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This is an exercise to provide feedback on how to raise the quality of posts on the site.

A perfectly uniform standard of what posts are considered acceptable is not expected, but it would be nice to avoid unnecessary to-and-fro (closing/opening), particularly where it involves well-meaning OPs who've taken the time to write relatively thoughtful posts (and who will undoubtedly be turned off by a hostile reception), or closing of posts which require minor improvements.

It is my opinion that if you downvote or vote to close, you should try to comment. If you perceive an OP has made an effort to post a reasonable and interesting question (even if you might not think it's the worlds best) but don't think it's good enough but could be improved so as to fit, then you should be considerate and if possible take a minute or even less to write why the post is a bad fit or - even better- how it can be improved. If you are confused by the question it helps to comment "I don't understand the question, this-is-why." I tip my hat to those who regularly comment, even if critically, their contributions make this site better.

Having said that, I would like to present an exercise in the spirit of attempting to help new OPs fit in and ask what the community feels are good questions:

Q: How are compounds within a complicated mixture detected?
CodyBugstein: I was reading an article about an independent pharmaceutical watchdog group called Valisure which recently released a report stating that they found Benzene, a toxic substance, in many bottles of consumer sunscreen. (Full report here: valisure.com/blog/…...

This is about to get closed if it hasn't been already. It is a reasonable question although the OP is not a chemist and has made it way too broad. I think it would be a nice fit if narrowed, but if made too narrow ("How is benzene in sunscreen detected?") it also risks summoning the ire of the community.

How to edit this to fit?

Here's another one:

Q: Why would a mixture of sucrose, propionic acid, sodium formate, and agar turn light blue? What reaction is happening?
Daniel L: I made 3 mixtures which had 1 M sucrose, 1% w/v agar, .68% v/v propionic acid, and EITHER 0%, 4%, or 13% w/v sodium formate salt. It was NOT blue at first, but after a couple hours at RT, the 0% sodium formate mixture was clear, the 4% mixture was barely blue, and the 13% was light blue. I'm wond...

Another one on fast track to being closed, and also imho very interesting (the general explanation is perhaps straightforward, but the details are potentially very interesting). How could this be improved?

Finally here's another one by an OP with an apparent sense of humor:

Q: Finding out the composition of a sample in analytical chemistry without knowing what to test for
forgodsakehold: I am little new to analytical chemistry, but after reading up on it, I realised that most analytical procedures need you to know what to test for beforehand. May I know, given a sample of material G, is it possible to know its composition without knowing beforehand what to test for? ie. ......

This one again is too broad, but here there is less to chew on in the absence of any clear examples (such as in the Qs above) which might lead to a request for minor changes. The OP is seeking guidance somewhat blindly.

Can this be rescued, if so how?

I've presented three examples of posts on the path to closure. Since comments are not available, I am seeking feedback on what makes these worthy of closure, and what can or cannot be done to rescue them.

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    $\begingroup$ I hope you get more answers: they would be very informative, at least to me. $\endgroup$
    – Ed V
    Jun 2 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. It's healthy to discuss what's on-topic or off-topic every now and then, even if it's been asked ad nauseam and there are guidelines posted elsewhere, simply because the community and its opinions can evolve. Posting some cases for discussion on meta can be useful to set precedents and re-calibrate opinion (there are plenty more cases discussed on meta, but perhaps less borderline). It feels a bit quixotic to post this question so I am happy with the reception so far, although some additional answers or comments on the actual questions would be appreciated. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jun 2 at 19:00
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Very good question. Having been an analytical chemist for many years, I can say that questions like the third one are far too broad and ill-defined. People assume that nonsense they see on television crime shows is reality. It is quite common for analytical chemists to have to deal with people thinking analysis consists of squirting some “specimen” into a GC-Mass spectrometer (or the like) and just reading the single page and completely accurate printout at the end.

Asking a curiosity-inspired question is fine in principle, but the OP needs to at least show some significant effort in moving toward an answer. Some people do not even bother doing a trivial search.

As for that third question, the comments nailed it: lots of questions are asked, such as 1) From whence did the specimen come? 2) What do you think it might be? 3) Is there anything you particularly want to test for, e.g., arsenic? 4) Is the specimen dangerous and, if so, in what ways? And on and on. The more questions, the better, lest the goals shift repeatedly and become unachievable.

Then there is the “how much are you willing to pay for an analysis?” question, because we rarely waste time, resources, etc., on freebies. Particularly when it takes away from doing actual research that benefits the graduate students, PI and the educational institution generally. An easy way to get rid of “opportunities” to do free “blue sky” analysis is to say that the analysis will take months of a grad student’s time, success is not guaranteed and that the cost will be $5000 or more. Paid up front, into a recharge or cost center account.

Personally, I downvote when I think a question is outright ludicrous or a significant negative. I comment when I think it might help.

Here is an example of a question I downvoted. As per the 4 comments on that question, the question needs to be fixed: it appears to be too ill-defined to be validly answered. But the OP returned well after the comments were posted and made no edits, so I downvoted. I will reverse that if the question gets fixed to the point where someone can post an answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ I particularly liked the first question, and it illustrates part of the problem. That first question is a rabbit-hole. It leads for instance to a document by NOAA that councils against using sunscreen at the beach. Not to mention the issue of what to do about ppm amounts of benzene in sunscreen. I wonder what the American Cancer Society thinks of that? The OP then takes this potentially focused question and makes it too broad, instead of sticking to the details (with already many possible ramifications for further discussion). $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jun 2 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ But keeping the question narrow is by some accounts also a problem because it can loose generality. Summary: getting a question past the sensors is sometimes too difficult. Also, the one-clear-and-brief-question one-clear-and-brief-answer approach can be flawed, because it squashes curiosity in the bud. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jun 2 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ One thing that has been bothering me a bit is the matter of just who the site is for: this complicates the matter of classifying questions (and answers) into too broad or too specific categories. I have no answer to this since I do not know the target audience demographics. I think people who answer questions here do their best, with infrequent exceptions, to make silk purses out of pretty much everything that gets asked, even the sow’s ears. But some questions are DOA and others need major revision. I guess this is just the nature of things. $\endgroup$
    – Ed V
    Jun 2 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ About the first question: I know a chemistry professor who set his arm on fire when the benzene he was heating over an open flame, in his office, caught on fire and splashed on his arm. He went to the university health services. Not sure what this says about ppm exposure to benzene, but I avoid the stuff and never heat flammable liquids over open flames. $\endgroup$
    – Ed V
    Jun 2 at 16:18
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This is an exercise to provide feedback on how to raise the quality of posts on the site.

The easiest way to achieve this is to close the low-quality ones, and downvote the low effort ones. If the OP cares about reputation points, they might improve the questions or ask others that won't get closed. The only downside is that you lose the questions that are not well-written but potentially interesting from folks who just want to ask a single question.

How are compounds within a complicated mixture detected?

I answered that question by focussing on the title rather than the body. It is a fundamental question, and analytical chemistry has a couple of strategies to deal with mixtures where multiple components would give a signal in a given method of detection. Maybe I improved the question by answering the part I found interesting, and ignoring the rest.

Why would a mixture of sucrose, propionic acid, sodium formate, and agar turn light blue? What reaction is happening?

This could be improved by some raw data (photos, or even spectra). I did not expect a blue color, but I won't go in the lab to try it myself.

Finding out the composition of a sample in analytical chemistry without knowing what to test for

I think that question is fine. In college (in Marburg, Germany), we did something they called a Staudinger analysis. They mixed three substances for us, and we had to find out what it was. Some instruments we got to use "for free" (60 MHz proton NMR, infrared, UV), and others we had to ask special permission for (carbon NMR, mass spec). This was a qualitative analysis, starting with solvent extraction (organic vs basic aqueous, organic vs acidic aqueous) and other cheap separation methods, followed by spectroscopy. One of my substances was phenylalanine, which didn't dissolve in anything, it seemed.

How to help OPs improve questions?

  1. Tell them politely why you think their question should be improved.
  2. Point out the documentation or related well-written questions.
  3. Give them an example by editing their question.
  4. Use the comments and the chat to have a back-and-forth discussion if they engage.

These only work when the OP wants to improve the question. If not, use the hands-off strategy of eliminating low quality questions in the first paragraph of this answer.

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