# Is "off-topic" well-defined?

I am new here. I just read a question that was classified as off-topic. It asked about reducing the VSWR of a commercial antenna with an impedance matching network. It seems to me that this is within "electrical engineering".

What is going on here? How exactly is on topic defined? Is there a hard reference definition of on topic somewhere?

• There can never be a water tight definition of offtopic, but this site is specifically for professionals, students, and enthusiasts, and the goal is not to get peoples single questions answered, but to build up a good quality Q&A database for people that learn better that way. This is not a forum. We require a bit of basic knowledge here and will help with specifics when people get stuck, but showing not the slightest clue and wanting to modify a commercial product is between use of product, too broad and unclear offtopic. May 17 '18 at 7:19
• Link to the question you are asking about. There was almost certainly something else going on. Also, it's ridiculous to take 4 paragraphs to ask a simple question about why something was closed. Most of your "question" is actually a rant based on the presumed (and most likely incorrect) answer. Please fix that. It would show some good will and willingness to understand the site before barging in if you fix it before someone edits it for you. May 17 '18 at 13:31
• Never mind, I just fixed the question anyway while I was here. Next time when you see something that doesn't look right, ask assuming there is a reasonable answer. Once you get answers, then you can object to them, generally in a different question. May 17 '18 at 13:43
• "it's ridiculous..." really? How do you define "ridiculous" exactly Olin? I suppose it doesn't matter as your word is law here, so you get to make all the judgments. If you say my question is "ridiculous", then, by definition it is ridiculous in the "StackExchange Electrical Engineering Forum". I'm only glad that your influence extends no further. May 17 '18 at 20:12
• @Seamus, as you've mentioned, you are new here. You have visited EE.SE for 4 days. You have answered 0 questions. Perhaps you could try to make yourself useful here [no, meta doesn't count]. May 18 '18 at 1:26
• I beg to differ @Nick; I think meta counts for quite a lot. Not everything to be sure, but quite a lot. And unlike you, I don't necessarily believe that a new perspective is useless. May 18 '18 at 2:08
• Your perspective is nothing new. Before you, there have been plenty of people who haven't contributed much, and wrote much meta about what shouldn't be off-topic. May 18 '18 at 2:22
• That explains some things - thank you for that insight. May 18 '18 at 2:42
• You should consider Nick's point more carefully. You're not the first one to barge in here claiming we are doing everything wrong without first attempting to understand what we do and why. It's fine to ask why something that appears wrong happened. However, you asked about it and declared it wrong in the same post. Clearly you're not in a position to judge if you don't understand the reasons behind something yet. Do you see the logical fallacy here? Understand first, then you can object if you still do. Also, those who contribute value (not meta) are taken more seriously. May 18 '18 at 11:20
• So now that the question has been re-opened, where's your answer? May 18 '18 at 11:25
• I provided a comment, Olin. Or did you delete that also? And FYI, I'm no longer subscribed to this group... not sure why I continue to receive your wonderful commentary. May 18 '18 at 15:09
• @Seamus: Comments aren't answers. That is universal for SE, not just here. Comments can be cleaned up and moved to chat, or sometimes deleted altogether. Comments are like the scaffolding to build something, not the actual contents themselves. Since you were so adamant about that question being re-opened, I thought you might have something of substance to offer the OP. That would be done with a answer, not a comment. May 18 '18 at 18:17
• Thank you for that enlightenment, Olin. This has become quite a sore point with you, hasn't it? I mean with all your duties and responsibilities, have you nothing better to do than enlighten me? Why don't you let this go - I won't offend you again, and I promise if you'll stop your snarky commentary, you won't hear from me again - OK? May 18 '18 at 19:16

### No…

What's off-topic or not is hard to define, or rather, it's hard to judge if a question adheres to the guidelines. Sometimes people have different opinions about it, which is why we normally vote on it. It takes five votes to close something as off-topic, unless you're a moderator. A moderator can't actually vote, but must use their "ban-hammer".

### What to do

This is not necessary that big of a deal that you make it out to be. In this case a mistake may have been made. It has happened before, it will happen again. A mod was too eager to close, likely had a lot of questions and comments to moderate, and made a quick judgement. Someone might have flagged the question and the moderator trusted the flag.

The "correct" procedure is what you've done here, but with much less drama: Ask for clarifications and correction on meta. The question will probably be reopened.

### What happened

Now, here's some speculation. One thing that is not on topic is how to use consumer electronics - and for good reasons. The equipment in question is a plain old consumer radio antenna, "for receiving your favorite sports and news stations".

If you're in a bad mood and in a hurry, the question can easily be read as: "I bought an antenna for my radio, but it's crap, can you electrical-guys make it better for me?"

Now, to me it is clear that the user actually knows what he's talking about, this is not a simple usage question, but I can understand how you can also apply the other reasoning.

If you want to know why these decisions were made, then do some exhaustive searching on the meta.

A lot of these guidelines are built from SE and the way they want the sub-sites to be ran.

The list of what is on topic is here There are also some guidelines on what not to ask And more on how to write a good question

You should attempt to be nice

So yeah, there are rules/guidelines on what can be posted. The moderation community's tolerance for bad questions on a scale of 1-10 is 20 and to nuke anything that looks like a bad question (as soon as it gets voted on, it will most likely be closed). Questions are voted on, so it takes more than one person to close them (diamond mods may close especially bad questions outright). If you feel that the question is still on topic after reading the guidelines, then get it reopened, otherwise fix it and then get it re openend

If you have questions run it by the moderator chat room before posting, if it fly's by the moderators and runs afowl of the moderation system, you can get help on getting the question reopenened

I don't remember the question, antenna questions are acceptable. The question is not on the system anymore so we can't see what it was all about. There are several reasons why a question can be off-topic, so clarify which one it was and post a link to the question or information from it. If I remember right it was very short and didn't properly define the problem so it was closed as unclear, but I could be wrong.

• I think he is referring to this question: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/374724/… May 17 '18 at 7:15
• Yes, @PlasmaHH has identified the question. I see it's been "restored" to relevance, so IMHO, good judgment has prevailed. As for your admonition to be nice, I don't feel anything in my post could be reasonably construed as "being a jerk" - do you, really?! Pointed question to be sure, but buck up man, we needn't be thin-skinned, eh? And finally, this link advises "Be welcoming and patient, especially with those who may not know everything you do. Oh, and bring your sense of humor." I'm the newcomer here, and I did bring my sense of humor! May 17 '18 at 13:07
• Why did you infer me leaving a link on being nice automatically made you into a jerk? I left the link because its good reading material and so you were aware of it if you wanted to pass it on
– Voltage Spike Mod
May 17 '18 at 16:22

Yeah, that question maybe shouldn't have been closed, but it's also not a great question. The real problem is your understanding of how closing questions works in reality.

There are limited number of canned close reasons. It is possible to do some extra clicking, then clear out some annoying pre-written text, then write a custom message for closing. However, there are real people performing this work, on their own time, while they'd rather be doing something else like answering good questions. Therefore, people will often click on the nearest handy close reason that looks even remotely right (or not).

I vaguely remember seeing this question originally. Here is what I think were my thoughts at the time:

2. VSWR is not defined. I think he means voltage standing wave ratio, but it's kindof arrogant to assume everyone knows that, -2. This is probably a very common acronym in this particular sub-field, but that doesn't help anyone who might be unsure or is new to the field. It also reduces search hits if someone spells it out. It's just plain lazy. Let's make that -3.

3. Why voltage ratio. These things are usually express in dB. What specific case is there here that makes the voltage ratio more illuminating than the power ratio expressed in dB the usual way? This is going to be a hassle getting the details for a useful answer. Does this guy realize how small a voltage ratio of 1.4 expressed in db actually is? Maybe he's deliberately using these units to make the problem seem bigger? -4 now.

4. He's asking whether a matching network could be used. So wait, does he know what he's doing or not? At first it sounded like he did, but this is now a question at a lower level. If a answer mentions a Smith chart, is it going to be met with a lot more questions? Hmm, the correct answer would simply be "yes". That might be fun if I had more time right now.

5. Now he's asking about which end of the feed line the matching network could go. That's a good question, but the answer will need to get into the impedance of the transmission line, mismatches at each end, and too much theory that will be hard to write in a reasonable answer.

Now keep in mind that it took much longer to explain this thought process than to perform it. I spent maybe 10 seconds on this question and then thought to myself "Nah, I've got better things to do.".

I don't think this question is worthy of being closed, but I'm not going to defend it if it is. It's not that it's off topic, but that it's not a great question. However, explaining all the true reasons would be too much trouble. If I were to close, I'd probably just pick unclear.

If it got closed for some other reason, oh well. The fault is with the OP for not taking some care in asking the question. If he doesn't get the exact feedback about why, then again, oh well. If he'd taken a little more care he wouldn't be in this position. This site isn't a game to see exactly how bad a question you can get away with.

Sometimes I've thought questions should be closed with as little explanation as possible. The message would be "Bad question. Go read the rules.". When they don't know where exactly the line is, they'll be extra careful not to cross it.

• So it's censorship you're into, is it, Olin? I don't much care for that Olin, and it seems too much power has been concentrated in the hands of the closed-minded. Good day to you. May 17 '18 at 15:57
• @Seamus This is so far from censorship that I have no idea what you're even talking about. How is that word even relevant in any way here? It looks as if you have nothing else to argue with, and just grabbed the nearest insult you could find.
– pipe
May 17 '18 at 17:56
• You have no idea what I'm talking about because you can no longer see what @Olin deleted from the original post. And it is censorship, by this definition: Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or "inconvenient" as determined by government authorities or by community consensus. And so if you can't see the relevance, I can only say I am sorry that you cannot. And speaking of "insult", I've said nothing that's not 100% true. May 17 '18 at 20:07
• #2 and 3 are silly. Why should VSWR be spelled out if CMOS doesn't have to be? And VSWR is a very common way to specify matching for RF components, not something OP chose to obscure the question. Just because there are areas of EE you aren't expert in doesn't mean questions about those areas should be closed. It might mean you shouldn't be the one voting on whether those questions should be closed or not (I don't know if you did vote or not on this particular one). May 17 '18 at 20:10
• @TheP: CMOS is far more universal than VSWR. And no, I don't think I voted on that question at all. Like I said, I didn't think the question should have been closed, but I decided there were better things to spend my volunteer time on. May 17 '18 at 21:59
• @OlinLathrop, CMOS is more well known to digital designers. VSWR is more well known to RF guys. May 17 '18 at 22:12
• @Seamus I can definitely see what he deleted from the question. The edit history is visible to everyone. Almost everyone can also edit and rollback edits, I do it myself quite often. I also think that Olin's edits made the question far better and easier to answer and discuss, removing the unnecessary drama. If you don't agree, you can roll it back.
– pipe
May 18 '18 at 8:02
• What did you mean by "Hmm, the correct answer would simply be "yes". That might be fun if I had more time right now."
– user94729
May 24 '18 at 8:43