It happens quite often that new posters are confused about the scope of this site, for instance mistaking it for a "you can ask about every possible study topic here" site, or a "here's the story of my life, what should I do" site. This leads to off-topic questions, additional moderation work, and unnecessary hard feelings from newcomers.

On SE sites it is possible to customize the content of the "how to ask" window that is shown to first-time askers. See below for how it looks like on Academia (non-personalized) and Server Fault (personalized).

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Here is how it looks like on Mathematics, where it is even more informative (or at least it did at some point in time --- I don't want to create a new account there just to verify that this screenshot from the Meta.MO question is still accurate)

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I suggest to add some text to describe the scope of our site; for instance, a shorter version of the "What topics should I avoid?" paragraph on the help pages.

Similar thread on Meta.Mathoverflow (where unfortunately the suggestion was never applied).

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    It seems a good idea: what is customisable and the procedure is described here. Let’s see what the community thinks. Anyway, we should still have the tag warnings. – Massimo Ortolano Apr 10 at 10:14
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    This is great, thanks for finding this. I suggest we use this thread to discuss what we want, generally. Then someone™ (volunteers welcome) can turn these suggestions into a word-for-word proposal, which we can discuss in a follow-on thread. Our request is more likely to be processed if we agree on a word-for-word proposal and all the admins have to do is copy and paste. – cag51 Apr 10 at 19:03

We should make it clear that the scope is "academia" rather rather than "academics." It's hard to concisely define academia, perhaps something like: "academic careers, research, teaching, and publishing."

Based on the number of homework help questions we get, the existing wording still gives the impression that questions related to an academic subject would be on-topic here.

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    I strongly agree, but this needs amendment to exclude the content of research - one of the more common closures of off-topic questions. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 12 at 9:56
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    Could you include the word 'university' somewhere? A lot of the most off-topic askers are people who have had no contact with academia and might not recognize the word at all. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 12 at 10:04

Encourage askers to put a question mark in the top-level question. Beyond grammar, this will discourage questions of the form "here is a 20 page description of my problem; what do I do?"

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    Maybe the best message here is "open with your question, do not present it just at the end"? Something in the spirit of "bottom line up front". – Federico Poloni Apr 10 at 19:22
  • @Frederico I don't think that's necessary, it's just annoying to read titles like "struggling with advisor" – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 11 at 21:48
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    Yes, and if the title is "struggling with advisor", the post is very likely to be an information dump with no "reusable" question. Encouraging a question mark is only a partial solution; the real question is how to convey that questions should be reusable. – cag51 Apr 12 at 0:04
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    "Put a question in the title" is very helpful advice. It should be "question" not "question mark" though. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 12 at 10:03
  • We should take into account that the question form, above the title field, contains already the suggestion: "Be specific and imagine you’re asking a question to another person". – Massimo Ortolano Apr 12 at 13:02

Let’s remove the initial sentence “You’re ready to ask your first question [...]”. Even though it’s welcoming, the shorter the text the likelier that it gets read.


A format that we could take as inspiration is that of EL&U:

EL&U welcome modal

We can list sites for which we frequently receive questions, e.g. Cross Validated, Stack Overflow and Physics (comment below if you have other suggestions).

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    Just my opinion, but personally I think it is better to explain the general concept rather than giving a list of sites; such a list would be too long and at the same time it would not include all possible alternatives. – Federico Poloni Apr 11 at 11:35
  • @FedericoPoloni I have the impression that general concepts are easily ignored. A link might be a stronger suggestion, 4-5 links maximum. We don't have too many different frequent cases. – Massimo Ortolano Apr 11 at 11:49
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    Probably Interpersonal too – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 11 at 21:48

Please include a link to What potential duplicate targets should I know about as a reviewer? near the prompt to use the search. It's an easier way to find the asker's answer than using the search.

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