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We seem to be in a difficult situation concerning questions about the repair of electronic gear.

  • We want to attract a large crowd of hobbyists and experts, and one big motivation why many people come here is because they hope to get advice for their repair efforts. I know from my own experience that I tend to search the internet and especially Q&As most when I'm challenged with a repair project. My experience is that repair questions often tend to sound like beginners' stuff, but at the same time, all of the really good EEs I know are quite enthusiastic when it comes to repairing and maintaining tricky things they keep around as test equipment or they got at flea markets.

  • I believe that some recently closed repair questions could instead have been edited and improved - and would have continued to be valuable. (For example, instead of closing this question, we could have edited it into something similar to this, which was a part of the closed question from the beginning anyway.) If I ask a beginner's question, I would much rather like to have my question edited into something useful along the guidelines of SE, but my frustration might be big if I would find my question just closed.

  • When designing circuits as a professional EE, much time is spent on dealing with reliability issues. It's important to know the math of MTBF and worst-case tolerance calculations, but it's equally important to have a gut feeling to know what will likely fail. Nothing can be a better teacher for the possible pitfalls than experience gained from dozens and dozens of gadgets and instruments you have repaired in your life. This is why I enjoy reading other users' repair questions, if they're good ones.

  • Which brings us to having to find guidelines what good and bad repair questions are: Good is everything that can be helpful if applied out of the box of the certain repair project from which the question originated. Bad is everything where there's no chance it will ever be helpful except during the repair of one specific type of gadget.

Stack Exchange originated with sites that cover software development. While software doesn't have components that fail in random ways (because of things like aging or bond-wire lift-off or counterfeit power MOSFETs sneaked in after two years of flawless series production), much can be learned about electrical engineering when troubleshooting existing circuits and looking for the root causes of these exact types of failure. I therefore would like to encourage users to ask certain types of repair questions. We should work out hints about how to ask great repair questions so they don't get closed.

Sometimes, broken stuff teaches you more than a book or lecture will. "Oh boy, it's broken! Life doesn't get any better than this." This is why I'm strongly in favor of allowing, even encouraging, questions that arise during repair efforts, some rules considered.

Maybe it would be a good idea to put a section about repair below the do and don't sections of our FAQ list. It may look like this:


Repair Questions

A lot can be learned while fixing stuff when you use effort and creativity and don't just randomly swap components. Therefore, we encourage you to ask repair questions whenever you offer us the chance to learn from your project. We enjoy repair questions that are not a one-way-street. For example, a good repair question doesn't necessarily include a brand or model of the device you're trying to fix and focuses on a (sub-)circuit that's of general interest.

Example for a good repair question: I am trying to fix a cassette tape recorder that runs way too fast. By the looks of it, it uses a control loop with an optoelectronic tachometer and a reference. How can I find out where exactly the control circuit is broken? (Ideally followed by block diagrams and oscillograms showing how there's still a signal from the tach, but something weird around the loop's error amplifier.)

Example for a bad repair question: My HP LaserJet IIIp printer shows an "ERROR 52" in the display and won't print. What's broken?


(Both questions may have to do with unconnected pins of a motor driver or servo IC, and in both cases, a motor is caused to spin too fast, uncontrolled, at its maximum speed. But while there is a chance that the good question will cover some details of general interest after a bit of discussion in the comments and will, together with its answers, finally turn into a good source for others who have similar problems, the bad question shows that there is little hope because the author does not pay attention to details like the audible noise from the scanner motor and hasn't even done the least bit of searching the internet for "error 52 laser jet", let alone taken off the cover to look at the circuit board with the part that typically and quite obviously shows signs of having overheated in case of an error 52 in the display.)


I'm sure that bad repair questions will continue to come in and it will still be necessary to close some of them, but I have hope they will be fewer and the overall quality might improve if we provide some good guidelines. Most of all, I hope for some really good repair questions.

I'm looking forward to reading your input and opinions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ great idea! I suggest starting by editing the salvageable questions and whipping them into shape; then you can flag them for moderator attention to be reopened. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Atwood Jul 10 '11 at 23:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem I have run into is many (not all) of the repair questions are so broad that there would be much discussion required before even knowing what part is wrong with the system. Discussion like this is much better in chat. There really is no way to edit these to "good" questions since doing so could result in the wrong answers for the OP. \$\endgroup\$ – Kellenjb Jul 11 '11 at 0:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @zebonaut, often if someone is coming at it strictly from a consumer electronics question editing to a design style question will change what they really want to know and will not resolve into an accept. On that note, A closed question with explanation is one thing, having my question changed so it does not match what I was asking would frustrate me more. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 11 '11 at 6:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zebonaut, many people also seem to have realized a close is not permanent: You can edit a closed question to fix it, flag it for a moderator if you think it meets our standards, or let the community open it. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 11 '11 at 6:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ You have a broken link. I think you want edn.com/design/analog/4349711/… \$\endgroup\$ – hildred Jan 23 '14 at 2:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think your example on bad question is a little bit exaggerated. A question without evident of research should be closed in any site. A good example of bad question should about a problem that the OP doesn't know where to start, maybe they lack adequate knowledge. For example: Would questions about peripherals asking in user perspective be on-topic? \$\endgroup\$ – Ooker Aug 20 '17 at 19:31
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I think that regular users of this site or other EEs will be able to ask appropriate repair questions, but many repair questions are from users who don't have the tools, knowledge, or interest to write a good question.

I don't believe there should be any explicit policy about repair questions: The differences between the engineering categories of repairing someone else's system (the category under consideration), maintenance of a system you designed, iterating a design, troubleshooting a design, and from-scratch design are difficult to distinguish in the real world and unimportant for the our purposes.

I'd welcome examples of good and bad questions with reasons why they're good and bad on an electronics-focused page, but I think that this topic has been pretty well hashed out across the Stack Exchange network for quite a while. I don't believe we need to make a specific policy for any of the categories I listed above. If you believe that one or more of those categories are being discriminated against, it's not a coordinated effort, instead the average quality of those questions is simply lower than the other categories. I hope for some really good repair questions, too!

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