Some folks considered the prior installments of the question Worst cover-letter mistakes of continental-European applicants for tenure-track assistant professorship positions in CS in USA as too broad. I narrowed it, many times, last time after the question has been put on hold. I'm wondering how often should the narrowing happen.

I'm under the impression that the expertise is not present here at ac.se in sufficient numbers anyway, so the question was already narrow enough and is now even narrower, potentially not admitting too many answers or votes from really informed folks, but rather mostly junk (=uninformed) answers and junk votes. So far, I have not even seen any useful comments to the contents either.

2 Answers 2


These concerns were mentioned in the comments (now in the chat room linked from a comment):

This, unfortunately, looks like a "make a big list" question that likely too broad for effective answers.


In this community, the consensus is generally against big list questions

That is the reason your question was closed. Making the scope of the list narrower (by specifying the field, or specifying the part of the application you're asking about) doesn't help; the fundamental question is still asking us to compile a list. When a question is posed in such a way that it can't be answered well in one answer, but needs many separate answers to give a complete answer, it is "too broad", even if the situation referenced is very narrow. This community has decided that we don't want those kinds of "list" questions (with some exceptions, that are discussed on meta before the question is posed).

You also make the situation a bit worse by asking for people's opinions about which mistakes are most serious. (See the help center.)

Your question could be improved by framing it to be about your specific situation, instead of asking for a list of anecdotes from other people's situations, and by not soliciting opinions. Instead of

In your opinion, what are the most serious common mistakes that continental European candidates for tenure-track assistant-professor positions in Computer Science in the US commit in their cover letters?

You could ask,

I am a continental European candidate applying for tenure-track assistant-professor positions in Computer Science in the US. What common cover letter mistakes are made by people in this situation, that I need to watch out for?

This could potentially have a single "best" answer, and doesn't ask for subjective opinions on which mistakes bother people the most. The "best" answer would not just be a one line answer enumerating a mistake that has been judged "most serious" by the votes of other users; the "best" answer would be a comprehensive answer that describes the common problems and explains more about them.

  • @Abra What matters is not what you would be happy with (since nobody but you knows...), what but kind of answers the question invites. For example, if you explicitly invite answers based on opinion the question is likely to be closed as too subjective, even if you would be happy with answers that objectively recount things that they have seen in applications and how the search committee reacted to them.
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 22:15
  • @Abra Having said that, in the comments you seem to have gotten feedback that there aren't really any "common" mistakes, so I don't think the question is likely to be reopened - people might think that the revised version would just be closed as "depends on the specific situation".
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 22:17

The big problem is that your question boils down to asking for a list of things, and that’s not a good fit for this site.

Moreover, the narrowing isn’t making the question any easier to answer. I can’t really say “continental Europeans do X that other international applicants don’t,” and I don’t think there’s anything that is a CS-only kind of mistake, either.

Also, when asked to clarify what you want, you came up with “the worst ones.” This doesn’t help us understand what you want, which brings us back to an unfocused list question.

To a degree, to paraphrase Chekhov: “every declined application is unique.”

  • Note that your question was not closed by a moderator. But let’s also address the second issue: most applications don’t fail because you did one thing wrong. There are hundreds of applicants in the US per position. Only a handful get interviews. Your “error” might be that you’re not in the subdiscipline they want.
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 23:40
  • @LeonMeier: Most applications fail because there are so many, and so typically only the most qualified or most impressive applications can make the cut. Your application can be mistake-free and still not lead to an interview!
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 1:49

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