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There are not a small number of questions that ask about how to build something not too specific:

(As I was searching for these, I found just searching for "simple" to be very effective)

The trouble with many of these questions is that they don't have any single answer. There are thousands of radio and antenna designs out there. Asking for one that's "simple" or "practical" or "easy" or "cheap" doesn't narrow it down much.

The answers tend to be someone's favorite solution, their favorite antenna, a kit they are familiar with, etc, with no particular merit beyond that it's familiar to them.

A good answer which isn't usually posted is "try searching for '_____ schematic'", which usually turns up a few thousand options.

I think this is a great case for the "primarily opinion-based" close reason, but I have never seen it used. Should these questions be on topic, or should they be closed?

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The trouble with many of these questions is that they don't have any single answer.

Looking at other sites, we regularly answer questions that might have several thousand options. There's more than one way to make a program do something specific, and more than one solution for a particular electronic design problem. It becomes a problem when there are infinite possible good answers - when the question requests an opinion or personal preference as an answer. But it shouldn't be a problem if there are many possible answers, at least not until we start getting dozens of different, but good answers on these types of questions.

A "single, objectively correct answer, all else is wrong" has never been a requirement on Stack Exchange.

I'd suggest that when we come across a problem we can personally answer with a dozen good, complete solutions, then we should use the comments to narrow it down to the best out of our pool of good answers.

If we can't immediately come up with a dozen good answers, it probably isn't too broad.

Simple, Cheap, Small, etc may be subjective. We should encourage people to apply specific, measurable requirements as I tried to do with the low parts count requirement. I don't have enough experience to know if it's possible in 20 components at all, so I thought it was an objectively low enough measurement so as to be answerable. Your inclusion suggests that there are many dozens of good 20 part HF receiver designs, and if so then I should be told that, and I should modify my question for 15 or 10 parts.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem isn't that there's more than one way to do a thing, it's that there is more than one way to do a thing and none are especially better than the others. If I ask for a "simple antenna that can work in Kansas on Thursdays", just about any antenna is a valid answer. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Feb 1 '14 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ The bar to answering these tends to be a bit higher, as long as the answers are complete and answer the question it shouldn't be a problem. Some of the most useful questions on EE that I found (and learned the most from) fit this pattern. What you want to avoid are questions where the bar to answering is really low, and everyone's got a link to share. $\endgroup$ – Tim Post Feb 2 '14 at 12:56
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As I think more about specifically why I don't like these questions, maybe it's not what I think.

There's a certain level of cluefullness it takes to ask a good question. Here's an example of a pretty bad question that could be on cooking.SE:

How can I make spaghetti with a blue spatula?

Does a blue spatula have anything to do with how spaghetti is made? Just imagine what nonsense will be in the body of this question.

I have some candy leftover from Halloween and my oven goes up to 500 degrees. I have a north-facing window in the kitchen. Now, what's the spaghetti with the fewest number of potatoes that will satisfy my visiting father-in-law's appetite?

Now, this question has an answer. There's a way to make spaghetti. A lot of ways, in fact. But that's not the problem: this person has no clue about spaghetti. Perhaps in an attempt to make the question less subjective, they've added a bunch of requirements that don't mean anything. Telling this person how to make spaghetti will probably not address their confusion.

When you strip away the nonsense, this question becomes "tell me about spaghetti, because I have no clue". Now it's too broad.

When it's clear from the question that the person lacks a sufficient base of knowledge to understand an answer, it needs to be closed. Good answers are not possible because there's such a broad foundation that needs to be filled in.

Look, spaghetti is a noodle, frequently covered by a tomato sauce. It doesn't have candy in it, you don't bake it, you don't put it in the window, and the color of your spatula is entirely irrelevant. You need to boil water ...

Is this a good answer? No!

I'm not saying all the questions mentioned here should have been closed, but I seriously think we need to be thinking about what are bad questions, and considering closing them. I think there's a lot of reluctance to do that because we think, "we need more questions!", but this is a fool's solution. More bad questions is not going to make anything any better. Quality, not quantity, is what will bring people to the site in the long run.

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I don't think closing them would be a smart idea, but I think that we should create a Ham.SE chat room for just such discussions.

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