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We now have a dedicated "Idea Generation" close vote/flag reason!! What does it mean?

What is the problem with "idea generation" questions?

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  • $\begingroup$ I've answered my own question, partly to help explain the problem to other people, partly to have a Meta post to link to in the future, and partly so that people can add to my list! If you think you can explain all of it, you're welcome to suggest a new answer; if you just want to add a point or two, then please just comment on the answer or, better yet, edit it! $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Nov 11 '14 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ Related: No Story-Telling and Plot Building $\endgroup$ – Robert Cartaino Nov 11 '14 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ An interesting debate stems from this: if "idea generation" questions are undesirable, what other kind of questions are there? I'm comfortable dividing questions into two categories: those that want to generate new ideas, and those that have ideas that need critiquing. However, it is mightily hard to critique an idea in a Q&A format unless it is in the form "is X scientifically valid." This suggests to me that there should be some hazy regions that are not clearly idea generation and not clearly a question. Hopefully we can avoid overzelously closing those. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 20 '14 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon See my new answer for discussion of this. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Nov 25 '14 at 19:47
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When should I close a Question as "Idea Generation"?

We have an "Idea Generation" close reason, but it's important to apply it reasonably. In particular virtually every question on this site is asking for ideas to be generated in some way or another. The key thing that would cause a question to be closed with this reason is that the question is too open ended. In particular the main reason to close as "Idea Generation" is:

  • There are too many possible answers to the question (Idea Generation is a subset of Too Broad)
  • There is no objective way to evaluate one idea as better than others

A common symptom is that answers will tend to list a number of different possibilities rather than expanding on one. This is a consequence of the first problem, as the person posting the response has no way to know which of their ideas are better.

How do I get my "Idea Generation" Question re-opened?

These problems can almost always be solved by making a question less broad. If the question is scoped to the point that a single good answer (or at worst a few good candidates) can be written and identified as the best solution to the question then the question should be open. If it cannot then it should be closed.

In general if a question starts getting a large number of different answers, or if people start posting answers with multiple options, then the question is most likely Too Broad or Idea Generation.

The best tools to solve this problem are:

  • Break down the question into multiple smaller questions (we recommend asking the new questions one at a time so that later questions can build on the earlier ones)
  • Define the starting or ending conditions more closely or narrow down the means to be used
  • Specify an objective way to measure the validity of an idea

For example

  • "How do I wipe out humanity" is Too Broad/Idea Generation.
  • "How do I wipe out humanity with these resources and in this timescale" is Idea Generation.
  • "How do I wipe out as much of humanity as possible using a genetically engineered artificial plague and contemporary technology levels" is On Topic.

The key difference in the final question being that you have an objective measure to rate answers by ("% survivors"), specified resources and technology levels, and a sufficiently narrow scope.

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    $\begingroup$ that's an interesting middle ground. It would be interesting to see how that would interact with the community opinion of Golf. At what point does a question become so specific in its objective measures that it transcends from "On Topic" to "Puzzler?" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 26 '14 at 1:09
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In my opinion, idea generation questions are not a good fit for the Stack Exchange model for several reasons:

  • There are no criteria for picking the best answer -- everyone's ideas are equally valid; the question is too subjective.
  • It's just a kick-starter for a discussion or a debate -- SE is not a forum (1, 2), and does not care to have "good discussions." These sites exist to answer questions, so if you want to start a discussion about a topic with no specific answer in mind, this is not the site for you. Ask answerable questions.
  • The question is not specific enough -- for someone to be able to answer your question properly, ask about a specific problem that you have.
  • There are too many answers -- like I said before, all answers are equally valid; if you don't provide enough basis for the answering, the question is probably too broad. Real questions have answers.

See the help center, this blog post and How to ask a good subjective question? for more information on asking good questions.


The above applies pretty much to all sites on the Stack Exchange network. A few points that are more or less specific to Worldbuilding:

  • Storytelling and plot building are off-topic because this site is not a content generation machine. To steal the examples from Robert's post, "What conditions have to exist in a world to explain giant insects?" is definitely on-topic, while "What would the world be like if it were ruled by giant insects?" is far too broad. The long and short of it is that you can ask a question here to see if something is plausible, but we won't write your book/game/movie for you.

If this answer is not clear to you, feel free to bring it up in chat! I'll try to be available there (ping me by writing @Shokhet), but there will probably be somebody there willing to explain it to you. Enjoy your Worldbuilding!

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  • $\begingroup$ I disagree that "idea generation questions are not a good fit for the Stack Exchange model". I was first introduced to stack exchange (and worldbuilding) through Stack Overflow (the flagship site). Both those posting questions and those browsing for help with similar problems often need a few answers, sometimes with wildly different approaches. As long as the question is clear/has clear requirements it is answerable. Different answers can be equally valid - that's why there are upvotes, you upvote questions that helped you, and the poster picks the answer that they found most helpful. $\endgroup$ – B.Kenobi Apr 4 at 6:12
  • $\begingroup$ If you have a differing point of view, B. Kenobi, compose your own answer here and see how the community votes on it. If your answer can get more upvotes than mine, your POV might even become policy on this site. $\endgroup$ – Shokhet Apr 5 at 19:25

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