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Advice for Newbies? Plus: Suggest a New Rule

  1. Nov 19, 2007 #1

    Chris Hillman

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    Hi all,

    I have felt for some time that there is a need for a new PF sticky offering advice to newbies, especially younger ones. The idea would be to prepare a carefully written sticky which tries to achieve several things:
    • not alienate older newbies by assuming all newbies are youngsters,
    • not alienate younger newbies by appearing overly paternalistic,
    • gracefully suggest the importance of things some newbies (particularly young ones) might not have thought about, such as:
      • try to use good spelling and grammar,
      • try to be clear; in trying to formulate a question clearly, you may answer it yourself, and if not, everyone will appreciate your thoughtfulness in trying to be coherent!,
      • if you mention a book, cite author and title if possible,
      • if mention a website, cite url if possible (modulo the proscription on cranksite promotion),
      • PF users span the range from high school students to sci/math Ph.D.s, so to avoid responses going over (or under!) your level, if possible give some indication of your math/sci background,
      • don't worry about asking a "dumb question"; if you have tried to formulate your question clearly, chances are good that other people have the very same question,
      • but it's a good idea to look over the sci.physics FAQ first to avoid asking the exact same question which twelve other people have asked this week (which might lead to a grumpy response),
      • but it's definitely OK to request clarification of a FAQ entry if you didn't understand something you read there,
    • unfortunately, not everyone is who they say they are on the InterNet, or has good intentions, so a few safety tips might be in order (older newbies might also consult the ACLU's thoughts about http://www.aclu.org/privacy/internet/index.html [Broken]),
    • if you're puzzled about which forum to post a question in, you can post it in Forum Feedback & Announcements asking a mentor to move the post to the appropriate forum,
    • if you have a question for the PF staff which you don't want to ask in public, you can use https://www.physicsforums.com/faq.php?faq=vb_board_usage#faq_vb_pm_explain [Broken].
    • if you want to learn how to to post a link or an equation, try https://www.physicsforums.com/faq.php?faq=vb_faq#faq_vb_board_usage [Broken].
    I'd also like to suggest a new rule at PF which I think would be wise, the web being what it is. Many social networking websites such as WP now forbid or at least strongly encourage PF users, particularly minors, from posting their email addresses. See [post=1510907]Evo's response[/post] to the post which prompted me to mention this issue.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
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  3. Nov 19, 2007 #2


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    I don't know how to formulate something that accomplishes all you suggest without sounding overly paternalistic (or maternalistic?) to new members. I think most of those points are pretty self-evident, others are included in our current guidelines (which are already a lot for a new member to absorb), and I think the rest they have to fumble their way through, which is something many of our members are very helpful with, much more so than on a lot of other sites.

    We don't have a specific guideline about posting email addresses, but probably 99 times out of 100, we catch that and edit it out of a thread, partly for the safety of our members (though when they are posting accounts with free hosting sites, I figure they're already a little aware of the risk of spammers at least), but mostly because it's rather against the spirit of the forums to solicit answers be sent to one's email address rather than discussed within the thread.
  4. Nov 19, 2007 #3

    Chris Hillman

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    Neither to do I. That's why I am asking for input from others!

    One would hope so, but experience suggest they are not self evident at all to some newbies.

    That's kind of what I was getting at; having a rule would allow mentors to simply zap email addresses; the stated reason could be what you just said, since I myself feel that it is important to avoid frightening off minors while at the same time trying to prevent them from doing something unsafe out of inexperience. That's part of finding the tricky balance.
  5. Nov 22, 2007 #4

    Chris Hillman

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    Please add to the above list ("gracefully suggest the importance of things some newbies, particularly young ones, might not have thought about, such as"):
    • avoid making statements about topic T if they don't know anything at all about T, even if they qualify this with "I don't know what I'm talking about", because this obligates knowledgeable posters to waste their time trying to correct misstatements

    I am trying to request the mentors consider carefully writing boilerplate intended to minimize the chances that someone will take offence should a poster like myself chide them for going on and on about a topic they know nothing about.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2007
  6. Nov 22, 2007 #5


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    Chris, nice ideas.

    Maybe the best method of delivery is something like this:

    Welcome to PF.
    Here's a Top-10 list of tips to get the most out of PF.

    - bulleted list of short (one or two sentence) tips ...possibly humorous and not-stuffy sounding

    Too many... but you get the idea...
    http://blog.ericfeng.com/250-things-i-have-learnt-that-will-make-you-become-a-highly-successful-speaker/ [Broken]

    entertaining and informative, but possibly too visual

    One might include a link to a well-posed HW-post as a good example of how to ask a HW question.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  7. Nov 22, 2007 #6

    Chris Hillman

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    These are good suggestions!

    In case it wasn't clear to others, I was asking for suggestions on the exact wording as well as the existence/location of the proposed sticky.
  8. Nov 23, 2007 #7


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    Well, advising people not to advertise their ignorance is like asking them to cut their heads off. Positing naivity is a trick of the crackpot trade. Next dearest to their hearts is luring a credible physicist into an inane argument. My advice is - don't say 'go read a book' - provide links. That is what I do with newbies, and cranks merit the same treatment. They are mostly misguided amateurs, IMO. And that can be a dangerous situation - what if they grow up to be U.S. Senators? Ignorance is only a vice if tolerated.
  9. Nov 23, 2007 #8


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    The only way to accomplish most of those points is for users to lose anonymity.

    I don't think this would happen.

    For example, in the two years that I've been posting, I've seen some "students" apparently zip through whole degree courses, from first years through to graduate studies... :wink:
  10. Nov 23, 2007 #9


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    Unfortunately, all of this assumes that the newbies will actually read either the stickies or the instructions. I would be happy if they just read the topic of the stickies. I lost count on how many HW posts that I had to move out of the main physics forums, even when there's a sticky in there with the topic telling them clearly to not post HW/Coursework questions, IN CAPITAL LETTERS no less.

    So I am skeptical if any of these things will actually work, or be effective. If they can't read simple, direct instruction that's staring at them right in their faces, what makes anyone think that they'll read long-winded instructions on how to interact on here?

  11. Nov 23, 2007 #10


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    Maybe we should try not to be long-winded... my eyes glaze over with too much text.* (Maybe I'm a victim of PowerPoint.) (* not every word carries the same importance.. highlight with font and layout formatting)

    A first draft (not quite at 10), based on Chris's list (above)...
    Feel free to modify...

    Top-10 list of Tips for New Users at PhysicsForums
    • be clear (It helps everyone, including yourself!)
    • for Homework-type problems, show your attempt

    • increase readability (and readership) by using
      typeset equations (click me: [itex]\vec F_{net}=m\vec a[/itex]) and https://www.physicsforums.com/misc.php?do=bbcode [Broken] to add emphasis,
      https://www.physicsforums.com/faq.php?faq=vb_read_and_post#faq_vb_attachment_explain [Broken] to show diagrams

    • make references (so readers can look things up)
      - books and papers with titles, authors, page numbers, and, if needed, problem numbers
      - websites (but don't violate the PF Rules )

    • give context (so readers can answer appropriately)
      - high school? introductory-college? advanced-college? beyond?
      - algebra? calculus? beyond?

    • has it been answered before?
      https://www.physicsforums.com/search.php [Broken]
      PhysicsForum Search (via Google)
      Usenet Physics FAQ

    • be safe
      Don't provide personal information
      Internet Safety
      http://www.aclu.org/privacy/internet/index.html [Broken]

    • have fun, be nice, and don't break the Rules

    I understand the skepticism. So, feel free to give up on it.

    [EDIT: stray commas deleted]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  12. Nov 23, 2007 #11

    Chris Hillman

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    Let's put up the new sticky!

    Excellent, Rob! The only change I suggest is deleting the commas after the word "so".

    I seem to have two "reform initiatives" up for discussion at PF (the other is the proposed reorganization of the math forums). Just to be clear, I think that the sticky as drafted by Rob is clearly such a good idea that we should definitely go ahead and implement this. I am much less certain so far whether reorganizing the math forums is even a good idea (if that should go through I hope we can first come up with a good list of forums which the most experienced math posters declare they can live with.)

    ZapperZ, I agree that getting newbies to read the stickies can be problematic, but you might be missing the point that rather than trying to formulate advice "on the fly" (not always a good idea when dealing with hypersensitive newbies), I'd much rather to point to carefully written boilerplate. For one thing, being pointed at a general advice page seems less likely to offend newbies who in the past have sometimes (mistakenly) assumed that my attempts to offer advice on how to post were intended as insults :rolleyes: (If I point a newbie at the sticky and he/she declines to follow the advice there, I know I tried and that probably this person isn't going to listen to anything I say, so I can put him/her in my Ignore list on grounds of ineducability.)

    If your point is that we wish to avoid alienating newbies or inadvertently discouraging timid readers from delurking*, part of my point here is that I wish to avoid trying to protest incomprensibility "on the fly", which doesn't seem to have been working well. What do you think of Rob's proposed sticky?

    [*Am I the only one who has the impression that quite a few "delurkings" appear to occur under the influence of alchohol? I hope it's not true, but sometimes I do wonder...]

    I'd call that "trolling", and many trolls seem not be cranks so much as very odd (and unfortunate!) persons who are uncomfortable in social situations which are not full of violence, who have discovered that public forums on the web provide them with ample opportunities to create the social chaos they crave. But I agree that many embittered cranks turn to trollery (something very evident on sci.physics.relativity, which after the departure of myself and a few others has turned into a sickening exemplar of the trollfest ).

    Well, I agree that some politicians do seem hostile to science, and a handful of cranks/frauds have made some powerful allies (I can think of two U.S. senators who appear to have used their influence on behalf of a particuarly notorious new-energy scam, but let's mention no names since I haven't verified this intelligence). I don't think cranks are a serious threat to society (although if no-one at all debunked crankery, ultimately many young people might be seriously misled--- for example, the crank physics sites on the web far outnumber a comparatively small number of reliable websites which are readable enough to be useful for students), but some of them have signed up with a serious threat, organized anti-intellectual anti-secular political fundamentalist movements which have a long history (in the U.S.) of political influence and in particular of keeping science out of science classrooms in public schools.

    I am well aware that many frequent posters at public forums like PF highly value their anonymity, and while I myself have always posted under my real name, I started posting back when the WWW was very young, well before spam and harrassment became commonplace, so in fact I advise anyone who asks to choose a handle. I agree (if I understand your point) that avoiding the appearance of wishing to compromise this is another desideratum. I think Rob's draft of the proposed sticky avoids this giving this impression--- do you agree?

    I am also well aware that many people consider it perfectly acceptable to create multiple socks, but I am much less comfortable with this practice and when asked I strongly advise against it. Short reason: this often seems to start a regrettable slide down a slippery slope (see for example recent scandals at WP concerning formerly good users who became frustrated and created "carnivorous socks").

    Hmm.... what do others think about possibly adding an item pointing out that socks are forbidden at PF and urging newbies to bear in mind that they are building an online persona at PF which they should expect to live with? (Once again, Rob can probably formulate this in an inoffensive manner.)
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2007
  13. Nov 23, 2007 #12


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    Whoops... don't know what those commas were about... probably cross-talk during multi-tasking. :redface:
    (If it or something like it goes through, make it 10.. or else change the title.)

    one possible addition:

    Last edited: Nov 23, 2007
  14. Nov 23, 2007 #13

    Chris Hillman

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    I.e., the title of the sticky should be "Top-Ten List of Tips for New Users at PhysicsForums". Ditto the addition of the "got a theory?" item as written by Rob.
  15. Nov 24, 2007 #14


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    My only point is mainstream scientists should confront this plague: well intended confusion, crackpots, and intellectual terrorism with equal vigor. Educate the confused, challenge the misguided and slap down deception.
  16. Nov 24, 2007 #15


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    I, for one, love it.

    I'd like to see it as an unavoidable pop up when someone registers, and then a test that has to be passed afterwards, to make sure they have to read it, otherwise they can't register.

    Oh well, I can dream, can't i?
  17. Nov 24, 2007 #16


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    As Zz pointed out, we can't get them to read the rules we already have. For example, things like showing their attempt at homework are spelled out both in the forum guidelines and in stickies at the top of every homework help forum (after being repeatedly ignored under the title "Read before posting homework", I gave up and it's now in the form of "Why isn't my HW question being answered?" to fit with the fact that most students didn't start reading until AFTER they posted their homework). We now have the homework template that prompts them to show their work, and we STILL get questions where no work is shown. Adding more instructions is not going to get people who do not read instructions to read them. Those who do read instructions and have a dash of common sense can do pretty well without such bullet points.

    I also don't think there's any point of including "be clear" in an FAQ or anywhere. Those who lack the ability to express themselves clearly aren't going to suddenly acquire it by reading that, and those who know how to express themselves clearly will do so.

    The one thing I see in the list that I really do like, however, is the request for context...i.e., level of the question. Perhaps that could be added to the HW forum template. It would be helpful when someone asks a HW/coursework type question if we know they are in high school, college, grad school, studying independently, a teacher trying to brush up knowledge before being tossed into teaching a class outside their usual subject area (as scary as it sounds, it happens), etc.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  18. Nov 24, 2007 #17

    Chris Hillman

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    Tips for New Users at PhysicsForums (proposed sticky)

    I think PF would benefit from a unified list of directives. I suspect that four basic pages should be enough: the behavioral guidelines, the VB code formatting tips, writing tips for newbies, and tips for where to put your posts. I like Evo's idea of a pop up which takes just registered newbies to a list of links to these four pages, and each could include a link to the other three, for benefit of those who haven't yet figured out the "back" button on their browser :wink:

    It's a never ending battle, but I think PF could benefit from streamlining the process. Ideally it would be easy for homework helpers to hit a macro which directs the offender to the appropriate sticky (ideally one of the four pages above). After being chided five or six times I think most newbies will start to understand that this is important to us.

    I fear you might be correct, unfortunately, but I think it's worth making the effort to try to consolidate and reorganize all the "user guidance pages" at PF to try to make them easier to find prior to delurking, easier to read and follow, and most of all, easier for experienced newbies to cite repeatedly without tearing their hair out.

    Agreed, but I actually think you are underestimating the typical student newbie here. They mostly are not truly stupid, I think, and are posting incoherently out of carelessness and/or inexperience. My proposal was actually more like "try to be clear" and "use the preview feature" with some well written sentences offering some tips for improving clarity. My hope is that typical students will be encouraged read over their posts before submission and conclude that they can in fact see how to make improvements!

    Here is my revised proposal (the mild redundancies are intentional; I was trying to say the most important things twice in slightly different ways)):

    Tips for New Users at PhysicsForums
    • Got a question? Did you check whether it has been answered previously?:
      • Try out the https://www.physicsforums.com/search.php [Broken],
      • Look over the Usenet Physics FAQ
      • Look over some recent book reviews from other PF users.
      • Didn't understand something you read in the FAQ or a previous PhysicsForums thread? It's perfectly OK to ask for clarification!
    • To obtain the most useful responses, you should try to post in an appropriate forum [size=-2][implementing mentor should EDIT this to give a link to the proposed sticky guideline to forums at PF as per [thread=195378]this thread[/thread]][/size]; if you have no idea which forum is most appropriate, post in "Calculus and Miscellaneous",
    • To help other PF users to respond appropriately, please try to provide some context for your post:
      • Is this schoolwork? Or independent research?
      • Are you in high school? A freshman in college? A graduate student?
      • Have you taken high school algebra? Calculus? Beyond?
      • If English is not your first language, don't worry, most PF users will try to make allowances for ESL posters, but if this applies to you it's OK to mention it!
    • Please try to write your post as clearly as possible:
      • If you mention a book, please cite author and title, and perhaps even page number or problem number.
      • If you are responding to another post, please try out the "Quote" button (it often helps to trim the quoted text!),
      • You can greatly improve your post by formatting your equations using the LaTeX markup feature of VB (click me: [itex]\vec F_{newton}=m\vec a[/itex]).
      • If you mention a website, please [URL [Broken] Hyperlinking]add a link[/url] (but if you think your link might point to a religious or cranky website, please read this first!).
      • It may be helpful to https://www.physicsforums.com/misc.php?do=bbcode [Broken].
      • If you have handy a clear figure in digital format, it will probably very useful to https://www.physicsforums.com/faq.php?faq=vb_read_and_post#faq_vb_attachment_explain [Broken] to a relevant image at another website.
    • Try using the "Preview" button to review your post before submitting it:
      • If possible, correct any typos, spelling, and grammar.
      • Can you make your question clearer?
      • Did you remember to provide some useful context? (If appropriate, did you mention your educational background?)
      • Would writing out an equation help? (You can test your latex markup before posting using the preview)
      • Did you make any comment which someone might find offensive? (Perhaps expressing an inflammatory religious or political opinion?) If it isn't neccessary, you may save everyone some hassle by removing it!
      • If you included a link, try clicking on it to make sure it goes to the site you intended.
    • If you are asking for homework help, please post in the Homework and Coursework Forum at PhysicsForums, and please show some of your work so far.
    • If you should spot a goof after submitting your post, you can still https://www.physicsforums.com/faq.php?faq=vb_read_and_post#faq_vb_edit_posts [Broken] during the first 24 hours or so after posting (you can even delete your post entirely).
    • While we believe PF is generally a safe place, we urge all PF users to avoid doing reckless things here:
      • Please don't post your email address.
      • Avoid posting too much personal information.
      • See Internet Safety from KidsHealth and http://www.aclu.org/privacy/internet/index.html [Broken] from the ACLU for more tips.
    • If you ever try to login to your PF account and discover that you have forgotten your password, please try clicking on "forgot your password?" and following instructions rather than registering a new account. But please try not to forget your password. At least one security expert now recommends writing your passwords down and keeping them in your wallet or change purse. (By the way, registering a http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/defineterm.jhtml?term=sock+puppet [Broken] account is against the PF rules; we ask that you choose one username for your PF posting and stick by it thereafter.)
    • Have fun, be nice, and please try not to break any Rules!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  19. Nov 24, 2007 #18

    Shooting Star

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    I would like to add another point here, to benefit a fraction of the newbie/homework posters. I've often noticed that a quite well written and interesting question or problem has been posted, and has been answered incompletely or badly by a not too competent but enthusiastic newbie. The homework helpers, seeing that it has been answered, may just skip it, thinking that the OP has received the proper answer and it's over. The OP may be too shy to insist on a more satisfactory answer or to re-post it.

    My point is that the newbies should be encouraged to pursue it till satisfied, and should be told there's nothing dumb about asking a question for a second time. The SOLVED tag is sadly neglected by most homework posters.
  20. Nov 24, 2007 #19


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    We don't want them to repost their question, but if they respond to a bad reply, I think most HW helpers will check a thread if they see that the OP has returned. If you notice that a thread is getting sub-par help (especially if it's outright wrong or misleading, or if it flat-out gives the answers), please report the thread so a mentor can intervene.

    The solved tags are fairly new, so not everyone is used to using them.

    Another issue that I know impacts the HW help forums is that some of the new members will post their question here and on several other forums at the same time. So, they don't always return here if they get handed an answer somewhere else, thus don't mark the thread solved or otherwise. We of course have no control over that. Those who do return and realize the benefit of the guidance here that is more than just getting handed an answer will return, and start to get the hang of things after a few returns.
  21. Nov 24, 2007 #20


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    ...:uhh:... my eyes are starting to glaze over again. :bugeye:

    - be short and sweet
    - stick to ten "Tips"... ("Rules" can be detailed and exhaustive)
    - ideally, tips should be recitable [maybe even put to a melody :rofl:]

    my $0.02
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2007
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