I am not an academic, I am however a regular SE user. I see several Academia.SE questions in the "hot questions" sidebar. It seems that many of these questions go something like:

  • "Is it appropriate to... ?"
  • "Is it polite to... ?"
  • "Is it normal to... ?"

Why are there so many etiquette and protocol type questions at Academia.SE?

Is this unique to Academia.SE or are there radically different standards for civility in real life academia?

Some numbers from the SE API. There are 4614 total questions, a search for "appropriate" returns 665 results. Roughly 14%.

  • Because subjective questions are both easy to ask and easy to answer.
    – Raphael
    Jun 11, 2014 at 13:57

2 Answers 2


Your 14% figure is quite misleading—it includes all questions and answers containing a variant of the term "appropriate," regardless of the topic of the question. Actually, the number of questions with "appropriate" in the title is less than 1% of the total, which I think is entirely reasonable.

As I've stated elsewhere, though, academia is about interpersonal interactions—what you might think is reasonable (and what might pass for so in everyday life) might not be so well received in the academic world (for "diplomatic" as well as legal reasons). Asking about etiquette situations is therefore an appropriate use of this board.

  • 1
    I think that answers my question. I'm getting a skewed picture from what I see in "Hot Questions" and the rules in academia are different from the private sector.
    – user15831
    May 28, 2014 at 16:49
  • 2
    Yeah, there's been a bit of a run on "appropriate" questions in the last few days.
    – aeismail
    May 28, 2014 at 17:31

Compared to the world of business, academia has a much less well defined hierarchy.

For example, I am line managed by one person, academically managed by another but the actual money for my paycheck comes from a third, fourth and fifth. At any one time I can be collaborating with a bunch of other people answerable to completely different (but equally complex) management structures. And I don't even have many teaching responsibilities to factor in at the moment! But the question of who takes credit/blame for outcomes (publications/funding) will have a major impact on my career.

This is no bad thing, indeed it's part of why academics are regarded as independent thinkers (hopefully).

Bearing all this in mind, though, sometimes you have to know the boundaries of what is considered acceptable behaviour. It's a bit different to business where you just do what your boss says.

(Admittedly that's a slightly simplistic portrayal of the business world but I have worked there as well and the difference is certainly tangible to me).

  • Colleges used to be havens for freethinkers. Today, they've become havens for totalitarianism. This probably explains why so many people seem to be so afraid of offending people with inappropriate words or behavior. Aug 1, 2018 at 11:18
  • Whether or not that's true, it's a different issue: your link is about what academics can say to students and the public, while my answer is about hierarchy and relations between faculty. Aug 23, 2018 at 11:59

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