Recently I asked Is it ethical to write answers to work-relevant Stack Exchange questions on the clock?. For several days it was open and became one of the most popular sites on Stack Exchange. However today I noticed that it was closed because it was "primarily opinion based".

While I agree that the comments are generating a lot of opinons that would probably be better suited for chat, I think that the question itself is just as acceptable as similar ethics-based questions like Is it ethical to read programming books on the clock?, which have not been closed as opinion-based.

So how can I edit this question in order to make it "not opinion based"

Edit: I realize that some of this may come from a disagreement over whether or not ethics are or are not on topic (and indeed, a different interpretation of some previous discussion of some previous ethics-based questions). It was my understanding that it was on topic, as indicated by the presence of the linked question and others like it. If this is not the case, then tell me how I can reword the question so that it is on topic.

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    Ethics is off topic here. We deal with professionalism. But that does not appear to be what you are interested in. You want a moral judgement on the activity. That does not work well in the SE Format. Jan 23 '14 at 17:57
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    I disagree that ethics questions specifically about the workplace are off-topic for this site, but I have edited my question to ask about that as well. Jan 23 '14 at 18:10
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    Already asked and answered... meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/453/… Jan 23 '14 at 18:13
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    From the top-rated answer in that question: "As long as the questions have enough detail to where they can be answered from a strategic view or focusing on consequences, then I don't personally see a problem with the question [about ethics]." I'd like to think that my question met this criteria, but if not, I'd like to know how I can edit it so that it does meet this criteria. Jan 23 '14 at 18:16
  • You can not ask for a moral judgement. There is no way you can ask for a moral judgement that will be on topic and not opinion based that I can think of and I am pretty creative,. Jan 23 '14 at 18:19
  • That is a question about ethics your question is asking for a moral judgement... it fails to meet the criteria Jmort set out in that answer. Jan 23 '14 at 18:20
  • you've got 10 answers (firehose of information) => this essentially blocks any substantial edits of the question. Answers are considered more important than questions at Stack Exchange, one has to provide very strong justification to do invalidating edits of the question... and no I just wanna reopen doesn't qualify
    – gnat
    Jan 23 '14 at 19:49
  • FYI: Ethics != Morals google.com/…
    – Jim G.
    Jan 24 '14 at 0:53
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    I understand many people feel strongly about questions related to ethics, but we should try to be supportive of people who come to meta to ask about how to improve their questions when they get closed. Downvotes work a bit differently on metas, sure, but let's try to encourage people engaging the community when they get a question closed or otherwise come to us for advice and assistance on improving the quality of their posts.
    – jmac
    Jan 24 '14 at 6:47

Our Help Center contains the following guidance:

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.

Asking, "Is it ethical?" is not a workplace issue, it is a personal decision issue. A problem related to the workplace would be something like:

Company policy states that "Company resources should only be used for work-related duties. The internet should not be used to write personal blog posts, browse Facebook, etc." That policy is not strictly enforced (management turns a blind eye to people who check their personal e-mail at work, or check Facebook during lunch for instance). Getting answers on Stack Overflow seems to be in line with the policy, but I am unsure whether answering question applies.

Personally I believe answering questions benefits my employer because it improves my understanding of the skills required for my job, and improves my communication and problem-solving skills.

I don't want to put my manager in a difficult position. If I ask, the policy may indicate that he has to say no to be in line with the policy, while in practice he seems to be willing to turn a blind eye. Is this a situation where the expression "It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission" applies?

The problem is clear: you don't want to put your manager in a tough situation. The question is clear: is this a good occasion to keep your mouth shut and apologize if it becomes an issue?

The issue with your question as-asked is it is asking us to make a judgment on what is acceptable while entirely ignoring company policy which is what would cause the problem in the first place. You are essentially asking us, "If you were the boss, would you allow people to use SO during work hours?" which is a hypothetical question that will only solicit discussion -- not practical answers that will help future visitors.

Your question got popular because a lot of members of the Stack Exchange network browse from work (likely in violation of their company policies), and want to feel justified in what they're doing. That unfortunately gave you the wrong signal in what is appropriate for the site, and made it harder to properly edit and put on-topic.

In situations like this, I would recommend not trying to edit your question (because of the existing votes and answers that would be dramatically impacted), but rather than ask a separate question that focuses on asking "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face" assuming that you actually do have a problem, and that the current question didn't give you an answer you could apply to that problem.


This question is not actually about ethics. It is asking us to answer with a moral judgement on an activity which is always going to be opinion based. The reason for that is that is what you are asking for, an opinion on the morality of the action.

Some potential ways to reword this question so it would be acceptable:

  • What value do businesses get from their employees participating at SE during their work day?
  • What is an effective policy for minimizing non productive time spent on SE?
  • How can I show value to my employer for the time I spend asking and answering on SE?

I think the questions would be better focused on TWP or what ever SE you are asking about but the questions are constructive and answerable. That is what we look for in good SE Questions.

  • The alternative questions seem good, but ideally I would like to change to something that doesn't invalidate every single answer. Indeed, some of the answers talk about the general practice without mention ethics at all and might be good candidates for a new accepted answer if the question were changed. Would dropping the part about ethics and simply asking about acceptability in the workplace be alright? Or do you have some other idea for how I can make the question alright without invalidating every answer? Jan 23 '14 at 19:03
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    No because they answered your original moral judgement question. So changing the core of the question is going to invalidate many of the answers. You could always ask the question that the one answer you like is answering. What value do businesses get from their employees participating at SE during their work day? would leave several of the answers as valid. The ones that provide the opinion you originally asked for are going to be invalidated when you ask a good question... as they should be. Jan 23 '14 at 19:08

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