I recently came across Why would an army train living soldiers when manufacturing robots is easier. That question struck me as terribly broadly written, and the massively disparate answers demonstrate how broad it is. My first instinct was to suggest that the OP narrow it down, but looking at the comments, there were also people who felt it was too story based because it had a very strong "I need X in my world for my story. How can I have X?" feel to it. That kind of put the question between a rock and a hard place and I wasn't certain what we could do to help the OP rescue it.

I'm wondering if such questions could be rescued by using the story-based parts as a rubric for grading answers. While we don't want story based questions, is it reasonable to use them as a guide. After all, every one of these questions is presumably going into a story eventually. It seems reasonable for the OP to give guidance as to what they are looking for.

This strikes me as similar in nature to the Meta question What's the preferred reaction to “bonus points for…” addendums?, given that many of the answers recommended stripping out the phrase "bonus points," which makes the resulting questions similar to the ones I'm asking about.


2 Answers 2


Dealing with question of this kind it is more a matter of using the parameters in the question to determine the shape and form answers that are appropriate. In this Meta post this is referred to as "too story-based".

As I commented on the question itself the proposition "I need my world to be like X because of my story. How do I achieve X?" can be parsed or rephrased as "I need my world to be like X. How do I achieve X?" Now the later proposition is precisely the kind of question Worldbuilding SE welcomes. In which case, it is basically how to achieve a given effect or worldbuilding element.

What is needed to rescue questions of this sort from producing a plethora of divergent answers is the addition of extra parameters that can be used for guidance of more focused answers.

It should be noted that the question does ask for "logical reasons why humans would be trained in this army instead of robots?" This suggests that comments could have been used to remind the posters of answers that their answers should have provided logical reasons.

Sometimes it should be remembered not all answers can be answered isomorphically. That is to say, one question will only have one answer. While that may be true in the class room, it is rarely so in the real world.

Because worldbuilding questions will inevitably contain a degree of speculation which means any answers will take more than a smidgen of latitude when it comes describing any imagined "reality". Some WB questions might be answered with a single explanation, while others will be more divergent and more explanations will be appropriate. Sometimes we simply need to recognize what type of questions with produce what types of answers. Life isn't solely lived in the class room.

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    $\begingroup$ If there are ambiguous statements in a question, especially in the core of the question, the question should be edited to resolve or clarify out any ambiguities. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I quite agree ambiguity should be edited. However, the problem isn't ambiguity. I am pointing out there is a class of questions where it isn't possible to have a single or possibly even a unified class of answers. Most especially questions that lie at the limits of knowledge. There are limits to the expertise on WB SE too. Some questions can't be answered, because no-one here knows how to answer them. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ My problem with the idea of a good question that nobody can answer is that there are always people who will take a crack at it, producing low-quality or low relevancy answers to the question. Prohibiting answers of low quality or relevancy is why questions are closed, isn't it? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I didn't say nobody could answer them. Merely that there could be questions with a range of possible answers. of course, questions can attract bad answers. There is no reason to close a question because of its answers. Usually questions are closed because VTCers believe they fall into a vote to category (either rightly or wrongly). Nobody seems to test whether the answers justify closure of a question. Actually when reviewing questions I do look at answers to see if the VT category selected stands up. But that's me. Even bad questions can have good answers. Not so simple. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ Reviewing the answers already provided to a question is good advice. I could wish recommendations about "what we're trying to avoid" with answers were included in the VTC reason descriptions. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jan 20, 2018 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I absolutely agree! My impression is that too often the criteria for VTC reasons are misunderstood or misapplied or based on an ad hoc interpretation. "Opinion-based" seems to be in my opinion this question is opinion-based & should be closed. While "too broad" is broadly I think this is too broad. Being reminded about the VTC criteria could improve reviewing. In a perfect world, VTCers should give their reasons why a given question falls under the criteria of whichever VTC reason they think should be applied. Alas, not our world. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 5:18

This question appears to ask "how to we help OPs ask better questions?" That's simpler when we understand what the VTC reasons mean and why they exist.

As Monica Ciello once pointed out, the nature of Worldbuilding.SE is to fish for answers. Creative people are often looking to forward a story and are experienced writer's block in one way or another. It's not uncommon to have story background to help ask the question, but the question itself must still avoid our common VTC reasons. Unlike non-fiction questions, fiction questions can be asked in an infinite number of ways. The VTC reasons are an effort to control this potentially runaway process.

It is worth noting that we have limitations because we want the site to be valuable to more people than just the OP. Others should be capable of benefiting from the effort to ask and answer the question.

As I currently understand them...

Primarily Opinion-Based (VTC:POB)

  • Questions are often specific, but lack direction.
  • Question usually becomes on-topic by adding background or definitions.
  • Answers are usually 1-4 paragraphs, but they are frequently disparate (all over the map).
  • No one answer can be any better than another.
  • Reason we care is that questions without an obviously relevant answer are less to others.

Off-topic example: "How can my armored soldier survive a javelin attack?"

On-topic example: "How can my armored soldier survive a javelin attack such that he can walk off the battlefield even if the armor is damaged?"

Too Broad (VTC:TB)

  • Question may be ambiguous, reflecting a lack of research on the OP's part.
  • Question may be ambiguous, reflecting a lack of understanding about the question.
  • Question may be ambiguous, reflecting a desire for far more information than the site is prepared to provide.
  • Question may ask too many questions.
  • Question is made on-topic by reframing it as a single, unambiguous question.
  • Answers often require a "book" sized response.
  • Answers often require only seconds on Google to obtain scoping information.
  • Reason we care is that future readers are unlikely to find value in very long answers.

Off-topic example: "What kind of spaceship can fly near a black hole?"

On-topic example: "Does science know of, or theorize, a meterial that could be used to build the structure of a spaceship that could fly near a black hole?"

Too Story Based (VTC:TSB)

  • Question does not ask about the rules of a fictional world that could be used to write many stories.
  • Question does ask about a plot device, behavior, action, or event that is meant to advance a specific story and is often independent of the rules of the fictional world.
  • Question is usually made on-topic by rephrasing to remove story elements.
  • Answers are often "this is what would happen next..."
  • Answers are frequently disparate (all over the map, by their nature TSB questions are POB questions).
  • Reason we care is that story-specific questions often interpreted as usless to other people.

Off-topic example: "How should my thief, John, rob his medieval feudal lord of his best ring?"

On-topic example: "How could an affluent medieval person protect small valuables from theft?"

  • $\begingroup$ Is TSB already a close reason? If not I don't see its purpose other than awareness for the OP of why it was. P.S. I hate questions like your last example. Users should take that to History.SE and ask how did. Not here asking coulda shoulda woulda. 'cause usually it's, "Well, how's it different than Earth?" - "Same, except magic." - "Well then: magic." $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ ELU has had this same fight against mediocrity problem. Except there, there's some pretty dedicated closers. Are there at least five people here who come every day and use all of their close votes? - The cat isn't away; they're all freaking extinct. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 2:28

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