I recently asked the following question: How can I break down the task of designing alien commodities and items?

Very frustratingly, it currently has 34 close votes for being too broad. (It will very soon be put on hold)

I also created this pretty well-received question: How do I resolve science-based problems in my worldbuilding?

It's not like I said "Hey how do I design alien stuff?" without giving any detail about my problem or what I'm looking for. I was very specific in what I needed from answers, and gave my criteria for judging answers. I don't understand what people are nitpicking about?

Exactly what makes my question too broad?

One of the comments even mentions that I essentially want the book on ergonomics, which quite frankly is just plain wrong. I am asking about a very specific kind of worldbuilding. The only context that I am looking for is in regard to worldbuilding. I hate that people are assuming that I'm asking for all sorts of things, things that I really don't want anything to do with.

Both of these questions were inspired by the success of this question: How can I break down the task of creating a world into manageable chunks?

If I am incorrect in the way I phrased the question, how can I edit it to make it better like the other two questions?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Downvoters, please be aware that the objective is to learn, if no comment to offer feedback is posted, then the net result would be without structure. I thought it was a good question that adds value. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2019 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'm just hoping to understand where I went wrong this time. $\endgroup$
    – overlord
    Nov 27, 2019 at 20:44

3 Answers 3


Honestly I have the same feedback for this question that I had for the other one you asked the other day. The point of the stack is not to build a machine for you that you can use to solve worldbuilding problems. So, asking "how can I edit this... " entirely misses the point of the feedback your question received. What you've done here is try to get answers to ALL POSSIBLE questions you might encounter as you design a world, and that's about as overbroad as it gets.

Generally speaking, step 0 of asking a question to this stack should be "I built a world, and now I have a question".

You keep skipping that step in many of your questions. In this example in particular, you haven't even tried to build the world yet. You haven't tried to design the alien yet. Or, if you have, that's not the question you're actually asking.

Why not?

Your post says "It seems overwhelming", and while I can understand deeply how the at the confluence of being highly analytical and a perfectionist, it tends to make problems seem so huge and complex that you don't want to even start without guidance.

But that's not the point of this stack.

So my recommendation is that before you ask your next question, try to solve it yourself first, and then present the steps you took to try to solve it yourself and the point where you got stuck as your question.

  • $\begingroup$ I like your comment about step 0. I am going to edit and renumber my answer. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 30, 2019 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM-ReinstateMonica Thanks! It was actually your answer that made me think of it. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2019 at 18:06

To Avoid Being Closed As Too Broad

Step 0: Start building a world. If you can’t say what world you’re asking about, you’re likely to ask an unanswerable question. Your eventual question may be germane to many worlds, but you should have your world in mind.

Step 1: Make sure there is only one question being asked. If you're asking multiple questions, you're too broad. That one question should be a single sentence and -- in my opinion, ideally -- should be the title.

Step 2: Ask yourself what a correct answer would look like. Ignore all the content of your post except the core question. For example:

How do I resolve science-based problems in my worldbuilding?

Would the answer to this be a step-by-step list? Would it be a flow chart? This one really seems to only be answerable on a case-by-case basis. I really cannot imagine any answer that isn't a discussion back and forth about possible ways to resolve the problems. Possible ways means there isn't even a conceivable right answer.

It may be a good question, but maybe it isn't a good question for a Stack Exchange site.

If you still think it is a good question for SE, then include in the post instructions on how to answer the question. Such instructions can go a LONG way to preventing a "too broad" hold. Something like: "A good answer to this question will be of the form..."

Step 3: Look at the text that you have to post with your question. If it requires pages of text, you are almost certainly either too broad or too story specific. That's not a hard and fast rule, but it's a good rule of thumb. Questions that SE sites can answer are generally a couple paragraphs and sometimes an accompanying example (like a picture or a piece of code). When MOST PEOPLE reach pages of text, they aren't asking a specific question. Instead, they're fishing for feedback. Now, it is possible that someone asks a question that requires that much background because it is a very technical question, but such questions are rare.

Make sure that all the text in your question is relevant... if there are lots of tangents, that leads to a "too broad" finding.

THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS TO ALL OF THESE. What I've written here are guidelines to a question being too broad.


Taken as is, that question can only be answered at a level of abstraction so high as to be blindingly obvious. 1. Design your alien species. 2. Design their history. 3. Design their tools. 4. Design their culture. 5. Integrate feedback from all previous design efforts to for a new cohesive whole. 6. Design useful objects based on all that.

Anyone who has even casually wandered through a large national museum on human culture will notice the astonishing variety of tools used by even a single species of tool users, humans. Integrating the stupendously complex feedback loops of culture + physiology + psychology + available materials + dead cultures + social power structures; integrating all this is more than any one WB question can bear. It falls to the WorldBuilder to answer these questions specifically then come to WB for clarification or very narrow "how would this work" questions. For example, "what sorts of stone tools might a giant python with human level intelligence use?" is pretty narrow already.

Just look at the astounding variety of human chairs. Thrones, milk maid stools, chaise lounge, swivel chairs, office chairs, benches, dining room chairs, hunting blind chairs... And this ignores cultures who never invented chairs because everyone squats. Without constraints, your question asks us to design all reasonable chairs for all possible human level species.

Only ask one question. In your question, I see sub-questions about how to design aliens physiology, how to design an economy based on alien physiology, how to design a society for these aliens, and how to design a tool history. Any one of these questions alone could easily fill a book.

You ask:

My focus here is trying to design the end-result of centuries of an alien race's ergonomic development. This is a very daunting task to me and makes me feel pretty overwhelmed.

Your overwhelm-ed-ness is well earned. The task of designing a species and working out their history can be stupendously complex. But, this is work you have to do yourself. There are too many decisions wrapped up in this process for us to do it for you. And I'm pretty sure you'll hate my decisions. :)


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