4

There are several questions on the site which attempt to enforce a certain way of answering, or require something specific in the answer. Examples:

What are some do's and dont's for an effective bedtime ritual? - restricts the amount of different things in an answer.

At what age can children start being influenced by gender stereotypes? - enforces research-backed answers.

What is the community's standpoint on those questions? Should we be allowed to do that. What boundaries should we not cross when specifying those restrictions?

Is it something we want, does it help the site? Or does it somehow reduce or diminish the usefulness and/or friendliness of this site?

9

I can think of a variety of reasons that an OP might want to restrict answers in some fashion.

  • Attempting to create a community wiki (your 1st example)
  • Reinforcing existing standards, particularly for a topic which may be prone to strong feelings-based answers
    • providing objective answers (your 2nd example)
    • not arguing with the premise (e.g. "I'm not interested in debating whether [blah blah] is a good idea")
  • Indicating a certain related topic is not welcome (e.g. this c-section question, the OP was already aware of the risks and had an additional question)
  • Looking for a very focused answer
  • Religious, medical, or personal reasons (e.g., an atheist OP won't want advice about how to pray for better behavior, a child with a dairy allergy shouldn't be told to drink more cow milk)

To me, each of these is a valid restriction. While a goal of StackExchange is to create a library of answers, another (and often more immediate) goal is to give the OP a useful answer, and the OP has the right to define what sort of answer is most useful to them.


That being said, it's also plausible that such restrictions may seem overly tight. In that case there are mechanisms

  1. Asking (nicely) if they really meant to be that restrictive.

    I think you may have restricted the sort of answers you'll be getting. What about [alternate idea]?

    Maybe they just hadn't thought of that different perspective. Maybe they have a personal or religious objection to it. Maybe there are allergies that weren't mentioned. Either they actually didn't think about the restriction they put on it, or they had a good reason (and perhaps that needed to be clarified, thereby improving their question).

  2. Ask your own version of the question without any answer restriction.

    No, seriously. If you want to know about some alternatives that the OP hasn't permitted, ask again.

    Inspired by [this other question], I'd like to know about [less restricted thing]...

  3. Flag it as off-topic. While "too localized" is no longer a closure reason, it's still possible for a question to be too localized. "I want to know what sort of car seat is most comfortable for my child. Only want answers about seats compatible with a green truck and with a pretty flower slipcover." Either community moderation (the vote to close process) or moderator moderation can deal with that.


Regarding the friendliness: If all questions, or even most, had rigorous answer requirements, then I could understand that being unwelcoming. But I think that the significant majority don't have that (or any) level of restriction. Questions that do typically are asked by experienced users and demonstrate a useful level of detail and openness which makes them good examples of "how to ask a question".

3

Certainly I think that requiring research-backed answers is appropriate and welcome; if someone is asking for research we should endeavor to provide such. We're a bit more "opiniony" than most sites, and that means a lot of our answers tend to be personal narratives and opinion; we should enable users who want facts to get those when needed.

Scope-narrowing restrictions are also fine in my book. If someone asks a question, they should be able to tailor what they're asking reasonably tightly; as long as that is still a good question by itself, it's fine to me. Asking a question about a controversial topic, or simply something where people will likely have opinions or information about the wider topic area, you may often want to clarify in advance that you only want to know about a specific subset of the area - for example, asking about behavior but clarifying your parenting style so you don't get suggestions to do something that you wouldn't agree with doing. As long as the question with the restriction is still answerable and otherwise on-topic it seems fine to me - it's just further clarification.

Enforcing a specific number of things in an answer isn't really something we'd generally be okay with, and you'll notice the date on that first question; that wouldn't be on-topic currently I don't think.

Other kinds of restrictions, other than those that limit the scope or require research, should be less common, and are probably less likely to be acceptable in my opinion. As Erica points out, limiting to the point of unanswerability would be a problem, as would including the answer in the question (ie, suggesting a scope narrowing device such that the answer was present in that narrowing).

2

This is similar to other answers here in that I fully support the idea that OP should be able to restrict the scope of possible answers to their question.

To add to list of possible reasons that @Erica's answer provided, an OP may want to restrict because:

  • They already researched the question, and are familiar with "obvious" answers (and posting such obvious answers would greatly harm the OP - being "obvious", they very likely will have a bikeshed effect, get upvoted more, and squeeze out more useful less obvious more expert answers).

    If that's the case, listing what you already know in the question is a great - and heavily encouraged across SE - practice.

  • They already tried some of the possible approaches and discovered that said approaches don't work. Same reasoning (bikeshed effect) applies as to the last case. Again, listing this in the question is an SE wide standard (SO's "what have you tried" is more of an unstated rule, not just a permitted thing)

  • They are actually facing a more broad problem (possibly too broad to be ontopic as a single SE question) and are asking parts of the problem as more focused questions. In such a case, some possible answers would simply not help in the context of the broader problem - but the OP may want to NOT mention a broader problem for a variety of reasons.

  • Really good answer! #1 is a compelling reason to limit the scope of an answer. – anongoodnurse May 19 '15 at 2:23
1

I believe a good guideline about this kind of restrictions has been estabilished at RPG.se

Challenging the Frame

Main point:

"You need to be careful when challenging the frame of a question - the line between that and threadcrapping can be a narrow one. You should:

  1. Provide your critique as part of an otherwise legitimate answer. In general your challenge should not consume more of your answer than the actual answer does.
  2. Do it carefully and support your challenge - "I prefer different things" is not really a good reason, remember this isn't a forum and the goal of the site is to solve people's problems, not to wave our own personal freak flag around
  3. Don't get all butthurt if you get voted down because the community thinks you overstepped your bounds. You know you're taking a risk by doing it instead of just answering their question."

This behaviour potentially accomplishes both StackExchange's goals, providing the OP with the answer they need and giving a different-scope answer for future users.

  • 1
    I think you've made some great points about answers outside the scope of what the OP has asked for, and would like to keep this around, but I'm wondering if we are understanding the OP's question similarly? I believe they are asking "is establishing a frame OK?" – anongoodnurse May 19 '15 at 18:29
  • Here we call it "arguing with the premise" :) but also ask users to not do that – Acire May 19 '15 at 18:30
  • @anongoodnurse I guess you're right, I took it as "how to answer framed questions", but that is indeed not what the OP's asking. Feel free to delete :) Erica didn't see that, but I think that RPG.se is just a step ahead: it realizes that some questions would be better served by slightly changing the premises. I don't know if that's the case here, given the different topics and the site's relative youth, but it looked worth bringing up. Sorry if this is unclear, English isn't my primary language and I'm a really bad writer :) – Ciacciu May 19 '15 at 22:20
  • 1
    Having now read RPG.SE's meta more thoroughly after your comment, I think this actually is a useful perspective — sometimes if the question is so restricted that it is likely to attract challenging the frame / arguing the premise responses, which is a good thing to be aware of. – Acire May 20 '15 at 14:23
0

An asker can specify what things they're looking for in an answer.

That might influence what answer they accept.

They can even place bounty on those restrictions.

Buta question answerer is free to ignore, in a polite and welcoming way, those restrictions. You can edit the question so that the generic question is essy to find in search engines and the restrictions are part of the question.

When you're voting you can leave a comment and say "your restrictions make this question less useful, thus downvoted". And you can upvote answers that ignore the restrictions.

In general: let people ask the questions they want to ask. If you don't like the question, but it follows the site guidelines, just ignore it (or downvote it) and move on.

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