In some chat discussions1, it has come up that EE.SE does not have an environment that is receptive of newbies/new users. Here, I'm talking about both people who want to learn EE and those who want to use electronics but don't want to know the nitty gritty conceptual details (I agree that the second category is quite different, opinions on both are fine). IMO, while a site should strive for an expert audience, they should not shun or scare off newbies to achieve this.

So, my questions are the following:

  • What is your (individual) stance on newbie questions on EE?
  • Is there anything that needs fixing regarding this?

1 in the main EE room, the arduino room , as well as this meta post. There also is a bit about how EE.SE may be scaring off newbies in the Arduino proposal sub-meta here

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Just a remark: would you ask to a country what's its position regarding foreigners? I think it much depends on single users, altough some behaviors might be dominant. –  clabacchio Mar 20 '13 at 15:10
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@clabacchio: Consensus. If I wanted to ask the country, I'd ask the government (eg the mods). I'm asking individuals here, with the hope that some consensus may crystallize out of it. –  Manishearth Mar 20 '13 at 15:14
    
@clabacchio this is a vote type, where the whole community can vote and share views. –  Kortuk Mar 20 '13 at 15:40
    
Of course I understand that, I was just pointing that in this way you're just surveying and it's not obvious that you'll get all the opinions –  clabacchio Mar 20 '13 at 15:42
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I've just asked a similar (possibly duplicate) question here. There are some good tips for newbies like me in the answers: do some research (at least type the question's title into Google), think a bit (i.e. don't ask for something that breaks high-school physics), if asked for clarification in a comment provide it (don't just ask the question and stop engaging), and try to be specific about your level of expertise in the question (Camil gives the example "this is the first time I work with an op-amp"). –  dumbledad May 19 '13 at 14:24

10 Answers 10

Answering EE questions is hard. Doing it well is super hard.

One basic problem is that people think that EE is easy-- like residential plumbing. They don't realize that EE can be subdivided into many specialized fields that by themselves can turn into a lifetime career. This quick DIY-like mentality is not compatible with the realities of EE, and it makes both the OP and the Answerer quite frustrated.

Often a good answer to a bad question has to take on one or more of these themes in the answer: You need to make an effort to find the solution, the problem you are trying to solve is a lot bigger than you think, you need to hit the books and learn a lot more before attempting that, it can't be done, or just give up now. It is almost impossible for a normal person to give an answer with those themes in it without insulting the OP-- and it is even worse for the typical EE without any people-skills!

Below are some example questions that I no longer answer. Others do attempt to answer them, and that's when the newbie OP gets offended. But if nobody answers the question, or the question gets closed, then the OP still gets offended. You can't win! At least when I don't answer (and don't comment) then it is someone else that is doing the offending!

This question should be closed because you are in over your head:

Someone will ask something along the lines of, "I want to design/build this super ambitious thing that requires expertise in at least 3 major fields, but can you please tell me how to do it in maybe 3 or 4 paragraphs. Oh, and I have absolutely no knowledge in anything relevant."

To properly answer this question I basically have to tell the person that they are in way over their head and they should give up while they are ahead-- and I have to do it without insulting the person or making them feel bad. To do the project in a "half baked" way would require a team of 5 to 10 people (20+ if done right), yet I come across as being a pompous jerk for suggesting that this guy isn't smart enough to do it all by himself.

Can you do my homework for me, please?

These questions often are copied verbatim from a homework assignment. I'm not talking about people who actually make an effort to learn something (those questions are nice!). I'm talking about the questions where the OP makes zero effort to learn and just wants the answer so he/she can copy it to their homework. Often when people comment on the Q, asking the OP for more info or for some evidence that they have tried to do it themselves the OP gets angry.

Using 1 quart sour cream, three bolts of different sizes, and a pen how can I ride a horse?

These questions ask for a solution using specific components or techniques-- but the list of things to work with are irrelevant or otherwise worthless. When we suggest that this is not a workable, the OP gets angry or defensive. If I suggest a different solution the OP will accuse me of not reading the question. Often the OP is convinced that those components are absolutely all that is required, and often they are so very wrong.

Can you Google this for me?

Simple questions that could be solved in 15 seconds by Google. This is related to the next type of question...

I can't be bothered with the details, I just want a quick answer.

These questions are difficult because there is often not a quick answer, and the OP refuses to accept that. Or we need more information, but the OP can't/doesn't/won't provide it. This is difficult for us to answer because we just know that the time we spend on a good answer just isn't appreciated by the OP. If the OP can't be bothered with the details then I can't be bothered to write an answer.

I am using an Arduino...

The Arduino platform is super cool, because it gives many people the ability to do things they never would have otherwise. Unfortunately, it allows people to play in fields that they do not have the ability to do. You have software people trying (badly) to do hardware. Or hardware people wanting to do software. While that is not really a terrible thing, it causes people to take a lot of shortcuts or do a kludgy solution and then we have to tell them that they need to throw away everything they have done so far and start over from scratch. Telling people that they screwed it all up almost never comes across well, no matter how gently you do it. Also, we have to say things like, "Go spend the next year learning the basics of digital-signal-processing before trying this again"-- and that never goes over well either.

Answering an Arduino question often opens a can of worms. The question might be simple, at first, but quickly explodes into a huge thing that takes a lot of time to address correctly. This is especially true if the comments on the Q or A turns into a chat session.

Solutions For Newbies

I am not opposed to Newbie questions. We were all newbies once. But newbies need to be educated to at least a certain level before coming in here and asking lots of frustrating questions (frustrating for the OP and the answerer). After all, we would not accept someone going onto BrainSurgery.SE and posting a question like, "I sharpened my Leatherman and now I want to do some doctorin'".

A repository of "how-to's" and common "answers" is required. One "How To" should be on how to ask a good question, and what makes a bad question. Common answers should be more in-depth than what a normal answer can be. For example, we commonly get questions about connecting power supplies in series/parallel but a proper tutorial on this would be 2,000+ words long and is unlikely to be written by a normal member. But if one person spent a day writing it and it was put into a special section on the site then it could be easily referred to. The OP gets a detailed document on their issue, and we don't have to answer the same question, badly, because we don't have the time to do it properly.

This is what I'd like a EE.SE blog for: as a special place on the site for how-to's and more in-depth answers.

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+1 in general. Yeah, the arduino questions are particularly likely to be hopeless. We've got one now where someone just wants to know which "shield" to use for speach recognition! That is clearly off topic, being not about electronics at all, and mostly a shopping question anyway. It's also a great example of "gimme da answer". Some questions simply don't belong here. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 20 '13 at 18:33
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Do you have a problem with residential plumbing? +1 –  Camil Staps Mar 20 '13 at 19:00
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@CamilStaps I thought I'd get grief over the "EE's don't have people skills" comment, but no. I get grief over plumbing! :) –  user3624 Mar 20 '13 at 19:40
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You forgot one: "I don't wanna make this thing the easy way! I'm not making it because I want to HAVE it." When engineers make something, it's usually because we want to have the thing, not because we're trying to prove something by making it the hard way. –  Jeanne Pindar Mar 21 '13 at 3:10
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Come on, most of people who think residential plumbing is super easy end up flooding everything and if that happens above the first floor of an apartment building they end up paying a fortune for repair unless they have liability insurance of course. –  sharptooth Mar 21 '13 at 8:54
    
Here is a bad newbie question: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/61739/… –  user3624 Mar 21 '13 at 14:26
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I downvoted that question on the grounds of shows no research effort. However, I also answered it because it was answerable and a basic rough answer on this site could be useful. This is a case where closing was incorrect in my opinion. I suppose you could make a case for overly broad, but it was otherwise clear what was being asked and certainly on-topic. I think there is too much knee jerk reaction to both downvote and close when anything is bad. The two are somewhat independent, and thought should be given separately as to which one(s) really apply. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 21 '13 at 20:24
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This is a super answer. Can we link to it from the FAQ? –  Scott Seidman Mar 21 '13 at 20:59
    
@ScottSeidman Absolutely. –  user3624 Mar 21 '13 at 21:08
    
As a newbie I'd just like to add that I agree with all points above, but we got to start somewhere. My solution relates to "closed because you are in over your head:", I think questions should have only one answer. If the question leads to a bullet list in multiple disciplines you can be sure the asker is biting too much at once. –  Eric Fossum Mar 23 '13 at 20:03
    
@EricFossum If there is only one answer, then that would logically be the first answer-- which might be complete garbage. With multiple answers, the public vote on which one they think is the best. This usually results in a better answer than just having a single answer. Also, there are times when multiple disciplines is acceptable-- just not when the OP is obviously way outside of his ability. –  user3624 Mar 23 '13 at 21:03
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IMHO, SE.EE does not normally separate the poster from the post, and I think it is a mistake. For example, criticizing the poster for lack of research, and the answer ends up being "google it". Over time, who cares who the questioner was or if he researched enough or not? It is the question-answers that will prevail. How silly would it be to google-search, get a hit from SE.EE and after following the link read the answer "google it" followed by a bunch of anti-newbie remarks. –  apalopohapa Mar 24 '13 at 8:51
    
Kudos for the newbie taxonomy. Though I disagree with your thrust (try instead composing one useful sentence for those infuriating newbie questions; be at peace with leaving out all the textbook-larnin they so desperately need) the sour-cream-horse example was gut-splitting funny. –  BobStein-VisiBone Mar 25 '13 at 16:31

UPDATE: "New User" vs. "Bad Question"

@Olin and others have made the point that it isn't picking on new users; it is that the question quality is low. Here is a recent example of a question that was closed:

Easiest Way to Split Audio

Low-score, non-native speaking (presumably), user asks question. Initially it gets down-voted a lot. The question was improved. A schematic was added. Further detail in response to comments was added.

...and did the down votes go away? No. Did the close votes go away? No. In fact more close votes were added.

"WTF(tm)" is wrong here? What are your standards?

This question makes perfect sense (he wants to split a stereo input while mixing one of the break-outs to mono). Question includes a schematic. It's got a solid answer (with upvotes and comments).

If you voted to close, you either aren't paying sufficient attention or your standard for a question is only those that you know how to answer.

Classic case of beating up on new users. Don't give me that "question is low-quality" BS. There's nothing wrong here now. DV'ers make a snap judgement and then commit to the position even as their concerns get addressed. That's why immediate vote-to-close and down-votes are so destructive to the community.

Fix: Rename to transistor.stackexchange

The problem is in the forum name. Call it transistor.stackexchange and the problem goes away. There are some who down-vote any question not at the transistor level anyway.

If you want to keep the name "electronics" then the forum as a whole (especially the mods and high-score users) need to get over the idea that any question that even remotely looks like a shopping question or an over-reaching ask is immediately DV or close-worthy. Usually these questions are just system-level or product-level from new users.

Either ignore it, or help improve it. But DV'ing just pisses people off. Perhaps someone in the community actually wants to HELP that person.

Stop acting like old people ;-)

Overwhelmingly, new users who ask questions here possess an above-average interest in electronics. That's supposed to be a good thing. THEY ARE NOT PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERS... of course, their first question is going to be "wrong".

Closing leaves no opportunity for new-ish users to help other new-ish users get acclimated. So you just bleed off users, or have to do the acclimation work yourselves. Both are bad outcomes.

"Shopping" = pricing questions, nada mas

The only true "shopping" question is "where can I find the best price for x". Everything else is design related. "What are my options?" type questions are no less legitimate than "What's wrong with this approach?" questions. The answers in both cases include the suggestion of alternatives.

So stop DV/C new user questions

You want a bigger community here. You do. Otherwise your 2-million points don't mean anything. Plus, you'll get my respect, which you lose if you DV a question. ;-)

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-1 This is a recipe for irreversibly descending into the abyss of mediocre drivel. Those that know anything will get frustrated and be long gone by then, and you'll be left with the illiterate babbling at the clueless. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 21 '13 at 0:29
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Well, clearly, you might get frustrated... –  DrFriedParts Mar 21 '13 at 0:49
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Guys like Olin are what drew me to this place in the first place. Growing the community at the expense of pissing off the true experts is entirely counterproductive. –  Matt Young Mar 21 '13 at 0:53
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This is a Q&A forum. If you want complete control over what can be asked of you, write a text-book, blog, or use one of any number of one-way forums. Q&A is supposed to present a different, more accessible avenue to reach experts. Few experts are willing to spend time helping those well below their level of understanding without compensation. The problem here is that you have experts, simply because they don't want to be bothered, telling others that they have no right to the forum... when other experts might very well be willing to step up and help. –  DrFriedParts Mar 21 '13 at 0:59
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Not so sure on that name suggestion, but like the suggestion to ignore questions you don't want to answer rather than downvoting into oblivion and/or closing the question within minutes. Perhaps another user will come along behind you and edit and improve the question, or will ask the original poster to clarify information or provide appropriate details. Just because one thinks the question is not worthy of his time does not mean that another user could not contribute with a useful answer. Granted, though, that some questions are truly irredeemable, and should be treated as such. –  B Pete Mar 21 '13 at 1:16
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@OlinLathrop: No it's not. A lot of SE sites allow the whole spectrum of level of understanding on their site. Don't like novice questions? Don't answer them. –  Manishearth Mar 21 '13 at 4:29
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@BPete: Not sure about closing -- some questions are off topic/NC/NARQ/etc. Closing is meant to be a temporary state where posts go to be fixed (there are some changes being made that will make this more evident), so it's a good thing. –  Manishearth Mar 21 '13 at 4:30
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@DrFriedParts You have totally earned my upvote, "+10 and I can", for this comment: "The problem here is that you have experts, simply because they don't want to be bothered, telling others that they have no right to the forum... when other experts might very well be willing to step up and help". Uptight experts need to get a life. –  Anindo Ghosh Mar 21 '13 at 4:48
    
@Manish: You are engaging in the same misdirection and countering the wrong argument that DrFried and others do routinely. The objection is not to the technical level in posts, but to the quality of the question. Questions that are unclear, badly worded, and expect us to do all the work is what are getting downvoted, as they should be. Once again, the goodness or badness of a question is not about its technical level. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 21 '13 at 13:00
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@OlinLathrop: Umm, I mention this in my second comment, I agree about the quality. My point about ignoring is more for the rude/condescending comments left by folks on newbie questions. However, posts like this make it seem that a lot of folks don't want newbies, period. –  Manishearth Mar 21 '13 at 13:06
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@Manish: Then you didn't read the post you referenced very well. The objection is not about the newbishness of the question, but, quoting directly "What makes the 2nd question bad is that it shows no attempt to understand what electricity does or how to use it". You can keep pretending this is about newbies, but that doesn't change the fact that it isn't and never was. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 21 '13 at 15:50
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@OlinLathrop: "I appreciate a forum that excludes people not interested in this level of understanding.", "Downvotes are cast not because people are ignorant, but because they aren't asking about engineering: they are merely asking about electronics.". You guys are electronics.SE as well, and electronics is in your FAQ. This is what I'm talking about. –  Manishearth Mar 21 '13 at 15:56
    
@OlinLathrop: Also, look at my definition of newbies. I explicitly defined the second half because I wanted to see how the community treats users who don't really want to know about electricity but want to do something electronics related. This is about newbies by my definition above. –  Manishearth Mar 21 '13 at 16:00
    
@Manish: That's not a newbie, that's a never-be. Big difference. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 21 '13 at 18:45
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@OlinLathrop: sigh I know that that's not a newbie. For the purposes of this post, I want to talk of "never-be"s as well (which is why I've clubbed them under "newbie" in my explicit definition in the question -- what part of "by my definition above" don't you get?). You shouldn't be treating them badly either. –  Manishearth Mar 21 '13 at 18:49

With Newbies - perhaps - I think that it's a manifestation of a more subtle issue.

So lets be clear, there are some horrific questions that get posted, and I've even seen some of the posters ask "can you do the schematic for me - I sux at doing a schematic". We'll never get rid of that. So just grow a pair and live with it ...

The overall milieu is a tendency towards curmudgeonliness (which usually a mask for other issues), but what is most interesting is the limited scope of what is defined as EE. And this is, I think, what is at the core attitude of why it looks like newbies get run off. There are certain questions that get answered with zeal, and they should be, but there are also other types of questions that demonstrably are very much a part of EE which get down voted and closed, and in a broader perspective the only consistent reason that this happens is that there is a mind set of "I'm an expert so therefore I define what is EE".

And that to me is the canary in a coal mine. It's very revealing. It's not large and is getting less - see below.

This isn't some Engineering vs. Electronics discussion, this is simply self-referential in-group vs. out-group dynamics. And as much as people may want to define themselves wrt to this group as "being the hardest discipline, … almost darwinian" I'd just like to point out that most of the question posted are easily answered by a bright first year EE student. I mean there isn't much research being done in op-amp implementation (op-amp design yes, usage no).

I've taken to joking that this is the OPAL.SE (Op-amp, Pic, Arduino, LED) and yes they belong but so do harder questions and also some of the newbie questions too.

It is important to note that not everyone is a native english speaker, nor are they even a native EE speaker (i.e. able to understand the jargon). There is an oversensitivity to badly formed questions and a sense of entitlement or perhaps conformity requirement that must be met. There is a huge amount of irony in this stance. The intemperate nature of some of the comments is simple proof that sensitivity drives this behaviour. You can't then turn around and claim "I'm doing it to maintain standards - you shouldn't be sensitive to MY statements".

At this point I'd like to commend @OliGlaser with his general approach and attitude.The fundamental role of an Engineer is to solve problems. In poorly asked questions, he routinely will go in and say "I'm not sure what you're asking - but here is the most reasonable answer based upon what I know and the how the technology works". I know there are several questions that I was shaking my head at, reflecting , I'm embarrassed to say, the general unprofessionalism and Oli comes along and answers it.

There are other factors at play here/ here are some suggestions:

  • A close vote isn't uniformly interpreted the same way, @Kortuk says that some of the wording around that is in the works so that a close action is a "please clean this up" whereas some people are interpreting it as "get lost". hopefully that will clarify things once SE gets that out.

  • Stop down voting! unless the behaviour is very bad - this is I think the biggest problem, there is someone who is down voting automatically. I've had it described to me as not only is the door being slammed in their face but then a few good kicks are put in once they're down, and perhaps their wallet is stolen too.

    • If you really wanted someone to fix their question why remove points from them so that it now is more difficult for them to fix things? I mean it's a pretty low limit and what is a few rep points to you?
  • follow Oli's lead: Why not answer what is salient, salvagable? Yes, you might get off track. If you have ever dealt with Engineers in different countries you'll understand this is a necessity.

  • Edit the question! @Kortuk (who I am sure will correct me) advocates this. They can always roll back.

On the positive side: - I'm seeing more people saying "WTF - why is this being down voted" comments and I think that is starting to have a positive influence.

Just keep in mind - Questions are the grist for the mill.

Place holder for a bet here ** to be defined later

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No, we should never stop downvoting badly asked questions. Questions that leave out obvious information, are poorly written, or expect us to do all the work don't belong here. Some of this overlaps with reasons to close, which is why we sometimes see both. If someone isn't willing to put in the little effort it takes to ask well (having nothing to do with subject level), then they don't belong here and getting kicked in the butt on the way out the door is totally appropriate. We in fact don't want them coming back and doing the same again. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 20 '13 at 18:24
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Asking engineers to answer incomplete, poorly-worded questions is like asking them to take on incomplete, poorly-spec'd projects. The result isn't always pretty. There's a reason why engineers are often left in the back room when people come to visit. –  Madmanguruman Mar 20 '13 at 20:52
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Brilliant. Well said sir. –  DrFriedParts Mar 21 '13 at 0:53
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The world will always present Engineers with poorly specified problems. Our most valuable skill is not actually the implicit ability to solve problems once they are specified, but rather the ability to work with the askers to clarify their actual need so that we can solve it. That is the difference between someone who is useful, and someone who can only function when interfaced by a particular (and rare) type of manager. –  Chris Stratton Mar 21 '13 at 14:51
    
Rawbrawb, I linked to this on MetaSO: meta.stackexchange.com/q/174316/205264. I hope you're fine with that and the short explanation I gave there. If not, feel free to edit. –  Camil Staps Mar 30 '13 at 20:10
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@CamilStaps I'm cool with it, I like the suggestion of Closed -> "on Hold". –  placeholder Mar 30 '13 at 21:47
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@Madmanguruman - If you have had the luxury of always having well specified projects then I consider you extremely lucky. In my experience part of the job of an engineer is interpreting poor specifications and giving the stake holder what they wanted all along even though they didn't know it. –  Mark Booth Apr 13 '13 at 16:59

As a newbie, what struck me most is the down-voting of questions. These questions were "obviously" raised by folk described above i.e. they expected some easy answer or it was obvious after a short while they probably didn't understand the question, but some questions appeared to be down-voted for non-apparent reasons. This made me feel there was some kind of tech-snobbery afoot or, worst still, some game playing.

I guess that's the worst of it from my point of view. Tech-snobbery will always play a part. I'm probably as bad as the next guy etc. or will be LOL. All-in-all Im very impressed by the site.

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It would be helpful if you linked to a few of the questions that you felt got undeservedly downvoted. We keep having this discussion in hypothetical terms, but I don't remember anyone producing a list of questions that were inappropriately tarred and feathered. Sometimes I think there is too much bleed-over between reasons for closing and downvoting. They are different with some overlap. Show us some examples so we can discuss. It's unfair to claim snobbery without anyone being able defends themselves and provide reasons for all to judge. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 20 '13 at 20:29
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@OlinLathrop snobbery - it's all part of human nature - Like at work when marketing guys think they know how to design - they need to be kicked carefully but appropriately. Maybe there's a way to flag these up for consideration - do we have a private message system on EE? Or should I just raise a post in the meta forum? I will point any out that seem inappropriately down-voted from now on. And it's all about a newbie's perception and not necessarily about that action being justified. If it looks inappropriate it will put some folk off even if it turns out to be totally appropriate. –  Andy aka Mar 20 '13 at 20:55
    
electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/61655/… - this post has been down-voted twice I think yet, the questioner appears genuine although possibly a little inexperienced. –  Andy aka Mar 20 '13 at 21:31
    
It also got two upvotes and is currently at zero. I didn't downvote that, so I can't say why. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 21 '13 at 0:24
    
@Andyaka Very insightful, and coming from a clearly new member of this community. –  Anindo Ghosh Mar 21 '13 at 4:50
    
What gets me most is the down vote without comment. It seems like hypocrisy to be disapprove of a question or answer enough to down vote it, but then not be bothered to suggest how it could be improved. –  Mark Booth Apr 13 '13 at 17:05

We need a button,

"This could be reworded so as not to discourage, infuriate, or insult."

that somehow doesn't discourage, infuriate, or insult.

  1. There are always polite and efficient ways to contribute a few clues and suggested readings.

  2. There are polite and efficient ways to summarize a point one knows very well, in a way that's comprehensible and useful to people who do not.

  3. There are even polite and efficient ways to express the intuition that the OP seems to be underestimating the effort to get to a conclusion they'd be satisfied with.

Engineers love to fix everything, including people. I suggest this policy:

People never need fixing.

If I think the OP is naive, lazy, ignorant, inarticulate, deluded or evil, then I should first try fixing my own attitude. If I find it an impossible mental exercise to maintain respect for the OP, then I should try instead to respect the good intentions, adaptability, and persistence of all the other readers.

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Note that there are changes being made to the closing system that will make it closer to that button you refer to. I completely agree with the "people never need fixing" part. –  Manishearth Mar 25 '13 at 16:15
    
@Manishearth, oh really, is that discussed in meta? I actually meant the "reword-attitude" button more for answers and comments. –  BobStein-VisiBone Mar 25 '13 at 16:36
    
Ah, I see. You can always flag as NC. Or just reply to them saying that "it would help to be nicer yada yada". The improvements to closing haven't been made public. I know a few of them, and I know that they'll solve this problem partly, but that's all I can tell. –  Manishearth Mar 25 '13 at 16:41
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If you follow thru on this misguided do-gooderness, then all you'll end up with is fluffy bunnies hopping thru the pretty forest with anyone that actually knows anything frustrated and long gone. You simply can't have good content and be PC at the same time. Some things DO need fixing, so if you're not allowed to fix them lots of stuff will be broken, encouraging more of the same. Eventually that's all that will be left. No thanks. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 25 '13 at 17:16
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Excellent example, @OlinLanthrop, of persuasion by emotion. I'm not buying that it's unmanly to be kind. There's a better path to great content than bullying away contributors of substandard content. –  BobStein-VisiBone Mar 25 '13 at 18:18
    
Actually, that works pretty well. In fact, I don't think there is a better way. If you try to be nice to the zombies, they'll just flood in and overwhelm you. We have plenty of good content, and the site seems to be growing, probably in part because we keep the standards high. Those that can't be bothered to read the FAQ, think about the context of their audience, do a little research, and write a comprehensible question are best dispatched as quickly as possible to limit the damage. If they feel unwelcome, that isn't a bad result as it discourages repeats. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 25 '13 at 19:04
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Uneducated ≠ undead. Unless they evince zombie-grade, malevolent, obstreperous behavior, I say treat new questioners like honorable humans. It costs little to courteously suggest reading [faq#whatever]. Wholesale dispatching and discouraging is likely to alienate some great contributors. I agree, pernicious invaders should be harshly ejected. I infer you've done that and I thank you. I honor the rich results of assiduous protection. I only mean to suggest to start with a traffic cone and work your way up to the pepper spray, not the other way around. –  BobStein-VisiBone Mar 25 '13 at 19:35
    
Pepper spray is for wussies! We need shotguns, nuclear hand grenades, and sometimes a wooden spike thru the heart. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 25 '13 at 21:56
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And I want you to have all those fine toys. And when the zombie apocalypse comes, I'll join your camp. But until then, I want to believe you at least know how to wield some compassion and vision. And you're not afraid to use it. –  BobStein-VisiBone Mar 25 '13 at 22:59
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You seem to be missing the point, which is that we want the morons to go away, and stay away. Being nice only encourages them. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 30 '13 at 14:12
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@OlinLathrop, Getting rid of morons on the internet? I applaud your ambition. Being nice to "the morons" might just educate and inspire them. Isn't that what this site should be for? –  trav1s Jul 24 '13 at 9:44
    
@travis: No. This site isn't for everyone. It is only for people that want to learn and can write a question that is comprehensible and not annoying to parse. Note that this has nothing to do with level of knowledge. Anyone can follow these few simple rules. Someone that doesn't is either too lazy to bother, too lazy to have read the rules before posting, or just doesn't give a crap how annoying his question is. Either way, they don't belong here. Anything we can do to make them go away and stay away is a Good Thing. If that means making them run home crying to mommy, so be it. –  Olin Lathrop Jul 25 '13 at 15:18

disclaimer: this is my personal viewpoint. feel free to disagree.

Once there was a great mailing list (the piclist) where questions about everything from PIC microcontrollers to favorite places to visit when hiking through Australia were allowed (although with the appropriate labeling) and were almost always answered in very intelligent ways. The only trouble was that you got so many great answers that you next had the problem which one to choose. (And you got some wear on the delete button to get rid of the junk replies.) IIRC only religion and politics were forbidden.

A few years ago the moderators got more and more concerned about the (perceived?) rudeness of some answers. I recall I was on the receiving end of some angry exchanges with moderators once or twice times, one well-known member here has ample experience with such exchanges too. (Curiously, some of the (former?) moderators are here too!) After some time the effect was that there were no more rude (but technically high quality!) answers any more, and some time later there were no more questions either. I think the piclist traffic is now averaging much less than 10 messages a day, with some days of no traffic at all. In other words: it was effectively killed by over-moderation. Once I used it for everything technical I wanted to know (I am not into hitchhiking down under), now I only use it for questions that I can not place anywhere else (mostly when I want to solicit opinions - a pity that is disallowed here). It might have died anyway because mailing lists traffic seem to shrink all over in favor of forum-like exchanges, but I am convinced that over-moderation accelerated the demise significantly.

Half my work is teaching technical informatics (roughly at university level). This undoubtedly shapes the way I look at questions and answers: most other people might think "what is this guys immediate problem" and "does this answer solve that problem". I tend to look (also) fro "this guy has a problem. what should he learn to solve such problems himself?" and I look at answers with this in minds. Especially in the case of homework questions I shudder when someone gives the full answer without even explaining the theory. Better give the theory (a single google term might be sufficient), show a few steps, at leave at least the final step to the student himself. You will appreciate this approach when you ever fly a plane that was programmed by this guy.

To sum up my opinion:

  • don't try to keep everyone satisfied, that's not possible. Remember that there are way more morons who can ask questions than there are knowledgeable persons who are willing to write a good answer. If you are forced to scare off either one or the other group think hard about what the capital of a forum like this is.

  • don't answer (or at least don't answer fully) when that does not help the questioner in the long run. Teach him where to find the answer (google!!!! wikipedia!!!! read the datasheet!!!!) or how to get at the answer (use this formula, try to apply it to your situation).

  • when a question is poorly formulated but has potential to grow into a good question do not close it immediately but post a comment explaining what is wrong with the question.

  • when a question is to be closed (inappropriate, too broad, not a real question, etc) don't just vote to close, but add a comment why you vote to close (or upvote the comment you agree with). IMO the canned reasons for closing a question are often to widely formulated to give the questioner a good idea why his question was closed.

  • Always be very careful to read the question and try to understand what the real question or problem is. IMO i is often good practice to answer BOTH the literal question that was asked, AND what you think that the question should be.

  • Maybe a few more specific canned 'reasons for closing' could be added. I would like

    1. "this is way over your head": what you ask can in principle be done, but we feel that this is way over your head. When you want to continue this project, please inform us of your geographical location, so we can get out of a 100 mile radius. (When someone asks about ohm's law with the intention of building a 10kW SMPS)

    2. "we don't do full designs": what you ask might be possible, but requires a significant amount of design work. for that you need to hire a design consultant. If you want to do the design yourself and have a question about a specific aspect you are welcome, but as it is now your question is far to broad.

    3. "the answer is only a google away": what you ask is fully explained in one of the first hits you get when you google the relevant keywords that are already in your question. If you have read one of these pages and don't understand a specific part of it, please ask that more specific question.

  • Besides the canned "reasons to close" there could also be canned "reasons for improving the question":

    1. "we have no crystal ball: " not all information is provided (including links to datasheets, and pictures of the circuit or component)
    2. "I can't read klingon" : your wording and/or syntax is so bad that on-one can make out what the real question is
    3. "what are you asking?"" the question does not contain a real question (or sometimes too many questions)
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I mainly agree. "Teach him where to find the answer (google!!!! wikipedia!!!! read the datasheet!!!!)" might get interpreted as "post a link to an answer somewhere else" (though you probably don't mean that), and that wouldn't be right. Answers should be answers - when they solve a higher level problem instead of the particular question, they are good answers! –  Camil Staps Mar 27 '13 at 13:51
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I might be a little a-typical in what I view as the problem to be solved. Homework is maybe the clearest example: providing the answer to a homework problem solves nothing (and it nullifies the teachers attempt to get the student to work and/or rate him), pointing the student out how to arrive at the answer does solve a problem. Though maybe not the problem as perceived by the student... –  Wouter van Ooijen Mar 27 '13 at 15:19
    
PIC microcontrollers is considered EE??? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease. Anything less then Maxwell's equations is below par! <end of cynicism> :-P –  Eternal Learner Mar 30 '13 at 16:22
    
All of your additional reasons to close are NARQ in my opinion. I get what you say here. I am only asking that users done attack others. It is okay with me if people downvote/close, but attacking someone or mocking their intelligence is not okay. –  Kortuk Apr 19 '13 at 20:38
    
@kortuk: I was not seriously proposing the specific texts that should be used, but I was dead serious about the categories. –  Wouter van Ooijen Apr 19 '13 at 21:16
    
@WoutervanOoijen Ohh, i did not think you were serious about that text, but it is all the same close reason, just might need a comment to say why, maybe some automated more detailed close reason subcategory would help on that. –  Kortuk Apr 19 '13 at 21:21

Yes. Yes it does. It doesn't just have a problem with newbies, it absolutely skewers them if they don't conform to an arbitrary standard they have no idea of knowing about. Case in point, 4 downvotes and 6 comments yelling at someone for using Fritzing, a perfectly readable and valid circuit design tool. What's next, banning someone for daring to use soic to dip adaptors instead of getting pcbs made?

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Agreed. Do you have ideas for a solution as well? –  Camil Staps Mar 30 '13 at 7:46
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@CamilStaps Solution: If a question irks you, ignore it. Just because you (generic "you") don't like that question, the dev tool, microcontroller, the newbies face/name, the one typo in 200 words, etc, doesn't mean you should hit downvote or close. Negative attention should not be the default, ignoring it should be. –  Passerby Apr 1 '13 at 20:43

TLDR: Absolutely not.

EE.SE absolutely does not categorically have a problem with people who are newbies. I came to this site as a freshman in college who knew almost nothing about electronics. If you look at some of my earliest questions they were amateurish and ill-informed. I still got some answers which were what I like to call "immediately useful," as in they either directly answered my question or immediately solved whatever problem I was having. Any answers that did not fall into that category were usually useful in that they contained good pointers so that I could start googling or ask follow up questions to my professors etc.

I have a problem with your question though. Your question states "don't want to know the nitty gritty conceptual details." That is an entirely different issue from being a newbie. Imagine somebody walked up to a mechanic and asked them some broad question about their car. The mechanic starts answering with detailed info about exhausts and fuel intakes, so the person interrupts and says "No I don't care, just tell me how to fix it." Obviously, that is not exactly what happens here but that is what I've seen most people take issue with. When a question is asked in such a way that not only is it newbish (that is fine), but clearly the person has not done ANY prior research and may or may not come off as not willing to do any further research.

In my mind, all a question needs to be on-topic and good for the site is be about electronics/electrical engineering and show a willingness to learn. You might get a snide answer here and there but it's the internet, get over it.


I remember reading a good post on smiley micros blog (a blog about AVRs) about how to use the avrfreaks website. It seems his blog has gone under since so I cannot find it. But he had a smaller version in a post on the avrfreaks forums themselves:

Let's assume for a moment that you are sincere with your question. My answer is OF COURSE PEOPLE WILL LAUGH AT YOU - THIS IS THE INTERNET! To make matters worse, AVRFreaks is a nearly unmoderated forum. We have folks here who will not only laugh at you, if you give them the opportunity they will give you advice that will kill you if you take it.

The best way to succeed with microcontrollers is to grow a pair and use the Internet and sites like AVRFeaks using the good and ignoring the bad. At times it is like panning for gold in a stream of sewerage but it is also the best way to get the gold. If you really are afraid of being laughed at on the Internet, you'll just make your own life harder and the bastards win.

I understand that StackExchange sites are supposed to be more friendly than an unmoderated forum, but the point still holds: it's the internet.

In summation, I don't think we have a problem with beginners any more than StackOverflow does. The only difference is that it's way easier to try a few things in software before asking a question than it is in hardware. Therefore we get a higher % of newbish questions which also fall under the category of newbish AND unwilling to try a few things to learn etc.

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The "nitty gritty details" comment perhaps refers to my post on the Arduino proposal at Area51. Perhaps you missed my point from that post: There are many people who will ask a mechanic how much pressure their tires are supposed to have, but they don't necessarily want a lecture on the details of tire pressure versus rotation speed on tarmac. Many Arduino users are like that car owner. They don't want to become EEs, so they don't ask for those details. –  Anindo Ghosh Mar 20 '13 at 16:07
    
Yeah, edited the question about the newbie bit. One of the concerns brought up about the 2nd type of (no nitty gritty) newbie was that answers to their questions involve a fair amount of evangelizing about EE. Which, IMO, is OK, but I put it up for discussion anyway. I don't think that we should condone rude behavior, though I do see that it will be there even if pretty much the entire community is warm and fuzzy. To fix this, flag all rude comments and wait for the mods to deal with it :) –  Manishearth Mar 20 '13 at 16:08
    
@AnindoGhosh: I guess his point is that it shouldn't matter if they get the nitty gritties, as long as their questions are answered. SE isn't to answer questions tailored to the OPs needs. We have a "too localised" close reason for that. SE's goal is to make posts that will be useful to many others. Conceptual explanations go a long way in achieving this. –  Manishearth Mar 20 '13 at 16:16
    
@Manishearth The gap in communication is this: What is of general use to a vast pool of Arduino users, is different from what is of general use to the visitor of the EE site. On EE, if someone asks an Arduino question, I'd agree with giving them the deeper concepts - as long as their actual question is addressed. The Arduino site if it comes into existence, on the other hand, would cater to its lexicon of "conceptual detail", which need not be EE-centric at all. –  Anindo Ghosh Mar 20 '13 at 16:20
    
@AnindoGhosh: Yes, I see. I'm talking about EE currently (I linked to those discussions because these points about the treatment of newbies came up there). I agree that the Arduino site will work better here. –  Manishearth Mar 20 '13 at 16:22
    
@Manishearth In other words, something Arduino-specific could obviously be "too localized" on EE. Assuming that it will be too localized on a hypothetical Arduino.SE is where there's a problem - The Arduino user's locale is different. –  Anindo Ghosh Mar 20 '13 at 16:23
    
@AnindoGhosh: Again, I am talking about EE only here. "Too localised" doesn't carry over sites, I know that well. I mentioned the close reason only to highlight SE's goal. –  Manishearth Mar 20 '13 at 16:24
    
@Manishearth For a discussion about EE alone, a reference to a meta post specifically addressing how to differentiate the Arduino.SE proposal, is patently out of place! –  Anindo Ghosh Mar 20 '13 at 16:24
    
@AnindoGhosh: That's where the points about treatment of newbies was mentioned. Not my fault that it's mentioned over there. –  Manishearth Mar 20 '13 at 16:25
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Very well said, +10 if I could. We are here to help people learn. It is therefore OK to not know the subject, as long as you show a willingness to learn and that you've done at least a reasonable level of homework within your capability. The question downvotes here are NOT due to subject level, but due to no signs of any work, badly written, obvious information left out, sloppiness, and "just gimme da answer" attitude. Those are not and must never be welcome here. Those that truly want to learn and engage in the process are welcomed already, as they should be. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 20 '13 at 16:27
    
@AnindoGhosh While I see your point, my answer has nothing to do with whether or not a separate Arduino site is proper. Please do not bring that discussion here. –  NickHalden Mar 20 '13 at 18:56
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@NickHalden I didn't bring it here, Manishearth did, and I protested it to him. –  Anindo Ghosh Mar 21 '13 at 3:28
    
@AnindoGhosh He was using it to discuss the issues that newbies may not be treated well here. It is not to throw you under any bus, but you did bring it here with your comment on the answer. –  Kortuk Mar 21 '13 at 14:29
    
@Kortuk Yup yup. –  Anindo Ghosh Mar 21 '13 at 14:34

Personally, I consider myself a newbie, especially to EE, because without formal EE education, there is just so much to learn. However, compared to where I was, say 1.5years back, I think I've come a long way. Looking back, having spent time over at SE, I knew to an extent, what to expect on EE, but SE was easier to adapt to, thanks to formal CS background.

When I joined EE, I was already at a level that I could do some projects at Arduino scale. Now, using Arduino and shields, requires very little EE knowledge. I think, it is only a bit more deep than say "Snap-Circuits", since much of what I was doing, was plumbing. I am talking about the Arduino HW and also the SW. Then as I slowly started moving away from shields, to dealing with components/breadboards/protoboards, getting to understand some of the fundamentals of electronics became essential, but still superficially I'd say. During this time, I faltered around the taboos s.a.

  1. Almost a shopping question
  2. Question not demonstrating much research done on my own
  3. Question seeking opinion, rather than a definite answer

And yes, I did get my fair share of drubbing. Everyone is different, and I think downvotes, questions voted-to-close, and all that negative arithmetic around reputation, did used to hurt somewhere (sometimes, it still does). Having said that, I think I persevered, and learnt that people whose answers often matter here are volunteering their expertise and knowledge, are established experts in their field, and have a day job, i.e. frequently encountering bad questions does get on their nerves (sometimes or often). Now, you may not look at it similarly, but some people are just bit more sensitive to others, and they can get bruised easily not just in EE/SE, but elsewhere in real life as well.

Finally, I'd say that there are many people, who use the term "newbies" as a shield of protection, against flaming for doing some really stupid things, such as not reading or following the FAQ, taking obvious shortcuts, and not trying hard enough in trying to pose questions in "understandable English". When English is not the first language, I think Google's auto-translator has come a long way, which many people can use.

So the short answer to your question, is "No". I don't believe EE, SE have a problem in terms of how newbies are treated.

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Totally agree about "newbie" being used as a smoke screen when the real issue is low quality of questions, having nothing to do with the technical level. What some people really want is to let more of the unresearched, badly worded, arrogant (urgent, gimme da answer now), and incomprehensible questions thru. Instead of being honest about that, since that will get soundly rejected, they label them as "newbie" questions to make it sound like we're picking on the poor helpless newcomer. We must continue to stand up to bad questions and the misdirection attempted by the "newbie" label. +1 –  Olin Lathrop Mar 22 '13 at 12:19
    
Good to hear the mostly positive experience of a former newbie :) –  Wouter van Ooijen Mar 27 '13 at 10:36

I agree with both DrFriedParts, David Kessner, rawbrawb, and Passerby if that's possible. However, specifically regarding the issue that DrFriedParts brings up, I think this just might be an instance of "fire and forget": personally (being relatively new here), I have yet to change my vote on any questions: much of the time I treat the voting system basically as write-once medium, since it is the easiest thing to do. Perhaps this is my naive mistake, however, if other people use the voting system in a similar way, this creates a real problem because the questions, once changed, still carry the downvotes.

There is a number of solutions we can think of, including:

  • One solution might be to allow moderators to reset the close votes/down votes on the question if they feel that the concerns have been sufficiently addressed. That way you could still downvote: just do it again, if you care. But if you couldn't be bothered then the community (moderators) can let the question be a question after the edits, and no cat-herding to remove downvotes/close votes would be necessary. However it does add to moderator powers/burdens as Mark Booth points out in the comments.
  • Maybe another (I realize that this sounds a bit crazy) is when (a downvoted?) question is edited and pops to the top of the question stack, highlight the edits for people who have downvoted the question. This would draw the downvoter's attention to the fact that an edit has been made
  • More drastic measure might be that downvotes on questions automatically expire if the question is substantially edited. Perhaps the downvoters are notified that their downvotes need to be re-upped (or "re-downed")

In any case, the purpose of this "answer" is just to point out the fact that the way the system is currently set up, it encourages the downvotes to persist regardless of the edits to the question, and that this is a problem that perhaps deserves a solution.

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Ah, well, that was my point exactly. Perhaps I did I not make it as clear as I should have... –  angelatlarge Apr 13 '13 at 17:33
    
Incidentally, remember that moderators are expected to be human exception handlers not benevolent dictators, giving them the ability (and thus responsibility) to reset votes would actually put them in a difficult position (i.e. it would cause more problems than it would solve). –  Mark Booth Apr 13 '13 at 17:38
    
@MarkBooth Thanks, clarified the post (I hope) –  angelatlarge Apr 13 '13 at 19:38
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You left out solution #4, which should actually be #1: Don't write bad questions in the first place. Once you do, just like presenting bad work anywhere else in life, it can be hard to recover from. If you don't like that, be more careful next time. –  Olin Lathrop Apr 13 '13 at 22:42
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I guess that's just depends on how friendly we want to be? We cannot control the posters, we can only control our responses to bad/inadequate/less-than-ideal posts. Sure, being friendly takes more work, and whether that's worth it is probably a matter of personal taste. –  angelatlarge Apr 14 '13 at 6:38
    
It's not about the work of being friendly, but about the image you want to present. We don't want those here that can't be bothered to read the rules and put a little effort into their question. You can't fix attitude. These people aren't welcome here and kicking them in the butt as they are thrown out makes the message clear. Even more importantly, it puts everyone else on notice how laziness and disregard for the rules gets treated. Being nice will degrade the site in the long run. –  Olin Lathrop Apr 14 '13 at 13:32

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