There are many examples of questions that are perfectly valid and on-topic (in my opinion), but show very little research effort. I feel like some users are posting whatever comes to their mind on this site at high frequency.

In "Would a post-human alien civilization have entertainment?" it is being asked whether "an alien civilization that is billions of years more advanced than us" would still have entertainment. (in my opinion clearly POB, hence casting my VTC)

Some questions are also not quite thought-out. In the example of "Could a humanoid alien have a tail?" OP is asking for a justification to have a humanoid alien grow a tail, but presupposes them to have several other not less significant alterations (four arms, raptor legs, elongated xenomorph-skull).

The user I referenced asked 22 questions, with one popular question (49 votes) and the rest ranging from +4 to -5. If we exclude the one popular one the other 21 have a total score of -12 (+11/-23). Of the 22 questions 10 are closed and one I just casted a VTC on.
While most of the closed questions are older, 2 of the last 5 are closed, one currently being voted on, too. So it does not appear that this specific user learned from prior closing of questions.

The close reasons are mostly POB and too broad. One being off-topic and one duplicate. From the comments of these questions the downvotes are mostly stemming from lack of research effort.

While that is not a bad thing itself:
They asked 22 questions, mostly did not edit their questions upon being hinted that there is something structurally or otherwise wrong with them (one exception being this), did not participate any other way than post their questions, neither on Main nor on Meta - at least I could not find anything.

Personally, I get the feeling with some users that Worldbuilding.SE is their replacement for research effort. After all, it is simpler to write a 1-2 paragraph question than to do research yourself.

What is the right way to deal with behaviour like this?
The problem is currently being dealt with downvotes and the closing of question. Can we encourage users like this to do some research before posting their questions? Are there other, possibly better ways of dealing with this?
(After all, the referenced user seems to exhibit no change in behaviour regarding the improving of questions. So success appears to be very limited.)

I am not bashing the user I referenced. I just stumbled across one of their questions and knew they fit the pattern I wanted to describe. There are other users that fit this, too. It was just easier to pick examples going through this users' questions. I just used them as an example as they are a strong exhibitor of this behavioural pattern.

  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 even if we are to drop it as a requirement, shouldn't we still encourage it? As it leads to better questions, in my opinion at least. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ I believe the only way to get there is to be consistent. Very often, poorly researched questions go hot in the network (I believe because they are easy enough to answer so that many people can contribute, but that is speculation), while others, perhaps because they are more technical or subjectively boring to many, get punished, downvoted and often closed at the end. If the popular questions on WB show no research at all, you cannot expect that from anybody. Perhaps it is time to drop the research suggestion because it's just inconsistent $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ Please note I delete/recommented because I wanted to exchange the word requirement for suggestion. I always encourage it and it is fruitful more often than not, but I'm against double standards. If the community tolerates some questions that are solved with one google search but popular for some reason and doesn't tolerate others that are not popular for some reason, the best way imo is to tolerate all of them. Now what is that better question you want? Sensationalism or a real problem and not just some brain storming exercise? I think the community mostly thinks #1 which is ok $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 what about... endorsing them to Sandbox? $\endgroup$
    – Mr.J
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 3:25

5 Answers 5


Don't judge the question by the user

It is best to judge each question on its individual merits. Even good users ask bad questions. Even our highest rep user has a closed question.

So, if the question is bad, vote to close for one of the approved reasons. If you personally don't like the question, or think the user has not put much effort forth, it is your prerogative to downvote.

In my opinion, this site is biased a bit towards closing questions, so I don't think there is a problem with lack of downvotes and close votes for poorly researched questions. But it is good and responsible of us close voters to explain why we did so, and to encourage question-askers to do the appropriate amount of research before asking.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, of course. Everyone has closed questions. My very first question was closed (rightfully so), but I accepted why it was closed, talked to people, used the Sandbox and made my effort to improve future questions. The issue is not that questions are being closed the problem is that there seems to be no intention of improving. This user does not engage in debate with the countless people in the comments giving constructive criticism or asking for clarification. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 15:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @ArtificialSoul You can't force a user to improve. Some don't want to. Just judge the questions on their merit, close the bad ones, and offer feedback in good faith. Everything else will work itself out; at least it has for the 2+ years I've been here. Good question askers stay and ask more, people who want to participate learn how to do so within the site culture, trolls get bored at not being fed and move on. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 15:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @kingledion, you can't force a user to improve, but consistent low quality contributions have also consequences. Flagging, downvoting and VTCing are part of the process. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Commented Aug 21, 2018 at 16:21

From the updated help 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?

So I post this to point out that we already ask users to point out what they have considered, what they have looked at so far. This is fairly new in writing, and needs some additional publicity.

Do notice that that bullet says, should while the rest say must

So not providing that information is, to me, a down-vote, particularly when the user should know better.

Some users have questions regarding topics about which they are completely ignorant. I try not to punish ignorance if they are trying to learn...kinda the point after all. If the question is sound, albeit potentially misguided, I don't downvote, sometimes the answer "that's really not how x works" are hugely beneficial.


I'd give my left eye for users to put more research into their questions, but short of hacking their IP addresses to discover where they live and sending over someone inevitably named "Guido" with a suspicious-looking violin case to "convince" them research is in their best interests... we're stuck with the reality that people will visit and use this site as they wish. Our option is to downvote with well-directed comments and hope they catch on.

There's an old adage that, itself, wasn't well thought-out: "You can choose your neighbors, but not your family."

Well... yes... you can choose your neighbors... so long as you're willing to leave the neighborhood should someone move in next door you don't like. And pray hard that when you move in the folks next door like you and don't choose to leave because of you.

My point? If we enjoy the site, then we need to grin and bear the bad with the good. In the end, if the world is a little bit better place than when we found it, the effort was well worth it (IMHO).


I would not suggest any formal means of "encouraging" them. If anything, lead by example: "I found the answer to this question by googling the following terms; the answer was in the third link reported by Google. here is what it says..."

Teach as you answer. Other than that, I'd leave them alone, I consider SE a research site in and of itself, I would not want to discourage anybody from asking a question because they aren't sure how to meet the requirement of having "researched" it. Many of the questions are just not that researchable, some of the 'evolution' questions would require years of experience studying evolution and genetics, some of the math or AI or engineering questions likewise.

I have that kind of academic and work experience and enjoy thinking about off-the-wall questions, so I will answer them, even if they are on the dumb side: We all started on the dumb side!

If you don't like the questions, don't answer them. Don't read the answers. Wait for something that does interest you. Leave it to the moderators to police the questions, or readers willing to flag them or VTC. I don't mind flagging them or voting to close if I think a poster is abusing the system with BS questions they don't really want answered, or as I have seen, posters basically aiming to start a discussion for their own entertainment by asking controversial and weird questions. But we have existing mechanisms for all that; use the system as it is. I wouldn't change the system just because you aren't interested in 80% of the questions asked. (or whatever %).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is really good advice, and an excellent way to make the point without bashing users over the head with rules...which let's be honest, particularly for new people, is how this can often feel. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 20:56

Use incentives and/or positive reinforcement.

I don't mean to speak for everyone, but I think a lot of us do not incentivize well-researched questions enough. Certainly, I am guilty of casting up votes too sparingly. I will often realize that I tend to only up vote when I say to myself: "Whoa! this question blows my mind!" At that point, the question usually has 30+ votes already. I fear there are many unsung hero questions that were researched extensively.

I am reminded that there is theoretically another dimension to up-voting. When one hovers over the up-vote icon, what we see is:

This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear.

So, sometimes I try to be mindful of whether the asker put in some time familiarizing him/herself with the material. This can only be expected to a reasonable degree, like others have mentioned, it's unrealistic to expect everyone to be experts in all of the myriad fields the questions pertain to. Especially ,, among others. That being said, it's still somewhat straight-forward to tell if the asker has done their homework. The other caveat of what constitutes research effort is subjective, but I think common sense goes a long way. I usually look for:

  • relevant diagrams, graphs, visual elements that help us understand the core question
  • examples, real life experiments, research papers or even thought experiments; something to show the asker has already thought it through a little
  • in-text references and hyperlinks to relevant topics to show the asker at least has an awareness of existing literature related to the question
  • bullet points! clear, ordered lists of specific aspects of the question to help answerers zero in and prevent the question from being too broad

We don't want to go overboard with the above, or else we will lose the "clear" dimension; the question will not be concise and might just confuse everyone. However, as Raditz_35 points out, there are many questions that are very short, having little to no research effort and yet manage to go "viral" on the network. I thought about this point, and it might not be all a bad thing; many great questions were very short with minimal development. As long as it's not a slippery slope to crude sensationalism where we are just asking the craziest things and coining the most click-bait-sounding titles, we should be ok.

So to sum up, up-voting based on research-effort would be a decent way to incentivize researched questions. When viewed through a pure incentives framework, askers would likely see that having a well-received question doesn't need a research component. So I'm speculating that, perhaps, if we upvoted questions that do not necessarily have a premise or topic we are fascinated with, but has still been researched well, that could merit an up-vote nonetheless.

I'd be curious to know what others think too.


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