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Welcome to Academia.SE, the free, community-driven Questions and Answers site for academics of all levels - from aspiring graduate and professional students to senior researchers - as well as anyone in or interested in research-related or research-adjacent fields

We hope you find Academia.SE enjoyable, interesting, and fun, and we welcome your contributions to the site. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about academia.

Much like academia itself, Academia.SE has some conventions and standards of behavior that can be unfamiliar to new members of the community. Below, you'll find some information to help you get acclimated and to make your interactions with this site a pleasant experience for you and all other users.


If you're adding an answer to this post: Please answer with one single piece of advice per answer. If you have multiple pieces of advice, post multiple answers. This is so that the community can vote separately on each item, and the most important advice will rise to the top.

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    Should this be the information spot, or should we create a clean CW question with a clean all encompassing answer? If this is the spot, should it be CW? – StrongBad Sep 5 '14 at 7:48
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    @StrongBad I kind of like the current structure, where people can continue to vote to show what they think is important. And I'm not sure what we'd gain from making it CW, since there's no rep gain on meta (and anyone can suggest edits) – ff524 Sep 5 '14 at 7:53
  • I think many of the current answers could be integrated into our "on-topic" page about how to ask questions. We would lose the voting and open editing ability, but it might be easier for new users to find. – StrongBad Sep 5 '14 at 8:42
  • @StrongBad I was thinking about that, but I'm a little nervous about making that page so long that nobody reads it (especially given this addition). Maybe a link from there to this post would be better? I don't know – ff524 Sep 5 '14 at 8:45
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    @ff524 What about providing a link to this question on the help center with a different color, so users can easier find these posts when they read the help center? It would be even better to provide such link in the Tour page too. – Enthusiastic Engineer Sep 7 '14 at 19:57

11 Answers 11

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Academia varies more than you think it does

Academic customs and procedures vary greatly across countries, universities, fields, subfields, workgroups and so on. Therefore always consider that what you assume to be general in your question or answer is not. It is very helpful if your question includes at least your field and your country.

Some examples:

  • In some fields, publishing papers at conferences is the default; in other fields, it is unheard of.

  • In some fields, a peer-review process of one year is quick; in others it is outrageously long.

  • In some fields, LaTeX is the default way to write papers; in others it is "What's LaTeX?"

  • In some subfields of physics, publishing preprints on the arXiv is the default; in others it is the exception.

  • How the order of authors of a paper is determined varies greatly across fields.

  • The role and relevance of the corresponding author differs between journals, fields and countries. [1], [2].

  • In some fields, the authors' affiliations on a paper indicate where the work was done; in others, affiliations indicate where the authors can be currently found.

  • In some countries, faculty contracts include 12 or more months of salary; in others only 9 months.

  • The distinction between undergraduate and graduate students doesn’t exist in some countries. For example, it isn’t even possible to accurately translate the corresponding words into the German language.

  • In some countries, PhD students are typically university employees; in others they are not and live on a stipend.

  • In some countries, some fields, and some individual departments, PhD funding is implicit; in others you have apply for it and need not get it.

  • In some countries, the funding is based on impact-factor publications; in others, they do not care about this sort of thing.

  • In some countries, it is customary that your supervisor signs your thesis; in others, it isn’t.

  • In some countries, prospective PhD students apply directly to potential supervisors; in others, they apply to a department.

  • In some countries and fields, getting a PHD involves coursework; in others, it doesn’t.

  • In some countries, graduate schools are common; in others, they are the exception.

  • In some countries, universities don't arrange counselling services for students.

  • In some countries, there are no extensive university-wide policies (on behaviour, cheating, writing theses/reports etc.).

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    +1. This is maybe the most important thing I've learned from this site. – Nate Eldredge Sep 3 '14 at 18:09
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    Whether graduate students are employees is one thing that varies by country. Also, what is meant by "committee" in the context of someone doing a PhD seem to be very different in USA and Denmark (not sure about other places though, ad if this is mainly in math). – Tobias Kildetoft Sep 4 '14 at 6:48
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    @Wrzlprmft: Suggestion, hereby submitted for "review" by other users (as I do not feel confident enough, if only about the wording, to add it myself): "In some countries, the academic year is interrupted by a large break during which campuses are mostly empty of students; in others, there are periods with classes that are interrupted by shorter breaks, while at least some students are almost always around for one university-related reason or another." – O. R. Mapper Jul 3 '15 at 7:39
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"Here's my situation, any suggestions?" is not an answerable question

Sometimes questions on Academia.SE involve a user describing the situation they find themselves in, and asking a very general question (e.g., "any suggestions or advice?"). Instead of asking questions like this, you should highlight the specific question you want answered.

For example, suppose your question is "My advisor does X, what should I do?"

Without further clarification, we can't tell whether you want to know:

  • How to gracefully switch to another advisor?
  • Whether your advisor's behavior is normal?
  • How to talk to your advisor about changing this behavior?
  • How to mitigate the effect this behavior has on you?

So, please make sure you specify the question you want an answer to in your post, and not just the situation.

If you don't describe your specific question, you won't necessarily get answers to that question. It's also highly likely that your post will be closed as "unclear what you're asking."

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Give yourself time to proofread before submitting

Even if what you want to ask weighs heavy on your heart, don't just get your feelings out there. Collect your thoughts, consider what we need to know about your situation (and, more importantly, what we should not know, for instance specifics that could identify you), and ask a nicely formulated question in grammatically correct english, with paragraphs, and a single, explicit question item. If your question is overly long, this is an indicator that you are likely including too much personal backstory into your question.

Remember, in order to answer your question, people here first need to read it. The chance that your question is read carefully is strongly correlated with how clear and well-presented it is.

  • +1 for ask a nicely formulated question [...]. – Enthusiastic Engineer Oct 11 '14 at 13:21
  • Please roll back if you don't like the new first line. – aparente001 Feb 20 '17 at 16:40
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Write one question per post

If you have several questions about a problem or situation, but the questions can be asked independently, please split them up into multiple posts.

There are several reasons for this:

  • From Meta.SE: "That way it's easy to select a correct answer. If you ask several questions in one question you risk having answers that are both correct and wrong at the same time."
  • If your question has many parts, it is likely to be closed for being too broad in scope.
  • If a user only knows the answer to some of your questions but not others, they may refrain from answering entirely. Asking one question per post makes it more likely that each of your questions will get answered.
  • Writing one question per post makes it much easier for future visitors to find existing questions like their own. Imagine you're a future visitor and you'd like to know whether a publication in an unrelated field will be helpful in graduate admissions. Would an existing question be easier to find if

    • It's a sub-question of a very, very long post titled "Advice for admissions to graduate school?" along with four other sub-questions, or
    • It's in dedicated post with only one question, titled "How does a publication in an unrelated field affect graduate admissions?"
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Don't take constructive feedback personally; see if your post can be improved with some editing

Stack Exchange is designed around being helpful, and the people here who are volunteering their time to answer questions are doing it because they want to answer them, and be helpful.

Close votes or other suggestions are not judgements on you, your character, or your situation. They are an attempt to make a question capable of being answered, or steer the question into a place where it can reasonably be answered. A question being closed means we're not sure it can be answered as it is currently written - not that your situation doesn't deserve our attention.

  • While this is true, it isn't really something specific to this SE site. Not sure if this is the right place for such an advice. – xLeitix Sep 3 '14 at 16:35
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    @xLeitix I'll note the original question didn't actually suggest it needed to be advice that applies exclusively to Academia. And given Academia often faces questions of a very personal life-important nature, and have had several back and forth exchanges between mods and users over closings, it's probably worth saying. – Fomite Sep 3 '14 at 17:16
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    @xLeitix Although the advice given isn't specific to this SE site, some people may not have used other SE sites before (I am relatively new to using this type of site, and still not 100% sure how everything works). – emmalgale Sep 4 '14 at 12:52
  • Please roll back if you don't like the new first line. – aparente001 Feb 20 '17 at 16:43
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Think about how to make your question a useful ongoing resource for the internet

This generally means thinking about what is general about your question. You may have a problem that is highly specific to your situation but think about how can it be generalised so that the answers will be helpful to others.

Basically, stack exchange is here to make the life of the Googling masses so much better. The answers you receive will hopefully help you, but more importantly a good general question will help hundreds or often thousands of future people who google the question. The more that you can frame your question in a slightly general way, the more likely a question is to help the Googling masses.

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"I couldn't find a better SE site for this question" is not necessarily a reason to ask it here

The help center describes what kinds of questions are considered on-topic here, as well as some kinds of questions that are outside the scope of this site (as defined by the community).

We welcome your on-topic contributions. But, if you ask a question that is not within one of the on-topic areas, or that falls within one of the out-of-scope areas, it will be closed.

This is true even if there is currently no StackExchange site (or other site) at which you may ask the question. Off-topic-ness everywhere else does not imply on-topic-ness here.

Furthermore, while some users may suggest a better site1 to ask your question if they know of one, we aren't necessarily experts on all the websites out there. So if you ask in a comment

well, what site can I ask this question at, then????

you may or may not get a response - because we don't necessarily know the answer. But it definitely won't get the question reopened.

If you think you've identified a gap in the coverage of current StackExchange sites, you can visit Area51 to propose a new site, or support an existing proposal.


1 Cross-posting is against StackExchange policy and is liable to get your question closed and deleted. If you think your own question would be more appropriate on a different site, use the "flag" link and ask a moderator to migrate it from Academia to your preferred site. If you think someone else's question would be more appropriate on another site, write a comment suggesting that the OP use the "flag" link to ask a moderator to migrate it (and, also vote to close if it's also off-topic at Academia).

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Don't run, Walk!

Gaining reputation may be something really interesting for the low-experienced users. They may try to add to their reputation by posting numerous questions or answers which do not have any meaningful content. This may probably reduce their reputation or cause down-votes to their posts. If you take a look at users with higher reputation, you can see that they have posts which have gained many up-votes just because the content is of good quality. They just don't post something; they answer the questions indeed.

As a newly registered user, I recommend you to:

  1. Visit the Academia's tour;
  2. Read the content provided in the Academia's Help Center; Specially the following topics:

  3. Take a look at tags list and read some questions and answers which attract you more.

  4. Do not go instantly to use your moderation privileges such as edit features.

Understanding what's wrong or right, what's the website's policy about on-topic or off-topic content and how this website works need time. So be patient.

and one last advice;

If your post which may be a question or an answer, is put on hold or even deleted, or your suggested edits are rejected; do not become angry. Ask your questions about the website's policies on Academia's Meta and do your discussions on the website's chat room, not in the comments or answers.

Try to ask the users with higher reputation, why your content is down-voted, put on hold or deleted and try to learn from your mistakes. So, in future, you will post questions and answers which meet the site's policies and this way, you will not only learn things, but also you will enjoy being on a site in which many graduate students and faculty members collaborate.

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    +1 There's some pretty good advice in there (although I think the ironic hint at JeffE's trademark will be more appreciated by the longterm user :) ) – xLeitix Sep 8 '14 at 15:45
  • Could you separate things out more, as the OP requested? Pull out the specific suggestions that don't appear in any other answers, and write a separate answer for each? – aparente001 Feb 20 '17 at 16:45
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Look before you leap.

The best way to avoid having your questions placed on hold is to know what a good question looks like. And the best way to find out is to look at good questions. Click on a tag related to what you want to ask, and see what's already there—and what's been highly upvoted.

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    Interestingly, I am not sure highly upvoted are typically what I would consider good questions here. Most of our really highly upvoted questions are just very opinionated and/or on highly controversial topics. Better leave this sentence out. – xLeitix Sep 3 '14 at 5:56
  • How about adding a handful of links to questions you think would be particularly useful as illustrations of well posed questions? – aparente001 Feb 20 '17 at 16:53
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Useful tips for more interested users who want to be an asset to the site

If you are a new user, and after asking some questions and answering some others, want to stay on this site and collaborate more, I encourage you to read the Stack Exchange network-wide Meta content to become more aware of the functionality and usefulness of some features existing on the website.

Especially the questions listed under FAQ tag will help you act more wisely and efficiently. Mostly when you gain reputation and have access to some moderation tools, these questions and answers will help you indeed.

I'll link to some of these questions here and will be thankful to other users if they also add some more valuable questions to read.

  1. FAQ for Stack Exchange sites

  2. What are the guidelines for reviewing?

  3. Can we please have the [foo] tag on our site?

  4. There's an election going on. What's happening and how does it work?

  5. What is serial voting and how does it affect me?

  6. When should I vote?

  7. Is it acceptable to write a thank you in a comment?

  8. How do I contact other users?

  9. How do I write a good title?

  10. What is a 'rollback'?

  11. What can cause a question to be bumped?

  12. Is cross-posting a question on multiple Stack Exchange sites permitted if the question is on-topic for each site?

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Use tags that are relevant to your question

When tagging your question, go by what the question is actually about, not by what it is only related to. This way, you can help future users to find questions addressing their problems.

For example, almost every question on this site is somewhat related to research, because that’s what academians do. If you are asking about, e.g., how to best cite something, you are probably doing so because you are publishing your research. Such a question would only be related to research, but not about it, and should thus not be tagged . If you are however asking on how to best organise your research, the question is actually about research and thus deserves the tag.

In another example, when you have a question about how to cite something that came up when writing a thesis, the same question might as well have arisen when writing a paper. In this case the question is not about theses and should thus should not be tagged .

The following tags are often used spuriously: , , , , , , , , , .

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