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This idea was incited by this question here, but it should be considered a general suggestion.

The question was being closed as "too broad" because there are many ways for a laser to damage different kinds of targets. Reasonable enough, even if I personally disagree.

Thing is, the asker might not have known that lasers can do that many things; making the question too broad. Sometimes that's a research failure, but there was clearly some effort in energy levels of lights being put here.

I propose that, for questions for which this matters, we introduce an alternate resolution before closing it: allow answers that give a summary of the areas of possibilities, so that there can be one or more subsequent questions focusing in on a specific area.

The idea is that once five votes are reached (or before that), the question is not closed but a tag (e.g. ) is added, to designate that answers should give an overview of the possibilities, as broad as possible, without going into much detail.

Then you get an objective scoring criterion: the answer that gives the most options, or the clearest categorisation of them. Like, to the laser question, an answer could be: "Lasers can melt stuff or they can burn stuff. The colour of the object matters too, and so does whether it is in an atmosphere. Please re-ask with a defined target." Obviously it would be longer than that but that's the idea.

Or a hypothetical "What's the best sword?" question. The best answer would be "Swords can be used for slicing or stabbing. Some armour can protect the wearer against cuts but not puncturing, and some armour vice versa. Please specify the armour of the target." Same thing applies: this is the kind of answer you could get.

The questioner would be helped, and the broad question can still serve a good purpose: because it is broad, it is more likely that other people end up querying the same. I'm sure we've all been curious what sword is best. This question would become a launch pad for anyone else wondering about swords, what sort of factors determine their usability against a certain target, and then their subsequent questions would have more usable detail in them from the start, preventing them from being closed as too broad.

Obviously this tactic would only work if a question, even if it is too broad, only has a finite number of metrics for an answer. Like, "what is the best system of government?" has infinite answers because there are an infinite number of ways to measure government "goodness". Instead, "what government makes a country the wealthiest" can be treated this way, because wealth can only be measured in a finite number of ways (total cash in circulation, average yearly income per person, and some notes about income equality; excepting silly answers like number of pies per head of cabbage).

Thus, I think this idea (if properly implemented) would help the original asker to focus their subsequent question, and it would make the over-broad question usable for other people by providing a place to get started with their research.

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  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that such a process would require a rework of the common code that is used across every stack exchange site. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Apr 13 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings Assuming these questions are rare enough, it could be done manually by moderators. I don't know all the mechanics, but "too broad, but suitable as overview question" could be a close reason. Then every now and then a mod checks the questions that have been closed with that reason (I think that's visible in the statistics page), reopens them and adds the tag. There would be some lag but it would still be useful. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 13 at 23:42
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answers that give a summary of the areas of possibilities, so that there can be one or more subsequent questions focusing in on a specific area.

On a more theoretical level, this would mix actual worldbuilding content (what are the rules in this world?) with meta content (how can I narrow down this question?), altering the nature of the community and causing more confusion into users.

On a more practical level, what you propose can be already done, tag apart, with a comment to the OP, and this doesn't require additional rewriting of codes or manual intervention by moderators.

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  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, worldbuilding-process and worldbuilding-resources are just as meta. And a comment to the OP has disadvantages: it yields no karma for the person patient enough to explain why the question is broad, it is generally only seen by the OP (if that), and is thus less usable for other people. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 14 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ What problem are you addressing? The too broad questions or the lack of reputation gain for those who provide guidance? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Apr 14 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ Mostly the latter. I want it to be easier for broad questions to be resolved in a manner satisfying both the asker and any future user who wants to ask something in the same area. Broad questions are often people asking about something they are out of depth in, meaning they cannot appreciate the breadth of their question before someone points out the multitude of factors involved. But close-voters have no incentive to provide explanation beyond the "too broad" close-reason, even if they (kindly) still often do so; plus comments are character-limited and not very visible to outsiders. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 14 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ So an answer "Okay, here's everything you should figure out before you can even begin talking about <broad subject>" would be useful for lots of people, and it lets the author reap reputation for it, which they don't for a comment. This system obviously would not prevent new broad questions; but it can turn a subset of them into useful introductions to the broad subject addressed. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 14 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ Again, that belongs to meta, like your own earlier question. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Apr 14 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ I see them as similar to worldbuilding-resources questions, since such an overview answer would in fact be a new worldbuilding resource. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 14 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ In my understanding, meta is about the workings of the site. Would a hypothetical question "What should I be taking into consideration when worldbuilding trains?" belong on meta? $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 14 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ As a final example. Take a broad question: "Where would what minerals form in my planet?". My system would designate that it be treated like this question. Then the asker, and anyone else interested in mineralogy, can read that, and then ask more specific questions like "I have this place on this planet with these circumstances, could you have natural cobalt here?" $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 14 at 19:52
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allow answers that give a summary of the areas of possibilities, so that there can be one or more subsequent questions focusing in on a specific area.

That problem is that people will not be giving answers. What you describe wouldn't resolve the query - it's just guidance for refinement and/or other querirs. And that's exactly what comments are about. Ideally, people would vote to close and mention what is needed for a question to be answerable in a comment.

Remember that closure is not a punishment. It means that as it stands the question should not be answered for some reason. It also serves as a way to give the asker the opportunity to edit the question, so it can be answered.

If somebody asked for X:

Question: Train in my world travels from Mordor to Narnia. How long does the journey take?

But an answer will require Y and Z to be known first, so the question must include that before it can be answered:

Comment: we need to know the distance between them and the speed the train travels at.

Once all details are added, the question is answerable.

Question: Train in my world travels from Mordor to Narnia. The distance is 15 megasmoots, and speed is equal to six mice drawing a pumpkin carriage. How long does the journey take?

Answer: The journey would be less than 12 parsecs.

So, that's roughly the cycle a question can go through. We want something similar to happen, in order to have good and answerable questions. After all, would you really be satisfied if you looked searched for "X", found a question that precisely matches this but the answer literally led you to more questions than you had at the start? Or worse, the answers actually address something different.

Of course, it would be best if all relevant information is there at the start but it's not a big problem if it's not - editing is always an option and closure is there to help with that. If it turns out the initial one isn't really needed for one reason or another, the asker can always look around more and post a better question.

A reminder that we still [the Sandbox](have Sandbox for Proposed Questions) where you can post your question so users can check if it seems complete as it is and advise you if anything changes are needed. The Sandbox is there to help question askers.

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  • $\begingroup$ The issue is that close-voters are not required to give such helpful comments. They often don't. And why would they, given that it yields no karma, other than the spiritual type? My suggestion would basically be that, and also giving them more than 500 characters to address the factors at play. Like, to your Mordor train example, the "overview answer" would be a list of types of trains and other factors that influence travel speed - which is immediately helpful for anyone else figuring out rail travel in a fantasy country. It's fine if we disagree but that's what I was going for. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 14 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ Then you're soling an XY problem because "people should leave comments but don't" is not exactly solved by "people should post unhelpful answers". Besides, your reasoning seems flawed - if people would only comment if it yielded reputation, wouldn't that also hold true for close voting? It yields nothing at all - not even a badge (I think). Following your logic, people also wouldn't VTC. Yet, they do, so there is a driving motivation beyond rep, thus invalidating your core premise. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Apr 14 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ As said, I think that "overview answers" would be helpful to a lot of people who are searching in the same area. And as far as I know, you do get badges for moderation acts, which includes close-voting. I cannot speculate what motivations people have for close-voting without giving additional explanation; maybe they think that the closure reason itself is enough explanation, maybe they don't have the time, whatever. The reputation bonus would just be an extra incentive for being helpful and kind, and I can't see a downside to providing extra incentives for kindness. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Apr 14 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Close voting does yield a badges, (reviewer at 250 votes cast in a queue, and steward ad 1000 votes in a queue) but that's for votes cast on questions in the queue regardless of whether you vote to keep open or close. In theory you could vote to keep open 1000 times to earn the badge. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Apr 14 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings OK, I stand partially corrected. Not all people go to the close queue. At least I don't. So, it's possible to get a badge and that badge could be related to close votes. Still, I don't think a badge is why most people cast close votes. At least I sincerely hope it's not. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Apr 14 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ Speaking from personal experience getting the badge wasn't the motivator for participating in the review process. I'm pretty sure most of us do it because we want to make the site a better place. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Apr 14 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings that's my experience, as well. The goal of curation is not for system rewards. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Apr 14 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ You get the review queuebadge for completing reviews, as long as you click something other than 'Skip'. VTC is not necessary. $\endgroup$ – Nij Apr 26 at 5:50

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