What do we feel about questions for novices?

"What is Ohm's law?"

"Explain the difference between AC and DC"

Would we be replicating the Wikipedia page?

Would multiple overlapping answers be a good or bad thing?

Would beginner questions be doing someone's homework for them?

I would be in favour of these questions - so long as they were Community Wiki, with a cultivated answer leading to more detailed questions.


It is difficult to set a hard limit on how "entry-level" a question should be allowed. Ideally, if asked in good faith, there should be no lower limit. All questions are welcome. But it is reasonable to require some small sense of due diligence from the original author. Simple questions, good; Lazy questions, bad.

The question has to be taken in context. It is very likely that questions posed the way you quoted are not being asked in good faith. I would urge everyone to read this blog post: Asking the First Questions.

It has long been established that no question is too entry-level nor too basic. Everyone is welcome. But, in these earliest days, we are DESIGNING a site for experts. To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other Q&A site. Remember, the pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!

The earliest questions on a site will set the tone and topic of the site for a long time.

The blog post linked above talks about the issue of seeding the site with questions… in a bad way. No one who spent more than 10 seconds on their problem likely to craft a lazy question simply stated as "What is ohms law?" However, if a user comes along with a genuine problem, explaining it in sufficient detail, forming a well-thought-out question — even if the underlying question turns out to be extremely basic — it should be allowed.

As a matter of fact, it is the simplest questions that provide opportunities for the most thorough, thought-provoking answers. It should be answered with the most awesome answer you can muster. It should become THE canonical source for that information on the internet. That's what the site is for.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The canonical source for that kind of information on the Internet is Wikipedia, not Stack Exchange. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Stack Exchange is the canonical source for questions and answers about specific, unencyclopedic things. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Nov 24 '10 at 5:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Robert, that clears things up \$\endgroup\$ – Toby Jaffey Nov 24 '10 at 12:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Endolith, just because wikipedia has very thorough answers on many basic subjects does not meant hat SE cannot also. The further I have gone into EE the less Wiki has helped me. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 27 '10 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ Kortuk: Yes, that's what I'm saying. Wiki is for encyclopedic overview stuff like "what is a resistor?", stackexchange is for answers to specific detailed questions like "which value resistor do i use in this circuit?" \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Nov 28 '10 at 5:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Endolith, the definition that wikipedia has for most things will be geared for the general public, while here it can be geared for what a electronics tinker or professional would like to see. What is a resistor is not a perfect case, but a PID controller is probably a good subject that our answer here would be more useful to a tinkerer or technical professional in electronics. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 29 '10 at 1:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Endolith, Please do not misunderstand me though, I agree in general with what you mean, but when I close vote I fully close a question, I cannot take part in giving a community vote, if I agree with users and 2 or 4 vote to close I will normally finish it up. I just will not be the first unless the question must be closed(Clearly violates basic rules). Normally on the others I wait for people based on how strongly I think it violates rules, if there are 4 votes then I can act as a normal user and cast the 5th. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 29 '10 at 1:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Endolith, with these questions it is normally just a case of downvotes though unless they just give no detail and it is too broad. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 29 '10 at 1:05

Lazy questions should get downvotes, not closed? Then they can revise them to ask something better?

  • \$\begingroup\$ or choose to close it, again being important that lazy and easy are differentiated. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Nov 27 '10 at 19:44

If the question can be totally answered with a link to Wikipedia/by cut-and-pasting part of the article, it should be closed as it is too broad.

If the question is diving into any specifics, sure, ask away.


While I agree with Robert, I also would like to point out that the term expert won't have the same meaning to everyone.

Also don't forget that explaining something in layman's terms requires a thorough understanding of the subject and therefore is best done by an expert.

But the expert himself is often the least likely to ask any questions, because he has learned how to solve his own problems. If you don't want a site that's starving for question, you also need the users that are looking for expert answers.


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