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What is our stance regarding questions asking for survey of institution’s regulations? Are they on-topic or off-topic?

For example, the question When an academic researcher receives a gift funding from an industry partner, does the academic researcher's university take a cut? asked for a survey if the answer depends on the institution.

Ask for a survey = ask for pointers to existing surveys (I'm not talking about surveying Stack Exchange users).

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I think you are asking about questions that are requesting a pointer to, and brief summary of, a somewhat difficult to find systematic evaluation of an aspect of academic life. As we all know, finding literature on a new topic can be hard, and very time consuming, if you don't know the right terms to search for. A good answer to such a question would either (1) provide a link to the study, a brief summary of the key findings, and maybe some of the key terms to help future searches in the area or (2) explain the key issues in the area, the relevant databases, and that a search of the those databases did not turn up anything. The answer might then go on to explain why such a study is difficult. A bad answer would say what an individuals experience is with a particular university, or small group of universities.

I think these types of questions are nominally within our scope. The problem is the questions tend to attract lots of bad answers and rarely provide good answers. They then often get swamped with attention and makes it hard for the community to manage them. I think a narrowly defined and clear question asking for leads regarding literature relating to academic life are on topic and should be left open. Broader and less clear questions should be actively closed and the OP encouraged to refine the question. Questions that are surveying the community about their experiences should be nuked.

  • Thanks. It looks like the question When an academic researcher receives a gift funding from an industry partner, does the academic researcher's university take a cut? was closed for the wrong reason then (""The answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work or your personal values. ") since a survey aims at giving a reflection of a diversity of situations. Do you agree? – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 15 at 18:13
  • @FranckDernoncourt I am lost. Should that question be reference-request? If so maybe it is on topic, if not it seems more like a poll of our community. I am lost on the specific application of this meta question to your original question. – StrongBad Jun 16 at 16:33
  • sounds good I added reference-request (I hadn't done so before as it's only a reference request if the answer depends on the university). Does this clarify the application of this meta question to my original question? – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 16 at 18:31
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For a survey to be meaningful you need to make sure it is somehow representative for some well defined population. The answers such a question on this forum will illicit are very unlikely to get anywhere close to that. In that case it just becomes a shopping question and should be closed. This forum can answer many but not all interesting questions.


The way I understand the question is that there is a tradition on this forum to close shopping questions and Franck is of the opinion that this definition is too broad and results in closing potentially useful questions. In particular questions asking for survey of institution’s regulations. The idea is that each individual answer is too specific to be useful outside that particular institution, but all answers together give an overview of the kind of regulations available. So the key characteristic that differentiates such a survey question from a regular question, is that it is the entire collection of answers that gives useful information rather than the individual answers.

As stated in my answer above I don't think that this is a good idea: we know quite a bit about surveys, and this is really not the way to do it.

  • There are some high-quality answers to survey questions, e.g. Reference on availability of source code used in computer science research articles?. A question shouldn't be closed on the grounds that people might write some low quality / shopping answers. – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 13 at 3:37
  • The fear that some questions are low quality was not my argument. The argument was that the question cannot be answered. I suspect we are not talking about the same thing. I will edit my answer to define what I am talking about. If your question is about something else you can edit your question. – Maarten Buis Jun 13 at 7:18
  • yes we're talking about different things. Ask for a survey = ask for pointers to existing surveys (I'm not talking about surveying Stack Exchange users), as exemplified in the link in my previous comment. – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 13 at 15:41
  • What do you think the value is in such a question? As i see it, it will just produce answers that are too specific to be of any use to anyone outside their institution. – Maarten Buis Jun 13 at 16:58
  • A survey would give some trend amongst a fair amount of institutions: it wouldn't be specific to one institution. – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 13 at 17:02
  • Now I am confused, do you or do you not want a survey? – Maarten Buis Jun 13 at 17:19
  • if the answer to the question depends on the University, then yes, I would like a survey. – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 13 at 17:22
  • Then my answer applies. – Maarten Buis Jun 13 at 17:27
  • Your answer states "So the key characteristic that differentiates such a survey question from a regular question, is that it is the entire collection of answers that gives useful information rather than the individual answers." -> my point is that 1 answer can point to 1 survey. I'm not talking about having Stack Exchange users giving an answer specific to their institution. – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 13 at 17:55
  • OK, as you have seen it must be very carefully worded ad it is easily misunderstood. – Maarten Buis Jun 13 at 20:07
  • "question asking for a survey" sounds to me quite different from a question surveying users. But anyway, how would you phrase it? – Franck Dernoncourt Jun 14 at 0:43

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