This site has been far too "quiet" lately, so i thought it was time to stir things up again. Therefore, I'd like to address something which is a bit of a recurring topic here: off-topic questions, and how to handle them.

The last time it was discussed is at the beginning of February, here. I've also read several meta posts about the scope of WB, our Risk Factors, etc.

Now, I feel that over time the risk factors, close reasons, and scope of WB might change slightly due to pressure from the community. That's not a horse I want to keep beating. However, what I don't seem to encounter very often are any solid efforts to educate our new users.

Every day I see (many) new questions being put on hold due to being too broad, or opinion based. Every day I also see these questions receive a whole bunch of attention (mostly from new members) before more or less the same limited number of experienced Worldbuilders finally vote to close them.

Now, often a few of us will comment on the question pointing out which aspects of it should be improved. However, that's not always the case, and no one seems to be taking the users who have answered these poorly asked question aside and telling them:

"Listen, we appreciate the enthusiasm, but don't encourage these out-of-scope questions!"

More and more I find myself commenting on why I think a question is out of scope rather than actually answering it, all the while waiting for the 5 close votes that will put it on hold, and reading the many well-meaning but ultimately pointless answers to a poorly asked question.

Today, I was commenting on this question. The OP actually took our input to heart, and plans to educate himself before asking more questions. That's fantatic! However, even while I was glad to have helped educate a new Worldbuilder, I shook my head at the essay-length answer the question had received in the hour or two it was open.

Now, I know it's not my job to police WB, and I don't want to be a alienate our new users by being a jerk. However I believe that we, the more senior WB members, should take a more active role in educating them. Hence, I made the effort of posting a few links on each answer, and on the question itself, so that at least some of these people will read our Meta conversations and get an idea about what we are trying to accomplish (how to identify a poorly asked question, to vote to close it rather than give in to temptation and answer it, etc.).

This will - obviously - not always be a popular move. A lot of people don't take criticism well. So what I'd like is:

  • To see what the rest of you die-hard Worldbuilders think about getting a little more involved with educating our new members

  • To establish some basic guidelines on how to approach, and educate these people (perhaps this will grow into a question of its own)

  • $\begingroup$ I tend to agree with you but I will note that a newer user scrambling for rep probably isn't going to take this to heart, every upvote helps... $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @James - of course, but there are also people who genuinely do not understand why a certain question is out of scope, or why they "shouldn't" have answered it. So, how do we go about informing these people? Whether they agree or not with the information we impart is not the point. But not doing anything at all seems like the wrong approach. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 20:07

2 Answers 2


This has also been bothering me quite a bit lately as I found myself closing a lot of questions instead of answering any. The scope discussions left us with a well defined and restrictive scope.

Please don't get me wrong, I fully appreciate it and think it is very reasonable. However, as you pointed out, many new users aren't familiar with where the borderlines are.

I am fully aware of the how(-not)-to-ask pages, but I fear that most new users aren't.

Also, there are currently 110 meta-questions tagged . This is intimidating for anyone who would like to inform himself. Not only for a non-native like me.

What we need to help the ones that are willing to learn (there is not much to do to help those that don't) is a concise and minimal guide on how to ask a good question here, that is on topic. The above mentioned ones do a good job with it, but they probably are either not well known enough or too long/difficult etc.

Maybe, as a support for new users, we can develop a short list of easy to answer yes or no questions that function as a kind of checklist that erradicates the most common flaws in our questions today.

Some examples I can come up with:

Positive tests (these should be answered Yes):

  • Have you thoroughly explained your setting and the questions premises?
  • Have you done any research yourself and added your findings to the question?

Negative tests (these should be answered No):

  • Does your question ask about how likely your character is to do something?
  • Do you ask for personal opinion?

Maybe, if we can come up with a short and comprehensive list of, lets say 10 questions for each positive and negative - maybe each with an example in a footnote - we can reach some more new users with our definition of scope. I imagine something like this post over on meta.SO

A standard comment for new question could then look like something like this:

Welcome to worldbuilding! Thank you for your interest in this site! Have a look at this cool post that can help you improve your question in only a few moments with 20 short and easy questions.

The linked "checklist" post could then point over to the how-to-ask pages, to keep the comment short. And yes, I realize this comment sounds like some bad clickbait post on facebook, but isn't this what we want? Draw attention to a way how this site could be improved?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hey, T3! A shorter style guide is a great idea. I'd like to add that we should also create a similar guide targeted at people who've rushed to answer those poorly framed questions asking them to inform themselves and help enforce the scope. A standard message linking these conversations/guides like what you've composed would go long way toward improving the situation. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ Is is possible to put some version of the simple questions section right on the Ask a Question page itself? Kind of a "Answer these questions before asking your own to help you ask a good question" checklist. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 There already is a little info block that ready How to Ask Is your question about the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange community or website? Provide details. Show examples. Whenever possible, link to the relevant questions, answers, users, or page on the site you're discussing. - This seems to be adjustible for each site (SO's is different). Maybe a mod can confirm that? If so, we could put a link to the check list somewhere - given the community appreciates the idea. I will post a question for idea collection of possible questions later today $\endgroup$
    – T3 H40
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ We could post a link to it, but I think it would be better if it was front and center and obvious on the page itself, so you have to willfully overlook the checklist before you can ask a bad question. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 18:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 while this might be nice to have, I don't think we will get that. I can not find any source for that now, but I am pretty sure that I have seen this proposal a few times over at SO - and it never made it. But I think that even if providing guidance for an already posted question is still better than doing nothing. Btw - I just posted a question so we can collect possible questions for a checklist here $\endgroup$
    – T3 H40
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 20:02

I think we should have a check list on the Ask a Question page instead of the current How to Ask section:
enter image description here

The How to Ask box is ok, but not great.
Instead it could be expanded to include a few questions similar to what T3 H40 proposed.
Change it to something like

Before you ask:

  • Have you thoroughly explained your setting and the questions premises?
  • Have you done any research yourself and added your findings to the question?
  • Is your question about your world, instead of about your characters?
  • Does your question encourage subjective answers, instead of opinion based answers?
  • Are you limiting your question to a single, narrow facet of your world to keep it from being to broad?

If your question is about this website, ask it on meta instead.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a good suggestion as well. Maybe, we can get the most out of it by combining both? In any case I guess all these questions fit the checklist style well. Would you consider adding those to the refinement post? I'd certanily be glad to see them there :) $\endgroup$
    – T3 H40
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 20:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @T3H40 Added. I think the key points are to make the list really short and to the point, and to make it so that all the questions should be answered YES so as to not confuse people. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that it is important to keep it short. However, the current post is intended for collecting all questions the community comes up with, and to find out, which questions would help the most. These are the ones that go into the final list. I think, that providing both types of questions is useful, because sometimes it is easier to word a question to be answered no than to reword it to mean the exact oposite. But I am aware that a clear distinction will be needed in the final post. $\endgroup$
    – T3 H40
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ Also, did you add them here? I did neither get any notification, nor can I See an answer $\endgroup$
    – T3 H40
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @T3H40 Changing the wording of a question to a preferred yes instead of a no is almost always trivially easy: Does your question ask about how likely your character is to do something? vs Is your question about your world, instead of about your characters and what they might do? Unless you tell them specifically that the answer should be NO, then it won't help them any. The question should make it obvious what you want them to answer, and so focusing on the character instead of the world makes it look like it should be about the character. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ Also, yes, I put my questions in the wrong place... I'll fix that :) $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ It is most of the time, however, it is easy to miss aspects when negating a question. For example: Asking what a generic, well defined (group of) person would be able to do is fine. It wouldn't be in your question as it specifically asks about building a world. It is sometimes just much more difficult do name everything that is fine instead of the onething that isn't. You have 3k on SO so I am sure you understand me if I say > is not the opposite of < - because >= is. $\endgroup$
    – T3 H40
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @T3H40 I suppose, though I still think that a question that tells you what the answer should be isn't the best. Like talking to my kids: "Should you hit your sister? The answer is NO. Now, should you hit your sister?" Second, even with that example it's still opinion based. "Would 12th century Chinese have been able to wipe out the Mongols if they had been given the concept of bullets to use with their gun powder?" Maybe a historian would know. Third, the question could be refined further, but even the original doesn't say you can ask about large groups. It would take a explanation link to fix $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ I get your point. However what I find difficult is turning the question around and have still mean the same. There are whole papers on this topic. But that is not of importance here. The way I see it is like a list of Do's and Don'ts and of course hitting my sister (if I had one) would be a don't. I suggest we just settle on it and let the community decide which questions it sees as most helpful, shall we? Feel free to suggest positive questions :) $\endgroup$
    – T3 H40
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 18:09

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