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Often, I face myself asking a tricky question where someone interested in giving me a constructive answer would have to sit down and think. They would also need to care about my question and my problem and be open-minded. Instead, they often end up just trying to make a point - the point they've had all their lives and they won't reconsider - or make me bad or show off their (sometimes questionable) knowledge. In short: useless and not constructive.

Usually, this doesn't happen when the question itself is technical and can be answered very objectively. But as soon as I'd like a subjective, critical but constructive answer, I get a bashing. And even more so, the bashers get votes by other bashers such that the really constructive, interesting answers will move down in ranking among all the answers.

Is there a way to circumvent that? E.g. in phrasing my question very carefully (how?) Any ideas welcome.

NOTE: Downvoting or flagging them is maybe not the best option, because they may still have a valid point, but they did not answer constructively.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You need to come to terms with the reality that you can't restrict who answers your question or how they answer it. Everyone's got an opinion about everything, and most are just dying to share it. No matter what you do, there's a high likelihood that given the opportunity, someone is going to use their answer as a means to push their opinion about the content of your question, especially if you ask for one.

Additionally, even though you asked the question, you're asking a community who takes ownership of what occurs on the site. Very few people care about you personally or your problems: they are here to ask and answer questions. Expect dispassionate answers and answers that don't really consider your feelings per se. Stack Exchange is tough love, not group therapy: it's what makes it valuable as a expert resource.

The best you can do is the following:

  • Hang onto objectivity like grim death. If you can rephrase your question in a way that commands an objective, rational answer, do it. The more objective a question is, the more likely lame, ranty, or non-constructive answers and comments will be downvoted or flagged.
  • Failing that, conform to the six guidelines for subjective questions as much as you possibly can. They are perfect for cutting out most of the excuses people will use to provide useless answers under the guise of "it's all subjective anyway".
  • Downvote non-useful answers and flag abusive answers and comments without pity, or remorse, or fear. People tend to act poorly when they are sure there are no repercussions for doing so. Provide repercussions.
  • Make sure you're on the right site. Stack Overflow is not the site for most opinionated, wishy-washy questions about software development. Instead, you want Programmers.SE, where you're far more likely to find people who are amenable to answering those types of questions. Other, non-software development-related topics don't have a wishy-washy analogue site: it may be the case that your question does not have a home on the Stack Exchange network.
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Oh crud, you're right. I wanted to post that question to meta.programmers... Is there a way to move it across? (BTW, thanks for the guidelines) –  Lukas Eder Dec 11 '10 at 9:05
    
@Lukas there is no migration path to Programmers.SE yet: it's still in beta. But this question is a good question for the whole network anyway. You could always re-ask on Meta.Programmers.SE if you wanted to make sure you solicit users there as well. –  user149432 Dec 11 '10 at 9:10
    
OK, thanks for your input –  Lukas Eder Dec 11 '10 at 9:16

If you put out peanut butter and cheerios, you will attract bears. Or, in the case at hand, trolls. Bears Trolls can smell even good peanut butter subjective questions from miles away. They will come, they will type, and all you can hope is that something useful to you appears in between their deposits of scat.

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So that's why the bear trap was invented, huh? :) –  Lukas Eder Dec 11 '10 at 16:03

Well, if you're looking for the canonical source of "how to ask a good subjective question", refer to the 6 rules:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective/

Great subjective questions...

  1. inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  2. tend to have long, not short, answers.
  3. have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  4. invite sharing experiences over opinions.
  5. insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.
  6. are more than just mindless social fun.
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Thanks, you're right. Mark already pointed that out, too. –  Lukas Eder Dec 11 '10 at 13:08

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