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This question is on rewriting of the automata theory question.

I am at a loss to understand this extensive rewriting of the question to make it look "research" level. In the process a certain innocence and resonance the question had is gone! It was for precisely this reason that it evoked so many good answers.

As Noam said yesterday, can we take it easy? Can the site allow some latitude in these matters?

PS: I appreciate the effort and time that goes into rewriting driven the desire to make this a better site.

Update (from suresh): Here's the original question:

In class we are currently learning about state machines and so-called "regular expressions" and languages that are "accepted".

This is all interesting stuff we are learning, but I was hoping there was a really good reason for learning such a concept...

I know that there is always a way for application in topics related to CS theory, but with this whole automata concept I can't really extrapolate the cruciality of it... any experts here would like to offer their perspective?

and the final edit (for comparison):

There is always a way for application in topics related to theoretical computer science. But textbooks and undergraduate courses usually don't explain the reason that automata theory is an important topic and whether it still has applications in practice. Therefore undergraduate students might have trouble in understanding the importance of automata theory and might think it is not of any practical use anymore.

Is automata theory still useful in practice?

Should it be part of undergraduate CS curriculum?

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    $\begingroup$ Looking at the two versions, the main difference appears to me to be a change of 'voice': the original question is clearly by an undergraduate, but the final question could easily have been posed by a lecturer. Is this what you're referring to ? $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 11 '11 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ I think the rewriting was helpful. The original question was very successful in attracting great answers; but now that we have all those great answers, I think it makes sense to polish the question a bit so that it serves better those who, e.g., find the question by googling. However, we do not need to over-interpret here; the fact that this particular question was rewritten does not mean that we must rewrite all similar questions in future... In general, I agree that we should allow some latitude – if someone thinks a question needs rewriting, let them do it... $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela Oct 11 '11 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ The tone a question is written in leads my answering process. In this case, I think I missed the original and aimed my answer towards somebody who is already well familiar with automata theory, not a beginner. So I think edits should keep the tone/voice of the original as not to create "inconsistent" answers. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Oct 12 '11 at 9:48
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    $\begingroup$ @suresh: Yes. You comparison is fair. I think it was because of the "voice" many of the answers came out the way it did. Am certain a lecturer would have been treated differently. The rewriting, I though, robbed at query of its character. Of course, I may be overreacting. $\endgroup$ – V Vinay Oct 12 '11 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ cstheory is not for beginners and typical undergrad students to ask basic questions like "why are we studying this?". The intention of my edit was to change the voice from that of a beginner to one closer to an instructor and make the question in scope while keeping the original questions. I don't agree with your reference to Noam post, if you check the comments there you will see that my intention was in line with his post. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 12 '11 at 20:09
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I think a good suggestion then is that editors should take care to preserve the POV of the question if they feel edits are needed.

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  • $\begingroup$ I disagree. We cannot keep the POV of an undergrad student taking his first course on a topic, keep the question open, and preserve the research-level scope of the site. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 12 '11 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ But an undergrad POV doesn't disqualify the question, unless you're thinking that undergrads are not capable of asking questions that have deeper ramifications. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 12 '11 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ no, obviously an undergrads can and do ask good and on-topic question as anyone who has taught a good undergrad class knows. There is no disagreement on that. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 12 '11 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, cstheory is still mainly for researchers, so I think that "basic questions by typical undergrad students taking their first course on a topic" would be probably be off-topic. Obviously an expert might give a very good and informative answer to a very basic question (and this has happened). The question is where should we draw the line for the scope? Are we going to let questions of any level because they might lead to deep answers from experts? There is a trade-off here on where is the optimal point to draw the line to keep it usefulness and interesting for researchers. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 12 '11 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it's easy to draw a clear line. And the comments on meta indicate that maybe we're drawing too tight a line. In the particular question under consideration, what made it a good question were the number of high quality answers. Which suggests to me that we should be a little slower to close, and allow potentially borderline questions to develop a bit. Obviously this doesn't mean we can't close clearly out of scope things. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 12 '11 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mean a clear/strict line. I have stopped voting to close questions unless it already has 4 close votes. Just to make it clear, I think what we like about this question is not the question itself but rather the answers. If we can restate a question which is boarder line or leaning to be off-topic in a way that would make it on-topic and still gets the same good answers to the OP's original question then I think we should do it. Preserving the POV of OP and the original tone of the question should not be the main concern when a question is getting closed as off-topic IMHO. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 12 '11 at 21:24
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I would like to share my vague feeling: reducing the personal tone from a post can be sometimes good, but it must be difficult to do it right.

As a general principle, I think that reducing the personal tone from the question is sometimes good. Too much personal tone can be distracting, and reducing the personal tone can improve the readability of a question (or perhaps also an answer).

In this particular example, the question before the edit sounds a little like a diary rather than a question written as a question from the beginning. It is fine in a blog, but it is probably suboptimal on a Q&A website. I guess that this is why Kaveh felt the need for an edit.

However, in this particular example, I do not think that it was done well. I do not like the opening after the edit:

There is always a way for application in topics related to theoretical computer science.

Despite the intent of the edit which Kaveh explained, this does not sound like a professional to me. Instead, it sounds like some newbie who tries to pretend to be a professional. Frankly speaking, the question sounded at least honest before the edit, but it sounds pretentious after the edit. I am sorry, but I do not like how the question is stated after the edit at all.

Also, it should be pointed out that we encourage to include a personal motivation in a question: we want a question which the asker cares out of his/her own interest rather than a question which the asker thinks that someone cares. In this sense, good questions necessarily contain some personal part. I do not think that it is right to remove everything personal from a question.

Thinking this way, it seems very difficult to edit a question to reduce the personal tone while maintaining some degree of personality. If you do it, you should do it right. I guess that it is a perfectly reasonable choice to give up such a difficult task and just either leave the question open or close it.

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I am not sure if I understand the point correctly. I edited the question exactly to change the tone from the tone of a student asking why he needs to learn a topic to a voice that is closer to an instructor (without changing the questions).

Are you saying that a question asked by an instructor would not get answers as good as those asked by a student? Or are you objecting to the particular way that I changed the tone? Or are you complaining about the fact that the voice of answers do not fit the voice of the question after edit?

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    $\begingroup$ The complaint is that the 'student' tone invites different answers to the 'instructor' tone. It's not that one is better or worse. So when editing, it's best to preserve the tone. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 12 '11 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh, I am not sure I agree. We can ask the question with the tone of an instructor in a way that the content of answers will not be very different (although the tone will be): "I am teaching this topic, what should I tell students if they ask me why this topic is important and useful?" $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 12 '11 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ I think my answer to a question is very different if I think a student is asking rather than if I think a professor is asking. This was Raphael's point as well in the comments. In any case, if you admit that the tone changed, then the point remains that there's no need to change the tone (whether or not you believe the answers will be substantially different) $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 12 '11 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh, different in tone or in content? If the difference is only in tone then I don't think that is a bad thing. I think change of tone was needed to some extent to make the question on-topic for cstheory, I think the tone was the reason 3 users voted to close the question, see my comment below your answer. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 12 '11 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ I downvoted because I strongly disagree with this: "I think change of tone was needed to some extent to make the question on-topic for cstheory." I have tried to give reasons in an answer. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Sterling Oct 13 '11 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ I have explained what I mean by that under Suresh's answer. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 27 '11 at 15:35
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I strongly disagree with: "I think change of tone was needed to some extent to make the question on-topic for cstheory."

As a counterexample, please consider Alexander Braverman's answer to this question on Theoretical Physics. A question like, "What is the best way to approach subject X?" can lead to extremely deep answers, even if the questioner is a beginner to a field.

Second, the question we are discussing here is really the question, "Why should I care about regular expressions?" That is absolutely a research question, if for no other reason than researchers need to give good compelling reasons when writing grant proposals. "Why should other people care about my field?" is research-level.

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  • $\begingroup$ Aaron, I didn't say that the question is not research-level, I meant the post was not because of its voice (as was demonstrated by 3 close votes). I agree and have already replied to the point that an elementary question can lead to deep answers in my replies to Suresh's comment, please check them. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 13 '11 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: Are you saying that "Why are regular expressions important?" is on-topic, but, "I am an undergratuate, and I am wondering why regular expressions are important?" is off-topic? Because that is what I am getting from what you are saying. And that is what I disagree with. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Sterling Oct 13 '11 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ I think part of the discussion arises from the observation that close votes are being issued a little quickly. So "3 votes to close" is not necessarily indicative of true quality or level. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Oct 13 '11 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ What I am saying is this: there is a trade off here. This site is mainly for researchers, not undergraduate students. The main point about the question was that these elementary questions can lead to deep answers by experts, and what I am saying is that of course that is true, I am in full agreement, even the dumbest question can lead to deep answers, and I am asking where should we draw the line? That is what I am saying, nothing more. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 27 '11 at 15:40
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This is not a research question but a teaching question, about the reason for the design of the typical CS curriculum. The consensus at Math Overflow is that, since MO serves professional mathematicians, such questions are on topic. Likewise they should so be here.

I'm not sure if it is good to explicitly enumerate teaching in our FAQ's description of scope, but something along the lines of "matters of professional or scholarly interest that are particular interest to full-time theoretical computer scientists" should cover it.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with what you have written. No one is arguing about that. The question is if an undergrad student (not a teacher) asks a question about why he should learn some topic what should we do? Are you saying it is OK to ask on MO something like "I am taking my first course in algebra. Can anyone tell me why I should learn Sylow theorems? Are they really useful for anything?" $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 27 '11 at 15:35

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