Not to be confused with: Why are questions with multiple answers off-topic?

We've all seen questions that have been flagged as off topic, too broad, etc. or have been voted with negatives numbers. And yet as supposedly poor as those questions are, often they still get lots of members giving answers.

That makes me wonder, are the questions really "bad", or fall into some rule breaking category, or is it that the person(s) voting against it just doesn't like that question?

To be clear, in some cases it is quite obvious why the question is flagged a certain way, and/or why the question is poor. I'm not doubting that this happens. I have written a few myself, and I thank anyone who has shown me A) why the question was poor, and B) how it could be improved.

But then there are the other cases where a question was so well understood by several people that multiple answers were given, but still some others persons decided to flag or down-vote. So which one is correct? Is it answerable or is it a poor question? I don't feel like this is a matter of opinion either. If its answerable then it cant be that poor.

Correct me if you think I'm wrong but in my opinion if a question gets multiple answers then the question couldn't have been that hard to understand. If say 5 people thought the question answerable doesn't that out-vote the 1 person that down-voted because "I don't know what you mean by that". Does a question deserve to be down-voted because someone didn't "get it" while five other people did?

To avoid embarrassing anyone, or any "he said, she said", I'll only use my own questions as examples (though there are many cases of this from many other members). Clearly a question like: Can death create a loophole for two exact duplicate people existing in the same universe? deserved its "closed as unclear what you're asking"; because A) it was unclear what I was asking, and B) there were assumptions made on my part that weren't the shared norm.

But in the case of: How to transform matter from an immaterial state to another more solid state there are four (as of this writing- 3/16/18 4:10pm) who understood the question well enough to give me some fairly solid answers, yet it's currently got 2 down votes.

Again, I'm only using my own questions as examples, but I have seen a lot of this going on with others questions too. Too me, it just seems like something's off. If the question has answers, and doesn't outright break a rule, then it shouldn't be down-voteable or considered "too unclear".


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ We already had a discussion. I downvoted your question for the reasons I stated in my now deleted comment (no longer needed, you did not edit anyhow) and because it was recommended to me here worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5914/… . It is not a perfect fit, but imo there was a clear lack of research and a sci fi content creator must have encountered several concepts introduced in answers before. As said in the deleted comment, you did also not define your premise well. It's not meant to dislike you but to encourage improvement $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Mar 18, 2018 at 3:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35. We did already discuss it, and I appreciate what you had to say. This is just me using some of my questions as an example of a site wide concern I've had for a while. I thank you for your attention. $\endgroup$
    – Len
    Mar 19, 2018 at 13:59

4 Answers 4


Downvotes and flags/close-votes operate on different axis

A downvote indicates that a question is not helpful, doesn't show research effort or that you simply don't like the question. Yes, that is a valid reason to downvote. Look at the tag for example - many people on the site don't like this sort of question and express their stance by downvoting these questions.

A flag or close-vote on the other hand means that the question shouldn't be answered on the site because it doesn't fit the guidelines and ideals of the site and the StackExchange network in its current form.

The amount of answers is also not a good indicator of on-topicness. For example the "opinion-based" close reason specifically says that basically every possible answer is exactly equally valid and that there are no criteria to differentiate lots of different answers. This means that it's very easy to provide a valid answer, which in turns mean that many people will probably answer it. This problem gets amplified if such a question hits the Hot Network Questions and draws people from other sites that can also answer the question. that's why quite often you will see debates about even highly voted Hot Network Questions with lots of answers - because lots of answers can be an indicator of a question being "opinion-based". As the goal of StackExchange is to have clear answers to clear questions where the community can vote on which answers are the best answer this goes against the very idea of the network. Lots of upvotes, lots of answers, lots of comments - and still the flags may be valid.

Your second question for example has votes for "opinion-based", not for "unclear what you are asking". There are different close reasons and it's important to look at what they mean and how they apply to the question at hand. That the answerers understand your question doesn't mean it's on-topic. It seems to be clear what you are asking as the close-voters didn't vote as "unclear what you are asking", but they are concerned that there are not enough objectively ratable criteria in your question to allow the community to vote which answers are "okay" and which are "good". For example you mention that "plausible sounding handwavium" is okay - but that means every pseudo-science description that uses some technobabble is a valid answers, which allows lots of answers that are all equally valid. Which technobabble is better after all? That's what sphennings means with his comment - allowing handwavium as an answer is the same as allowing magic. It's just a different name and it allows for endless possibilities of answers, which is "primarily opinion-based" and only allows you to rate answers on your personal feeling of what's "plausible sounding".


There's a difference between those who are simply having fun answering questions, and those who are maturing as participants on this (or any SE) site.

The former don't care what the rules are, they're simply having fun answering questions that tickle their fancy (Disclaimer: I have given in to this temptation).

The later realize that the rules are what separate this site from from sites like Quora.com, which basically permit any old question to be asked and answered and therefore have no focus and poor quality.

We want this site to be about worldbuilding and to adhere to the rules and usage model set forth by the SE team: one clear question leading to one best answer. Doing so retains our focus and improves the overall quality of both questions and answers.

Not to do so turns the site into a wild-west popularity contest. Fortunately, it isn't, which is why you can have multiple answers that are more popular than the accepted answer. Honestly, this isn't a democracy.



We've all seen questions that have been flagged as off topic, too broad, etc. or have been voted with negatives numbers. And yet as supposedly poor as those questions are, often they still get lots of members giving answers.

The very definition of Too Broad is that there are too many answers. Arguing that the presence of many answers indicates that a question is not Too Broad is missing the point. A high number of answers suggests that the question is Too Broad. That's why we want more (narrow) questions, so that those answers can be distributed over more questions.

Correct me if you think I'm wrong but in my opinion if a question gets multiple answers then the question couldn't have been that hard to understand.

If multiple people understand the question differently, then they don't find the existing answers to answer the question that they read. This produces multiple answers, each essentially answering a different question.

Downvotes are for questions that lack research effort, are unclear, or are not useful. The first two lead to more answers. If even a small amount of research effort can answer the question, then it is easy for people to answer. Similarly, if there are many ways to read the question, then there are many ways to answer the question.


Looking at your examples, the first half of this answer is off-topic. It answers your first sentence. Now, it's a perfectly good answer to the Physics question in your first sentence. But that doesn't make it on-topic. And your question, with its first sentence, encourages such answers. In fact, the way that you state it, that's the the real question and the rest of the question is just stating it at greater length.

You might consider moving your first paragraph towards the end and reframing it. That way you would be explaining the problem first. Then you'd be offering one possible solution. As is, I think that you are proposing a solution (albeit in the form of a question) to a problem that you have not defined yet. While I'm not one of the downvoters, this feels wrong. It reads more like you are asking a generic Physics question and then asking a Worldbuilding question.


I think there are a wide range of dynamics at play here, any one or more than one of which could be a cause for what we see.

  • One dynamic, as I see it, is the "letter of the law" Question Police (folks who look out for any smallest infraction of SE rules and customs and act on that) vs the "spirit of the law" Question Rebels (folks who either don't care that much about restrictive rules or figure, it's a worldbuilding forum, I'm going to ask anyway!) In my limited experience here, I've seen very many perfectly valid, perfectly useful, perfectly interesting worldbuilding questions get called out for some more or less inscrutable infraction of SE custom. These are questions that would not even cause an askew glance in any other general worldbuilding forum.

  • Another dynamic, again as I see it, is the very nature of Stack Exchange itself vs the nature of geopoesy as an art and the natures of folks who participate in that art. I think SE is extremely useful in areas of science and maths and history other "highly fact-based" endeavours. Asking a question about how quasars work is pretty much answered by "we think they do this and this, but not that or that". When you get into artistic or philosophical or ethical areas, the bogeyman of "opinion based question" arises more and more frequently. When I look at very many question types asked here, that get voted down or marked for deletion, I just want to answer, "well, duh! Of course it's opinion based! It's worldbuilding, after all, and thus largely a fantastic, fiction based & creative endeavour! Very little of what we do is actually nòt opinion based in some way or other.

  • A third dynamic, perhaps less than the others, is simply the human factor. In any forum, there are people who will downvote just because. There are people who downvote because they don't like the poster's opinion, perspective or level of practice. Some may find a particular kind of question objectionable; others may find a particular person objectionable. Also, new users (understandably ignorant of community rules and customs) as well as "old trolls" (willfully ignorant of community rules and customs) end up being targets of justified (as well as unjustified) community notice & ire.

In my opinion, I think point 2 might be the closest to the mark. Having seen a large number of these kinds of questions here, it's my contention that as interesting and useful as the SE system is, it's really not the best format for our art. We really thrive in a system that offers greater latitude for kinds of questions asked and also depth of discussion a question allows. SE is basically ask -- answer -- move on.

I am of course not suggesting the forum be abandoned. But I do think we need to approach the issue of downvoting and votes for closure with a little more charity and common sense. Some questions that seem to be pushing the envelope a bit, or that have stepped just a wee bit over the line, maybe just let them pass? Save the harsh reactions and calls for deletion for obvious spam, obvious trolling, obvious off-topic stuff. Also, I think we could do with a little more latitude and understanding when it comes to what is on-topic vs what is off-topic.

  • $\begingroup$ I think it is common sense to close most of the questions that get closed. There are other places where one can wonder about the secrets of the universe and discuss nothingness with others. Se is meant as a q&A and that works with precise q resulting in precise a. Specifically here, a focus is required: one should not have to explain basic physics first, that's wasted time. Not saying no physics but well-known stuff. If you don't get it, ask at physics not here. Why would you make this place like any other on the web, it's great because of the focus. Many q do get answered, even creatively $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Mar 18, 2018 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ Understood about the SE system --- that is why I said it is not the best designed system for worldbuilding. Yet here we be. I'm simply more willing to grant benefit of the doubt when questions stray a bit from the usual SE focus orientation. Not all questions stray so far, but those that do or must, I'll just let those be. I do agree about asking appropriate questions on appropriate forums, which is why I've often suggested to questioners that they ask, e.g., basic science questions on science forums! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 18, 2018 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ Just look at the frequently used tags. Science-based/reality-check overwhelmingly outnumber all others. Perhaps the best use of this site is to work within the limitations to make the most use out of it. I would certainly not come here asking questions about a story that I'm writing about, where it takes place in a world that is in the pit of a giant frog's stomach. Even though it may make a great story, plausibility is minimal. But it's imaginative. However, this is a great site to check to see if a 'world' is well thought out. $\endgroup$
    – K Johnson
    Mar 28, 2018 at 6:03

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