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Should we put the phrase "research level" in our general FAQ?

While in our official FAQ there is a statement about the scope of our site, that is,

Ask and answer research-level questions in theoretical computer science.

But I just noticed that in the general FAQ, which may be noticed by most of the newcomers, does not contain such a clear statement. This may be the cause of existence to some of the out-of-scope questions in the site.

Should we put the above sentence in our general FAQ, or at least insert the phrase "reseach level" to the first paragraph, which is answering the question about the scope of the site?

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    $\begingroup$ I agree, provided that it is technically possible (without too much hassle). $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 16 '10 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ We should figure out what we want precisely first. Apparently, research level is not enough anymore: meta.cstheory.stackexchange.com/questions/822/… $\endgroup$ – Raphael Dec 16 '10 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi: So currently the moderators do not have the power to modify the general FAQ? Or, it has to be done in a complex way? $\endgroup$ – Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之 Dec 17 '10 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael: I agree. Do you have any proposal about the words we should put in, except the one mentioned above? Maybe you can post is as an answer to this question. $\endgroup$ – Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之 Dec 17 '10 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ At this time, I don't. In my eyes, "level" is subjective. A question that is on fifth-year student level is incredibly sophisticated -- and worth answering, imho -- if posed by a first-year student who comes up with the question after a basic course. It is a research level question for this student. The same question is probably a waste of time of posed by a PhD student. In my eyes, we should allow every question that is properly posed, maybe moving objectively low-level questions to CW in order to discourage reputation hunters from skewing community interest. That way, interest decides. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Dec 17 '10 at 10:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Hsien-Chih: I do not know how much the moderators can change the content of cstheory.stackexchange.com/faq. If I remember correctly, I have heard that their ability to edit that page is pretty limited. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 17 '10 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi: So maybe we need some comments from our moderators. @Suresh and @Ryan: Would you mind to help us figure out how much freedom do we have with the content of the general FAQ? $\endgroup$ – Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之 Dec 17 '10 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Hsien-Chih Chang: I modified the title of the post to make it more general. :) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Aug 2 '11 at 3:24
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Kaveh!! $\endgroup$ – Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之 Aug 2 '11 at 3:31
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To put things forward, I suggest a concrete text.

The current text:

Theoretical Computer Science - Stack Exchange is for theoretical computer scientists and researchers in related fields.

A rough outline (inclusive, but not exclusive) of topics that are "within scope" for this site is as follows:

The field of theoretical computer science is interpreted broadly so as to include algorithms, data structures, computational complexity theory, distributed computation, parallel computation, VLSI, machine learning, computational biology, computational geometry, information theory, cryptography, quantum computation, computational number theory and algebra, program semantics and verification, automata theory, and the study of randomness. Work in this field is often distinguished by its emphasis on mathematical technique and rigor.

General FAQs about using the Stack Exchange system are given below. For specific questions more pertinent to this particular site, please visit the Official Theoretical Computer Science FAQ.

Although this is not bad as a starting point, there are several shortcomings.

  • As is often pointed out, it only mentions what theoretical computer science is and that it does not mention the expected level of questions.
  • Related to the first item, a list of alternative sites to ask questions is desirable. The scope of our website is often better communicated by such a list.
  • The quotation is unclear about where it is quoted from. In fact, it is originally quoted from the self-description of ACM SIGACT but it seems that SIGACT has modified this description after the text was copied, so it is kind of obsolete. For example, the current list includes computational economics and omits the reference to VLSI, both of which are understandable.
  • I cannot see the point of emphasizing only the last sentence in the quotation from SIGACT.
  • The distinction between “general FAQs” and “official theoretical computer science FAQ” is confusing at best and makes no sense at worst.

I suggest to revise the above text to the following. https://math.stackexchange.com/faq/ is written very well, and I stole part of the general structure from it.

Theoretical Computer Science - Stack Exchange is for theoretical computer scientists and researchers in related fields. We welcome research-level questions in theoretical computer science (TCS).

Although there is no black-and-white distinction between research-level questions and non-research-level questions, questions are considered to be “research-level” roughly when they can be discussed between two professors or between two graduate students working on Ph.D.’s, but not usually between a professor and a typical undergraduate student.

For questions other than research-level questions in TCS, you may want to consider the following places to ask:

For an explanation of what TCS is, we refer you to the description of ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT):

TCS covers a wide variety of topics including algorithms, data structures, computational complexity, parallel and distributed computation, probabilistic computation, quantum computation, automata theory, information theory, cryptography, program semantics and verification, machine learning, computational biology, computational economics, computational geometry, and computational number theory and algebra. Work in this field is often distinguished by its emphasis on mathematical technique and rigor.

Currently we have two separate lists of FAQs. See also Official Theoretical Computer Science FAQ. Some of the most important entries in the other FAQ are:

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    $\begingroup$ this is great. except for the last sentence. We don't NEED to have two separate lists of FAQs, if we fold all the questions from the Official FAQ into this page itself (which is what was suggested to me on meta.SO) $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Feb 4 '11 at 8:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh: Thanks. Reading math.stackexchange.com/faq, I thought that we can change only the section “What kind of questions can I ask here?”. Can we change other sections? $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 4 '11 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh: I guess that a more accurate question was, “can we add new sections?” $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 4 '11 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi: Thanks for the suggested text, awesome! I'm think that maybe we can move the part "For questions other than research-level..." to the third paragraph, before the description by SIGACT, since people are less intended to read a long list of topics. Maybe we can even remove this paragraph or itemize some important topics. What do you think? (cont.) $\endgroup$ – Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之 Feb 4 '11 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ And also for some MFAQ (Much Frequently asked questions) in our own lists of FAQ, we can add a link directly to the answer of the question, like What kind of questions are too basic?, How to write in LaTeX or My (wonderful!) question was closed! What do I do now?. $\endgroup$ – Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之 Feb 4 '11 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Hsien-Chih: (1) Thanks for the comments. I revised the text mostly incorporating your idea. (2) I left the quotation from SIGACT intact. While I think that it is a little too wordy, I am afraid that we should not try easily to give an explanation of what TCS is. For example, I do not think that it is a good idea to choose/discard some of the topics from the list, unless there is a very good reason to do so. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 4 '11 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi: I agree with you on the SIGACT quote. Do moderators have the ability to change (part of) the general FAQ, or do we have to contact admins to help us revise it with this new text? (Of course, we'll wait until this new version is stable.) $\endgroup$ – Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之 Feb 4 '11 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ I guess my thought is that we slot everything into that first section. all that will do is push everything else down. We can create more sections in our section, right ? $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Feb 4 '11 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh: I guess that that is possible, but I doubt that it is desirable. Where was it suggested to you? If that is the only way to include the other list into the /faq page, I think that it is fair to say that there is a technical limitation. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 4 '11 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Suresh: In addition, I would like to treat the issue about merging two lists (even if it is desirable) separately from revising the description of on-topic questions, since in my opinion revising which questions are on-topic is far more important than merging the two lists. Preparing the other sections for merging will take more time, and we should not wait for that to revise the current section. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 4 '11 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi, I like the current version that you have written, nice job. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Feb 5 '11 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ I'm happy with adding the "research-level" phrase. $\endgroup$ – Dave Clarke Feb 6 '11 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh: Thanks for the support. I agree that we may not have reached enough consensus. Since changing the FAQ page without reaching consensus can cause more troubles than it solves, I am fine with waiting for a while. However, I do not want this issue to be buried and forgotten. In my opinion, we have already put this issue off too long, and it is causing real problems of unfamiliar people misunderstanding the nature of the website. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 6 '11 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Tsuyoshi: Your proposed changes have been implemented. $\endgroup$ – Dave Clarke Feb 7 '11 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Dave: Thanks! Let’s see if this reduces non-research-level questions. $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 7 '11 at 13:30
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Just reviving this question. Any progress on this? Can we add it to the general FAQ?

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    $\begingroup$ I think we should. also, I had asked a question on meta.SO about changing the landing page, and the recommendation is that instead of listing a single link for the official FAQ, we should list all the questions on the landing page directly. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Feb 2 '11 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh: What is “landing page”? $\endgroup$ – Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 2 '11 at 6:26
  • $\begingroup$ the FAQ page linked from the top: $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Feb 2 '11 at 7:41
  • $\begingroup$ Some notes and links: Here is the meta.SO discussion. It looks like the part "What kind of questions can I ask here?" in the general FAQ can be edited, just like the FAQ of math.SE. $\endgroup$ – Hsien-Chih Chang 張顯之 Feb 2 '11 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ "Our" FAQ is definitely missed by many people, leading to quite a number of off-topic questions even by people who care to read the FAQ first. So we should do something about that. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Feb 2 '11 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to edit the entry for our FAQ also, it seems that it is not clear enough about what does research-level means. Can I add something like: "Research-level" means, roughly, questions that might be discussed between two professors, or between graduate students working on Ph.D.'s, but not usually between a professor and the typical undergraduate student. It does not include questions at the level of difficulty of undergraduate homework. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Feb 2 '11 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh, thanks for the update. It would be nice to emphasize research-level in the general FAQ's "rough outline" part, because I think that is a part of the description/definition of the site. Right now the "rough outline" in the general FAQ only explains what is TCS and has no emphasis on being research-level. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Feb 2 '11 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ Go for it Kaveh. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat Feb 2 '11 at 16:03
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change log


Jul. 27, 2012:

  • Added [academia.se] to the list of suggested sites

Mar. 20, 2012:

  • Added [cs.se] to the list of suggested sites

Feb. 23, 2012:

Another small update to the FAQ.

Change log:

  • Added [crypto.se] and [scicomp.se] to the list of suggested sites,
  • Made the tips for writing a better question a section.

Nov. 17, 2011:

I have edited the official FAQ a little bit (mainly adding links to some entries of the official FAQ that we refer to in comments). Please comemnt if you don't like the edits or have other suggestions on how to improve the general FAQ:


FAQ

Theoretical Computer Science - Stack Exchange is for theoretical computer scientists and researchers in related fields. We welcome research-level questions in theoretical computer science (TCS).

Although there is no black-and-white distinction between research-level questions and non-research-level questions, questions are considered to be "research-level" roughly when they can be discussed between two professors or between two graduate students working on Ph.D.'s, but not usually between a professor and a typical undergraduate student. It does not include questions at the level of difficulty of typical undergraduate course/textbook homework/exercise.

For an explanation of what TCS is, we refer you to the description of ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT):

TCS covers a wide variety of topics including algorithms, data structures, computational complexity, parallel and distributed computation, probabilistic computation, quantum computation, automata theory, information theory, cryptography, program semantics and verification, machine learning, computational biology, computational economics, computational geometry, and computational number theory and algebra. Work in this field is often distinguished by its emphasis on mathematical technique and rigor.

My question is not a research-level question in TCS, where can I ask it?

For questions other than research-level questions in TCS, you may want to consider the following places to ask:

Questions should be based on knowledge sharing, not on shirking

You should only post questions you're actually seriously thinking about. Users are expected to do their part and try to answer their question by themselves before posting them on cstheory and asking for help from others. Search to see if your question is already answered somewhere else (e.g. Wikipedia) before asking a question. Try to make your question interesting for others by providing some background knowledge. Remember, questions should be based on knowledge sharing, not on shirking. Shirking goes against the spirit of the site.

Tips about writing better questions

Please also check our list of useful resources before asking a question.

FAQ

Currently we have two separate lists of FAQs. See also the longer Official Theoretical Computer Science FAQ. Some of the most important entries in the other FAQ are:

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If this is so, why hasn't the URL of this site changed to researchcs.stackexchange.com? Or something similar. CS Theory as it is CLEARLY means any CS topics that are theoretical. Even a discussion on Bubble Sort complexity would fall under that.

Although there seems to have been an awful lot of discussion between the internal community and an agreement that research level questions are the only ones that will be tolerated, it seems that very regularly people pose questions that aren't up to the "level" of research. Thus, it can be clearly understood that the URL is too vague and doesn't correctly describe this community. It's like walking into a "FoodMart" only to find them selling cheese and being yelled at for wanting ice cream.

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    $\begingroup$ We can't possibly put all information that we have in our FAQ into the domain name. That's why we have a FAQ. $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela May 5 '11 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ You missed the forest for the tree! What in "research-cs.stackexchange.com" doesn't shoo away normal theoretical questions? It is a much more accurate indicator of the community. $\endgroup$ – jetru May 5 '11 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ @jetru: there is lots of CS research which is not in scope here. We're focused on TCS, hence the name. $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons May 5 '11 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ As expected, the post got downvoted. "research-cstheory.stackexchange.com". Come on, that is not a good reason. $\endgroup$ – jetru May 5 '11 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ cstheory.stackexchange.com is already too long. Anyway, we have discussed the domain name here already so many times, and the consensus seems to be that we do not want to re-visit the question of re-naming the site (yet). $\endgroup$ – Jukka Suomela May 5 '11 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ @jetru: I downvoted it. It's meta, so it's not hurting your rep, just expressing my disagreement with the idea. "research-cstheory.stackexchange.com" is ridiculously long, as Jukka points out, and I haven't run into to many people expressing problems with the name of the site. Also, I do not accept that this inference follows: "Thus, it can be clearly understood that the URL is too vague and doesn't correctly describe this community" $\endgroup$ – Joe Fitzsimons May 5 '11 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ It seems that it would be common courtesy to at least read a few posts on the site before asking a question. In doing so, a user would clearly realize that we are only "selling cheese". If at that point, they insist on demanding "ice cream", it's not unreasonable to politely ask them to buy cheese or leave. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat May 5 '11 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ Theory in the cstheory is clearly an indicator of specialization. We cannot put everything in there, FAQ is the place need to read for understanding the scope. Also when you visit the site, there is statement on top saying "Q&A for theoretical computer scientists and researchers in related fields". Finally, you can apply the same argument to almost all other sites. In any case your answer is not relevant to the discussion in this question. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 5 '11 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Joe - You not accepting that the inference does not follow is not the same as it not being true. It is. There are already many posts in meta debating the "research-level" aspect of this community. Most of the anti-research-level arguments can easily be rubbished if you switch the name to include the "1337" in some way. Further, there are already many closed and killed posts on grounds of being "too simple". Well, changing the name is a simple solution to this boring recurring problem. Clearly separate out interests. $\endgroup$ – jetru May 6 '11 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Suresh - No arguments there. A lot of customers have indeed left and just ask the simple theory questions on SO or just google it. This customer says just have a sign board that says "Cheese shop" instead so it'll be clear. Just that the newcomers don't know. And you can't expect people to read the FAQ, because nobody in the real world does. My hope is that this might open up the "cstheory" slot in stackexchange to be open to a wider and friendlier audience, stupider though they may be in your eyes. Or not. $\endgroup$ – jetru May 6 '11 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ so if I understand, the goal is to change the name so that cstheory can be used for a different site ? $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat May 6 '11 at 19:51

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