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I've been dealing with this since my first visit to Area 51, but I thought it was by design. Now it seems it's not just me; Joel Spolsky described my issue eloquently. Relevant snippet (emphasis mine):

A site for dogs? Golden Retrievers are on-topic. Wolves: Off topic. Barely, but off topic.

Dalmations? Obviously on topic. And this question adds nothing. We've established that Goldens are on topic. Do we really need to enumerate the breeds to understand what it means to be a site about dogs? No.

This is not a purely theoretical problem. I've been following the Web Applications proposal myself, and was thinking of posting an example question about sorting Google spreadsheets using multiple columns. But when I looked through the existing questions, I found a half dozen "Can I get functionality X from application Y"-type questions, so I didn't ask mine. As the hours and days passed, it got progressively harder to wade through these quasi-dupes to get to new questions.

So, I would like to propose that generic example questions be the official Area 51 standard wherever reasonable. Some people are already doing this. In true area 51 style, here are good/bad examples: don't ask "What is the average length of dalmatian hair?" or "Can you use Duff's device in Java?"; instead, ask "What is the average length of [dog breed]'s hair?" or "Can you use [syntax] in [language]?"

This will increase clarity without sacrificing value. It will also stop people from posting three similar questions which, if asked generically, would be only one question (which I have seen happen a few times). With fewer total questions, posts of dupes due to "There are 1000 example questions already? tl;dr" will decrease. And in the future, new users who see the golden retriever question might still post the dalmatian question. But new users who see the [breed] question won't post another [breed] question.

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Maybe you should add this as answer to the question/faq you have linked to. –  Ladybug Killer Jun 2 '10 at 19:29
Careful. "Can you use Duff's device in Java? and "Can you use [syntax] in [language]?" are not really analogous questions. –  Robert Harvey Jun 2 '10 at 19:42
@Ladybug, it's not quite a suggestion for how to make your proposal successful, as you will post at most five (this number subject to change, it seems) questions for your own proposal. –  Pops Jun 2 '10 at 19:45

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Personally, I'd like to see specific questions written like this:

"What is the average length of a [dalmatian's] hair?"

It shows the generic nature of the specific example, you don't have to decode the author's intentions, it's easier to read, and the final proposal won't end up looking like a bad Mad Libs.

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But I (verb) Mad Libs! –  mmyers Jun 2 '10 at 19:56
Ooh, a Mad Libs SE site!!! But seriously, this is a good compromise between genericalness and clarity. +1. –  Pops Jun 2 '10 at 19:58
@mmyers: Now now, that's "But (person) (verb) (adjective) Libs!" –  Pops Jun 2 '10 at 19:59
@Popular - The made up word "genericalness" does not embiggen us. –  Adam Davis Jun 2 '10 at 20:00
@Pollyanna, I actually looked it up in the dictionary before posting my comment. Genericalness is the correct word; "genericness" and "genericity" do not exist. –  Pops Jun 2 '10 at 20:01
@Popular - mind.setState(BLOWN); –  Adam Davis Jun 2 '10 at 20:03
@Pollyanna: I kept searching, and now feel obligated to tell you that it turns out that your dictionary matters. –  Pops Jun 2 '10 at 22:11

If it's important to the clarity of the question, write both. Put the one you want to emphasize (the one you feel is "stronger") in the question, and the other as a comment.

I've changed my mind on this: always ask a specific, concrete example. Include a generic form in comments if you think it would help clarify. A concrete example is easier to judge because it doesn't hide behind any assumptions. Those assumptions may not be shared. We want any such controversy to be brought up as soon as possible, because it will shape the definition of the site.

Can't we always delete dupes? Though I'm unsure about this WRT the loss of reputation, etc. Some may not be clear cut, just don't vote to delete in that case, or hold off if someone has raised an dupe discussion in comments?

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Always asking a concrete example doesn't preclude using "blah [replace me] blah" format, either. Just be sure to judge it on the actual example given and only use the brackets to better understand what is being asked (that question box is short). –  Gnome Jun 3 '10 at 9:58


*I wish!

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