WB.SE has a SE mandated format; the community has determined that certain rules need to apply to the asking and answering of questions; the community has in place certain policies & practices designed to make the forum an excellent place to ask and answer questions. One of these practices recently came under scrutiny and I thought it a good idea to query the community in Meta.

Some people think this is yet another policy discussion. Some people think this is a call to create yet another rule. It is not. This is a question about a particular kind of practice that a number of community members engage in. It is essentially a "yea or nay" question, a non-binding question.

General Context

As a way of moderating a relatively large & active creative forum, one of the tools every member has is to make use of the comments below each query and each response. Mostly comments are used to ask for clarification or to provide updated information so that an edit can be made to improve a post.

Sometimes a post is published untimely: perhaps it's a question that wasn't well thought out or maybe a question that should have been asked elsewhere; maybe it is a response that doesn't really answer the question or that is spam.

The general practice has always seemed to be to remind both the specific poster and the rest of the community that a) there is a problem with the post and b) not to make matters worse until the problems can be sorted out.

Specific Context

It is already community practice to not answer "bad" questions -- those that need to be edited for any of a variety reasons that I won't go into at this point.

Regarding this question about PTSD after being attacked by knife, I asked the single respondent (and by extension, the community) to not answer questions that obviously need some work. In retrospect, there are a number of potential issues with the question. I happen to have chosen two.

This Meta discussion asks to gauge the appropriateness specifically of reminding community members of our policy not to answer poorly worded questions in the context of our more generally established community practice of reminding community members to be mindful of other WB rules, policies & best practices.

Points in Favour:

As a pro rogationem, specifically to the point of timely closing of bad questions and being consistent with community policies, I'd like to quote one of sphennings's comments:

  • That's a compelling argument for swiftly closing questions. Ideally a question should be closed before anyone answers it. We should be consistent with our policies on this site. If we didn't close question just because they were popular new users would get mixed signals about what makes a good question on this site. – sphennings Oct 25 '17 at 22:09

I would take this to mean that the ideal situation is one where a post of questionable quality is closed quickly, before any responses can be made, in order to allow the OP to edit it. I would also take this to mean that, in order for this to happen, the community needs to be aware of rules & policies and needs to exercise some self-restraint when it comes to these kinds of questions; and by extension, occasional reminders are useful in general.

Another point in favour is to be found in the comment to Ash's response below. I noted that one of the comments to his question actually does the same fundamental thing: presents a reminder to community members to be mindful of WB norms and practices before engaging in some action, in this case, close voting.

  • Reminder to Close-Voters: Please explain why you are voting to close so that the OP can fix the problems that you see. He can't fix them if he is not aware of them. Personally I think this is a reasonable question.

I take this to mean that the commenter assessed the situation and found it to be problematic; and also that the commenter thought the best response would be to issue a reminder of how close voting ought to work in this situation.


Essentially what it says on the box: following from the quoted policy and practice: is it fair to remind people who have answered these questions to not answer questions like this in future or not as a matter of general practice?


What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. In other words, we often gently remind others to pay heed to this or that forum rule or policy. Since this is not a rule or policy proposal, I say nothing about whether or not everyone must comply; I say nothing about goals or numbers or any kind of punitive action. But I do think it's fair to issue this kind of reminder, since we make other similar reminders.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I don't have much to say, so I'll keep it short in comments : We have to remember that not all people know this policy, nor not all people know if a question is good or bad (policies in general but specific cases, too). All the above is under tolerancy of what one is expected to know (→ they got the basics in). As usual, the questions in the grey zone of quality'll probably need the most focus and case-by-case studies. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ Your disclaimer is somewhat hard to understand. What practice are you talking about: Answering suspected VTC candidates or Admonishing people for doing so? Also, how this should be understood: 'This practice should become a policy and I am not advocating for that to happen.'? You say that some practice should become a policy, but you are not advocating for that to happen... I am genuinely confused. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin -- So, how can I make it any clearer? The specific practice is, as I said, reminding fellow users to not answer questions that need any kind of revision. The practice in question is simply a particular instance of reminding fellow users to be mindful of forum rules & customs. It's no different, in other words, than reminding people not to ask story based questions or to provide comments as answers. I was simply focusing on one particular aspect. Indeed, as I've said multiple times, this is 100% not a policy question. I've said plenty of times here and in the other Meta ... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin (cont) ... got proposed as a policy, I'd argue against it. Just because this forum is community moderated doesn't mean we need to have a rule for every possible circumstance! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ You have altered your original query to a point where it invalidates the answers. On the main site, it would have to be reverted to the original version. It would also be nice if you could be a bit more honest. You are the person who engages in this practice. You were reprimanded for it by StephenG. And that discussion is the reason for the current drama. Your comments there and the way you structure your post here strongly suggest that you are in favour of this practice... I would also like to know what data were used to make a claim that this is a general practice. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin -- Yes, I am aware what would happen on Main! This is a Meta discussion, and the question has evolved somewhat. None of the answers are invalidated, simply because the question hasn't been fundamentally changed, only a few details. Thank you for accusing me of being dishonest: could you elaborate further on the nature of the dishonesty? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I don't get your sauce and sausage expression, so I can be wrong, but... 'Think you should reintroduce your question in the last paragraph, as to not make it look like an enticement. Something in the like of "I hold that it's simply fair to issue such reminders. However, I'd like to know what is your point of view about recalling people to not answer questions.". Otherwise, it mixes an apparent opinion with your question and turns it into an apparent proposal, what Otkin saw I think. Also, it's a bit of a "show, don't tell" thing, so generally better in giving off the intents :). $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena -- Sorry! "Sauce for the goose" means that what is fair or appropriate to do in one circumstance is also fair or appropriate to do in another, similar circumstance. Like, if it's smart to stop at a railway crossing when the light is red, then it's also smart to stop at a road crossing when the light is red. As for reintroducing the question: did this edit help? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ i like to ask the objective of this question, is it to save precious storage space in the server or you are questioning on the morality? I personally don't care for the former but as I believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty should still apply to the latter, if the post is still accepting answer then no reason to advice otherwise or it's called bias. Good faith is preventing answer going to waste but that should be on individual not some dictator ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ @user6760 -- Hi! I'm really not sure what you're asking. What do server space and legal proceedings mean in this context? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 12:51

7 Answers 7


As a user of this site, and as a moderator, I've seen a number of questions that received close votes for being 'bad', that to me as a subject matter expert in certain areas were eminently reasonable and well-asked.

So, just because people are VTCing or even downvoting doesn't mean that the question is bad... just that certain members thought it was bad.

I would encourage people who think that a question is bad to vote and leave comments requesting whatever information they believe is missing or to say why they don't think that it can reasonably be answered.

However, if another member thinks that the question is good, there's no reason why they can't answer it, regardless of the comments or downvotes. Maybe they know something that the rest of us don't.

I think that it's pretty reasonable to say that a truly bad question will be rapidly downvoted and/or closed.

As an example of a question that was downvoted and VTCd, I offer What are the evolutionary factors that could create a species that looks like E.T.?. It was VTCd as Too broad, and received one downvote, but after my comments and answer, ultimately wasn't closed, and received some upvotes. As I wasn't a moderator at the time, it wasn't my red diamond which influenced people either.

  • $\begingroup$ So regarding the initial question, you're leaning that it's not advised to encourage people to avoid answering bad questions, right? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 8:41
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I say, don't answer questions that you think are bad, ask for clarification. But don't let others opinion of a question influence you... make up your own mind. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 9:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for answering! So, all of the things you recommend are already what I'd call standard practice. Those actions don't really help, though, once the deed has been done: the querent can no longer substantially edit the question and can only watch the downvote slide. I'd really be curious to see you edit your answer to address the question. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Done. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Yeah, had I seen that question, I would have done the same, with the exception of providing such a comprehensive answer. That is a perfectly good worldbuilding question that is, in modern parlance, of sufficiently narrow scope; and if anyone had brought up "third party fictional world", I'd have argued that the querent wasn't asking about ET so much as a creature like ET. I think also in modern parlance, it would be called a "finite list of things", and so is perfectly kosher. Plus, cute picture of ET. What's not to love? To contrast this "finite list of things", the question... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) ... I'm referring to is literally the opposite. PTSD manifests in many different ways, often depends on the individual's own personality & details of the "traumatic stress" itself. Mine is different from a soldier's whose friend was blown up in Iraq. Another key point is the lack of worldbuilding context, which is obvious in the ET question. So yeah: we are in perfect & harmonious agreement about what to do with a question before it gets closed! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I don't believe that the PTSD question was incapable of being answered as it currently stands. I couldn't... but as it is now closed, some mental health care professional member might be grumbling that a perfectly answerable question was closed and they now can't answer it. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ However, as I can't answer it, and no-one has commented that it is answerable, I'm not going to mod-hammer it back open either. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think can someone provide an answer is a good metric for determining site fit. Every question about what to name something is a great counter example. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings, the criteria should be that someone can provide a reasonably objective answer, not just that someone can provide an answer. I think that it's often pretty obvious that any answers to a given question would be subjective, and they rightly get VTCd. It's just that sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild -- I'm not saying it's "impossible to answer", and the respondent did in fact give one possible answer. (I'm not a mental health expert, but I know enough to see the specific scenario as one of many plausibles.) Just that the question needs work to be a good question in worldbuilding! I think the question could have been made better, and in my own comment to the OP, I ask for exactly that! I'd love for the question to be edited and reopened! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I agree, a good question needs to be able to be answered with a specific, objective answer. If a comprehensive answer would require generalities and/or would be subjective, it probably needs work. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild Mod
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 0:24

Let's not become the Thought Police.

Given the site we are let's start with a quote from Babylon 5 :

I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the star. We are Grey. We stand between the darkness and the light.

(if that predates Bab5 please let me know - I'd be interested).

Common sense : Every single person on the site is going to have completely different interpretations of when a question is "fixed" or even if it needs "fixing".

Or for that matter how long a reasonable time to wait is. What if there are no immediate objections ? Do they wait five minutes ? An hour ? A day ? A week ? When is it "safe" or "approved" to answer ? It's nonsense to suggest waiting.

Everyone on the site stands in "Grey" and not even the same grey.

following from our policy of not answering queries that, for any reaso n, look like they need to be fixed, should we encourage people who have answered these questions to not to answer questions like this in future or not as a matter of general practice?


Let's not act like thought police.

People are not only entitled to answer it before it is closed, they're entitled to disagree with the closure. They can (and sometimes do) vote to reopen questions deemed "wrong" or "bad". It's a democracy. They can do that.

People answer in good faith. This daft idea means we're treating them like rule breakers who need to be publically berated.

We even do get and do answer questions on Meta asking for explanations of why questions were closed. And sometimes, horror and shock, we actually find the closures was possibly wrong. The system isn't perfect !

So, no, let's not irritate people for giving one of the two things that the site needs : answers.

We come here to help people. The proposal punishes people (annoys them) for trying to do just that.

No. Just No.

These rules are not some crystal clear code that anyone can follow. The nature of this site means that such a rule set is impossible. We'll always have different people making different interpretations of the rules.

No harm is caused by answers to questions subsequently closed. None. They'll hardly even dent server space usage or search times. They might even help people with a similar problem and stop them having to post a new question. They may actually be useful.

So, No. Let's leave them alone.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ There actually are consequences to posts receiving answers before they're closed. If OP is engaged with the site and wants to make substantial edits to their post to get it reopened, they run the risk of invalidating existing answers. This effectively locks their post if they want to change their ask to something more appropriate for this site. It would be better if instead of rushing to answer, established users of this site, first used their knowledge of what is and isn't well received to request clarification and suggest improvements. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 3:04
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @sphennings That's an odd comment. Experienced users already do those things, but that doesn't mean they don't come to different conclusions. There is no right way to do this. It's perfectly reasonable for any user to decide they don't need more info than already exists - that's a perfectly legitimate position. We cannot sanely legislate to prevent that. The only way to stop people answering quickly is to simply block answering until ... when - what's reasonable - what one size fits all for that ? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 3:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't think there's any way to enforce any policy regarding answering questions that you know will be closed but I think we should try to discourage, answering questions that are likely to be closed, when answering the question makes it harder for the question to be edited later. Having a mindset of rushing to get an answer in before closure because you think the Q is OK does nothing to help the OP know how to change their post to get it reopened. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 4:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ While it is subjective we do expect users on this site to only answer well asked questions. A closed question is a question which the community has found to be not well asked. Even if you disagree with the general assessment it is understandable why others would be bothered by you answering the post. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 4:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @sphennings Again presumes that all users will have the same interpretation of what is and is not a well asked question. And how in blazes are they supposed to know in advance that the question will be closed ? Crystal ball ? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 4:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I've been on this site long enough to be able to make educated guesses about how the community in aggregate will respond to posts. When I disagree with this sentiment I can still suggest edits that will improve it's chances of being well received. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings Guesses - those would be different by everyone. Are you getting the bloody point yet ? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ A person can simultaneously interpret the rules one way and guess that the community will respond differently. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 4:31
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings Is there even a middle ground in your world ? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 5:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What I laid out above, seems like a middle ground to me. Try to encourage people to not answer questions that are likely to be closed without enforcing any strict policy. There are plenty of other behaviors that this site encourages without resorting to any sort of enforcement action. Asking someone to not answer posts if it's likely to be closed, or if there's ongoing discussion about whether it should be or not, is unlikely to lead to the doom and gloom you're catastrophizing about. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 6:16
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ That's funny asking for a middle-ground when you take a such strong negative stance, shall I say :). Are you two arguing on different lands? Seems like Sphenning's guesses are viable on the more obvious cases, while you StephenG is concerned about applying them to the grey zone of closingness. Also, please note that encouraging/discouraging is not equal to forbidding ;). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 9:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Can you explain how "Please try to not answer posts that are likely to be closed" is punishing people? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena The problem : people write bad questions sometimes ( or more preciisely question some people consider bad). The proposed solution : punish people who answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 15:25
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @StephenG That's a lil' bit exagerating to say that you punish people ^^'. Unless of course you tell them something in the like of "What a disgusting answer from a disgusting question, shut it down from my bleeding eyes" :p. Frustration and punishment are feelings which can be circumvented by presenting things on a new leaf : "Thanks for posting this answer. However, it seems there is a debate ongoing about the question closure for future improvement; In case the question invalidate your answer, can you keep your answer for when it has been improved?". Much nicer :) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ We do actually agree on all the key points here, which only leads me to wonder about this over-the-top reaction. We agree that most people act in good faith here; that they are free to answer any question they want, good bad or indifferent; they can write good or bad answers; they can agree or disagree with closure reasons. Yes, we are here to help people. As for rules, I'd go so far as to say that there are very few rules written in stone and that the rest have considerable latitude in application. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 15:40

I've been around for a number of years now and one thing that I've noticed is that what constitutes an acceptable question is an amorphous thing. Previously perfectly acceptable questions with hundreds of votes are being closed by the new generation of users for one reason or another.

So no, we should not attempt to discourage people from answering questions they think are answerable outside the existing mechanics. Questions are either open or they are closed and can be answered or not accordingly.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is true! I'm often the one on the side of "hey this is a good question! why is it being closed?" Question: can you clarify what you mean by "existing mechanics" here? Also, what about encouraging people to refrain? The problem I see with the black-n-white "it's either open or it's closed" stance is exactly the issue at hand. Open questions are treated as free-for-alls, whether they need work or not; and by the time they're closed, they are made unfixable. Especially new users are then kind of left out in the cold with people (old and new) barraging them with downvotes and calls for... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) ...closure and they're getting answers that are all over the place. Usually these messes just get left as is. I don't know if the poor querent has gotten anything useful out of the experience or has just quietly stepped out thinking this place is a looney bin. I'm certainly not seeking to imposing my own practice on anyone else, but I do see value in reminding folks to pay attention to the question first. Especially when, as I often find, the question is basically good but needs some kind of work to make it SE friendly. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas, I do feel it's a black and white thing. It's open or closed. If someone feels it's answerable and gives a good answer then go for it, if someone feels it's not answerable and votes to close so be it. The thing that bugs me in this is the people who vote to close questions they don't understand, perhaps because this isn't a technical board and people expect to understand everything. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas SE friendly can't be as strict around here, because this is fundamentally a creative place, the rules have to be held but a little more loosely as any question that doesn't belong better under one of the technical stacks will have an aspect of opinion. Also, sometimes the place is a looney bin, that's the internet for you. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) ... We then run into a situation where we as a community don't care enough about question quality so long as we can get the first clever answer in and thus don't care about answer quality because we didn't care about the query. We end up with so many poor to middling quality Q&As within a framework that touts itself as being a top quality repository of queries and responses. This is therefore a question of striking the balance between answering for the sake of answering and answering deliberatively. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough! A vote for black-n-white. As far as answering questions outside of one's specialisation or area of interest... that's a whole nother can of worms! I'd only say that this is a technical forum! Polytechnical. Not just a matter of technical in the sense of science or technology, but also in the application of creativity and artistry. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas if we hold too strictly to SE standards this becomes the board of "I can't be bothered to work out where this belongs" rather than Worldbuilding. There are Earth Science and Engineering stacks that could answer most stuff that comes through here, but without the creative flair of a touch of opinion. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ I'm well aware that "SE friendly" can not be as strict here. I have a long history of arguing just that point! I am usually the one who is reminding folks that this is a creative place. But this also isn't a chat room or a brainstorming session. If we want to make it one, that's fine! But that would be a fundamental change outside the scope of this question! And lastly, I don't mean looney bin in a nice way. I mean that people can literally be driven away. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ Let's just be clear: I'm not arguing for overly strict standards or tin hitlerism. What I'm asking about literally has nothing to do with the community's actual rules or expectations so much as about personal restraint when it comes to approaching questions that rather obviously have underlying value but are also not sufficiently well written to be well answered. As far as I'm concerned, if the question is demonstrably about worldbuilding, then it belongs here. And yes, other forums could provide a merely technical answer. Sometimes that is what the querent wants. But they can't... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) ... or won't provide the creative answer or the artistic answer or the truly helpful answer. But I think we're getting into areas of discussion that a) we actually agree on and b) are moving further away from the question at hand. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas, in that case, back to the point. If a question is judged sufficiently back to be closed by all who see it, then it will close quickly. If it stays open for longer then it was not considered sufficiently bad and will get answers. You're getting into the grey areas where questions close slowly and those especially are moving territory and are the place where the community decides what is acceptable. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ I think the time it takes to close is as much a factor of when the question was asked vs times most people are active. But yeah, grey areas...I'll take your answer here as an unequivocal maybe! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 13:42

TL;DR : Jump to the last paragraph for the conclusion and practical cases. But don't forget to breathe, skipping things can be a sign of having a constant turning around and upon you ♪. Or that I'm boring, as well 🦋.

I like to take things the other way round, so here's the path I take:

Let's look at the core question in the question's body : Should you ask people to avoid answering bad questions? It goes beyond what people think in reaction to the question, and it's easy to miss a few things.

The premise

It's simple to understand, but it's harder to feel it, so let's get back to basics! From the help center, the section "how do I write a good answer":

Answer well-asked questions

Not all questions can or should be answered here. Save yourself some frustration and avoid trying to answer questions which [are unclear, opinion-based, duplicates, need focus, off-topic].

This is an explicit, official ruling, and so should be respected. To be followed, it needs to be known and recalled from time to time. As this recurring nice comment shows, having a single paragraph lost in a help center with > 20 sections doesn't seem to be enough:

Welcome to Wordbuilding SE! You may want to take the tour and peruse the help center, in order to become better acquainted with the goals and expectations of this site.

Welcoming and ack-knowledging, by AlexP (though there are many, many others examples reminding people to reach for the help-center).

So, yes, to ensure people follow this rule, we should remind people to not answer badly written questions. Or should we?

Epic battle of viewpoints!

A point that seems to stand amongst people that disagree with this previous guideline is that answerers spend some of their free time to help others, so telling them to not answer will be badly received, in all cases. It's about the same thing as yelling at the man who hands you the wrong item from a shelf you couldn't reach.

But most importantly, the issue is that one user thinks a question should be closed, while another in all honesty doesn't! It usually happens when a question is in the quality's grey area. This makes it really hard to tell answerers they did something wrong—whether it's objectively true or not—since from their point of view they didn't. They don't understand, and unless they're painting happy little accidents daily, it's very likely to lead to some confusion, if not tough resistance. All for understandable and acceptable reasons from their point of view.

I can only agree with the above points, and they have to be taken into consideration to avoid being inconsiderate towards others.

So! To help recall this rule without striking at the answerer's feeling, let's remember three things:

1. Answerers are not forced to post right now

Firstly, and really importantly, because it's needed for the other points: people are not forced to answer right now.

If there's an ongoing debate on a question you wish to answer, you can just wait a little to see where it goes. After all, closure should happen quickly! Or, if you're more invested, talk it out to make your point before answering.

I see a lot of users mentioning the reasons they're voting for a question to be closed. But, interestingly, I see much fewer people answering soon-to-become closed questions telling why they found the question's quality to be high enough to answer. As much as everybody wants as few closed questions as possible, it's not on the close-voters side to give counter-arguments to their closure reasons. At best, they can give directions to improve the question. Defending the question is a task better suited for the ones who thought it worth answering!

2. The asker's question is burdened by the answerer's action

Let's not forget the negative aspect of answering questions without taking the time to think about the question. By doing so, it often prevents further editing of the question when it gets closed. Questions whose purpose it is to help the asker. It makes it a lot harder to edit it while keeping the answer valid, and since the question has been posted, it makes it harder to post a new similar-looking one. It is especially true for newcomers who are more prone to write questions that need improvements, have a harder time improving them, and can get discouraged much more easily.

Therefore remember to whom the added weight belongs, and don't reverse the responsibility: even if the asker didn't do things as expected, it's the answerer who's taking the responsibility of answering. And as such, the Help Center quite clearly points out how not answering bad questions might:

Save yourself some frustration...

As the answerer, save yourself the frustration of getting your work invalidated or be a burden to the asker. If you took the step to help, burdening the asker is not what you want, or so I guess. It's not to follow a silly rule that makes no sense, it's to save everyone from the trouble a question's stunlock can make. It's something that can be done to help people either delete and repost their question later or reopen them, both very lengthy processes that definitely need any help to be finished faster.

3. The answerer can edit or help editing the question

In case the closure of a question is already on-going—and, most importantly, known—the answerer can and should edit the question. As per the Help Center, the same paragraph about not answering bad questions:

Don't forget that you can edit the question you're answering to improve the clarity and focus - this can reduce the chances of the question being closed or deleted.

It should be done when the question runs the risk of getting struck by the close-hammers (plural, they usually don't act alone). Ideally you do it before you answer it. However, if you went a little too fast in answering before others judged it, it's always possible to improve the question to avoid closure, or help the asker if you fear that you might alter more than they want. Pick and peck, you could use your own answer to help them keep their question open (e.g. for "Lack of details/clarity": am I right in my answer about the assumptions I made about your world? Can I add them to your question?).

It's all in the mindset that questions and answers are intertwined: you can't really correctly answer bad questions. That's the key point of good answers, you need to have a clear, well-defined target to focus it. Otherwise you're most likely to miss what the asker wants or clumsily answering that you don't know where the focus lies! Soooo... It's as simple as improving bad questions before answering.

Since you should be an expert in the domain -if not a SE veteran-, it should be easier to spot the question's weaknesses and work on them. If you don't do this, you risk finding out that your answer doesn't match the new and actual question or didn't help that much. Frustration is then ensured. And if you realize there could be an issue with the question, defend it with the asker 🛡️. Your answer is part of the question too, after all!

In conclusion

TL;DR people, here is your starting line!

There are many methods and reasons for an answerer to help improve a question. And, if a question is improved to be considered as fit, cozy and nice, is there ever the need to keep people from answering it 🦋?

That's the key thing here: questions are not stuck in time, they can evolve through both the asker and others! And this flips the direction we should see things: it's not about not answering bad questions, it's about not having bad questions with answers. And with their knowledge and their point of view, the answerers are in one of the best spots to give a hand at that task!

In practice

As much as you can remind people that answering bad questions can have nasty consequences, I'd advise to cooperate with answerers in improving the question, removing the need to recall that at all. If they don't understand why they should help, then remind them of the hassle they or the asker might run into—as a reason to do that, not as an action to avoid taking.

In order to do that, you have to check one or two things beforehand:

  1. Does this question have a debate about closure?
    By debate I mean at least a comment + a close vote (if you can see it), a comment + a negative vote, or several comments (counting comment upvotes). All of these should not be yours.
  2. If there's an on-going debate, how many people are agreeing with the idea of a closure and how many are disagreeing? In other words, how obvious the outcome of the vote(s) to close is?

If you're the only one to think the question's not good enough to be answered, or overall it's so unclear that it should be closed, don't remind people to not answer bad questions. It would be a one-on-one opinion fight, where no-one will be the victor. Instead, wait a little until others approve your opinion or -if you're more invested- ask something like this:

I have some contradicting opinion on whether the question should be closed or not: can you explain why you think this question should be kept open and answered in its current state, as told in the help-center? Or can you help improve on the points which have been raised?

If there's a debate, and it's really obvious (you're far from being the only one and there's no one opposing the closure or it's already been closed), then you can remind people of the risk they're taking. It's the only time I'd recall the issues, but for the purpose of inciting on lending an hand to the question. For instance for a question which needs details or focus:

The question's currently undergoing a closure debate and it seems to lean towards a closure at the time I write this. It is generally not advised to answer a question under these circumstances, as it could lead to some frustration to both the asker and yourself, as you might have missed what the asker wanted exactly. Can you help them to prevent the closure of their question before it happens/help reopening the question with them?

All of these efforts should be scaled relatively to the potential impact of answering bad questions: as small as a mouse 🐭. Don't go on a witch hunt and don't repeatedly remind the same person about improving questions, that's demanding too much from occasional or busy contributors and possibly seen as harassment. Also, not all questions can or will be salvaged by the author, so you might want to strike only at questions where the asker's investment is clearer.
Don't remind every answerer either, we don't want a comment festival :).

Finally, don't ever order the answer's deletion or edition to "help" the asker: that's something that must come from the answerer themselves to avoid unnecessary frustration and arguments. As much as askers have the right to ask, answerers have the right to answer, both being the site's main purpose, after all. This goes along with knowing people might just not have the time right now for such work. Not having all answers on-point after the question's improvement is a sad possibility, but something no one really can do anything about, either.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Excellent answer! So much for not having much to say... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas There's not only questions that can change :p. It was an interesting issue, I had to dig through until I joined two sides in one. But there's still an issue though : It has to be tested to prove it's a nicey-not-spicy solution. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ I did quite some editing on your very nice answer. I hope I interpreted everything correctly. While you actually changed my mind about a few things, I don't agree with the degree to which it seems you think questions and answers are intertwined: the big risk there is that an answerer would make a question fit their answer, which I am very much against. A few problems I encountered while editing: what do "having a constant turning around and upon you", "painting happy little accidents daily", and "a question's stunlock" mean? $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 16:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Joachim For your doubts: Don't forget to breathe. Then Bob ross for his zen approach at life during his painting show, when he painted "happy little trees", and there was no mistake, only "happy accidents". Stunlocking is a gaming term where you prevent someone from doing anything by constantly stunning them, leading to their demise. Yep, lots of hidden references :). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 14:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I've only skimmed the edits, looks nice and I wouldn't mind seeing others of the same kind 🌸. I understand your concern about "corrupting" the question through the answer, it's not something easy to deal with. However, the same happens with people closing questions, there are always a risk people irrationally close questions because they think it's not possible, that the user must change the world. It's more like the issue is lifted by the very idea of closing or reopening and allowing edits.[...] $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 14:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ [...] In any case and in resto... retrospective, the practical solution actually takes more time than it's useful I fear 🕐; It needs involvement from both askers (which, uh... Is far from being guaranteed o_x') and answerers. Even I sparsely used it, and prefer now to focus on improving the question directly with the querent. 'Specially since the close reason is detailed very, very often now. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ So can we conclude cooperation is the key? :) I think I subconsciously got the Bob Ross reference. Thank you for the song link, cellos always soothe my mind. Last thing: what's "having a constant turning around and upon you" mean? $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 13:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Joachim From the song I linked you, I picture that if you have a constant turning in the silence you're wearing, it's your head which's spinning... Like the deserted windmill, alone and without purpose? The constant is like, uh obsessional thoughts? Apart from focusing on helping getting through mental issues (depression, overwork?), I really don't know what the lyrics mean 😣. I'm sooo bad at it! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 19:56

I've got to chime with Monty on this one, I've had at least one question closed because the people who saw it first just didn't understand it and thought I hadn't included the information necessary for it to be answered. Then when I came back a couple of days later the question had been reopened, has two excellent answers and a note from the mods saying that I'd done a good job and gently reminding people that "I can't answer this" is not the same as "this question is bad". I've been on the other side too and seen questions on the closure list that look bad to a lot of people but make sense to me because I have the specialist knowledge base. That's not to say there aren't questions that clearly don't warrant the effort but that's the choice of people who answer them.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see this as an example of how WB is supposed to work --- when the question is actually a good question! You didn't link to an example, so I can't see what actually happened. The particular post this query focuses on is really the type of question that is totally answerable --- just as 6 + 6 is totally answerable --- but otherwise has problems: maybe they're too story based, maybe they're not about worldbuilding, maybe someone is just curious and figured they might as well ask here, maybe they want to start a discussion or gather opinions. We certainly can satisfy curiosity... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) ... and we certainly can offer help with plot and character development, and we certainly can offer our opinions and engage in discussion. We all know, or should know by the time we've been here a couple months or have 300 to 500 points, the basic structure of SE. The question simply comes down to reminding one another of those basics, when the query is really a bad fit for WB.SE for some reason. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash Yes, it's always hard to understand without the referenced question. Can you give it? I don't have much time to check on your profile which question you're talking about $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 12:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Oops I must have been half asleep, have fixed my oversight. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 5:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Fixed, sorry about that. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 5:41
  • $\begingroup$ Two things of note: first, I went back to the original version of the query and I wouldn't have closed it. Your edits made it clearer, but didn't change the substance. The second is the key point: Notice the first comment under your query says Reminder to Close-Voters: Please explain why you are voting to close so that the OP can fix the problems that you see. He can't fix them if he is not aware of them. Personally I think this is a reasonable question. Secespitus is doing nothing more than "encouraging" people to be mindful of WB culture, SE rules and forum practices. Precisely what... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) ... I'm asking about in this question. One can only wonder if you'd asked this question last week if such a comment would get attacked for being thought police oriented or forcing people to conform to the commentor's will! I consider your question to be ample evidence in favour of the queried practice. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 12:00

First of all, I want to comment on your original comments:

Please don't answer idle curiosity questions that have no worldbuilding context.

While it is a statement that may look like a 'gentle reprimand' on the surface and it carries no hostile intent toward the answerer, it belittles the original questioner. This statement is also based on your very specific and very subjective assessment of the question, which is not necessarily correct or shared by other people.

For example, you say:

it needs some kind of worldbuilding context;

I personally find a mention of resurrection and the fact that the question is about a character to be a sufficient worldbuilding context. Most of the other information about the setting is irrelevant to questions about psychology.

it is story based (it asks about actions of the character);

The question does not ask about the actions of the character. Please let me quote the question for you: 'As I have never been stabbed or killed, how would this PTSD manifest?'. The question asks about PTSD symptoms, not character actions.

it has prior research problems (did you ask google first?);

Did you ask the questioner whether they did their research or not? Your comments show that you did not. You just assumed that they did no research. These are your comments to the question:

Hi Ren! I'd like to address a couple issues. First, I voted to close your query because a) it's a matter of idle curiosity and b) you are not asking a worldbuilding related question. Please check out our tour, our help center and learn what WB is all about before asking questions. Lastly, it is considered very poor form to award the green checkmark within 48 hours of asking a question. Please be patient --- someone might have come along with a better answer! – elemtilas Nov 16 at 3:53

On point A: we're not here to satisfy your idle curiosity. It took google a whopping 0.55 seconds to bring up half a million hits on knife related ptsd. On B: we're here to help you with issues or problems you're facing while making a fictional world. In order to help us answer your questions, we need to learn some context about your fictional world. You didn't provide that to us. You did a much better job with your merfolk calendar query!! That's the kind of question we handle here. – elemtilas Nov 16 at 3:55

To be honest, I find the whole attitude of these comments highly problematic. I do not see even a shadow of an attempt to help the questioner (which is supposed to be the purpose of the WB.SE).

But even if we do not focus on the wording of the comments, an ability to find 'half a million hits on knife related ptsd' does not equal an ability to find an answer to the question or even an ability to distinguish between useful and useless information. I have some background in psychology and I know a little bit about PTSD, but I would need to spend some time reading different papers to come up with a decent answer. Someone who has no similar background would struggle even more or might be completely unable to figure this out.

it's pretty clearly a question of idle real world curiosity.

You have no proof that this is 'a question of idle real world curiosity'. You never asked. This is your own, subjective, unsubstantiated claim that you keep repeating without any attempt to verify it.

From my point of view, it is a good question that only needs some more details. If the OP answered my question in the comments I would've written an answer.

Going back to your original 'Can we Encourage People to NOT Answer Questions that Need to be Closed?'

Yes, we can. However, should we do it? Probably no. Especially in a situation where the definition of 'questions that need to be closed' is subjective and sometimes is not based on rules or any objective or even explicitly stated criteria.

If you absolutely need to encourage people to do something, I would suggest encouraging questions for clarifications and discouraging comments based on speculations. That would be much more beneficial to the WB.SE than anything else.


Please note that your query does sound like a policy proposal. You include the policy tag and write this:

following from our policy of not answering queries that, for any reason, look like they need to be fixed, should we encourage people who have answered these questions to not to answer questions like this in future or not as a matter of general practice?

'A matter of general practice' is a de facto policy. You might want to reword your question if you do not want people to see your words as a policy proposal.

  • $\begingroup$ Watch out, you're making a lot of speculations on others yourself. Just saying as you seems to dislike it so much 🦋. I guess it's time we get back to our chat. My answer (even if not written yet) is deeply related to the issues you're having, and the inner thoughts you seem now quite unable to contain ^^. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ But back to your answer, the problem I see you facing peculiarly here is that you ask people to understand perfectly each question and their underlying content without speculation, while you make your own speculations about Elem's intentions in their question (which they reexplained here or there, by the way). That's an issue ^^. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ Another unequivocal maybe -- so far so good. 1. "belittling the original questioner": one must be careful to distinguish insulting a question vs insulting a person. Did I really insult the person, or just the question? 2. Subjective assessments: yes, that's how the SE model works, even in the strict science forums, there is some room for subjective assessment; here in WB, it's almost all subjective. I don't see an issue with this, especially when your next statement lays out your own subjective assessment. I don't agree with you on that, but that's okay! We don't have to. 3. Yes, I presume... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ (conjt) ... that querents do their research. It's an expectation of SE in general. 4. Pot kettle black. You didn't help the querent make a better question. 5. The question asks how would the PTSD manifest: google has those answers, from which the OP can choose. 6. If the querent ever fixes the question, I hope you will answer it! (And we'll see how knowledge about a thing stacks up!) 7. Re "proof": this is not a court of law, we have no rules governing evidence. I drew a conclusion about the question and at least one other person concurred. Nobody argued against. It's not anyone's job... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) ... to "verify" their assessments or claims. You could have made an argument against it being a curiosity question, which you didn't do here either, and you might very well have changed my mind! You claim it's a good question, but don't verify that claim. 8. Can we do it -- yes / should we do it -- no. I think you make a good point here. I don't see a real need to segregate and hound specific people with this kind of reminder. I don't know who the respondent is (and don't really care); the fact of the matter is that this kind of admonition is for the benefit of all, not directed... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ (cont) ... at a specific individal. 9. Re "policy proposal": I know I've clarified that dead herring in comments, but can do so in the question body as well. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Just for the record. I strongly oppose the implementation of your suggestion. If we can do something, it does not mean that we should do something. For example, I can say a lot of things about you based on our previous conversations but I probably should not do so. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Yes, I advocate for limiting speculations. And, yes, I am not free of assumptions and biases. But this is precisely the reason why I am trying to figure out if it is possible to come up with more objective criteria. Also, you are correct, it is getting much harder for me to contain some of my thoughts. Thank you for reminding me about it. You will know that I lost it completely when I stop posting long quotes :) $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ Whew, that's great! I think we're agreed, then! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ I removed the comments from the main question simply because they got in the way: they have become the focus of your response, rather than the question at hand. I do appreciate you taking the time to write out an answer though! This is really the only way we have of making the forum better is by exchanging ideas like this! I also modified the query slightly in light of the valid point you make about can versus should. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 5:23
  • $\begingroup$ I do have a question: what suggestion am I proposing be implemented? Re you opinions about me: I should hope that you at least would call me on any behaviour that you think is truly egregious! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Stop using logical fallacies. They are popular and somewhat effective rhetorical devices, but they do not lead to constructive discussions. At least, try to avoid using them when you talk to me. And with this, we are done here. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin -- Um. Okay? I guess if you're going to leave in a huff, there's no point in asking you to clarify what it is you're on about? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 23:54

As a person who has been in this situation several times, and was the source of the incident that inspired this post where I posted an answer to a question fairly early and then got ordered to shut up and not post, I can note that I find it extremely discouraging and unpleasant when I am told not to answer because it doesn't meet whatever criteria, so from personal experience, I can say it's effective at discouraging people like me from posting. I've stopped posting for a while several times after warnings like it.

In this case, I have a degree level knowledge of it and regularly work with people with ptsd, so I felt it would be useful as a worldbuilding element to give them some common criteria that cause a situation to be more traumatizing than another.

It's common for highly upvoted question to be about how an individual reacts to some element of the world, like this question on Santa, or this question on time travel or this question on immortality so there's no firm moderation stance about that sort of thing. I felt my experience could give them a useful idea about how to connect better with people based on some common criteria I have seen in case studies and the literature and real life.

Their question was fairly on point- can you get PTSD from being stabbed if you are later resurrected, a question easily answered by noting the common experience of many people with ptsd of being powerless, vulnerable, and immobilized which aren't removed by resurrection. I certainly felt it fit in with similar approved posts, like how Santa would respond to the authorities, or how a time travel would prep, or how an immortal would prove they were immortal.

That's my personal experience of how the comment was taken, and why I wrote an answer to the question. I am against encouraging people to not answer questions, because I have often seen good questions rejected because of the many random whims of worldbuilders. Better to assume the best, and avoid discouraging comments.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for taking the time to respond! Can I ask you why you the wording you did? It's an interesting tactic to choose, given your "degree level" of knowledge and practical experience (presumably in psychology). Just so that I understand where you're coming from: can you point out where the "order" actually is? What verbiage was used to convey the idea of "shutting up" and "not posting"? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 2:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ small nitpick: you were not ORDERED, but simply ASKED. To an order follows an enforcement, and I don't recall your answer being deleted, right? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 6:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You said "Please don't answer idle curiosity questions that have no worldbuilding context." in the context of the rules of the site. Orders require an ability to enforce an order, and elemtilas has more than 20k reputation, and as such has the trusted user permission, which lets them push answer deletion. If you are a person with authority and you say overt things, it's reasonable to expect them to be taken as orders. The authority is why I was discouraged and left for a while, because they could enforce punishments on me if they disliked my answer. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ And, more on the psychiatry branch of ptsd treatment and management. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 11:12

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