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This question already has an answer here:

Many questions get closed on Stack Overflow for having a broad scope or being subjective in nature - often with the motivation that these questions are not fit for the Q&A format. Examples:

I respectfully disagree that these questions are not fit for the Q&A format - that is saying they have no place on Stack Overflow or any other Stack Exchange site regardless of their focus.

I'm fine with broad questions being closed on the basis of not being topical - Stack Overflow is for programming questions with a narrow scope.

For example, lets say I'm new to programming and the question I ask is: "What programming language is best for beginners?". It's a broad question that will promote endless discussion and subjective answers and according to the rules is definitely NOT suited for the Q&A format.. I disagree. I'd say it's a perfectly fine question that has its place on a Q&A site, the answers can still be clear and objective such as:

"Before deciding which language to pick you need to find out if you want X, Y or Z. Here are suggestions what to look into: E, F or G - are the most popular choices right now. G is deemed easy for beginners because of F and might be a good place to start. When you know the answer to X, Y and Z, we might be able to give you more specific suggestions."

I can see how the question may generate debate, but that is the fault of the people debating not the person asking the question. Is the problem that these questions are too difficult to administrate if they encourage heated debates? IMO, the discussions/debates should be removed not the questions themselves.

marked as duplicate by gnat, Tobias Kienzler, hims056, Mat, ChrisF Jul 22 '13 at 13:21

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.

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    Your proposed "good answer" is not an answer. It's a request for clarification that basically describes what is wrong with that kind of question... anywhere. – Andrew Barber Jul 21 '13 at 18:22
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    The art of programming: Java vs C#. This is wrong on so many levels I cannot even start enumerating them. – Frédéric Hamidi Jul 21 '13 at 18:24
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    You keep using the words "question" and "answer". I do not think they mean what you think they mean. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jul 21 '13 at 18:31
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    "I can see how the question may generate debate, but that is the fault of the people debating not the person asking the question."... ehm, no. It's the question that invites the debate. Hence the question is at fault. "No debates please" doesn't make the question any better. – Bart Jul 21 '13 at 18:32
  • @Bart hehe... it's sort of comparable to, "I'm not racist, but..." the mere mention of the thing - and the belief that it must be spoken of - sort of illustrates how obvious it is that it exists. – Andrew Barber Jul 21 '13 at 18:40
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    You're right though @AndrewBarber. Any answer to this very question, would be illustrated by the example answer the OP has already given. That's exactly why such questions are problematic. It's a poor answer in the sense that it's not an answer to begin with. So I have no clue how to answer this one.....well played OP..... – Bart Jul 21 '13 at 18:50
  • A student asks his professor "what is the best programming language for beginners?", a good professor recognizes that the real question being asked is: "I'm a beginner, how do I decide which language to pick?" and would answer in a way I described - and in that way be a helpful resource to the person asking the question. Is the goal of stackoverflow to be a helpful professor? Or does it fill another role where the answer "Question not fit for Q&A" is a better response? – Pking Jul 21 '13 at 19:18
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    Where do you get the impression that Stack Overflow is trying to be a "helpful professor"? What part of the Help Center is unclear to you in describing the site's goals and purpose? – Bart Jul 21 '13 at 19:22
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    @Pking: then the student asks another professor, and gets a completely different answer. Then he asks a friend and gets, again, another answer... and so on. That's not the type of question Stack Overflow or Stack Exchange in general is for. – Mat Jul 21 '13 at 19:23
  • Bart: Guess my confusion lies in the expression "Q&A format" - as it suggests the general idea of asking questions and getting them answered in a public forum.. to which I think broad and subjective questions are well suited and provided a IRL example. Can someone give an argument why broad and subjective questions are not suited for the Q&A format? – Pking Jul 21 '13 at 19:34
  • stackoverflow.com/help/dont-ask explains it pretty well. Q&A format does by no means imply that anything which is a question, and which might have some form of an answer, is a good fit for the site. – Bart Jul 21 '13 at 19:39
  • Bart: Well, turns out I was indeed confused about the phrase "Q&A format", as it does not mean that the question is not suited for a question-and-answer format in general (to which I object) but rather "Q&A format as we defined it with particular rules on what kind of subjective questions are allowed". If you'd ask me outside the stackoverflow context if questions such as the ones i've given is suitable for a Q&A format in general, I'd argue that it is. – Pking Jul 21 '13 at 19:52
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    They are valid questions to have as a developer, they are not valid questions within the context of Stack Overflow. – Bart Jul 21 '13 at 20:00
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Many questions get closed on Stack Overflow for having a broad scope or being subjective in nature - often with the motivation that these questions are not fit for the Q&A format.

[…]

I respectfully disagree that these questions are not fit for the Q&A format - that is saying they have no place on Stack Overflow or any other Stack Exchange site regardless of their focus.

[…]

Guess my confusion lies in the expression "Q&A format" - as it suggests the general idea of asking questions and getting them answered in a public forum.. to which I think broad and subjective questions are well suited and provided a IRL example. Can someone give an argument why broad and subjective questions are not suited for the Q&A format?

You're not thinking of Q&A here, you're thinking of an online forum or message board—perhaps the old-school phpBB forums or even Reddit. "Discussion"-based questions are perfectly suitable there, and even encouraged, as they're interesting for people to talk about. They also elicit a wide audience of participants, as all that's required is a minimal amount of domain knowledge and an opinion. So basically, anyone who with a pulse who stumbles onto your question can answer. (And I can't help but notice that you're participating here, and not there.)

But that's precisely why they are not good questions for a Q&A site. The reason we call ourselves a Q&A site is because we want to focus on two things: questions and answers. Perhaps it sounds harsh to state it explicitly, but the participants who contribute those answers are mostly irrelevant—largely a means to an end (although they benefit from the so-called "end" in many ways).

A Q&A site therefore lies in contrast to a discussion-based site. Good questions have answers. That's our motto. The About page, which probably introduced you to the site when you were a new user, explains all of this rather well. I encourage you to read it if you haven't already.

And by "answers", we don't mean "opinions". We're not about widening participation or letting everyone have their say about popular issues. We're about building a library of detailed answers to specific questions about programming. The Help Center (specifically, the section on asking questions) goes into even more detail:

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.

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK. (Discussions are of course welcome in our real time web chat.)

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.”
  • you are asking an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”
  • your question is just a rant in disguise: “______ sucks, am I right?”

That lays it out pretty clearly. Questions of the style "What's the best…" just turn into polls. There's no clear, objective, correct answer, which is absolutely required on a Q&A site. So critical, in fact, that we have two different systems in place to help the best, most correct answer rise to the top: voting and acceptance.

Aside from all that, the rules did used to be a bit more lax. We've tightened them up over the years as we've learned that it just didn't work out otherwise. Browsing around this Meta site will turn up lots of interesting discussions we've had about that in the past, and there are some interesting posts on the Stack Exchange blog about it. For example:

Well, turns out I was indeed confused about the phrase "Q&A format", as it does not mean that the question is not suited for a question-and-answer format in general (to which I object) but rather "Q&A format as we defined it with particular rules on what kind of subjective questions are allowed". If you'd ask me outside the stackoverflow context if questions such as the ones i've given is suitable for a Q&A format in general, I'd argue that it is.

The thing is, the Stack Exchange family of sites sort of defined online Q&A sites, and the format along with them. So yes, when we say "Q&A site", we do mean "within our particular rules about what kind of subjective questions are allowed".

But they're not totally arbitrary rules, either, as I've attempted to explain above. You seem to be thinking of questions and answers as independent entities, but they're not. A Q&A site requires both. The types of subjective questions that you're citing might qualify as "questions", but they don't have "answers", so they're not workable here.

I can see how the question may generate debate, but that is the fault of the people debating not the person asking the question. Is the problem that these questions are too difficult to administrate if they encourage heated debates? IMO, the discussions/debates should be removed not the questions themselves.

Commenters have already attempted to explain why the problem is the question itself. I suppose that makes some degree of sense: if you ask an open-ended, opinion-based question that obviously incites or encourages discussion, it's human nature to have and want to share your opinion. So it's kind of pointless and a bit perverse to blame people for doing exactly what you've invited them to do.

But the problem goes deeper than that, and is much more insidious. The issue is that these types of questions do not have an answer—that's why they generate debate.

If there were a way to fix or reword the question such that it would have an answer, it would be perfectly permissible under our guidelines. And then it would also be much less likely to generate debate. And if it did, then that would be the fault of the one or two debaters, and their contributions would be removed as unwelcome and off-topic clutter.

I'm fine with broad questions being closed on the basis of not being topical - Stack Overflow is for programming questions with a narrow scope.

Right, so…I'm a bit confused here. Do you think the question "What programming language is best?" is narrowly-scoped? Because I could write a whole book about that. And so could someone else. And someone else. And someone else. It's books all the way down!

  • Thanks for taking the time answering those points. To answer your last question. The "What programming language is best?" It was an example of a broad-scoped question that, albeit not suited for stackoverflow, in my opinion is indeed suited for the Q&A format (not as defined by stackoverflow rules/guidelines but for a Q&A format in general). I think you can give constructive, clear answers to subjective questions (seems like stackoverflow also recognizes this by allowing certain subjective questions). – Pking Jul 22 '13 at 6:17
  • @pki If there were an objective answer to the question of which language of a given pair is better we would be able to define a strict ordering of languages and there would be only one language soon. – Flexo Jul 22 '13 at 6:30

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