First off, I have absolutely no idea of how difficult it is to change the wording of the question box on PhysicsSE.

My question, as in the title, (and as a newbie) is to seek other (more experienced) opinions on trying to balance two possibly opposing aspects of the site:

If the OP was asked to provide an indication of their knowledge/study background:

  1. The answers would be more appropriate to the background of the OP and this may save a lot of time and effort in the use of the comments section, trying to establish information that the OP could easily provide.

  2. Against this idea, is that, to me, the value of this website is the range of answers provided for each question.

So for other users with more background and / or experience, they may gain a lot from looking through the differing level of answers and I do appreciate that this element of the website is crucial, so I would guess that anything that potentially limits this aspect of PhysicsSE is not a good idea.

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    $\begingroup$ Related: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/6718 $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jun 8 '15 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Which question box are you talking about? $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 9 '15 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ sorry David, I should have been more precise, the "Ask Question" area, I thought a greyed out question guide could be placed in there, same idea as comments box currently has guidelines "Use comments to ask for more info.." $\endgroup$ – user81619 Jun 9 '15 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, well... as far as I know that doesn't exist anywhere on the SE network. Technically, it would be an easy change, but going through the process to decide whether it would be a good idea and, if so, how to do it properly, would be complicated. It would require getting the SE team on board. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 9 '15 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ point taken, I have no idea how the site as a whole is maintained, extended or even funded! $\endgroup$ – user81619 Jun 9 '15 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ If you're curious, I suggest browsing highly voted questions on Meta Stack Exchange, especially those with the faq tag. The important thing to know is that those of us who participate in this site (including the moderators) have no control over how the interface looks and functions - though we know how to get in touch with the people who do. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jun 9 '15 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ What are possible answers on that question? If I say that my level is high, what does it really tells except something related to my ago? $\endgroup$ – freude Jun 9 '15 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ @freude I hope I understand your question right, the possible answer would be based around asking just one question: the reading material the OP is currently using. Hopefully that would then include all serious student of physics, self study people, laypeople reading a recognised popular science book, and high school on up to whatever professional level this site usually deals with. $\endgroup$ – user81619 Jun 9 '15 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ The first point, I think people from high school are minority here. The second one, does knowing of a guy's rank make his answer better or worth? $\endgroup$ – freude Jun 9 '15 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ It would be a way to bad when games based on authority would entangle with free discussions here. We have it enough in academic life $\endgroup$ – freude Jun 9 '15 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ @freude absolutely agree with your points, anyway I don't think it will happen. Basing things on authority alone is never good. I just thought it might be worth discussing. $\endgroup$ – user81619 Jun 9 '15 at 22:34

Two things are important in my view

  • Fundamentally questions and answers on Stack Exchange sites are not just about the OP. They are very much also about other visitors who come along later who may be of all different levels of preparation, so it is actually advantageous to have answers to a single question covering several levels of sophstication.

  • If We had "Why is water wet (for fifth graders)" then We'd need "Why is water wet (for eights graders)" and "Why is water wet (for college physics)" and so on. Yeach!

That said, The users of the site have regularly said that this is a site mainly for physicists and that it is not a "learn physics here" resource. I know I must sound like a broken record on this point, because many new users seem to conceive of Physics as a learning resource, but that not how most of the regulars see it.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree almost wholeheartedly. My reservation is that I do see this site as an important learning resource, but I do not wish to see it dumbed down for absolute beginners or non-physicists. I am happy to answer questions from people learning physics, but you have to be prepared to work at understanding my answers. $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Jun 9 '15 at 5:46
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    $\begingroup$ It may be that there is trend toward more regular users who do view the site as a learning resource (it's hard to judge from scattered comments, but I may detect a trend). It could be brought up again at some opportune time in the future. I certainly think that the site has been serving in that role to a significant degree despite that rules which are built to partially discourage its use in that way. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 9 '15 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee that problem may stem from the lack of professional physicists using this site to tackle research problems, etc. If the people who know physics only answer and never ask, then the questions asked would naturally be those from people at most at the learning physics level. I think the problem is that practiced physicists are too good at researching and finding answers to their questions. We rarely ask questions here because we usually know how to find the answers ourselves elsewhere $\endgroup$ – Jim Jun 12 '15 at 19:26
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    $\begingroup$ On that note, the next time I'm confused and briefly go to look up some physics concept for my work, I'll try to formulate it into a question and answer so that it can be put on this site (if not already present) $\endgroup$ – Jim Jun 12 '15 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim, That's a peachy idea and I feel stupid for not having formulated it myself. Especially after being involved in a similar discussion on the mother meta long ago. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 12 '15 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I thought of it just as I was typing my comment before that and the simplicity of it made me feel stupid too. But not to worry. I think implementing that idea and recognizing when to ask/answer questions will prove more challenging than the simple idea implies $\endgroup$ – Jim Jun 12 '15 at 19:53

Another answer is that people like me, an electronics and s/w engineer, come here for specific information not generally available elsewhere (or cannot be found). Now, I have a degree in physics, but my overall knowledge of physics varies from "forgotten all that decades ago" to "I am now working on the cutting edge of some obscure experimental physics". In this case, education level is irrelevant.


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