EDIT: I've added a 4th point that I want help with

I have recently noticed a lot of questions that seem like quite chaotic approaches to world building. In my humble opinion, if your approach is extremely unstructured and you ask a question that cannot be answered at this point because the world you are constructing does not yet have the foundation for an answer to make sense, it is not a good fit.

Some worlds have a low maturity, but the questions ask about things that should really be answered later in the WB process.

A quick word about world maturity: For me, it means both the world as well as the knowledge of the OP itself. If they want to build a world set in Ancient Greece and they have yet to do any research on that period, I think you can say that the maturity is very low no matter how detailed the world is - if the question encompasses aspects that can and should be researched.

Since I'm calling people's worlds chaotic, I don't want to link specific topics, but I'm going to make up one example based on a real question asked recently. If you know the question, please keep it to yourself, benefit of the doubt.

It's the year 4000. Humanity has settled on Mars. How do I distribute electricity amongst the citizens?

The issues here are that obviously the implications of the year 4000 are ignored. Human society, values and most likely biology (imo) will have changed by then. If they haven't, there needs to be some explaining. Also, the motivation for settling Mars is not trivial, I think it matters. You can come up with more things that seem to be unclear at this point and need to be answered first.

I hope this is enough of an example, please let me know if it is still unclear.

This issue comes in various shapes or forms. I've seen questions about concepts the OP was unfamiliar with, the usage of historic time periods and settings the OP does not seem to know much about or has not put much thought into it and many things like that.

Many questions do get answered, but I rarely see a direct answer. In the best case, it's suggestions on how to build the world before asking this question, it may be an explanation as to why the concept makes little sense (currently), it could be a brief explanation of what the words the OP is using actually mean and in the worst case it's an answer filled with assumptions and guesses about the world that are impossible to make at this point. I don't think shutting down the OP with answers explaining them how they cannot do whatever is helpful and encouraging. I also don't see why such explanations need to be given via answers. There have been quite a few popular "this is not how things work" answers.

I think it all comes down to:

If the world is not mature enough for the question to be answered directly, what should be the prodecure?

My approach so far has been asking the user to give more details about the world. This can be successful, we all are sometimes unstructured when asking a question and the world might be in good shape, but recently it hasn't been. It has been frustrating when I see interesting questions in principal get boring answers explaining the basic concepts and encouragement by the community for the OP to leave the question as is instead of dealing with comments asking for clarification.

Something that I've tried is explaining to the OP via comment that their world does not seem to be ready yet. The standard response I have gotten often is: That's why I'm asking. If I knew everything, there would be no need to ask. I think that if they had a structured approach, they might not even need to ask the question. I don't tell them that anymore because it might be interpreted as insulting - and it has been.

So my questions are:

  1. Should you answer such a question? I personally think you shouldn't and instead ask for clarification via comment, but that does not seem to be the opinion of everyone. There will always be grey areas, but often the answer explains that the problem is quite complex and that's it.

  2. How do you communicate to the OP that they should do some world building before asking this question effectively?

  3. What about close/down votes? Are such questions "too broad" or "unclear" in principal? Does a down vote apply if not the question but the world is of low quality?

  4. This seems to be a broad topic that might not be answered or even easily discussed in one answer. I really do appreciate the answers given, but perhaps I need to start with something a bit more answerable. Any suggestions (perhaps via comments) on how to divide the topic into handable chunks without losing the sight on the whole issue are welcome.

This has been written in somewhat of a hurry. Please point out any issues with this question. I myself might be chaotic ironically.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ My gut feeling (and my first general reaction to seeing them) is that if a question cannot reasonably be answered in its current form, it's a likely candidate for being put on hold. However, I definitely recognize that there are lots of nuances to this. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 12:46
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Note that downvotes are explicitly used to indicate that the "question does not show any research effort." If the OP has provided no reasonable evidence of having conducted research prior to asking the question, feel free to downvote. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ Your example isn't necessarily the best choice. Because it has one straightforward answer. Oxygen on Mars will be distributed equitably -- otherwise you will have a revolution on your hands. That takes nothing but commonsense to work out. The rest of the mechanics of the world -- social, political & technological -- about colonized Mars in the year 4000 can effectively be ignored. I'm pointing this out because your example isn't unclear or displaying immature worldbuilding. But I know what sort of questions you're talking about. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android you are right. I thought about it differently but I would have to ask it in more detail to get it across. If there is no planning and so on and no medical usage and so on, equal is the way to go. I've changed it to electricity $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 7:27

4 Answers 4


Questions like this are posted all the time. I'm constantly downvoting or voting POB, unclear, or too broad because of them. It's an open venue, so there isn't a way to stop the questions from being posted. Worse, there doesn't seem to be a way to convince theoretically mature users to not answer questions that aren't ready.

But that's likely the gist of the problem. What to you or I is a half-baked question is to another a full meal ready to eat (or, worse, there seems to be those who are either farming rep or simply don't care about law and order).

Therefore, I follow the advice of the late Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson when he recommended that we vote early and vote often because it's difficult to help new users learn good habits when they're rewarded quickly and frequently for bad habits.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Very much this. Don't be shy to Vote to Close right away. No need to wait for OPs answer to your comment. Vote can be retracted. Question on hold can be reopened.Downvote can be switched to upvote after edit. And so on. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. I've seen this work, but I mostly see it work for the worst of the worst. I would argue that more than half of the questions on this site are the result of the OP having an unstructured approach to WB. My topic seems to be more general than I thought, but while I don't want to say that this is better or worse, the community collectively doesn't seem to be consistent with it. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 11:04

I've been doing this for a long time. Geopoesy, that is. Building worlds and describing them. Well, one world, really. All in all, more than forty years. And the one world I focus on has been in the works for about thirty-five of those.

And I'm actually very glad you asked this query, Raditz_35! (I was just going to ask a very similar query myself, and you beat me to the punch!) Because, while JBH (and I'm not picking on you!) is finding so many queries to downvote or close, I'm finding ever more frequently that I am far more likely to struggle against the VsTC and am become much more lenient & indulgent towards reopening closed queries. Especially when they are clearly on topic for this forum! And unless they're just completely off the forum topic or are literally "please write my story" or "please build my world for me" queries.

The imbalance I see here, and the worm at the root of this query, is really one of experience. Maturity as you put it. There is a rather broad and multidimensional spectrum of participants here at WB.SE. For example, if a number of querents here seem to be engaging in chaotic or unstructured worldbuilding, that's a sign I tend to equate with those who haven't been at this very long. I've seen this behaviour everywhere else, too. Others have been at it longer and are perhaps beginning a new project. They don't seem as chaotic because they're more experienced and can form their ideas into more coherent questions. At the other end of the spectrum are those who are well versed in a wide variety of worldbuilding matters, are mature geopoets: the questions they ask tend to be very tight. At another part of the spectrum entirely are those of us who are so mature & so secure that we just don't ask questions. The answers are just already there if we but look, if you take my meaning.

If I wished to consider, say, the region of ancient Baluchistan as a basis for some culture and historical period of my own otherworld, I can honestly say I would ask here. Not that I don't like WB.SE, but, quite simply I don't have the need any longer to ask procedural questions. I learned geopoetic procedure before there was an Internet to ask questions in! I learned how to research before there was a Wikipedia. So yes, maturity is a factor. And I think a very large factor!

What Should Be Done?

Having reviewed your example question (yep, riddled with a beginner's errors!), and although I am not familiar with the query upon which it's based, I think it is a good example of immaturity of geopoetical art. The hypothetical OP is jumping the gun in asking for a quick fix of a forum like this. I agree with you that what we see in this query is insufficient thought about the nature of the subcreated world itself as well as insufficient basic research about basic science, extraterrestrial colonisation, terraformation, etc. While I might disagree with you that human society, values and biology should have significantly changed within that short period of time, I do concur that those are things the OP should be considering on her own and in advance of proposing a query on Stack Exchange.

However I think in order to answer your query, I need to answer question for question!

My question is, how do we view our community?

By "we", here, I mean those of us who obviously care about WB.SE as a forum; those of us who are active geopoets; those of us who are active respondents, editors, encouragers, welcomers, moderators, thoughtful meta participants, etc. (I know JBH and you Raditz_35 do (I've not interacted with Cort Ammon enough, but reputation precedes) and I think I can dare to name myself among your august company!)

By "our community", I mean who is our audience? Me, I would love a forum like this for folks who have been working on subcreated worlds and invented languages & cultures for at fifteen to twenty years. And those would be the junior members! It really is a rather unique and rare experience to talk shop with people who of a certain age and level of artistic maturity. As I think back on the long years, some of the great convos I've had with such people happened (in online worldbuilding forums) when, quite probably, the vast majority of WB.SE's members, (and probably some of you lot!), were just babies or not even born yet! (For example, not so long ago I was in a convo with a fellow worldbuilder who just pleased as punch that his world related notes just exceeded the 30,000 mark! I didn't want to burst his happy-bubble by bringing up a book about my own world that sits at just under 200,000 words.) So I am resigned to the fact that almost any worldbuilding community will be composed of, er, immature, chaotic, unsure, untutored, highly energetic, frenetic, unsettled and relatively new members.

Since we are a public forum, a greatest common denominator forum, I think our basic m.o. should be one that is welcoming of newbies and is therefore accommodating even of those who just don't know what they're doing yet.

  1. Yes, we should answer questions. That's what we do. This doesn't mean we shouldn't first require basic research (even if that's only a look at the search function within our own forum), query clarification, better focus, etc.
  2. Just tell them straight up! I've done similar before. Basically, if I were to address your hypothetical OP: "I think you have a good foundation for a SE query, but as of right now, your question / your world / your research / etc. need work before proceeding. I'd suggest you take a look into a few basic factors before asking this question here: what is society (cultural wisdom, religion, moral & ethical maturity, education, economic factors) like in the year 4000? What is the basic level of science & technology like? What are the driving factors behind colonisation (economics, military, lebensraum, penal colony) and what steps have been done to make a place like Mars habitable? When you know the answers to those kinds of questions, then come back and we can talk about electricity distribution!"
  3. I think we should be far, FAR more lenient when it comes to closing queries as a general policy. I've said it before and I'll say it again: worldbuilding is by nature and by definition opinion based! We deal regularly in what-ifs, never-weres, ain't-no-such-likes and moughtn't-be-but-be-all-the-sames. We frequently deal with things that simply can not be in the primary world of our waking experience. This is why I find myself so frequently at odds with other highly respected members. My own practice is to take a much more liberal approach to what counts as "opinion based". That said, I often find myself right in complete agreement with those same respected members when it comes to queries that are (otherwise good) but are far too broad --- those that ask a string of twenty questions, those that are fishing expeditions, those that have no idea about context and for which any and every answer would be correct; with queries that are obviously not about worldbuilding; with questions that are deliberately provocative and the like.
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I quite agree with your more tolerant approach. I've been worldbuilding somewhat longer than yourself. Everybody has to start somewhere. We learn by making mistakes. I know I have. WB.SE should help querents improve their questions. After all, they came here seeking our help. It's easy to devise an amazing idea & have no idea how to build world around it. That's the situation with many of our new users. The site has a Be Nice policy, after all. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ Quite. Although I understand and to an extent agree with, for example, JBH's frustrations, I fear that we risk throwing out many good questions poorly written if the SE Model (per se) is applied to stringently. Perhaps a modified model, the WB.SE Model, should be considered: a balance between the strict fact v. opinion and a broader perspective of looking at things like opinion and "science" from within the secondary creation rather than as an external absolute. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Also, @a4android, please accept my thanks for editing my answer! My fingers rarely go fast enough to keep up with brain. I reverted oughtn't to moughtn't (might ought not) because that wasn't a typo. As for deliberatively v. deliberately, I an strongly considering reverting that as well, as I really wish to convey the stronger nature of an almost sinister or malevolent act that comes not just from cursory thought but a well reasoned and deliberative act of will. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ One of the problems of editing is fully grasping the intentions of the author. "Moughtn't" isn't a usage I am familiar with, not sure it's one I'm happy with. But if that's what you wanted, then so be it. "Deliberatively vs deliberately" is a matter of choice & nuance. i did think about it carefully. Grateful you took the time to explain why you corrected my edit. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 3:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I sympathise with grumpy WBers. Poorly written good questions, even bad questions which contain an inadvertent gem of brilliance, are too often treated as soft targets. The SE Model rules are applied erratically, arbitrarily, unsystematically, often without regard to the criteria of the rules themselves, and occasionally correctly. SE rules are designed for engineering where fact over opinion holds sway. WBing is more a speculative art where playing with ideas is key. To quote: "An educated mind can entertain an idea without accepting it." -- Aristotle??? $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed re editing. Sometimes the edit is obvious: mistaken punctuation, typo or missing word. Other times, it's a matter of writing style, precision of word choice or even a matter of language games. No doubt you thought it over!, which is why I happily accepted the corrections and chose to explain the rationales. Agreed re grumpiness. Though my fear is that if the Rules were applied correctly all the time, WB.SE would become as creatively sterile as any pure fact SE forum can be. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for your reply. If it's ok, I'd like to discuss some details: My personal experience is that answering questions (point 1) that lack in such areas sabotages the comments asking for clarification. Also, it might be nice to answer as many questions as possible - and I can't speak for everyone - but I think a hard "no" and "that's not how anything works" as an answer, which I find in I dare say most cases with such questions is not nicer than saying: This is interesting, please think, order your thoughts and we might be able to help you. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ Continued: Many of those ponts are a matter of opinion and discussion and compromise, everyone has their own idea what this place is or should be - but I want to point out that, especially since those questions are so frequently welcomed, I see less and less people claryfing their questions. As a world builder, I want people to learn/do their things well, I do not want to encourage and train bad practices. My experience is just that saying: "1) Yes, answer them and 2) Ask for clarification" is not improving the quality of the question most of the time $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ Continued 2: But I want to thank you again for such a nice answer. I agree with most that you say or at the very least welcome it as input. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ I of course don't mean to sabotage the clarification process, but where some respondents see the need for clarification, others do not. Unless we wish to impose a sort of waiting period before answers can be written, I think it may not be practical to wait til everyone's on the same page as regards clarification. I have no issue with "no" as a viable answer; and have done that on any number of occasions myself. "That's not..." presumes an equation of reality between two worlds for whom such equation may not, in fact, exist. (cont.) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ But can still be a valid answer, if the secondary world's form & workings are very similar to those of the primary world. Of course, I agree that we all have our own ideas on how the place should be! I think there is indeed a risk accepting that kind of question. But neither does our art fit will with the basic mechanics of SE. The reality, I think, is going to be a kind of middle ground or compromise between the ideal SE forum and the free-for-all discussion that occurs in mailing lists and open forums. As for teaching bad practices, that really comes through experience and maturity. (cont) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ I think most of the querents of the type we're discussing are probably very young, have just watched the most recent XYZ movie and want to make a world of their own. While I have great empathy for and agreement with what you're saying, I really don't think SE is the place for teaching someone how to make a world either. Apart from meta where discussion is allowed, it seems that the main forum is really a series of disjointed Q&A only. It's not like a mailing list where discussion, refinement and actual teaching can last for weeks or months. Didactic points can be made in responses, (cont.) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ though. And I think in the recent query asking for a map critique I do that to a certain extent. Naturally, I too wish for aspiring geopoets to learn well. There are places for that and I see no reason why especially new users can't be referred to resources in the course of writing an answer. Lastly, I really don't disagree with you re "Yes answer~ask for clarification" not improving the quality of the question. In reality, query improvement can only come from one of two sources. Either the OP decides to improve the question or else someone with editing privileges "hijacks" the query (cont.) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ and makes some changes. I admit to doing the latter, gently, on occasion; and wishing to do so on more than one occasion. One thing I like to do is deepdive into the ancient archives here at WB.SE. I notice a trend among closed queries. They very rarely get improved. The VTC cadre (and I'm often among that number) decide a question isn't a good fit; and the OP just leaves it at that. As the Germans say, c'est la vie, c'est la guerre, c'est la pomme de terre: there's just nothing we can really do to make people learn how to do this art well. We can try to guide and we can hope they'll (cont) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 15:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hey, I promised you I wanted to respond to your comments. But I think I have nothing to say. While well received (+11), I think this question was going too deep. As you say, many people asking questions are inexperienced in some shape or form. The community has demonstrated again and again that those question should be answered with a short, trivial brain storms and similar stuff. If that's what people like, let them do it. I might start another topic though soon to resolve the issue $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 9:48

I feel like the question must be closed if it is unanswerable. That's the StackExchange way. I also feel like we should be striving to help these people. They are coming to our exchange for help.

The thing I think the community is not in agreement on is how we should help these people. Should it be in comments? answers?

Fundamentally, we have to recognize that VTC and downvotes have a psychological impact on the user. A few votes doesn't hurt too much, but a rapid rush to 5 VTC and a bunch of downvotes sends a very strong "This question is not welcome here" message. And if that question is what brought you to the exchange, there's no reason to stick around. Sometimes we will encourage someone to go to the sandbox, but not always.

I know I've not asked a question in 2 years because I've been around long enough to know the questions I want to ask will just get VTCd into oblivion. I can provide answers on this site, but I can't really use it to answer any of my own questions.

Personally, I find I like to provide an answer which doesn't actually answer the question but provides a framework for them to arrive at the answer themselves. I don't think that Standard Operating Procedures, but it is my own personal opinion on how it should operate. This is especially true if the topic is something where I know the questions the OP needs to ask themselves, but a good discussion of those questions simply doesn't fit well into the comment section.

I also consider what we look like from the Google search perspective. If someone is likely to come to stack exchange from a Google search, and benefit from the same framework, it seems like good site advertising to at least have the framework written up on the closed question.

I do like JBH's comment in this thread, "What to you or I is a half-baked question is to another a full meal ready to eat," but I think I might be applying a different interpretation than was intended. I've had some questions where I was like "wow, that is so underdefined that it's going to be impossible to answer," only to have someone basically cold-call every detail that mattered, get them all right, and provide the OP with exactly what they sought.

I think this may be another strong candidate for the argument for Community Wiki's containing general information and directions as to how to go about answering these questions for yourself. Indeed I think a fair number of the questions we're seeing on Meta are cases where we could best resolve them by marking the question as a duplicate of a CW, and perhaps providing a comment pointing them at an answer that you feel is most applicable from that CW.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "a rapid rush to 5 VTC and a bunch of downvotes sends a very strong "This question is not welcome here" message." More like "This is a manifestly stupid and/or stunningly incoherent question. Imbecilic wombats do better research and form better questions". The sandbox needs to be much more visible and accessible. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn *chuckes* I agree, your quote and mine contain the same message. I also agree, making the sandbox more visible would be very helpful, though I'm not entirely sure how to do that from a website design perspective. Perhaps if we got the StackExchange artists to draw us up an imbecilic wombat... $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ You also draw attention to what is probably a very important question. Is our goal best described as trying to have a site with great questions, or trying to have a site without bad questions? If it's the former, every bad question can at least be viewed as an opportunity to teach a random person on the internet how to ask good questions. If it's the latter, much of my arguments have limited appeal. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ A site with great questions or a site without bad questions, however, it's functionally a gamification site too. That may have more influence on voting to close than expected. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ This may be personal taste. I'd prefer the site to be one with great questions. I am amazed how questions I thought were unanswerable get good, full answers. This makes me less inclined to rush to judgement about closure. Helping improve questions that need it isn't easy, but it is necessary. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. The cold-calling part, I'm personally not a fan - if we mean the same thing. My impression is that in those cases, the OP either doesn't have the facts yet and sees them as part of the answer, they are just stereotypes/cliche or similar things. However, I agree that sometimes, I think a question is unanswerable just for someone to provide an answer. I've even done it myself and changed my mind after telling the OP that it's unanswerable. The community closed the thread every time still. On the other hand, many threads with non-answers stay open and are popular $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ Continued: I think the google search is a great point. I think it's reasonable to assume that some people find WB via google searches or within the SE network - hot questions. My observation is that if there is a particularly bad question that has spawned a lot of answers (bad for whatever reason, not the maturity necessarily, but I think many issues can be reduced to it), you will find similar questions pop up quickly, often in worse shape. I would like to argue that with one would be more consistent and answer less and ask for details more, questions would be more representative on average $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ Continued 2: I find it interesting that you, and I've seen you do it, state that your way is answering those questions by providing the OP a way to arrive at the solution. I try to do the exact same thing via comments. Your answers are always very high quality - sadly I can't say that for everyone here. A detailed explanation as to why something makes no sense currently makes more sense sometimes though - a physics issue is easily explained, how a medieval battle works not so much (very popular candidate I see often with low maturity) $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 11:01

These questions are textbook Unclear, and need to be closed as such, but it helps to tell the OP why it's Unclear in a specific comment that outlines the fact that they just aren't deep enough in to be asking the question coherently. If people don't specifically understand that the question is okay but the setting needs work they'll work on the question. Trying to rework a question that isn't truly at fault doesn't actually help people get to a place where they can get the information they need.

People, especially new people, need to understand clearly where exactly the fault truly lies in these situations so they can progress. The standard review comments don't give them that information so we need to make an effort to do so when we can, where we can.


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