I actually agree with both of the positions expressed so far: There are major issues with the example question but I think it could be rewritten in a way that solves its original problems. I am a big believer in the power of aggressive rewrites to bring questions "in bounds" and in the right and responsibility of the community to work with authors to make this happen.
The example question
Whether a particular "out of bounds" or borderline question can be salvaged depends largely on the type of answers being solicited. Questions that are clearly written with no other goal than to elicit poll-type answers are not likely to be salvageable. In this example, I don't think that's the case. Here's the first revision of the post in question (emphasis mine):
I am from the mathematics StackExchange section, many of my students
are engineering students at University. I was wondering what kind of
calculus do you real engineers use? I have known two engineers. One
from airplane design and another from metrology. The former used very
very little calculus, some ODE's with constant coefficients by
linearization. The latter used only basic math, no calculus, with some
excel. I want to be honest with any engineering student so they know
what awaits them.
Also, a follow up question. Did you find it beneficial to have about
four semesters of calculus? Maybe you do not use anything from it, but
it does enhance your mathematical reasoning, which does have a
positive externality on your engineering skills?
Stack Exchange is all about questions that represent an underlying problem to be solved. Here, the problem is clear: The author has a responsibility for providing a mathematics education to engineering students, and wants to convey realistic expectations to them about how this material may be applied in their career. This is a problem that experts in our field are uniquely prepared to solve, therefore we can and should rewrite this question in a way that will elicit high-quality answers that solve the author's problem.
The elusive high-quality answer
What is a high-quality answer? What does that mean? Is it about technical correctness, good formatting, length, lots of upvotes, freehand circles?
Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand identifies a guiding principle of Stack Exchange with the following analogy:
Incoming questions are a universal constant, all around us in
countless billions. But answers — truly brilliant, amazing, correct
answers — are as rare as pearls. Thus, questions are merely the sand
that produces the pearl. If we have learned anything in the last
three years, it is that you optimize for pearls, not sand.
High-quality answers are the useful artifacts this network was built to collect. The blog post stops short of explicitly defining those "truly brilliant, amazing, correct answers" but we can take a look at the example it provides in this answer on Skeptics.SE, which is:
- Thoroughly cited
This is almost the polar opposite of poll answers, which tend to be indirect, subjective and primarily anecdotal. Poll answers are neither authoritative nor applicable to all readers; a really high-quality answer above is both. "Optimizing for pearls" means enforcing question standards that will invite citation and objectivity while discouraging anecdote and subjectivity. Although Jeff's blog post focuses on downvoting, rate-limiting and question bans as the means to this end, it was written several years ago and community editing has received a bit more attention since then.
How to rewrite
Unfortunately, this particular question accumulated 16 answers before being locked. By the time this meta discussion was started, it had already attracted five answers, a hundred views and a couple dozen votes. One of the "golden rules" of editing questions is that you should not change them in ways that invalidate existing answers, even as the original author of the question.
With that in mind, I think a good way to rewrite this question at the time it was aked would have been as follows:
I teach mathematics at the University level. Many of the students in
the courses I teach are students of engineering. I want to be honest
with them about how they can expect to use calculus once they leave
school and start working as engineers but, since I do not have an
engineering background, I am not sure what to tell them.
I have known two engineers, one from airplane design and another from
metrology. When I asked them about the math they use as engineers, the
former used very very little calculus, some ODE's with constant
coefficients by linearization. The latter used only basic math, no
calculus, with some Excel.
My engineering students generally take about four semesters of
calculus. Even if they do not use these skills directly in their
professional lives, studying calculus will enhance their mathematical
reasoning skills. How do I express the value of a strong background
in calculus to my engineering students? In particular, how
frequently can they expect to use calculus in their day-to-day work?
Dissecting the rewrite
Paragraph by paragraph:
- Background. Introduce the problem with relevant information. Here it's important to know that the author is not an engineer, so it's okay to introduce the author. In other cases that would be completely superfluous; e.g., "I'm not very good with statics, and I have a question." In the original version, "from the mathematics StackExchange section" was superfluous; the author's profile is easily accessible, and their activity on this site isn't directly relevant. Every bit of content in this paragraph comes from the original; only the presentation has changed.
- Research. Almost unaltered from the original. It's always nice to have more research, but this is the author's responsibility. I cannot force them to do more research and I should generally not expand on their research unless the question is a Community Wiki because it would misrepresent what the asker actually knows (instead, offer related reading in a comment or as an extra component to your answer).
- The Question. Sometimes users like to ask their question early in the post and then start elaborating and giving examples. Usually it's better to "bookend" the post by stating the question succinctly in the title and restating it fully and explicitly near the end of the body. Here's where I revised most aggressively, because this is the part that people answer (some people don't even read the rest of the question!). I rephrased the follow-up question as a hypothesis, which is a nice trick for focusing a multi-part question; answers aren't obliged to respond to the hypothesis, but if someone disagrees with it they'll probably say so. Finally, I expressed the problem faced by the author as a question, despite the fact that this is something the original revision never directly asked, and appended the more specific question that did appear in the original as a particular concern. This would probably be the most controversial element of the edit, since it takes some amount of faith in my interpretation of the original revision to believe that this "new" question preserves the goals of the post's owner.
One overall change I consider particularly important was removing the word "you" from the question entirely. This is not a discussion, it is a question; it should be formatted with the expectation of a broad audience. Many more people will read the question than will provide an answer and they should be thinking about the question, not about their experience. As soon as the author asks me what I think, I'm less prepared to absorb any existing answers. The "Facebook gene" activates; time to share! Now I'm looking to give you a story instead of an answer.
None of these changes prevent answers that are subjective or anecdotal. What they do is define an acceptable response in a way that not only guides answers but, perhaps more importantly, guides readers in voting on the answers they find. (Example: It's harder to justify trashing an answer that just says "You can use SketchUp" when the question is, "What are some free alternatives to AutoCAD?")
We can effectively answer this question and others like it but user polls should absolutely be avoided. The ideal solution is for the community to assist the author in revising the question (how involved the author is and how much action you take without them varies) to discourage answers based mainly on anecdote or opinion and encourage answers based mainly on facts and evidence. Until and unless this type of question can be adequately revised, it should be put on hold.
The amount of attention and number of answers this question has received, plus continued comments from the author (1, 2) encouraging anecdotal responses, signal to me that this question has gone past the point where it could be reasonably edited into shape and should be closed. If there's a good related question buried somewhere in there, it can be asked on its own merits; if it meets our standards, as this one does not, I would not consider the new question to be a duplicate.