I asked about graphene, an up and coming material that I keep seeing in IEEE that seems to be important. I read about it in wikipedia, searched the web, could tell it has importance, but that I don't have enough expertise to answer my question: what is it in relation to the semiconductor/electrical engineering world? So, I've seen people ask about materials before, and thought it was on topic.

Everyone down voted it, and told me it was off topic, and someone eventually suggested I ask in meta: is this on topic?

I thought this was the perfect place to ask about such things. How am I mistaken? Isn't the down-voting completely in contradiction to what this site is about? I understand how people that don't know the answer might consider it an "opinion based question", but there are people out there that know the answer, and those are the people that I wanted to hear from.

The whole thing felt like a big attack-fest. I would have just taken it down, because I didn't like how I seemed to just get attacked, but Olin Lanthrop had posted an answer (a completely worthless answer that even he admitted didn't answer anything), and the system won't let me. Regardless of the negative reception and one user's insistence that it's off topic, I still feel it's an important question.

So, at that user's suggestion, I'm putting it to Meta: are up and coming materials (that IEEE says will be used by electrical engineers in large quantities by 2020) that aren't yet well understood by the masses but have a chance of being answered by an expert off topic?

And, was Olin's answer appropriate, when he himself said "I only gave a short answer because I expect this question to be closed soon"?

  • \$\begingroup\$ You need to actually read what I said, since your description of it has little bearing to reality. It is rude to claim someone said something that they didn't. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ How did this get down voted? I was told to post this here to discuss if this is on topic by a much more senior member than me, and I'm getting down voted? This is ridiculous. I wish someone that wanted this place to be a healthy community would step in and say something, because this pig-pile stuff is just mean spirited. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bob
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop, you said "I only gave a short answer because I expect this question to be closed soon", which I took to mean the equivalent of, "I wrote something just to write something". I am a decent technical writer, in regards to your other very rude comment: I assumed my audience to be college educated, and to assume that the question would be related to this site, so you would read more than just the first sentence. I've watched you be rude to many people, and it's in bad taste. I don't know why you think you should treat people rudely. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bob
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 16:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Read the site description before complaining. Downvotes on meta merely express disagreement, unlike on the main site where they mean you're a moron, you smell bad, and imply various things about your mother and the 6th fleet. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ All of a sudden, I get it: you're just being funny. I'm sorry then for getting my back up about it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bob
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 16:31

4 Answers 4


When asking a question on electronics.stackexchange I try to bear in mind two main characteristics of this site

  • The kind of people who hang out here.
  • The kind of questions which are useful to the most people over the longest time.

The latter is largely guided by the community of the former.

Who hangs out here?

I suspect it is, in rough order of weight of contributions:

  • electronics engineers involved in designing and building commercial products.
  • hobbyists
  • people who want to find out about electronics (but know very little yet)

(I'm ignoring the lost, the willfully ignorant and the trolls)

My guess is probably no-one here is doing research on graphene or it's applications.

What is the site for

I believe it is intended to be a searchable repository of answers to practical problems that practicing electronics engineers are likely to need help with.

The Q&A are expected to have lasting value, not be ephemeral.

This doesn't rule out other types of questions but it probably means you need to be very careful how you put together questions that don't fit the usual template.

Are questions about graphene on topic?

I don't know, they probably could be - for the reasons you suggest. Graphene is likely to be an important material in FETs for example.

However, of the 21,500 questions here, only two are tagged "research" and, for example, there is no "Germanium" tag!

Perhaps this suggests that this community isn't really spending much time on research level questions about materials.

Is that particular question on topic

The concerns I had about that question were that it seemed like a potentially very broad subject and the question was kind of open ended.

Most questions here really focus of practical problems that electronics engineers face. I think that's the heart of this site.

What about downvotes

The downvote button on a question has a tool-tip that says "this question does not show any research effort, it is unclear or not useful" - so, amongst other things, you have to be thinking about who else, in future, is going to find answers to this question to be useful to them in their job or hobby.

Downvotes cost the downvoters rep points! This is an important point. People on this site care a great deal about rep points. Every time someone downvotes your question they are aware that they are also stabbing themselves in the ego. People don't do this lightly. Even when I don't like receiving a downvote, I respect their self-sacrifice. Since May 2011? only downvotes on answers incur a -1 cost. The Stackexchange engine is optimised to "maximize the happiness and enjoyment of answerers."

I think it best to regard a downvote as a strong hint that I need to think about clarifying my question or making it more specific or more informative etc.


Comments are supposed to be there to help the questioner improve their question. I try to interpret them in that light (and I try to ignore them if the commenter doesn't seem to understand the purpose of comments).

Some people are short of time, look at a lot of questions and can be maybe a bit blunt in comments. Maybe bluntness is an attribute common to many engineers. It's easy to mistake bluntness for rudeness (and I agree it's a fine line) but I try to sift the gold from the dross and use it to improve my question so it can earn me more reputation points.

What to do

I take one of three approaches.

  • Edit the question as ruthlessly as needed to address the comments (sometimes even if I disagree - part of the rep-points game is to give folk what they want)

  • Delete the question to staunch the loss of rep points, do something else, maybe come back and think about editing and undeleting

  • Delete the question and write a different one with the same core subject - but which better fits the expectations of the community here (I more often do this with answers but I think the idea still applies).


One of the architects of stackexchange wrote about the Pee Wee Herman Rule - I'm OK with admitting that I may, on occasion, be guilty of infringing that rule.

Compared with Usenet, I think this site is a haven of sanity and good manners. That doesn't mean it is perfect, but I think it's well worth putting up with occasional hassles and annoyances. I hope you stay around and continue to contribute positively.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for taking the time to write this out. I thought "electrical engineering" stack exchange, and took it to mean the broadest possible definition of EE. With your polite and well written answer, you have completely convinced me, and I'm on your side of the argument (discussion?) now. Thank you for taking the time to explain this to me, and I will try to stay more on topic for this kind of community (I've already received some great help on a couple projects in the month I've been haunting this site). \$\endgroup\$
    – Bob
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 21:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Two points of correction: First, down votes on questions (as apposed to answers) are intended for does not show any research effort, although of course people can and do downvote in reality for whatever criteria they deem appropriate. Second, downvotes on questions don't cost any reputation. Downvotes on answers cost only 1 point to the downvoter, so unless you go on a rampant downvote spree, the rep loss is noise and hardly much of a disinsentive. If you think it's wrong, misleading, badly written, etc, do the site a service and downvote. Of course it's also useful to explain why. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olin: Thanks for the corrections. I'll edit the answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 22:52

This isn't a practical detailed question with a short and definitive answer. Stack Exchange sites are for questions and answers, not long discussions or book length descriptions. Let me put it this way, is there an actual problem that you have faced when using graphene? What have you done so far to get to this problem and what solutions have you tried? Unless you are a researching materials scientist, I doubt you have got this far. There are many stages to go through before a product design engineer will be using graphene based components. After the materials scientists have figured out all its properties, there will be component engineers working out how to make components that incorporate graphene. Unless you are working in either of those areas you simply have to wait to see what comes out.

Most of us here are practising electronics engineers who work with components to design products. Whilst understanding material properties eg silicon can be informative of the behaviour of devices, in practice the details can usually be described at a higher and more practical level (I/V characteristics for example).

Since your question produced more discussion than answers, this is defacto a bad fit to the Stack Exchange model. There is also the rule that if you can imagine a book could be written to answer your question, it is not suitable. Given the amount of research money being spent on graphene at the moment, there is bound to be such a book coming shortly.

Once we start to see graphene in the market, then people will face specific design issues, which will be on topic here. Until then, it's all speculation rather than fact based Q & A.


I see the question has been deleted, so I don't know how it was phrased exactly. Anyway, I think questions like "what is graphene" are better suited for http://physics.stackexchange.com than electronics. As I understand it this site is more for current applications, and graphene hasn't made it out of the research laboratory yet.


As I said in a comment, I think a modification of this question could have been reasonable. The question as written was What is graphene?. This is clearly stated in the title and again in the first sentence.

As it stands, this question was downvoted, presumably because it does not show any research effort (hover over a question downvote arrow on the main site to see this is the intended criterion). The definition and description of graphene can be found in a number of places with the most modest of search effort.

The question is also off topic because it is really not about electrical engineering. Graphene may eventually have some interesting uses in electronics, but that's not the point when asking what it is. This is no different than asking What is copper? or What is silicon?, even though those have known relevance to electronics.

A possibly valid question might be something like What are the special properties of graphene that might be used in future electronic devices?, although that is still borderline at best since it calls for speculation and is primarily opinion-based. It would be better if the question could be more specific, like How might graphene be used to enhance properties of silicon transistors?, or more concrete like What applications for graphene are being researched to make faster transistors?. Note that this last question does not call for speculation or opinion. Either something is being researched or it's not, and perhaps people here familiar with such research could chime in.

On a separate topic, I did answer the question you asked, and I did not say that my answer "did not answer anything". That is totally misquoting me at best, or a pure fabrication at worst. I answered the question that you actually asked, although briefly. It is not wrong to answer a question briefly. I did so because I wanted to give a basic answer but going into depth would have been a waste of time since I expected the question to be closed soon.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I left the title broad, and then specified details of the question in the body. I thought that was the point of having a title and a body... Am I supposed to be more detailed in the question like you're saying, and assume everyone will take it very literally? \$\endgroup\$
    – Bob
    Commented Oct 18, 2013 at 16:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .