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This question asks for prerequisites for studying in a robotics course. This in my mind is rather open-ended and will result in discussions and has no single correct answer. So, are these type of questions on-topic ? [I ask this as the linked question is still open,active and rather popular]

If they are, then shouldnt sources / tutorials / books to study from questions also be on - topic as they are in many ways similar to this ?

Both essentially require list-type answers from knowledgeable users.

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  • $\begingroup$ I second this curiosity. More broadly, "what are the prerequisites for doing X", or "I've done Y, what should I study next" are also questions that have popped up. If these aren't valid, how can we shape them into something that is valid? $\endgroup$ – Ian Dec 5 '12 at 21:32
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As Manishearth suggests "What should I do next?" questions are really just shopping questions, which are discouraged everywhere.

Whether a pre-requisites question is on-topic really depends on how wide the question is:

Since the question Mathematical prerequisites for beginning graduate student in robotics is somewhere inbetween these extremes, I was waiting to see what sort of answers were created before deciding whether to vote to close. I think this is question and it's answers are very borderline and illustrate the problems with list-type questions.

While we do desperately need more questions, I would not like to encourage list-type questions. I would rather have quality content which keeps people returning to the site than meh content which doesn't.

Overall, I think it is better if we consider the use of tag wikis to document resources lists for questions like this.


The big problem with list-type questions like this is that there are several ways of doing it, non of which are a very good fit for stack exchange.

  1. You ask for one list item per answer.

    • Pros:

      You end up with an ordered list of list items.

      You have the possibility that different peoples priorities can be accommodated.

      Individual bad list item suggestions can be commented and voted on separately to good list items.

    • Cons:

      The oldest and most popular suggestions get more votes.

      New but better options never gain new votes as they start at the bottom where no-one every gets to see them.

      People with many item suggestions end up writing many answers, which could discourage people from voting on more than one of them.

    • This essentially turns a list-question into a list item popularity contest with a significant bias towards those who get their suggestions in early.

  2. You make the question community-wiki and let people collaboratively edit it.

    • Pros:

      You have a single answer which incorporates all of the suggestions everyone can make to it.

    • Cons:

      If people disagree, you can end up having edit wars.

    • If you are going to do this though, you may as well use a tag wiki.

  3. You let people answer with as many list elements as they can be bothered to write

    • Pros:

      You only have one answer per user.

    • Cons:

      Each answer probably only contains a subsets of the full set of useful list items.

      Individual list items can't be voted on individually.

    • This essentially turns a list-question into a user popularity contest with a significant bias towards those who get their suggestions in early.

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  • $\begingroup$ How about allowing list type questions, assigning a separate tag, and then enforcing any one of these methods across all such questions ? If the tag is regularly monitored, then this would allow such questions to be part of the site in a uniform manner as well as preventing too many questions / poor questions of this type from populating the site. $\endgroup$ – asheeshr Dec 7 '12 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @AshRj - I don't think any of the three options (there may be more that I haven't seen) are really a good idea. The sad fact is, this sort of question is not good fit for stack exchange. $\endgroup$ – Mark Booth Dec 7 '12 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ I dont know complete reasoning behind that, but one of the reasons would probably be such questions leading to a lot of useless content. IF handled correctly, then such posts would be valuable and not at all useless. Also, i proposed this as we are still in Beta and as question volume is not high, enforcing a standard way wont be hard. It could actually become an example for other sites. Unless, of-course it could become a problem for the site from transiting from beta, because of some SE policy .. $\endgroup$ – asheeshr Dec 7 '12 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ There's no higher-up policy that would explicitly forbid us from allowing list questions but I don't think there are many SE sites that have managed to accommodate list questions with any of the above or any other approach. While list questions are undoubtedly popular on most SE sites, they are discouraged because they usually represent opinion, and SE works better on facts than on opinions. $\endgroup$ – ThomasH Dec 7 '12 at 17:01
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On most SE sites, such questions are disallowed, they are off topic.

However, I personally don't think there is much of a problem here for "prerequisite" questions--I see no problem with them.

"What should I do next?", on the other hand...better to make that off topic, these can be rather subjective. These can be converted into "I've done X. What are the advantages/disadvantages of doing Y next over Z?"

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