There's a new post on the Stack Overflow blog entitled Real Questions Have Answers, which serves to expand upon the six subjective guidelines we all know and love. I encourage you to read it and the original answer from Aarobot that sparked the post itself.

The main point that's now been added to our FAQ is the following:

What kind of questions should I not ask here?

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page. To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite _____?”
  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use _____ for _____, what do you use?”
  • there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”
  • we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if _____ happened?”
  • it is a rant disguised as a question: “_____ sucks, am I right?”

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about _____”, then you should not be asking here. If your motivation is “I would like others to explain _____ to me”, then you are probably OK.

What are your thoughts on the new guidelines? Is there a problem with these types of questions that needs addressing?

What can we do to encourage questions that don't fall into the trap of being poll questions?

  • note that the copy was cleaned up on the examples a bit, and this was rolled out network wide and to the blog as well Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 8:46
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    On the close reasons dialog and text that gets added, could this be included in the explanation for "Not a real question"? Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 15:50
  • @jon the entire text? That'd make the close reason really long.. I'm not clear what you are asking for here. Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 7:52
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    @Jeff - When there is a very public clarification such as this, it would be great if the text which comes up explaining the close reason (in the dialog where you select the reason and under the question when it's closed), made it clear that this was a likely / possible cause, or at least now this is included in the FAQ pointed to it in the way the off-topic one does. Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 9:24

4 Answers 4


What are your thoughts on the new guidelines?

I am exceedingly happy about them! One of the most persistent abuses of SO, right from the very start, has been Getting To Know You questions (often incorrectly referred to as polls*) - a bored user asking others to share their favorite X, tell a story about X, commiserate in X, etc...

It's forum-fodder, a staple of newsgroups and message boards, and perfectly appropriate for those venues, but utterly useless on SO/SE (where questions are expected to live on for years). They're fun, and often they'll collect a small number of very interesting answers... This in turn makes them very hard to kill: "How dare you delete Eric's brilliant story about how he once built a web browser out of corn?!! You heartless bastard!"

In the broader category of "list questions" (poll, GTKY, product recommendation, brainstorming, tips, etc.), there are perhaps a handful that are generally useful... And invariably, they're asked by users who actually care deeply about getting some useful answers. The rest, asked by the bored/lazy/rep-hungry, quickly devolve into fluff, as the asker has no vested interest in refining his question to limit such responses. And so every compromise we've tried - meta-tagging, mandatory-CW, fluff-ghetto - has been resisted and ultimately has failed.

Ultimately, the only way to combat this rot is by judging the intent of the asker. And you gauge their intent by the words they use: while "What's your favorite editor?" and "What's a good editor for Windows that supports >5GB files and has built-in macros?" are superficially close, the projected intent is utterly different.

It's good to know that we can now refer to the FAQ when editing or closing these beasts.

*A poll is useless unless someone is compiling the responses into a finite set of categories. This almost never happens. The only painless way to run an effective poll on SE is to post a finite set of answers, CW everything, and then close the question and let people vote and comment - this hasn't been possible without moderator intervention for over two years.

  • we always could refer to the FAQ when closing questions (that's where the 6 guidelines live) but now there's even more there to bang them over the head with.
    – Walter
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 0:20
  • @Walter: that's my point - much as I appreciate the work put into developing those guidelines, they are... subjective, and hardly constitute a ringing denouncement of these sorts of questions. If your goal is to avoid lengthy arguments (and it should be...) then a clear, canonical statement is priceless.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 0:26

The new guidelines, at the moment, seem well-formed and a positive move.

As far as encouraging better questions, I think we need to look at the motivation for the questions that violate these rules. Some of them are lost causes, but some may have a valid topic that, worded differently, could actually produce a real answer.


Instead of "What is your favorite..." questions, what about "What is the best..." questions? It gives the poster the burden of backing up their answer, as well as an actual (albeit subjective) criteria for accepting an answer.

(Obviously, not all favorite questions could be reworded like this)

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    "What is the best" can be too localized. What's best right now may not remain best in a year. It works for some questions, but it's pretty rare, IMHO.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 2:55

Are there any differentiating factors between "What is the deal with X?" and "I would like others to explain X to me."? These two questions are quite similar, yet the former is bad and the latter is good.

Would it be the author's wording and tone?

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    Yes, tone goes a long way... Same goes for "X sucks!" vs. "How can I avoid this problem I'm having with X?" - the latter solicits help/advice, while the former begs for rants and stories. Fortunately, these questions are often easy to salvage if the author accepts editing.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 23:17

I think that the major issue with these types of questions is that they enable reputation inflation. I realize that there is cap, but if you ask one "popular" question of this nature it is an automatic 200+ reputation boost. Same goes for the answer. I have seen numerous "constructive question" with relatively low voting and at the same time questions like "What equipment does every developer need?" get blasted through the roof with votes.

As a side effect, I fear that users will be hunting for questions or answers that they know will get them votes just boot their rep opposed asking more constructive questions or answering more legitimate questions.

  • In every rep system there are people who are actively trying to game it. A high rep score only suggests, but doesn't guarantee, that the user is trusted by the community. The best the rest of us can do is let the children enjoy their artificially inflated numbers and move on.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Jan 17, 2011 at 22:43
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    I agree with that...I just don't want the quality of the questions to suffer from excessive rep farming.
    – Pemdas
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 2:05
  • I agree with Pemdas. I would like to add that I saw (1) very constructive and carefully written questions and / or answers getting very few votes (2) little constructive questions / answers that support a commonly accepted opinion (e.g. that technology X is good) getting lots of votes (3) provocative questions somewhat similar to the 2-type but suggesting opinions that are not popular being down-voted and closed. I admit that this state of things does not motivate to write good answers since most up-votes seems to go to type-2 questions and answers.
    – Giorgio
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 7:33
  • I also feel very uncomfortable with expressing any kind of criticism in a question (such as: technology X has this problem how can I find a workaround) because it will very likely cause a flame war. If technology X is popular my question will be down-voted and closed. If it is not, my question will (maybe) get up-votes and answers will confirm my statement (that technology X has a problem).
    – Giorgio
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 7:36

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