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Related: Why is a feature comparison list question not considered constructive?

So, I recently asked the question http://stackoverflow.com/questions/15100601/rosyln-versus-t4-for-code-generation?noredirect=1 It was thereafter shortly closed because it was a "list" question. I was first pointed to the general stance on shopping questions(ie, list of ways to do something) Are list questions off topic? Then, I was pointed to the blog post for Gorilla Versus Shark which outlined why general "X vs Y -- which is better" is not constructive.

However, I feel that my question and pros/cons questions in general do not quite fit into these established stances. Arguments:

Every answer is equally valid

Generally, those questions are infinite, as a new answer could always be added; they also tend to be subjective

It's pros/cons. Which is the most accurate is "correct". It's possibly a bit subjective, but with the context my question included ("for generating code") I don't think this is a problem. A new answer could not always be added, though a comprehensive pros/cons list would rarely become "complete", it's not always becoming out of date with the exception of new software releases.

Nobody needs to know the answer to this question

Do you own a gorilla? Do you own a shark? When was the last time you even saw a gorilla and shark going at it hand to fin? In other words, what is your skin in this particular game? What specific problem, other than idle curiosity, would answering this question satisfy or solve for you … or anyone else?

People in the planning stages of code generation projects would like to know the answer to this question. Some of the pros might overlap especially well with what they are doing, etc

It’s not nearly specific enough

Where will the fight be, in what location? Underwater, or on land? What are the rules of the fight so we can determine a victor? Will it be to the death, or under some type of points system? Can they be trained specifically to fight by trainers, or are they completely on their own? Without any kind of scope, every answer can make any assumptions they like — and there will assuredly be hundreds, all different.

I covered "where the fight will be". In the code generation arena. This is fairly specific context I think.

It is difficult to learn from these questions

Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, we had animaltrainers.stackexchange.com, a site full of people who have hands-on experience with both gorillas and sharks. And they were, hypothetically speaking, willing to answer such a question to the best of their expert knowledge. In the process, you might learn a few interesting things about both animals, such as that an adult gorilla’s upper body strength is six times more powerful than that of an adult human. Or that shark skin is so tough and hard that before the invention of sandpaper, shark skin was used to polish wood. But this sort of learning is largely accidental at best, like a random walk through an encyclopedia. It might be entertaining as a speculative diversion to compare and contrast these two very different animals in broad terms. But even under ideal circumstances there really can be no absolute answer to this question other than “it depends; both animals are adapted to their particular environment and have certain strengths and weaknesses.” This is a good answer, maybe even the correct answer, but it’s just not that useful.

I'm not sure about this part. this question is basically asking "in this area, what are both animals strengths and weaknesses". I don't think this applies, but can't come up with a good argument otherwise

It drives away experts

What serious, expert animal trainer would give Gorilla vs. Shark the time of day? This kind of question attracts the opposite of experts: people who aren’t serious animal trainers, but are willing to engage in idle speculation and discussiony generalities — rather than focusing on the real world, specific, honest-to-goodness questions they face in their day to day work. Any true expert who came to animaltrainers.stackexchange.com would be appalled to see a question like Gorilla vs. Shark appear on the homepage.

I wouldn't think it drives away experts. If an expert in T4 (I'd like to consider myself that :) ) didn't know anything about Roslyn, this would be an interesting question to come across to figure out if they should be learning it to see what it can do, since it applies to their specific task (code generation)


So, in summary: What is the general stance. Are pros/cons constructive.. or not? I tend to think their constructive, but I'd like to get a more "official" view point and/or concensus so I know not to ask such questions.

Also, for reference, do a search of "pros cons" on Stackoverflow. You'll see a lot. For the more recent questions, some are closed and some are open. Hence me asking this question. Appropriate or not?

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marked as duplicate by gnat, hims056, Toon Krijthe, РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ, mehow Feb 28 at 11:50

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

12  
Just FYI; the existence of open questions that fit your template does not necessarily mean those questions are OK; It more likely just means no one who would flag/vote has discovered them yet. –  Andrew Barber Feb 26 '13 at 23:32

3 Answers 3

It's pros/cons. Which is the most accurate is "correct". It's possibly a bit subjective, but with the context my question included ("for generating code") I don't think this is a problem. A new answer could not always be added, though a comprehensive pros/cons list would rarely become "complete", it's not always becoming out of date with the exception of new software releases.

Who decides what is the "most accurate"? How do you know which is the most accurate? And most importantly of all, how do you keep it from becoming subjective nonsense?

It's very easy to say that one side is better than the other by omitting some pros and adding some cons. But pros and cons are a matter of perspective; they're purely subjective. What may be a pro for one person or user may not be a pro for others. So what looks like a glaring omission for some is not for others.

My biggest problem is that nobody is ever sure that any answer given is sufficiently complete by some measure. How can you be sure that an answer is complete? How can you be sure that you're not just getting the popular opinion, that you're getting real facts? How can you know that one person's list of pros/cons is better or more accurate than another's? Popular vote?

Because popular opinion tends to favor that which is, well, popular. Not necessarily which is right.

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Pros/Cons requests are frequently closed because they lead to discussion, and don't usually present a problem to be solved, however there are some ways to ask such questions to avoid the Not Constructive close reason while still getting the information you seek.

I've had some success with using one or more of the following, depending on the question I'm asking:

  • Present an actual problem to be solved, and list your two options as OptionA and OptionB

    Say what you know about them, and ask which option is better for your situation and why. You'll often get an answer containing the Pros and Cons of each option, particularly if you hint that you are looking for Pros/Cons, or if you phrase your question with it's own Pro/Con list.

    For example, you could say you are trying to decide between T4 and Rosyln, and are particularly interested in their syntax analysis, code generation capabilities, and use as a scripting language. Highlighting what features you want is important because you need to give voters some metric against which to judge the answers by so it avoids turning into a question where people just vote up their favorite option.

    I have an example here

  • Be clear that you are looking for a complete canonical list of pros/cons, and not a lot of little answers where every answer adds a different piece to the puzzle.

    This is usually done by adding a note to the question explaining that I want a comprehensive answer and not a lot of little answers each containing one piece of the solution. It usually deters people who only want to post a quick short answer containing one piece of information, which helps avoid closure.

    I have some example questions that have avoided closure this way despite being brought up for closure by the community here, here, and here

  • Instead of asking for Pros and Cons, ask for factors you should consider to make an informed decision.

    Often what is a "pro" and what is a "con" can be subjective, so depending on the situation it may be better to ask for what factors you should consider when trying to decide between the two.

    There is a good example of such a question here

All the example questions I posted came up for discussion within the community at least once, and survived close attempts because they avoided the usual traps that are the reason for our "Not Constructive" close reason.

To summarize, try to ensure your question

  • Elicits Answers instead of Discussions

  • Contains enough information that users are voting on the correctness of the answer for your situation instead of voting for their favorite option

  • Avoids attracting a great number of answers that each contain contain an equally valid piece of information

Finding that balance is very tricky though, and often a group of bad answerers is easily enough to push your question into being closed as Not Constructive.

Ultimately Stack Exchange wants to be a Question and Answer site, not a discussion forum, and requests for a list of Pros and Cons can easily slip into becoming a discussion instead of a specific Question and Answer.

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2  
These are useful tips in their own right, but I'm dubious about the idea of creating workarounds for questions that probably shouldn't be asked in the first place. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. That said, your linked example question is a good one; it's more of a why question than a what question. –  Robert Harvey Feb 27 '13 at 15:37
    
The salary one is too broad to pass muster on many other SE sites. –  Robert Harvey Feb 27 '13 at 15:42
    
@RobertHarvey I wouldn't really call them "workarounds" - I'd call them "How to ask a good Pro/Con question". These questions aren't considered "bad" because they ask for a list of pros and cons, they're considered bad because the end result of asking for a list of pros and cons is not likely to be constructive for SE's Q&A goals. Usually users are asking for Pros/Cons to try and make a decision, which is a very valid problem for our Q&A sites, but the majority of times these questions are asked badly and lead to discussion or polling instead of an answer. –  Rachel Feb 27 '13 at 15:42
    
the majority of times these questions are asked badly and lead to discussion or polling instead of an answer -- No argument there. –  Robert Harvey Feb 27 '13 at 15:43
    
@RobertHarvey The Salary one is special because the Workplace gets a lot of questions about salary, so it was meant to be a comprehensive question that we can close others as a duplicate to. It's even linked in their FAQ. I used it as an example for my 2nd bullet point because it specifically says that its looking for a comprehensive answer in the body of the question, which was the point of that section. I think it works too, as there are only 3 answers listed instead of the 20+ I would expect just based on the question title, and I've successfully used phrases like that is other questions. –  Rachel Feb 27 '13 at 15:47
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But that only works if you're creating canonical questions and answers. On Stack Overflow, only the C++ and PHP folks have managed to be successful at this. –  Robert Harvey Feb 27 '13 at 15:49
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"You'll often get an answer containing the Pros and Cons of each option, particularly if you hint that you are looking for Pros/Cons" - it's sad that you need to "hint" at what you're looking for just so that jobsworth doctrinarian moderators don't close your question. –  Dan Dascalescu Feb 24 at 6:18

I agree with Nicol Bolas' answer.

For more clarification about why these are closed, see the close reason for "Not Constructive":

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance.

As stated in that excerpt and the FAQ, Stack Overflow, and all other SE sites *, are for asking question and getting answers, not discussions.

The reasons for why this type of question is considered a discussion can be found (again) in the not constructive banner:

  • "We expect answers to be supported by facts":

    A "Pro/Cons question rarely has any factual answers because what is "best" is entirely based on the opinions of the answerer.

  • "...this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion":

    Because almost, if not every, answer is be based on personal opinion a "Pro/Cons" question soon becomes a discussion ground, sparking arguments and in some cases polling. This diminishes the goal of Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites in general: To provide a place for questions and answers in a well laid out, no nonsense environment. Forums on the other hand are for discussions and questions like these are usually welcome there. I am sure there are many forums out there where your question would be welcomed.

* Note I have found that on some smaller sites, questions that would be closed on bigger sites are left open because of the smallness of the participating community and/or subject of the site. For example the Chess Beta.

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