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If one is searching for a previous answer to a question on Stack Exchange, one would try two routes:

  • Type in how one would think someone else would have phrased your question
  • Search via the tags

The first is problematic since it involves an element of guesswork, and there is a problem encountered among new students of not really knowing what they're asking, even though it is a valid problem that they're encountering. It could be argued that such people need to know what they're asking eventually and hence this is good practice, but if we're thinking of this site to be of educational merit (i.e. self-teaching) from the ground up, then this might be too much of an ask, at least initially.

The second is also an issue since some tags can be very broad i.e. spectroscopy.

None of these are current problems in my opinion as the site is still quite small, but if we're thinking of the long term, shouldn't the Qs and As be categorised more efficiently? In time, the number of Qs and As will proliferate which will lead to an unwieldy duplication for similar questions, which will be impossible to root out for even the most vigilant of contributors.

I propose an e-textbook approach where questions and their answers are organised in chapters of common themes, starting with the most elementary problems upwards. These 'books' could be split into organic, inorganic and physical as convention has always done. I'm not maintaining that these chapters be supplemented by additional information like a conventional textbook; just Qs and As, which strictly to adhere to the Stack Exchange idea.

The main problem with any type of education is that by time an educator has enough expertise in a field, they forget the problems they initially encountered whilst learning the subject for themselves: remember that we all had elementary questions to begin with, questions which increased in complexity along with our knowledge.

I believe that this would be a novel approach to education. It would take some time for enough questions to be generated for such an e-book to be meaningful, but just as a floated idea for the future: what does everyone say?

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This can be done with the tag wikis, or with a structure of meta posts. Seems like a nice idea.

An example of a "reference desk" tag wiki is the PHP tag wiki on Stack Overflow

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