I think, the answer is no.

Instead, you would do this:

  1. You would decode, what your son really wants to know.
  2. You would summarize an answer on your best skills.
  3. Doing this, you would optimize an answer to these goals:
    1. The answer should be big enough to answer the question.
    2. It shouldn't be so big that it makes your son bored.
    3. It must be interesting, to keep your son curious about the topic and make him wish to learn much more.
    4. It wouldn't be a problem for you, if an exact answer would be 200 pages long. You would know very well, that this would not serve the best of your son - instead, you would give him an interesting summary.
    5. The answer should adapt to the knowledge level of your son:
      1. It shouldn't contain only trivialities for him.
      2. But it shouldn't be too complex for him, making the answer incomprehensible for him.

Could we do the same, at least a part of the "too broad" questions? Why not?


3 Answers 3


And it would be based on your specific knowledge of your son, and not necessarily helpful to anybody else.

We don't know enough to decode what an anonymous person on the Internet asks; that's why we have to seek clarification, and in the meantime should hold off on guess-based answers that might be way off the mark. And the next person who comes here with the same question might be very different from your son and not benefit from a Peter's-son-tuned answer.

  • After writing a lot of answers, I think I can say that the knowledge level of the OPs can be enough well determined only from his question, to provide a best possible answer. And others coming here by search engines, will found likely this content because they are on the same knowledge level.
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 18:52

If your son would ask, “Dad, why… ?”, would you answer: “Too broad, closed”?

We are not parents. That's is not how SE is supposed to function.

Your analogy of parenting is wrong because nestled within that is the expectation of obligation. That the person being asked is ultimately obligated to provide an answer. Parents are expected to be patient with their children, to take them by the hand, to guide and work with them to help them grow and develop. Good vs. bad parenting is based on how well parents fulfill that obligation.

Nobody on this site is obligated to provide an answer. Nobody on this site is obligated to work with someone to help them grow or develop.

Your analogy is flawed.

There are many analogies that people can come up with for how SE works, but the one I think best exemplifies it is this.

You go into a bathroom stall. While doing your business, you notice a question written on the wall. If it's of reasonably narrow scope, then you can answer it while otherwise engaged. And if the question is complete, then you'll be able to answer it without having to track down the person who wrote the question.

Someone who comes into that stall later on can learn from the answer you provided, and maybe provide a better one.

That is the ideal interaction on Stack Overflow.

  • If you don't want to be a good "parent", why you don't allow others to answer these questions? You are doing more, than not answering these questions: you are closing them, disallowing others to answer them. If you can't/won't answer a question, why you don't allow others to do?
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:14
  • 12
    @peterh: Because SE is not about being a parent, and we don't want to give the impression that it is. As previously stated, we have determined which questions provide good, complete, indexable information and which do not. We close the latter. Jul 15, 2018 at 19:15
  • My post shows, how to answer such a question. Why an answer, formulated on this way, wouldn't be an useful part of the catalogue?
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:19
  • 9
    @peterh: If I Google a broad question, and I get an SO question that has 10 answers, it is still very possible that none of them answers the part of the broad problem I'm interested in. Whereas if you Google a narrow question, and you get to SO, odds are good that the answers will apply to your question. Narrow questions easily match problems to solutions; broad questions provide random information, but with no guarantees that it actually helps. We optimize for pearls, not sand. Jul 15, 2018 at 19:22
  • I am searching only very rarely for questions considered too broad by the SO. It is because I typically know, what I want to know. As an experiment, now I tried to search for "how to write a web forum". Not surprisingly, I found zero SO/SE answers on the first some pages. I think, allowing some sands (until it doesn't cause redundancy -> dupe closure) could be useful simply because the mass of the people searching for it. I think you found bikesched questions and not too broad ones.
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:36
  • 9
    I think setting the expectation that users are not obligated to help is key, here. Too often we see the attitude that questions just need to be answered, quality, effort, and incomplete information be damned. If you can't help, leave it alone, and let the next person answer it, because it's not the question's problem that it can't actually be answered.
    – fbueckert
    Jul 16, 2018 at 13:31
  • Also, if you find the question is bad, you are in an ideal position to flush it away. Jul 16, 2018 at 17:57
  • @fbueckert Here is the key: *"If you can't help, leave it alone, and let the next person answer it," <- But currently these questions are closed, avoiding even others from answering it.
    – peterh
    Jul 16, 2018 at 23:46

Having a child is only one analogy. A more appropriate analogy would be a university professor lecturing in front of hundreds of students. How much time should they spend with a single student who can't ask a succinct, or even necessarily understandable, question at the expense of all of the others who are also trying to learn and who have their own questions? Even if multiple professors are sharing a teaching role, each one of them can only spend so much time on an individual.

Closing a question does not mean that it remains closed. If the question is sufficiently edited so that it makes sense, then it can be reopened and answered.

Also, in at least some cases, the close votes don't happen immediately. The questioner is able to respond to comments and edit their question—and those who voted to close it can retract their votes when this happens.

If it's not possible to answer a question, because it really is too broad, and the questioner isn't able to clarify what it is that they want, then closing it, or at least voting to close it, is reasonable.

  • "A more appropriate analogy would be a university professor lecturing in front of hundreds of students." I wouldn't go even that far. SE is like going to a bathroom stall, seeing a question written on the wall, and writing an answer to it while otherwise engaged. If the question is incomplete, you can't answer it, because the asker is nowhere to be found. And if its too broad, you're not going to be able to finish before doing your other business. Jul 15, 2018 at 18:57
  • The knowledge level of the profs is far over the students', while their count is very small, compared to the students. On the SE, the count of the answerers are roughly the same as the OPs, and there is a broad spectrum of knowledge level both in the case of the OPs and the answerers.
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 18:59
  • @NicolBolas I can say to you only, what I said to rene: if you are doing the same also to your son, then the evolution votes you down. If not, the question appears, why we can't do the same also on the SE.
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:01
  • 11
    @peterh: We are not your parents. Your analogy is flawed. SE is not what you want it to be. Jul 15, 2018 at 19:01
  • @NicolBolas Does it mean that we won't give the best possible answers?
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:02
  • 9
    @peterh: What does being a parent have to do with giving "the best possible answers"? We're not parents. Jul 15, 2018 at 19:03
  • @NicolBolas Then do we want to give the best possible answers or not?
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:04
  • 11
    @peterh: SE exists to provide a place where solutions to reasonably scoped problems can be sorted and catalogued in a way that allows people with problems to find those solutions. What "best possible answers" means in this context is up to personal interpretation. Jul 15, 2018 at 19:05
  • @NicolBolas And why this catalogue can't contain at least a part of the questions being currently closed as "too broad"? Why an answer, formulated as I wrote, couldn't be helpful?
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:06
  • 6
    @peterh: I could tell you, but you will not listen. I would link you to the thousands of other questions that ask essentially the same thing, but you will not listen. You want what you want, and you don't care what has to be done to achieve that. What you want is not towards the betterment of SE; this is a determination that the community reached long ago, based on extensive research. You can accept that conclusion or reject it, but it is what it is. Jul 15, 2018 at 19:08
  • @NicolBolas The betterment of the SE would mean to have a more welcoming atmosphere, and to increase the count of the google visitors.
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:12
  • 10
    @peterh: That is a contradiction; what is better for you cannot lead you to your own destruction. Removing basic restrictions on the scope of questions would do precisely that. It would reduce the ability of questions to lead users to useful answers, thus reducing the value of SE as a resource and its ranking in Google. It would turn the site into a discussion forum, which works against the foundation of Q&A, thus reducing participation by experts who are predisposed against such discussions. Thus again reducing the value of the site. Jul 15, 2018 at 19:16
  • @NicolBolas I find these already strong and useful arguments, thanks. However, I think everybody should answer questions which aren't too below his skill level, making him boring. This would lead to a pyramidal structure: absolute beginner questions are answered by enthusisast, enhusiast questions are answered by semi-professionals, their questions are answered by professionals, and so on. In such a structure, everybody would be happy. The current system tries to enforce an ad-hoc selected knowledge level: it expels both the OPs far below it, and the profs highly over it.
    – peterh
    Jul 15, 2018 at 19:28

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