it out (It's also been around longer). I certainly don't want the site to go that way. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mean to give the impression of the site being in trouble, if anything the site is doing great placed 9th, so I've edited my answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ I would say even if we are first, it would be a worthy goal to promote participation and engage the user base. I think that was the intent of the question -- no matter how good things are, they can always get better! $\endgroup$
    – tpg2114
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 yes, I agree. But the question seemed to be asking how experts can be persuaded to participate more, even if it lowered overall participation. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 23:52

Ban homework altogether

See Nathaniel's post here

The current homework policy is nice, but the questions that actually obey it are few. I think this is because if you've put the effort in to identify the concept you're having difficulty with, it's then easy enough to take the "homework" part out of the question and just ask about the concept itself.

Because of this, and since we're looking for ways to improve the site's quality, I wanted to put the following idea forward to see how people respond to it: why don't we just ban homework altogether? The homework policy would be changed to say that we can only help with homework-like questions if you can phrase them in a way that they're only about the concepts and not about the actual assignment. Potentially we might lose a few good questions, but we'd also lose a lot of bad ones.


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