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I have been a scientist in the field of chemistry. I have been an academic, coincidentally, also in the field of chemistry. Some people may have even considered me to be a teacher in the field of chemistry. I definitely consider myself to have been a student in the field of chemistry.

While none of the above (strictly) applies to me anymore, I am generally interested in the field of chemistry (and I might be for some time; and in that sense I am a student*). For all intents and purposes, this will be the site to ask questions about chemistry for me. So I think I am also (still) part of the target audience.

The following is taken from the tour:

Chemistry is a question and answer site for scientists, academics, teachers and students in the field of chemistry. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about chemistry.

This is not a real question, but rather a discussion I'd like to instigate. We have had the homework policy (with all the troubles it has had come with, see ) for some time to protect us from too common and "effortless" questions. And there has always also been debate about that.
In my personal opinion we have never gotten around to establish any common ground of when a question becomes too basic to be answered here. Oftentimes such questions have been closed with the homework close reason. (In my role as a moderator, I have always been reluctant with close calls.)
Sometimes such questions get closed with reference to our general list of Resources for learning Chemistry; which I think is a more appropriate course of action.

For myself I have established an understanding, which I will also gladly express through voting. However, since some of my actions will take immediate effect, all other tools I can (=should) only use in the interest of our community.

Therefore I'd like to get a general feeling about who our current users are and what they think our target audience should be.


Please do not comment on this question; submit an answer instead. This way we can keep discussions related and close to each other. (It only needs 30 characters.)

*Student is a very broad term in the English language; almost everyone is covered by that, at least to my understanding, given some deeper interest in a or the subject (here: Chemistry).

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  • $\begingroup$ You are asking for 2 things in 30 characters: who current users are and what they think the target audience is. Which do you want in 30 characters (I presume only the first, but what about the rest)? $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 27 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ I am asking for answers and demonstrated that it only needs 30 characters to write one. I don't want to limit it to these numbers, just making clear that it doesn't need a lot to write one. So you can of course write more. @JonCuster $\endgroup$ Jan 27 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Note that the wording was changed to "for scientists, academics, teachers and students in the field of chemistry" in 2018, see here $\endgroup$
    – Loong
    Jan 30 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Loong I decided to leave this information out of this post as it only corrected for a tiny, almost painfully obvious mistake. Half of it isn't even used anymore, the short description isn't part of the migration banner anymore. The tour was changed much later to match the short description. chemistry.stackexchange.com/posts/2901/revisions So the change isn't really relevant for what I'm trying to get to know. $\endgroup$ Jan 31 at 0:37

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we have never gotten around to establish any common ground of when a question becomes too basic to be answered here

I don't think we have to find a cutoff point between basic and sophisticated questions to make the site better. I think it is fun to answer chemistry-related questions that non-chemists come across. The tricky cutoff is between how much work the person asking and the people answering have to do, and how clear, focused and context-rich the questions are. This is something we can do about, by tweaking the rules and the documentation of the site.

[orthocresol] I'd be lying if I said I liked the front page

I think as you spend more time on the site, you get more exhausted by the low-quality questions. I'm not sure that the front page has changed over the years. Certainly, if someone just spends time closing questions, pointing out duplicates and editing questions for spelling and formating, there is not much "chemistry joy" to be had.

What is our target audience, today, in 2022?

I hope to remain part of the target audience (as a college-level teacher). There are questions that I answer, and I learn from my own research on the way. There are misconceptions or learning hurdles in some of the questions that I have also encountered when teaching. For those, I would like to have a Q&A to point my students to, so I try to answer them. I occasionally have questions I ask myself, and I have learned a lot from the answers.

The mix of folks outside of the chemistry realm, chemistry students and people with varied expertise in chemistry is great, as long as it is not too diluted by lazy people asking carelessly written homework questions.

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    $\begingroup$ "closing questions, pointing out duplicates" that's more of my thing then Ortho's. Indeed it doesn't bring chemistry joy. Moderators sometimes do that, but most of their job isn't so visible. chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5113/… $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Feb 1 at 20:41
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Therefore I'd like to get a general feeling about who our current users are

I am (still) a PhD student, but I don't do much learning here, to be honest. I mostly write answers and nitpick on formatting issues.

what they think our target audience should be

Well, I'd be lying if I said I liked the front page. It's full of questions that are poorly set or poorly written up.

I don't look down on these askers, but at some point it becomes a question of what do I gain out of it? Getting a buzz out of helping people is nice, but it's tiring because there's just no end to things like "how does electron get promoted to 4d in inner sphere complex".

Compare this to, for example, writing a book, or even contributing to something like Wikipedia. There's a fixed end to that: you write a chapter, or you write an article, and then that's that.

I realise that this isn't answering the question about target audience explicitly. Well, I think I'd be happy if we targeted undergraduate students and above. There are two ways this can happen:

  1. Ban all the basic stuff explicitly. (Spoiler alert: we can't do this. It's also quite rude.)
  2. Split up the site, and send the basic and advanced stuff to different sites, a la MathOverflow. (Spoiler alert: we probably can't do this, as the 'advanced' site would probably not have enough activity.)

The reader will notice that I've never made any serious proposal about this, for two reasons:

  1. I genuinely believe it's not possible.
  2. This is just my personal opinion, after all. There are lots of other users, and I'm skeptical as to how many people share my opinion.

So, for a long time, I've thought that maybe it's time I moved on.

(Just to be clear, this is an entirely personal thing. I don't mean to suggest that anybody else should feel the same way that I do. I'll also emphasise that this is not a "moderator" opinion or one that comes with any authority at all!)

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    $\begingroup$ "contributing to something like Wikipedia. There's a fixed end to that: (...) you write an article, and then that's that." - umm... actually Wikipedia is very similar to SE in general stuff like this. Like no difference at all on this front - always new articles to be made, always new edits to check, new trolls to slay ;) $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Jan 28 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ Another thing is "Ban all the basic stuff explicitly. (Spoiler alert: we can't do this.", well... For example Movies.SE banned identification q. cutting down big part of the site, so who knows... $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Jan 28 at 2:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Mithoron (1) That's true, but I already check new edits and kill off trolls here! On top of that I also have to continually see "how Chlorin have 15 valence e-". :-( (2) I don't know if there's a clear, unambiguous distinction that we can make. I recognise that not everything can be clear, but I'm rather afraid it will end up being as contentious and inconsistently applied as, or even more so than, the HW close reason. Suggestions are welcome, though. $\endgroup$ Jan 28 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ I think it is fine to go on sabbatical or retire. You have already done so much for this site. It is also fine to be selfish and only contribute in ways that are fun to you. After all, it is a volunteer effort. So for example, instead of looking at the front page, you could look at the weekly report. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Feb 26 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ re "...split up...", there's Chemistry.SE's take on Mass Spectrometry and I wrote this about Physics SE (which is way too big to remain sustainably healthy, happy, and welcoming all at the same time in my opinion) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 11 at 7:09
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Therefore I'd like to get a general feeling about who our current users are and what they think our target audience should be.

I'm a high school student who has found chem.SE extremely useful over the past one and a half years. I don't contribute much other than reading answers/voting, and I rarely visit the front page or browse the new questions, but nevertheless the repository of questions which do exist have been very helpful to me.

As for the target audience, why not just keep it whatever it currently is? This website seems perfectly fine to me, although as I've said above I don't contribute/moderate much and my view is limited only to questions I end up searching for, so more experienced users may think differently.

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  • $\begingroup$ "As for the target audience, why not just keep it whatever it currently is?" And what do you think it is? BTW Site is fine because a lot of users keep it clean. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Feb 14 at 16:19

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