Is it a good idea to immediately slap on the wrist and close questions? Or would it not be better to guide people in the right direction?

  • Take this question for example: How to evaluate the reliability of a PCB-printing service? I find the OP had legitimate concerns and wanted to have some feedback from other (probably more experienced) people about the general process.

    1. I understand recommendations are considered off topic. But what is of greater worth? Guide someone in the right direction? Or slap him immediately on the wrist, close his question and send him into the woods.

    2. Compare for example the above question which is of real world practical concern with this highly upvoted and purely theoretical and borderline philosophical question: Can a bird, previously at earth potential, get electrocuted by landing on a powerline at high-enough voltage due to the initial "equalization charge"?

    3. I might be wrong but engineering has always been about providing practical solutions to real problems. Physicists can indulge themselves in theoretical debates of the kind in the 2nd question.

    4. I see no comments, no feedback, nothing for the OP to go on, so that he may have had a chance to improve his post.

Or am I wrong?


It is true that the main question in the first post you linked is not "What PCB fab house should I go with?" (shopping question), but rather "How can I check whether a given PCB fab house is reliable enough?" (not shopping question). The mistake OP did was probably ending his post with:

Do you have some good experience with a PCB-company?

which really looks like a typical shopping question.

Simply removing this sentence, in my opinion, brings back the post within the "on-topic" category. There has been a few occasions where I saw similar posts that could be improved to avoid them being mistakenly considered off-topic, and I gave some suggestions in the comments to make the appropriate changes. This post could have benefited from this, I guess OP wasn't lucky enough.

Anyway, when a post starts being in the close queue, even if edits are made that clarify its on-topic status, it typically ends up being closed anyway (that's the way stack exchange works, unfortunately). But it can possibly be fixed now, by removing the offending sentence and voting for re-opening, which I did (I also retargeted the title a bit).

Now, to answer your specific points:

  1. If the question is clearly off-topic from the start (e.g. blatant shopping question) with no hope for on-topic reformulation, there is no reason to give OP more feedback than "Your question is off-topic because [...]", which is what the banner says. So in this case, yes, I just vote to close and move on. I don't think this PCB fab house question falls into this category, however.

  2. I don't see any similarity between this question and the other one. Maybe you want to say that there are some question one might consider not compliant, that gets highly upvoted instead of being closed? Well, this bird powerline question isn't that bad, and I can tell you why it got so many upvotes: Hot Network Questions, as always.

  3. Yes, engineering requires practical solutions. But it doesn't make theory any less relevant, and it doesn't make all practical questions on-topic. Product selection questions were made off-topic, even if they are practical, and are a major part of electrical engineering work. This has been debated to death here in meta, on multiple occasions (I don't personally agree with all the reasons, but this is the consensus we have to conform to on this site).

  4. Indeed, this would have been nice in this particular case where the question was salvageable. Maybe it's going to get fixed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. Yes, I agree. The OP was bordering on asking for recommendations. But then again he observed someone else getting burnt and wanted to learn how to best protect his IP when going through the PCB manufacturing process. I understand, if people focus on the first and vote to close. \$\endgroup\$ – Duck Dodgers Jul 25 '19 at 9:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually the question in question is out of mission here, because it is asking for process advice - it cannot be specifically answered, which is the general problem with any "what are some..." type questions. It belongs on a forum not an SE site. Worse it was then edited to a question about business integrity that is not technical at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Jul 29 '19 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chris I don't agree. It is not a "What are some ...", it is "How do I ..." question. And business integrity matters aren't off-topic, as long as it is EE stuff, which it is. \$\endgroup\$ – dim lost faith in SE Jul 29 '19 at 19:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Business integrity is not a technical EE subject. It is a business subject. If the question were a technical one about something like flash lock bits or FPGA bitstream encryption and specific enough to be answerable that might be on topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Jul 31 '19 at 15:51

I'm going to answer this part because the rest of it does not make much sense afterwards:

Is it a good idea to immediately slap on the wrist and close questions?

Closing a question is not a slap on the wrist!

Closing a question is simply this websites mechanism to protect against irrelevant answers piling up on a question that can not or should not be answered as written.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "irrelevant answers piling up" - I don't know. Maybe on SO that can happen (and probably happens). On this stackexchange, if you'd see the first page of the newest questions right now, only one of them has an answer. My concern was only - If the community is already small (relative to SO for example), then why push people away. Drop a comment and tell them, what they could do to improve. If they don't, then that's their fault. I haven't seen an OP reposting a question or reediting it once it has been closed. But then again, maybe I haven't been around that much on SO & co. Stackexchanges. \$\endgroup\$ – Duck Dodgers Jul 25 '19 at 15:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If an OP doesn't follow up, then for sure the post deserves to be closed. \$\endgroup\$ – Duck Dodgers Jul 25 '19 at 15:04
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @DuckDodgers But if a community is small, and you lower the threshold of what a good quality question is, then you now have a large community filled with bad questions. I don't think that would be helpful here. There are a lot of electronics forums where everyone can ask "soft" questions like this. We don't have to accommodate every question. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe Jul 25 '19 at 23:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ ok. I understand. \$\endgroup\$ – Duck Dodgers Jul 26 '19 at 7:08

I agree that closing a question as off topic is certainly not a slap on the wrist. Anyone who doesn't like the action is free to recommend the asker edit it, with some guidance, or to edit it themselves and recommend it for reopening (there's even badges for that process). If it's not getting attention on the reopen queue, mention it in meta or chat.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If the question were only some edits away from belonging, then closing would be inappropriate. But the cited question is utterly and entirely out-of-mission here in a way that no edit can fix, because it's asking for advice on a process, while this is a site only for specific technical problems that are specifically answerable. The question cannot be specifically answered. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Jul 29 '19 at 19:27

There are a few things you can do:

  • Edit the question if the question can be made on topic, many questions don't have a question or the right question.

  • Comment to the OP to correct their question (in a nice way)

Closing a question is a way for people to correct their questions, the site even shows how this is to be done. The people that have a valid question, and don't mind doing a little work to correct their question, will correct it and re-open it.

The moderation system can reopen the question. If it's a valid on-topic question, most moderators will have no problem re-opening the question.


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