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Now that we have graduated, I think we should re-visit this discussion. As an official site, we should strive to clearly state what is on- and off-topic here to help guide new users to become productive contributors, and lessen confusion over why certain types of questions are closed.

Background

In this question Jim said we could edit the on-topic and off-topic pages of the help center.

I see several issues with the pages as they currently are:

  • On-topic page discusses what is off-topic more than how to ask a good question
  • Off-topic page discusses what is on-topic (or how to ask a good question) more than the on-topic page
  • Nowhere is there an explanation of what the various close reasons mean
  • Guidelines for answers are tacked on at the end of the on-topic page sort of as an afterthought

I would like to see the pages broken down in to manageable chunks that discuss a specific concern.

  1. How to Ask a Good Question When a new user comes and posts a question that has merit (has an answer, will be useful to other people, etc.) but needs a bit of improvement to get the quality up, we can make edits and/or post a link to this page in the comments explaining why it was changed the way it was. This will help people who ask good questions ask better questions in the future.
  2. Why is My Question On Hold? When someone asks a question receiving close votes because it entirely misses the mark, it would be nice to have a single page that explains what the close reasons are, and what they mean. We can just link it in the comments so that the user understands that it isn't the quality of the question, but the direction of the question that is the issue.
  3. What Makes a Good Answer? Occasionally (okay, not occasionally, quite often on migrated or 'hot' questions) people will give answers that don't actually answer the question or won't be of use to people in the future. What makes a good answer here is very different than on other sites, and having a single page to direct new users to would help to acclimate them to the semi-unique aspects of the Workplace.

Discussion

While I like the division above (since it will make it easier to point users in the direction of the advice they need), others may not agree with me, and it may be a challenge to have three separate pages. Let's discuss if this division of pages makes sense first, and then we can focus on actually drafting the pages to be more useful to users.


For reference, here are the current pages:

On-Topic

What topics can I ask about here?

The Workplace Stack Exchange is a Q&A site about the workplace and other career-related topics. It is for members of the workforce to get answers on topics such as the job hunting process, interviewing, salary negotiation, and professionalism within the Workplace.

With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about the workplace.

What questions are off topic here?

  • "I need advice on...", "What should I do?", or "Which job should I take?"
    • Questions looking for opinions on what to do but with no specific problem are suited for discussion boards (not a question/answer site) and generally will be closed on The Workplace as "primarily opinion-based." For information on how to write a good subjective question see here. Remember a real question has an answer, not just opinions or ideas.
  • "Is it legal..."
    • If a question requires a lawyer to answer it, we can't help. These situations are simply too specific and too complex to definitively answer on our site.
  • "Please review my resume/CV"
    • Questions need to apply to more than just you. Since this site is here to help everyone, and not review to a specific resume, these are not "questions" to us as they don't have definite answers.
  • "How do I learn to be a..." / "How do I perform the job of a ..."
    • Questions should be about problems you are encountering or have encountered in the workplace, and not the learning/applying of specific job functions.
  • "What salary/hourly rate should I look for? How much should I charge for X?"
    • Questions regarding salary are too localized to the city, timeframe, job sector and specific skills. Answers to these questions become quickly outdated and just aren't helpful to others.
    • For general salary hunting tips, see How can I determine a reasonable salary to ask for?

For more help, see "What types of questions should I avoid asking?"

How should I answer?

Make sure your answer adds helpful information and is a complete, stand-alone answer. Read other answers first and be sure not to completely restate information that has already been posted.

Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct.

Please look around to see if your question has been asked before. It’s also OK to ask and answer your own question.

If your question is not specifically on-topic for The Workplace Stack Exchange, it may be on topic for another Stack Exchange site. If no site currently exists that will accept your question, you may commit to or propose a new site at Area51, the place where new Stack Exchange communities are democratically created.

Off-Topic

What types of questions should I avoid asking?

First, make sure that your question is on-topic for this site.

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK. (Discussions are of course welcome in our real time web chat.)

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ______?”
  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?”
  • there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”
  • you are asking an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”
  • your question is just a rant in disguise: “______ sucks, am I right?”

(The above section was adapted from MetaFilter’s FAQ.)

Some subjective questions are allowed, but “subjective” does not mean “anything goes”. All subjective questions are expected to be constructive. What does that mean? Constructive subjective questions:

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
  • tend to have long, not short, answers
  • have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
  • invite sharing experiences over opinions
  • insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references
  • are more than just mindless social fun

For more detail, read about our guidelines for great subjective questions and blog post about how real questions have answers.

If your question is about the site itself, please don't ask it here. Visit our meta-discussion site, where you can talk about things like what questions are appropriate, what tags should be used, suggest a feature, point out a bug, or generally discuss how this site works.

Closed Questions

What does it mean if a question is "closed" or "on hold"?

Why are some questions marked "on hold"?

Questions that need additional work or that are not a good fit for this site may be put on hold by experienced community members. While questions are on hold, they cannot be answered, but can be edited to make them eligible for reopening.

Questions that are edited by the original poster within five days of being put on hold are automatically added to a reopening queue for community review. Questions that are not reopened within five days will change from [on hold] to [closed].

Each closed or on-hold question provides a reason that helps the original poster (or other community members) know what they'd need to do in order to get the question reopened.

These are the categories of questions that may be closed by the community:

  • duplicate - the fundamental goal of closing duplicate questions is to help people find the right answer by getting all of those answers in one place
    This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please edit this question to explain how it is different or ask a new question.
  • off topic - each community decides which specific topics are and are not allowed on their site.
    This question does not appear to be about the workplace within the scope defined by the community. What's on- and off-topic is not always intuitive, so it may be necessary to reword the question to fit this site's scope after reviewing the community guidelines.

    Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope.

  • unclear what you're asking - sometimes we need more information in order to help solve your problem
    Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. The way the question is currenty written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

    Edit your post to be more specific about what you're looking for, and be sure to address any concerns that other users brought up in the comments.

  • too broad - if your question could be answered by an entire book, or has many valid answers, it's probably too broad for our format
    There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow down the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.
  • primarily opinion-based - discussions focused on diverse opinions are great, but they just don't fit our format well.
    Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than on facts, references, or specific expertise.

Who can put questions "on hold"?

Users with 500 reputation can cast up to 24 close votes per day. When a question reaches 5 close votes, it is marked [on hold], and will no longer accept answers. Those users may vote to reopen questions the same way. Each user may only vote to close and reopen a given question once. (For example, if you vote to close a question that is closed and then later reopened, you cannot vote to close it again.)

Moderators may close or reopen any question with a single vote.

For more about reopening questions, see "What if I disagree with the closure of a question? How can I reopen a closed question?"

Why are some questions marked "closed"?

Questions are marked [on hold] for the first five days after closure to encourage edits and improvements to the question. If a question is edited by the original poster when it is marked [on hold], it will automatically be placed in a review queue to be considered for reopening. If it is not reopened within five days, the [on hold] notice automatically changes to [closed].There is functionally no difference between an [on hold] question and a [closed] one; neither can be answered until it is re-opened, but they both allow comments, votes and edits.

  • 2
    The more time I spend on Stack Exchange working with new users, the more I feel that things like the help center are actually references for existing community members, sort of like the playbook. Sure, "newish" users may consult it after spending a little time on the site, but the reality of human behavior is that we don't always read the entire manual before jumping in. When making proposed changes to the Help Center, perhaps we should think of it as a place for us, the community, to refer to when resolving disputes or citing information for others/new users in small, easy-to-digest components. – jmort253 Sep 4 '13 at 1:04
  • 1
    In short, the new Help Center format makes it feel like a "knowledge base". – jmort253 Sep 4 '13 at 1:05
  • 2
    @jmort253 That's exactly what prompted this. I keep linking people who are asking questions (especially new users from the recent hot questions) to the help center, but don't think it actually gives them actionable advice. Having it as a reference for us to point new users to, and having the division based on how it will help users overcome a specific issue with participating would definitely benefit us as a community. – jmac Sep 4 '13 at 1:09
  • I find that I use it as a reference for myself when writing tailored comments that fit a more specific situation. For instance, I'll explain how the user might improve the post, comment, answer, etc, and then link to the official reference for further reading. – jmort253 Sep 4 '13 at 1:43
  • 2
    Yeah, I find myself linking Good Subjective, Bad Subjective more than the help center though, unless the reason the post is bad is clearly listed in one of the two pages. Unfortunately, the off-topic descriptions in the help center don't match the close reasons, so more explanation is necessary, and it isn't easy to point someone to where the current guidelines are. – jmac Sep 4 '13 at 1:47
  • Hmmm, it looks like the basics are covered. Please see workplace.stackexchange.com/help/closed-questions – jmort253 Sep 4 '13 at 4:16
  • @jmort253 The issue is that it points to the 'off-topic' page for our custom reasons, which doesn't have the reasons (which are hidden on our on-topic page). It also only says exactly what the messages in the hold message itself says (same description) without adding further depth ('unclear what you're asking' makes a lot more sense with a technical question than a subjective one, ditto with 'primarily opinion-based'). Our site is unique, so it may be in our interest to make sure that the best info we have is there for those who struggle with our guidelines – jmac Sep 4 '13 at 4:19
  • see also: Why was my question edited/closed/downvoted? – gnat Mar 18 '14 at 17:57
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The below text would be given in the case a user asks a question with a good fundamental workplace issue, but isn't phrased in a way to get great answers.


On-Topic

What makes a question good?

The best questions will describe a specific workplace issue being faced. That issue should apply to other people in other positions and not just focus on your specific situation. For instance, "How can I overcome “years of experience” requirements when applying to positions?" is better than "How can a developer with 2 years of experience get a job with 3-7 years of experience?"

Questions limited to a specific job position, or to your specific situation, are usually a subset of a broader question that applies to your position and your specific situation as well

When asking, think about what details are actually relevant to the fundamental problem. Is there something unique about years of experience requirements for software developers that wouldn't apply to a salesperson, a tour guide, or a welder? If not, you should consider leaving it out of the question so that people who don't share your position will still read over it and offer their device. Making the pool of people who can answer broader will get more people to read your question and share their expertise.

Some questions will apply only to your industry, but the same concept applies. For instance, if you are in the active military and want to become a Conscientious Objector you are in a very different situation than someone who is working at an office and doesn't agree with the management direction. In this case, you should limit your question to the largest group of people this applies to. "How are applications for conscientious objectors evaluated?" is much better than, "How can I apply for conscientious objector status as a non-commissioned member of the US Navy?"

A lot of questions will be subjective, but there are Good Subjective, and Bad Subjective questions. Good subjective questions:

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
  • tend to have long, not short, answers
  • have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
  • invite sharing experiences over opinions
  • insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references
  • are more than just mindless social fun

What makes an answer good?

Good answers will not only answer the question being asked, but supply valuable information explaining why and how it is the right answer. Great answers should do more than just give an answer, they should explain how to find the right answer in similar situations or with slightly different details.

A great answer will make the question even better. This question is asking a relatively simple yes/no question, but the answers by Andrew and VinnyRoe provide tactics to tackle salary negotiations helpful to anyone wondering who should give the first number.

The best answers will be useful tomorrow, in a month, in a year, and hopefully even in a decade. They will provide any reader with a similar problem with the resources and reasoning to tackle the problem just by reading through it.

Often, the best answer is not to provide an answer at all. If the question is unclear, or important information is missing, using comments to clarify before answering will help improve the question as well as giving you the resources you need to provide a good answer. Sometimes the question will have been answered better elsewhere, and pointing the asker to that question will give better help quicker.

3

The following text would be for users who are getting downvotes, etc. whose questions are likely going to be closed for being out of line with site guidelines


Off-Topic

What is wrong with my question?

The community is made of volunteers who want to help, and even though it doesn't feel good, constructive criticism is necessary to maintain a high-quality resource. To maintain the quality of the site, our users will often downvote posts that don't meet our guidelines and put them on hold.

Here are some of the most common reasons a question may get a bad reception, and how to improve.

Questions asking for Personal Advice

"I just got offered a job with a significant pay increase, but I really like my current job. What should I do?"

The goal of the Workplace is to provide you with resources to make a decision, but you are the only one qualified to make life-changing decisions on your own career. Questions that ask for career advice are not well suited for the Workplace. Rather than asking which choice to make, ask about how to make the decision easier with a question like, "How should I approach my current company about being headhunted with a significant salary increase?"

Other examples:

  • "My company is going through restructuring and I'm worried I'll be laid off next. What can I do?"
  • "I really hate my current job and want to quit, but I don't have another job lined up. Should I quit anyway?"

Chatty or Social Questions

"Is it better to wear a red tie or a blue tie on the first day of work?"

Open-ended questions with no answer are better suited for discussion forums or the Workplace Chat (the Water Cooler). Since all opinions are equally valid, the answer becomes a discussion of personal preference. On the other hand, asking "How can I decide what I should wear to work on the first day?" could be an interesting question because it will teach future users how to decide what to wear (and you can even apply it to figure out if you should wear the red or blue tie).

Other examples:

  • "What is your favorite salary negotiation tactic?"
  • "What is your opinion of assigned parking spaces?"

Questions without a Problem

"I work for a company with a flat management structure. Is this normal?"

Since the question isn't addressing a problem, the only possible answer can be "it depends" which is a sign that the question could be improved. If your problem is that you don't like the flat management structure, then you should ask a question aimed to solve your problem with the flat management structure (e.g. "How are divisive issues resolved in a company with flat management?"). This will allow you to get answers that directly relate to a problem that you (and others in the future) face.

Other examples:

  • "My team is having success with Sandler sales training. What is the best sales training?"
  • "I was just given an unexpected 15% raise, why?"

Legal Questions

"I was just fired without notice or a warning because my boss doesn't like me. Is that legal?"

The law changes dramatically depending on where you are, and what your contract says. Even if we had access to your contract and all relevant details, asking questions here is no substitute for asking a lawyer. Rather than asking about the legal details, asking about general procedure (of which one part is to consult a lawyer) makes for a better question, like "What can I do if I believe I've been fired unjustly?"

Other examples:

  • "Is it legal for employers to prevent you from having a second job?"
  • "What are my legal obligations to report tax evasion by my employer?"

Rants disguised as Questions

"My manager is incompetent and nobody likes him. He doesn't show the smallest common courtesy. How can I deal with it?"

We all have bad days, and sometimes our working situation isn't ideal. Sometimes we all need to get rid of some of the stress, but this is not the right place to do it. If your purpose is just to complain about your situation or your coworkers, you can try taking it to the Workplace Chat (the Water Cooler) where someone may be willing to listen, or send a message to a friend who will lend you an ear.

The only way to improve a rant disguised as a question is to not rant it in the first place. Sleep on the problem, talk with someone close, think through the causes, and create a good question to improve the situation.

How can I improve my question?

Many of the members of the community will do their best to help improve your question as soon as it appears. After you ask, you may want to stick around to see if there are any questions in the comments, and to support anyone trying to help improve the question.

You can also read up on what makes a good question, and trying to make your question fit those guidelines.

If you are still having trouble applying it to your question, you can visit the Workplace Chat (the Water Cooler). You can post a link to your question and ask for people to suggest how it can be improved. Even though the initial downvotes may not feel good, we are all volunteers who appreciate people who take the time to try to improve their questions.

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This would be linked to for any questions put on hold or closed to help explain what the potential reasoning could be


Closed Questions

Why was my question put [on hold] or [closed]?

To make sure questions get good answers, experienced users can put questions on hold. While questions are on hold, they cannot be answered, but they can be edited to make sure they are good questions that meet site guidelines so that they will get high-quality answers.

The Workplace is a community of experts volunteering their time to help. Putting a question on hold is not a punishment and isn't meant to be discouraged. Questions put [on hold] are done so as a sign to the community that the question needs some editing to make sure it gets the right answers. If you or a member of the community edits the post, experienced users will be asked to take another look at it and decide to re-open it.

If it isn't re-opened within 5 days, the status of the question will change from [on hold] to [closed]. Even if the question is [closed] you can still edit it and ask a question in the Workplace Meta to get it re-opened.

Each closed or on-hold question provides a reason that helps the original poster (or other community members) know what they'd need to do in order to get the question reopened.

List of Close Reasons

Duplicate

This question has been asked before and already has an answer.

The goal of the Workplace is to be a resource for future visitors. When someone asks a question that has already been answered, we refer the person with the question to the other question for an answer. If you believe that the question asked is not really a duplicate, ask a question in the Workplace Meta to explain why the other question is not a duplicate and does not answer your question.

Personal Advice

Questions seeking advice on what job to take, what skills to learn, etc. are off-topic as the answers are rarely useful to anyone else.

If a question is asking for guidance on what to do, or what job to take, this close reason is used. Refer to the list of questions that are off-topic to improve your question, or come to the Workplace Chat (the Water Cooler) to ask for advice.

Legal Advice

Questions seeking legal advice are off-topic as they require answers by legal professionals. See: What is asking for legal advice?

If a question needs to be answered by a lawyer it is off-topic for the Workplace. The law is incredibly complex and detailed and requires specialists to give proper advice. Due to the format, legal questions are inappropriate here. Please refer to the list of questions that are off-topic to see advice on how to improve it.

Unclear What You're Asking

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

Sometimes a question contains a lot of different questions, or doesn't seem to be asking a question at all. We may try to get clarification in the comments to help improve the question, but if we can't see a question to answer we will put the question on hold. If you see this reason, try to read what you asked objectively and make sure there is a clear question (that isn't off-topic) in what you wrote.

Too Broad

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

This reason is often used when the question is open-ended and tries to ask too much at once, or when one question tries to ask too many different questions all at the same time. Questions should be practical and have a clear answer based on actual problems you are facing, so try focusing the question on one specific issue rather than something that you could write a book about.

Primarily Opinion-Based

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

There are good subjective, and bad subjective questions. Questions that don't have a clear answer, or where each answer is valid, or that poll for opinions are a better fit for a discussion forum, not for the Workplace. To improve your question, refer to the explanation of what is off-topic.

Other

When a question doesn't fit in to any of the fixed reasons to put a question on hold, users can add a custom message explaining the reason it is off-topic which appears in the comments:

This questions is off topic because it doesn't appear to be related to the Workplace.

If other people choose the same reason, that comment will be upvoted. You can ask for clarification in the comments, in the Workplace Chat (the Water Cooler), or ask for clarification by asking a question in the Workplace Meta.

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