This question has been asked elsewhere on Stack Exchange (for instance in Stack Overflow meta ).

Basically, there is a type of question that exists, that follows the format "I need x, it should be y and/or z". It's not so much a question as it is a work request. I call these 'homework questions' because on most sites, it's often the case that they've been copy/pasted from a homework assignment.

The problem with homework questions, and the answers we have been providing to such questions, is that they ask for and receive specific solutions rather than general ones. It's like you ask "what is an even number?" and top-voted answers are "2" and "4". The 'right' answer should be "2x where x is any integer", because it allows the OP to better understand the process behind what makes a number even and how he can find one on his own.

I believe we should focus more on providing general solutions to problems, instead of being a place where people can come to have others build their worlds for them. The problem is, there is no close reason for well-constrained questions asking for a specific world to be built, and answers that provide such worlds can't really be blamed for doing so instead of providing a more general solution.

For example, see this question that made me start wondering about this:

Lonely astronaut

This question is asking for a world with specific criteria. The asker suggested that they followed all the rules of the site, and there was no good reason for their question to be closed. Plus, it got 21 answers, each providing a different option. I don't really think the question was too story-based.

Also, this question I think gives another good example:

Kingdom with helpful bands of mercenaries; avoiding devolving into bandits

I believed the answer to be 'give them other jobs to do', but all the answers I saw last time I checked was providing different ideas for jobs that could be given. Again, there are too many answers, when a single answer should be able to provide a framework that would lead to all the others.

Quoting from the Stack Overflow answer linked above:

I wholeheartedly agree. The existing close reasons are not always sufficient.

Consider the following question:

Write a method in Java that takes an int[] arr and an int k, and returns the kth largest element of arr. The method should run in O(n) time, where n is the length of arr.

This cannot be closed as too broad: it's quite specific. It cannot be closed as unclear what you're asking: it's perfectly clear. It cannot be closed with Questions requiring debugging help... because it doesn't ask for any debugging help.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It is unclear what you are complaining about, it sounds like you dislike worldbuilding questions in Worldbuilding? $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:35
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I wish WB questions could have been my homework. I would have been much more serious in my studies. $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ @John I dislike asking for and/or receiving specific solutions when general solutions are possible. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2017 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ Could you provide a few examples to illustrate what you are talking about? Generally, I would say that "build my world for me" questions should be closed as "too broad". Do you want questions to more clearly ask "which of these is better from perspective abc?"? If so, vote to close as unclear with a comment. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh it is still possible to suggest another solution, as long as you explain why the other solution might be preferable. I have even had writers change their criteria becasue of these suggestions. It is also always possible to ask why they want the specific criteria in question often they have a valid reason, if not then you can suggest a change. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @John I think you're missing the point. I've edited the question to try to be clearer, but in general I'm sort of saying people shouldn't be asking for specific criteria in the first place. The whole idea of asking for a world and getting one doesn't seem like what this site was intended to be for $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2017 at 15:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I have added a couple of examples. I'm specifically talking about well-constrained questions that ask for specific rather than general solutions, and answers that provide them. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2017 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh I would disagree and say asking for specific criteria makes answering much easier by narrowing the field. your example would not be anarrow question, if they asked what is an even number between 1 and 7 that would be a more specific question. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @John I have added two examples to the question, also the linked SO question's top-voted answer gives a pretty good explanation of the problem as I see it. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2017 at 15:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe we should start adding what thinking led to our answer in it. $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Feb 9, 2017 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ The examples help a lot, these are less about being to specific and more about building the story for the person. The astronaut question is borderline for me, A simple rewording could make for a better question, more in line with the site but it would still be asking for essentially the same thing. As for the kingdom question, if that's what you think the answer is write it, people are going to give answers of varying specificity. Answers gave a wide range of possibilities many that would not fit in (give them another job). $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 9, 2017 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ This other question on Meta seems at least relevant to this discussion, and may be a duplicate. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Feb 9, 2017 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre that one is more about copyright stuff, this is about whether or not such questions should be allowed regardless of what the answers are used for. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2017 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ My answer there does also address the question of, "Should questions do this?" $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Feb 9, 2017 at 17:28

4 Answers 4


I sort of agree.

As stated above, many "homework" questions are still within the scope of the site, and they can still be answered effectively. While general solutions do help, and make for great answers, there is no reason to exclude specific answers; in general, this idea does not need to be enforced.

These questions do tend to push it, however: they are often primarily opinion-based. Asking for "something that works" as opposed to "how to make it work" can often be subjective. Using your example above, who's to say that "4" is a better even number than "2"? And thus, they can be closed.

Keep homework questions if they're good subjective, and use "opinion-based" as a way to close them when they're not fit for the site.

  • $\begingroup$ Often these "homework" questions fit the site's criteria better than other questions. Quite right if general solutions can be given, there's nothing to stop those answers. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Feb 11, 2017 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ "and use "opinion-based" as a way to close them when they're not fit for the site", but surely only if they're "opinion-based" or unless another criterion for closure applies. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Feb 11, 2017 at 8:37

Ok it took me a few days but I think I have an answer for you.

Lets call these, scenario questions, these questions are basically asking for plot points, or plot drivers.

I personally am hesitant to consider them on topic at all...but its something the community appreciates and lets be honest it can be quite entertaining.

So, how do we get these questions to at least try and fit into the SE framework.

  • They need to be properly constrained. You must have criteria on which to judge and compare answers.
  • The poster should be required to provide a direction. As an example in the Lonely Astronaut question: The question is basically asking for a plot to be written. Which as mentioned above makes me personally a bit twitchy...if the author had provided a thematic direction that answers should follow that would help make them comparable to one another. So the theme could be: I want x scenario and I want it to come about by some geological event, what could work, give x constraints (situation specific info). In this situation at least all the answers would be geological in nature and could be compared.

So the short version is: These questions are borderline, and probably on the wrong side of the border. That said I think we can work with them as long as we ensure people posting the questions provide adequate information.

My thought is this would require:

  • A specific quesiton
  • Details relevant to the situation
  • A theme, a direction they want answers to go. If the answers can attack the question from wildly different angles (politics, economics, geology, technology) and still answer the question, then it is a bad question and probably, too broad, unclear and opinion based all at the same time.
  • We need to close quickly when things don't meet the standard.
  • $\begingroup$ Even after your points are satisfied, I'm still worried about the negative effects allowing such questions (and answers) will be on the site. I don't want us to turn into an idea-generation factory. But I guess like you said if that's what the community wants to be then I can't really argue. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2017 at 14:42

The problem with what you're talking about is that not everyone is looking to build a world, so much as need elements from world building to get what they want. This can be vague with world building, but with other subjects this becomes fairly common...

I could care less about just about everything in grammar, but I've spent multiple months learning about grammar to construct a language. I don't really care for many thing about computers, but because I play games, program, etc. I have learned more than I actually want to know.

Those types of questions are in line with this type of thinking, or in line with wanting to know how to figure out something that answer that particular question might answer. They appear to you as "build my world for me" because you are thinking in a particular mode of thinking where you think they want you to build their entire world, but the reality is, more than likely, that they either don't care about that part of the world just need something to justify it their own head or to know if anything in their world is going to be too unbelievable... Or they want to see the process to get a particular answer because they can't figure it out from what they can find. Have you ever looked into really trying to figure things out from the ground up for a lot questions? There are simply large gaps in knowledge, either because no one knows something or just no one ever thought to write it down or what is written down or is common knowledge is wrong and misleading or there is contradictory information that seem to have equal weight.

I think those scenarios are more likely than not not, "please do my work for me," but rather I'd bet most of those questions are actually pleas of "help me, I can't figure this out. It seems like it should be simple, but it's not so Ican't figure it out" or "I don't really care about this aspect, but I need enough info about this to cover something and doing all the research would take way too much time"

"Kingdom with helpful bands of mercenaries; avoiding devolving into bandits" question is actually more complex than you make it out to be and if all the answers given can be boiled down to "give them jobs" they're all wrong.

"Lonely astronaut" is the latter situation and can be answered simply, but they don't know and/or don't know where to begin asking which makes them think it is more complex when it's not... And that is "abandoning space hardware isn't all that uncommon, less so now, but especially in the future."

You can build a whole world to set up why that is, but it is not needed, so it's not the question that is the problem, it is you thinking that the question needs a super in depth answer... which it doesn't. Or is super simple... when it really isn't.

  • $\begingroup$ So, I agree that sometimes it's the answers that are the problem. But are you suggesting that sometimes questions ask for answerers to build their worlds for them because they can't be bothered to do it themselves? And that's okay? $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2017 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh No, I'm saying that they're not asking you to "build a world" I'm saying that you're perceiving as such when they're not. They're asking for facts they probably don't know that lead to the world they created already. $\endgroup$
    – Durakken
    Feb 15, 2017 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ The way I see it, asking for any part of the world to be built by answerers should be off-topic. That's what this is about. And I'm sure that there exist many questions that are asking for such things. We can perceive them differently, and I think we should answer them under the assumption that a general solution is being asked for, but I don't think that's the way most people ask/answer questions currently. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2017 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh If I ask, "How does one become king" there are several answers to that broad question, all of them fact based and all of them require the answerer to make assumptions ("world build") to answer. I don't agree with answering with a general solution, but rather answering to the precisest point needed and discussing the influencing factors... For example, the bandit question requires that you talk about sociology, economy, and psychology to be accurate and then from those discussion the questioner can answer for themselves, rather than you "creating the world for them" $\endgroup$
    – Durakken
    Feb 15, 2017 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ Your 'for example' is exactly what I meant by 'general solution'. But people aren't answering with 'sociology, economy, and psychology', they just give an example of what could work and leave it at that. In regard to what the OP actually wants, I think that varies, but it sounds to me like we are in agreement that a lot of the time answers don't give the OP the ability to come up with their own solutions, and that that is a problem. $\endgroup$ Feb 15, 2017 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh While the best answer is one that explains the factors and how the solutions the answers that don't give the questioner the ability to answer for themselves, that is not the questioners fault and I don't see there being any way to fix that, because anyone can answer... Also, I don't think that the questioner is always in the mind set I describe, but enough people are regular that those questions are rare imo. $\endgroup$
    – Durakken
    Feb 15, 2017 at 22:22

While I agree with the point you seem to be trying to put, questions that ask for specific story elements are not really about worldbuilding, the complaint you actually raise is that questions should be specific but answers should be general. I see two problems with this, first that's kind of a mutually exclusive set up and secondly that's more an issue of how the community chooses to answer than it is one of how the question is asked in the first place.


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