The Help Center of many SE sites (example) states that you should only ask questions "based on actual problems that you face".

Are askers required to prove that their question is based on actual problems that they face?

If askers have to prove it: Where do the guidelines say so? Are there objective guidelines regarding what kind of proof is accepted and what kind of proof isn't accepted?

If askers don't have to prove it: Are moderators simply guessing whether the question is based on actual problems? If they guess wrong, are we back to the case "the asker must prove it"?

  • Curiosity is also enough to justify some questions. – ankii Oct 10 at 20:12
  • 1
    Just as an example of a "non-actual" problem - there are many questions on SO about optimising code. However, they aren't asked because there is a specific performance problem to solve, it's just asking generally which would be faster, whereas it would heavily rely on specific circumstances. When it comes to premature optimisation usually no actual problem to solve, especially when it only boils down to microoptimisation at best. – VLAZ Oct 10 at 20:56

As it's written in the help center it's probably too condensed and should be explained better. There is no "not based on an actual problem" close reason as far as I am aware. Therefore the statement in the current form is likely not consistent with actual usage. I recommend a reformulation based on the content of the other answers by fixer1234 and M.A.R..


It isn't so much that only actual problems are allowed, it's that actual problems have certain characteristics, and questions with those characteristics make better, more answerable questions. Here's a major difference:

When you have an actual problem, you are doing something, and things are happening as a result. There are specific symptoms that frame the problem. Hopefully, you've already done some trial and error and a little research, so you are working with something concrete. People can ask you questions to clarify what it is you're experiencing. They can suggest things to try to narrow down the possibilities. The problem is something that other people are likely to have run into and solved. So it has a good chance of getting an answer that is an actual solution, that will also help others with a similar problem.

When people come with hypothetical problems, it's often more of a thought experiment than something that people can answer from experience. There are no facts to work with, so the question tends to be overly broad; the answerer needs to contemplate all the hypothetical variations. The OP doesn't have the benefit of hands-on information to fully understand their own question. It may be hard to prove that an answer is correct, or that there is a single right answer. These tend to be more open-ended, theoretical discussions, which don't fit the Q&A model well.

So the intent is really to focus on questions that have the characteristics of actual problems more than a strict requirement that it be an actual problem.

  • These characteristics of the question are nice. Actual problems make these characteristics of the question more probable. But be cautious about so-called appeal to probability. For example, if the asker is not (yet) facing the problem, the question might still be narrow and great in all regards, and there might exist answerers who faced it or can answer. It seems that the Help Center should list these characteristics of questions rather than demanding actual problems, if as you say "It isn't so much that only actual problems are allowed". – root Oct 20 at 11:31

You are not normally required to prove that it is an actual problem you're facing, just as you're not required when you're asking something in real life. Common sense often dictates this; asking on SE sites is vaguely similar in rules of conduct to asking people in real life.

However, that also means that if a question gets seemingly bizarre, if it sounds too rudimentary or out of place, or if it, for any other reason, might send the signal that you're wasting people's time, it's courteous to explain briefly why you're asking the question.

Here's a similar incident that I can recall where asking questions based on problems you face was the crucial point. It might be a tad bit extreme for your case since you didn't provide any context; nonetheless, people are right to ask for intent in situations like that.

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