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When recently voting to close an off-topic undergraduate question, I saw this screen: enter image description here with the phrase:

Questions about problems facing undergraduate students are off-topic unless they can also apply to graduate or post-graduate academicians as described in What topics can I ask about here?

Note, however, that this description is absent from the linked help center page. Nor is it at What types of questions should I avoid asking?. We do note that questions that are very specific to one person's situation are not likely to get very far, but we don't outright discourage questions specific to undergraduates.

Some SE sites explicitly discourage certain off-topic questions. Mathematics has a detailed list: https://math.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic

Can we add a section like this to our help center?

  • I'm now collecting proposals for the list of questions not to ask here – ff524 Sep 3 '14 at 1:02
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I believe we should revisit this issue, in light of the fact that we have come out of beta and are getting more traffic.

Specifically, I sympathize with new users who post questions about things like undergraduate admissions without realizing it's considered off-topic. I wouldn't understand that from reading the help center text, either.

I also think it would be worthwhile to specify that

Although these are clearly off-topic if one reads the help center text carefully, I think we get enough of these that I'd like to exclude them explicitly.

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I think this ties directly into the question of how we go about getting more questions per day on the site. We're never going to get out of Beta status unless we get 2-3 times more questions per day (correct me if I'm wrong), and while I am all for having strict guidelines on topic-appropriate questions, we should possibly thinking of some sort of outreach to find more people who want to ask questions that are on topic.

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    But what is the rush to get out of beta? From what I understand as long as we continue to "slowly grow" we can stay in beta for as long as we need to. Apart from some fancy wallpaper and better "advertising" I am not sure there is a difference between beta and not beta. – StrongBad Jul 25 '13 at 10:28
  • @DanielE.Shub: Among others, moderators will be elected and rep levels required for the privileges will increase. – user102 Jul 25 '13 at 10:57
  • @DanielE.Shub Keep in mind, every so often the powers that be decide to close betas that aren't doing well. The guidance specifically says "As long as your site makes steady progress and continues to make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions, it will move on" (emphasis theirs). I do think we can make the case for the latter (we make the Internet better), but too few questions doesn't help with "steady progress." – Chris Gregg Jul 25 '13 at 12:30
  • @ChrisGregg but you can see that we are making steady progress. – StrongBad Jul 25 '13 at 12:35
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    @CharlesMorisset while those are technical differences I am happy with our diamond mods and I think the increase in rep would actually be bad for us. – StrongBad Jul 25 '13 at 12:36
  • @DanielE.Shub I'm not going to argue about steady progress, except to say that a case could be made from your data that as a whole we aren't making steady progress (I'd be happy to present that argument, but I'd be playing Devil's advocate more than anything). Incidentally, it isn't surprising to me that the number of questions has dropped lately--I would venture that this is because school is out in the U.S. – Chris Gregg Jul 25 '13 at 12:52
  • @ChrisGregg I suggest we move this to chat ... – StrongBad Jul 25 '13 at 13:26
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Note that the section you linked to on the Mathematics section is from their "on-topic" page, which we also use to explicitly list what is on-topic for this site. You will note that this list does not include anything related to undergraduate studies.

Historically, the SE folks have been willing to let us define what is on-topic, and discourage changes to the "what's off-topic" list, as anything that's no on-topic is, by definition, off-topic. I can bring it up with the admins again, but I doubt their stance has changed.


In response to the clarification below, I still maintain my above position. We list what should be asked, with the implicit (if not explicit) statement that anything not on-topic is off-topic. My view is that adding more text to the FAQ will not solve problems; people who post off-topic questions will not be deterred because "it's not in the FAQ".

Basically, I feel that listing off-topic stuff may make us feel good, but it decreases FAQ readability (more text) and won't affect the number of off-topic questions.

  • I understand this position, but besides Mathematics, MathOverflow, Superuser, English Language and Usage, and stackoverflow (to name a few) all list "specifically off-topic topics" on their on-topic help center pages. – Ben Norris Jul 25 '13 at 13:38
  • @BenNorris Ah, I didn't realize what you referring to... I didn't go that far down the page. Thanks for clarifying. I'll update my answer to address that. – eykanal Jul 25 '13 at 15:47

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