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A couple of questions have recently been closed (or got some votes to close) for being "resource-hunting questions". I was hoping we could build some criteria to help future posters to phrase their questions in more helpful ways that straight resource hunting.

For example, I argued in one of the above questions that, compared to software, many times in engineering we're not looking for a resource based on which one is most popular and most featured right now, but rather based on what is fundamentally better. To use a different example from the other linked question, you could make a good argument that OP shouldn't be looking for pressure transducer but rather a ultrasonic sensor because we can measure frequency/time delay much more accurately than we can measure physical displacement.

I want to really hammer down on why this is different from the Programmers SE referred to in why we don't want resource hunting questions. In programming, referrals to libraries, etc, are fundamentally opinion-based and subject to change with time. If the primary contributor to a library gets hit by a bus, its often likely that a different library will quickly become better for many users. But in engineering, one resource is really just fundamentally better than another for reasons determined by physics. It doesn't matter if GE gets hit by a bus- combined cycle gas turbines are more efficient than coal-fired Rankine cycles because Carnot says so.

Can we put together some guidelines for how to ask a question about what type of equipment or process is best, to ensure that they are on-topic "engineering" questions and not "resource-hunting" questions?

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  • $\begingroup$ I do agree that the guidance on these types of questions could be improved. There is sometimes a fine line. $\endgroup$ – hazzey Jul 24 '18 at 16:16
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I think there's a subtle difference in the two examples that you presented.

The first boils down to "I need a foo that does X, Y, and Z." And beyond scouring the catalogs of your favorite foo supplier, there's not a lot of synthesis involved in answering the question. I think questions like this are the very definition1, 2 of a "resource hunting" question and rightfully off-topic. And answers in this case quickly go stale.

The second (yours) is slightly different. It's asking "I think I need foo because of X, Y, and Z, but is that really the right approach?" The difference is that you're asking for guidance towards a category of things based upon the requirements of X, Y, and Z. A good answer has to synthesize the requirements to say that foo is appropriate or that perhaps bar is the better way to go instead. These answers last better because while individual foos may change, the process to determine foo vs bar should remain somewhat consistent.

As you suggested in a comment, the first question could reasonably be edited (hint, go for it!) to make it a better fit for the site. And a good edit would be a great reason to re-open that question (hint, flag for mod reversal if the community doesn't get to it first). I think that with a measure of effort, quite a few questions that fall into the first category could be reasonably re-written to match the second category. Most OP's should be fine with that Atwood transform, but there will definitely be some that will complain about not being spoon-fed the answer they wanted of a pointing to the specific page in the catalog of someone's favorite foo supplier.


1 The nuance of "does foo exist?" is merely wordplay and doesn't substantially change the nature of the question.

2 If you're going to say that you're open to other technologies, you really need to focus on presenting the requirements behind what your trying to do. "Must be capable of" does not explain why that capability is required.

3 Yours truly has a fairly low threshold of tolerance for resource hunting questions and would happily mod-hammer them all. But I also acknowledge my bias from my participation at Programmers and have explicitly not hammered all of those types of questions so the community would have the space to make its own decisions.

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