2

We've already had this discussion four years ago, and this discussion three years ago. The first produced Shoq9's opinion to simply disallow them, and the second Torben suggested a single CW style approach.

I'd like to reopen the discussion, in part because the community of now is pretty different from the community of 2012, and in part because I don't like either of these answers - and I want to see if anyone agrees with me.


First, the problem. "Big list" questions are the kinds of questions that ask for a list of things that isn't ever a single concrete list. "What do I need to bring to Kindergarten" really isn't a big list: while there are some variations, it is possible to in one post list all of the things a normal US student brings to kindergarten.

"What is a good book for a three year olds to read" is a big list question. It has the following characteristics:

  • Tends to be opinion-based ("What is a good...", "Where can I find good...")
  • Asks for something indefinite in quantity (there is no definite quantity of books)
  • Isn't so specific as to be easily narrowed to one or a very small number of things.

These questions aren't good fits for the Stack Exchange model, in large part because of the layout of the site. If thirty or forty people leave answers, you can't just easily browse all of those answers - they're split across multiple pages, and there's a lot of white space between them.

However, for some sites, they're a necessary evil. Sites that are more subjective (yup), or sites where the users tend to be less technical (yup), or sites whose topics cater to the concept of lists (yup) need to allow them in some fashion. How... is the $64,000 question.


The common choices for how to handle them range from:

  • Disallow them entirely. Most SE sites do, in fact, from my experience. If the question is "What is a list of...", it's closed as too broad, or sometimes unclear what you're asking. This is Shoq9's suggestion in the first linked question.
  • Allow them, but require them to be Community Wiki immediately. The top answer collects all "answers" into one answer, becoming that one big list. Advantage: it's easy to read (it's all on one page). Disadvantage: it's impossible to read (it's one big answer). Torben's suggestion was to do this, and he included an example.
  • Allow good ones, by some definition, and handle them like normal questions, but otherwise disallow them. Advantage: good questions are enabled, bad ones closed. Disadvantage: you have to stay on top of them moderation-wise.

I'm reopening the discussion because I have seen a few good (and bad) list questions recently, and also because this is one of the areas we can both take advantage of and take a hit in, in terms of trying to improve our question count. A recently updated coherent policy would be a big help here.

In particular, if those of you with experience on other sites who do have different list policies could link to those policies (and their discussions), I think that would be very helpful to getting other ideas for our site.

7
  • Do you mean like this? Or do you mean the discussion? – anongoodnurse Jun 19 '15 at 22:24
  • More the discussion and the actual policy, but examples in action also seem useful. – Joe Jun 19 '15 at 22:27
  • I think more examples would be helpful, both of good and bad list questions. To me, a good list question is one I can answer without a list of things (specific books for 3 year olds), but with a list of qualities to look for (such as selection criteria to help someone figure out what's a good book for 3 year old on their own). – user11394 Jun 26 '15 at 7:51
  • "Disadvantage: it's impossible to read (it's one big answer)" With good formatting (clever use of font sizes, spaces, lines etc.), why should one long answer be worse to read than several shorter ones? You could also keep several short answers in a CW list-type question. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica May 4 '18 at 17:36
  • @AnneDaunted I think Stack Exchange made design choices that are centered around short to medium sized answers. You're not wrong that good use of formatting can help, but I don't think Stack Exchange answers that are more than one "screen" are very easy to read. In particular, answers that are "lists" don't have a lot of options - we can't do tables very easily for example, and just long bullet pointed lists get hard to read individual items from. You also have the issue that some implementation issues exist related to combining multiple things together in Markdown. – Joe May 7 '18 at 14:26
  • (cont.) But that's not to say it's not one possible answer - perhaps it's better than the alternatives (either not allowing them, or allowing them sometimes). That was my original intent in asking this (three years ago at this point, so I guess nobody else had much to say about it :) ) – Joe May 7 '18 at 14:27
  • It's certainly true that lists that are too long are hard to read on SE, but it's still possible - maybe the most extreme example. I don't remember coming across a list question on Parenting.SE where problems should arise. Many one-line answers are also not easy to read, or somewhat longer list-answers that partially overlap. One reason I favor CW is that you won't gain reputation for it anymore. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica May 7 '18 at 14:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .