Recently, I asked two questions, How can I evaluate which title to use (Mr./Ms.) when e-mailing a prospective employer? (not the original title) and What is a “Fast Paced Company”?, both of which were marked as "overly broad" and downvoted. The consensus I got from the comments was that they were downvoted because the simplest answer was "it depends on the company". I was especially puzzled by this on the former because this question on addressing your boss via e-mail was very similar (even including "It depends on your boss" as an answer), but did not receive the same backlash that mine did.

Based on my two questions and this meta discussion, there seems to be an unwritten rule that questions where "it depends" is an answer are bad questions that should be downvoted on this site, and that this seems to have developed fairly recently. Being new to this site, I didn't know these unwritten rules and didn't see anything on the help documentation about What types of questions should I avoid asking?.

Assuming that this is an unwritten rule (or at least there are situations where "it depends" questions are definitely bad), should we update the help pages about this so that new users can know not to ask these questions (and what they should ask instead)?

  • 6
    In overly broad questions like that where the only clear answer depends on the exact situation, its often better to try and focus the question on what factors affect the answer and how to arrive at the answer yourself, instead of asking for an exact answer.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 11:48
  • 1
    @Rachel, that seems different from other stack exchange websites, like parenting, where they ask questions about specific situations all the time. If this site has different expectations than other stack exchange sites, then all the more reason that it should be written in the help documentation for the benefit of new users who don't know the expectations. Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 15:48
  • @Thunderforge it was, originally. The FAQ here had a fairly good description of what types of questions were on/off topic... unfortunately the FAQ was axed in the great StackExchange update a few months ago. I personally am not sure where this information SHOULD be, now :(
    – enderland
    Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 3:23
  • @enderland is there still a record of what was on there and, if so, can we restore it? It seems like the simplest way of getting the ball rolling would be to bring back the FAQ to the way it was then. Commented Aug 24, 2013 at 23:05

1 Answer 1


Here are some meta threads that may help you in your quest.

We do have a discussion for updating the Help Center pages, but that doesn't seem to have gotten much traction. Perhaps this is a good time to go revisit it and start fixing some of those pages to better reflect what the community views as on-topic.

I also created this list of reasons questions are often closed and downvoted, perhaps some of these could be incorporated in whatever edit was there.

The questions about how to title a mail or what is typical strike me as Polling for Opinion. As stated in that thread:

It was polling for opinion

I am currently looking for new jobs. What corners in Tennoji, Osaka have you found to offer the best day laborer work?


I am currently looking for day laborers. What is the best free newspaper to advertise in?

Sometimes you just want to know what's out there, and ask a question to get the opinions of folks with experience. Unfortunately, these answers quickly become outdated, and they don't really fall in line with the type and quality of questions The Workplace is looking for.

Rather than polling for answers, why not ask a more general question that will help you solve your problem? For instance, "How can I improve the quality of staff I get from temp agencies?"

Some people aren't a big fan of the way I wrote those, and they may not be appropriate for the about page, but the basic concepts all seem to have gotten upvotes, and may be appropriate to incorporate in to the "what questions not to ask" page in the help center.

  • I'm not quite sure I understand how that question falls under polling for opinion, since there are authoritative sources on it (e.g. etiquette guides). At any rate though, I would be in favor of putting up the guidelines you have written on the help pages. I believe that only a mod can do that though, so I'm not sure what process has to be done to make it happen. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 19:46
  • @Thunderforge Etiquette guides aren't authoritative, they are the opinion of someone from a specific context with a specific background for a specific audience. Using US business etiquette for a law firm in a factory in Japan won't work too well, for instance. They also change depending on the specific company/situation/person, etc. If you work for someone who has a visceral fear of loafers, it doesn't matter if a guide says wearing loafers is acceptable -- you are going to piss off your boss. The goal is not to tell you what's right, it's to help you learn how to determine what's right.
    – jmac
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 0:24
  • Aren't most answers to workplace exchange questions the opinion of someone from a specific context with a specific background for a specific audience? While we do strive to have answers backed up by authoritative citations, recent questions that are highly rated, such as Convince the Company I Work for to Implement Version Control have answers that, when you boil it down, are just the opinions of the posters. Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 15:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .