Because of Ash's question "How curious is too curious?" and the old "Is Worldbuilding a What-If Site?" discussion I came to think about how I present my questions and if my questions could appear to be mere what-if shower thoughts. Because I think they could appear that way.

I try to keep unnecessary details out of my questions. I want to focus on the very core of the problem and just have a solution for that.

As an example: my Question "Regrowing body parts: What are the costs?" is trying to find a solution to estimate the raw biochemical energy cost of growing a limb. It is specifically designed to not talk about the magic being used in my world as it is irrelevant to the problem. The intent of this question is to solve the problem as abstractly as possible so other people might benefit from the solution, too, if they have a similar problem.
I specifically wanted to have this question be just an energy calculation. That way the solution is applicable to any scenario and not just my world. It could be magic or sci-fi technology.

Now the question is: Is my philosophy of question design any good?
Reading many critques in the What-If debate a lot of people seem to think that there should be details about the world and some argue that math questions are off-topic (that is a minority, though).


4 Answers 4


You should add all necessary detail and the worldbuilding goal you have in mind

You should not add extraneous information that is irrelevant to the question.
You should provide all the information that is necessary to answer your question.

Your example provides the goal: calculate the energy requirements of super-hero-like body regrowth. It's not important whether that is due to magic or science or a mix of both. The goal is clear. If your magic would alter the energy requirement for some reason it would be important to include. After all people answering the question would need to know this fact. And in fact you already mention how it affects the energy requirement:

Assuming all necessary atoms can be brought to the place they are needed to form an arm one way or the other there is still the energy cost of biochemically forming all the molecules.

That's already enough explanation of your magic. We shouldn't care about placing stuff somewhere when answering your question. That's magic and this is how it works.

Your example perfectly mentions all the necessary details and leaves out all the unnecessary details. We don't care whether your magic is divine or arcane, whether it glows in a red or blue color, whether your superhero gains it from radioactivity, is born with godly powers or trains really, really hard to gain it - we care only about the effect of your magic on the parts that your question is about, which is how it affects the energy requirements of regrowing a body part.

A question is not perfect when you can't add anything. It's perfect when you can't remove anything.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, you are biased. :P You proof-read my question in the sandbox. :D But your answer really helps. I was quite unsure after reading so much in these debates whether my worldbuilding background is detailed enough to qualify my questions as not being part of the perceived "What-If" problem. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ @ArtificialSoul I proof-read everything on Main and Meta :D $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ Hey, a glow needs energy and a red glow more than a blue glow. That's important information. $\endgroup$
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ You should not add extraneous information that is irrelevant to the question When I just arrived here, I remember editing out a 3 paragraph non-essential introduction to be rebuked by a disapproved edit. After that, I gave up. $\endgroup$
    – user3106
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 13:58

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@Secespitus wrote a solid answer. Just want to add some additional stuff.

Should questions be as specific or as abstract as possible?

Yes, or rather, either. Your question is your own.

If you have a general question on the energy cost of molecular regeneration fine.

If you have a question on the impact a radioactive meteorite falling from the sky has on a cat from a small village two miles away in a small valley bordered on one side by a stream that flows past the meteorite...fine.

I keep thinking about a house cat turning into battle-cat now. By the power of Greyskull and all that...ahem...moving on.

The point is: Ask the question you would like answered.

Don't get me wrong the more helpful the question is for future users the better...but then we don't know what future users will need. Maybe, in a far off time...maybe 2023, someone will be wondering about radioactive superhero housecats...it could happen.

To re-iterate some key points. Here is an excerpt from the help page...the title links to the full page.

General guidelines for all questions:

  • Must be specific and answerable: What problem are you trying to solve? Must include context: What are you trying to accomplish? Context gives people writing answers an idea of what your end state will look like and why you want to get there.
  • Must include restrictions/requirements: What will make one answer better than another? If any answer is equally effective your question is not properly constrained. How can this be executed? What tech, timeline, magic or other criteria apply to the situation.
  • Should include research: What ideas have you considered, or what information have you already looked at or failed to find?

The intent of this question is to solve the problem as abstractly as possible so other people might benefit from the solution, too, if they have a similar problem.

If you make it too abstract, the number of possible solutions can become very big. It's very likely that nobody really will benefit from very general solutions. If the question gets too broad it may even get closed.

The more specific you make the question (without adding details that are irrelevant for the problem), the higher the chances that you get an answer that solves your specific problem.

If you want to additionally increase the benefit to all by posing a somewhat more abstract question, you can do that. However, please note that the question may become too broad and that the solutions may not become as accurate to your problem as if you would have posed a more specific question. As long as it doesn't get closed, it's up to you really.

I guess you want to get answers that show a high degree of creativity. Both, presenting the problem in a too abstract way as well as specifying too many constraints (details) probably hurt creativity. Some middle ground is probably best. Questions that leave enough room to solve them in more than one way but also offer enough details that make the question interesting are the ones I like most.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, you're right. I should have mentioned that my questions are exclusively hard-science or science-based. I have not asked an open-ended question yet. (Except for my first, that got closed.) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:03

My initial perception of this site was that only 'math' questions were to be on topic.

If your question cannot be broken down into a mathematical formula and answered empirically, you're asking (on the wrong freaking entire network) for idea generation. Fun, yes. But useless for posterity, unless you're just looking for someone's random idea to reboot it.

  • $\begingroup$ What I don't like is how LaTex users usually answer them. IMO show your work should all be a footnote. I want the formula at the top and the answer key below it, and then you can spend 3 pages playing with LaTex. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ Well, there are valid questions on here that can not be answered by math answers, but get valid reasoning. E.g. Evolution answers. If you ask if it is theoretically possible for an animal to evolve bulletproof and detachable armor then there can be (and have been) valid answers. None of them included any calculations, only some included some numbers. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ Heck, if you look at articles in scientific journals, far from all of them include math. Some questions lend themselves to mathy answers, and others don't. (Here, here and here are non-mathy answers of mine; here is one with some math; here and here are math-heavy-ish ones.) $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ As for your "I want the formula at the top and the answer key below it, and then you can spend 3 pages playing with LaTex.", that's what a "too long; didn't read" section or an executive summary is for. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 17:35

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