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Most (if not all) SE sites have something in their help centre along these lines:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

My question is: Is the emphasis on it being a "problem you face" to discourage

Chatty, open-ended questions [that] diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

or does it actually have to be your own question? (Let's assume it otherwise fits the criteria for being a good question.)

It's also followed up by this paragraph

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.)

which (combined with the contrast to "chatty, open-ended questions" above) makes me feel that as long as you describe a practical, answerable question that could be a problem that you face (but in real life happens to not be), you are okay; however the letter of the rule indicates that it should be your own problem.

The main reason that I am asking is that in beta I feel like it is a good policy to ask high-quality example questions, in order to:

  • help define the scope of the site
  • attract new visitors who are interested by the question and/or its answers
  • build up a bank of good, high-quality questions in the early stages
  • help the site show up on Google question results and drive more traffic

However, I want to know if it's discouraged from doing so.

Edit. Let's give an example to make it clearer.

I'm on Pets.SE at the moment. Here are some questions from the front page.

  • How can I stop my dogs from barking at animals on television?
  • Will crickets lay barren eggs?
  • What are the arguments against neutering a guinea pig?

If those questions didn't apply to you or a problem you faced, could you still ask them? Or does the fact that they are not an "actual problem you face" mean that it doesn't matter that it's otherwise a "practical, answerable question"?

  • 1
    It's a fair point. Self answers in particular may not be a question you are currently facing. But it probably will be something you faced at some point – Richard Tingle Feb 7 '14 at 16:17
  • I think it's stated like that to avoid comments exchange like: "How exactly this step works?" - "I don't know, it's not my issue!". As long as you can provide required clarifications, you should be fine. – Mołot Feb 7 '14 at 16:49
  • Related: blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/07/… . – Ziv Feb 12 '14 at 13:01
8

The purpose of that sentence is not to discourage questions which you are not facing.. It is to actually discourage questions where we make so many assumptions and imaginations out of curiosity to a point where we are absolutely certain that we would never-ever face that question in real life...

Something like:

"Why do humans have hearts?"

should be fine on a site which deals with Biology (if there is); but to extend it to something like:

"If humans did not have hearts, which organ would have replaced it?"

would be impracticable.

I don't know if the analogy makes sense, but I hope you understand what I am trying to convey..


So, the crux of the matter is - keep asking questions out of curiosity. Do not worry that you do not actually face such a question.. but make sure it is practical.

  • 1
    That is how I interpret the rules as well, but I hesitated because the wording is not written that way. I think I'll also put some examples in the question to make it clearer. – starsplusplus Feb 7 '14 at 16:41
4

We expect questions to have some practical relevance to the users of the site. In practice, that means it will have some practical relevance to you. It can be difficult to articulate a problem that you've never had.

I suspect the motivation here is questions like "Why was Alan Turing's last name Turing?" Who cares? Does it solve anyone's problem?

Less ridiculous, but equally relevant: "What is the most obnoxious bug you caused, and what did you do to fix it?" While a question like this might be amusing, and maybe even educational in some obscure way, it is not a problem statement, but merely a curiosity question. It is, in effect, a discussion, not a Q&A. It's not definitively answerable, and it certainly doesn't solve any problem you (or anyone else) currently has.

Hypothetical questions are difficult to get right. In order to be useful to the community, they need to apply more to the general case than your typical, highly-localized problem question. This often makes them at odds with other questions on the site, since these hypothetical questions are often perceived as too broad. In other words, if it's not a problem you're facing, then who is facing it?

That said, questions like that can be very useful to a site community, especially if they address a common problem that many people face. They are particularly useful as duplicate targets for closing questions that are asked repeatedly (on Stack Overflow, we call these "canonical questions").

If you want to know what kinds of questions define a site's scope, just look at one of the many proposals floated on Area 51. There are several example questions on each proposal, and the votes and user feedback there will give you a very clear idea what people think will be good or bad questions for the site.

  • If you reread the question, you'll see that I am asking about whether it matters if a practical, answerable problem is your problem. In other words, I agree with you about the motivation, but my point is to ask whether, if it is otherwise a good question, it matters if you personally are having the problem. – starsplusplus Feb 7 '14 at 16:39
  • Yes, the common problem thing is sort of what I'm getting at. I think it might be particularly helpful in beta to help define the site and also to provide some interesting questions and answers to drive traffic. I've edited the question to include a few examples if that helps. – starsplusplus Feb 7 '14 at 16:48
  • I've edited my answer accordingly. – Robert Harvey Feb 7 '14 at 16:50

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