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I have seen a number of questions that are asked by hobbyists, or others who are looking to learn more about engineering because they are inspired by something awesome they saw.

It seems very prudent to support these kinds of questions — but probably important to set some thresholds so that they do not become too-broad. They typical Ask-er will not get it right the first time, but an eventual FAQ entry, or other succinct guidance, can go a long way.

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Let's be careful about setting up a bunch of rules before you have an actual problem. Otherwise we are only setting this site up to be one big rule book making this place very user-unfriendly, even for engineers.

Don't worry about this nebulous idea of "hobbyist questions." Wait until you are actually inundated with questions about how to build a lightsaber. Or folks are endlessly asking when we're going to have personal robot butlers. Then maybe (just maybe) you'll have something to discuss; namely, specific classes of questions that might be problematic IN ACTUAL PRACTICE.

Historically, we've had this notion that, if we can just keep out the beginners, the hobbyists, and the folks asking "homework questions", it will clear the way for the "real experts" to show up. Unfortunately, that rarely works in actual practice. Certainly you have to control your scope, but not by dictating what level of interest a user engages in this subject.

Certainly you should assure users are providing enough information to receive a professional/expert answer… but as a rule of thumb, you should determine your scope by discussing specific questions you feel are problematic and then — this is really important — OVER TIME identifying common factors shared by them and not shared by questions generally accepted as reasonable.

Just don't be too quick to start anticipating all the problems you might have… and then start setting up a bunch of rules to ward off those uninitiated hordes.

It's a poor way to start this site.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this Robert. Just for clarification, the private beta question-prompt says we are looking for expert-level questions. Which would seem to exclude hobbyist questions, and any questions lacking depth, e.g. this , from the private beta. Any thoughts? $\endgroup$ – 410 gone Jan 21 '15 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers Only what I suggested above. We often fling "expert" around a bit too freely. We end up spiting ourselves, shutting down perfectly interesting and answerable questions. That guidance really should convey something more like: "ask a properly-researched question you'd be comfortable asking of an expert in this subject." That guidance was meant to head off random Internet travelers stumbling in the dark asking questions like "How do I get that pointy thing to fit in the hole with the fiddly bits?" Questions ultimately have to intrigue the people who have to answer them. $\endgroup$ – Robert Cartaino Jan 21 '15 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer a lot. Let me just add that even amateurs can pose wonderful and difficult questions. Engineering is not always about knowing very special formulas for very special things. - On the other hand it's only a matter of time before someone asks for the inner workings of the death star. :) $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Feb 3 '15 at 18:00

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