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Based on confusion by some of our regulars about what is on-topic, as well as confusion from regular users and mods who post here, and due to a request by gnat I think we need to create a quick 'What is on-topic?' FAQ to clearly state what is or isn't off-topic. I have tried this in the past, but it didn't catch, so I figure a community wiki approach here to flesh out some ideas may be a good idea.

So I've read the help center about what is on-topic and what I shouldn't ask, but I'm still a bit confused. How can I decide if my question is appropriate for The Workplace?

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Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is it clear what my problem is?
  2. Is it clear what I want a solution to accomplish?
  3. Will my question be useful to people in the future?

Make Your Problem Clear

One of the most common reasons questions get closed on The Workplace is that the problem that the person is facing isn't clear. Many people are frustrated with a situation, and use their question as a platform to rant against the situation rather than outlining their problem. Ask yourself, "Will someone reading my question understand what my problem is?"

If we can't understand what your problem is, we can't offer a solution.

Avoid the following types of non-questions:

  • Rants: "My boss is a jerk for reasons X, Y, Z"
  • Polls: "Is it normal for the smartest employee to be passed over for a promotion?"

Rants will likely be closed as unclear what you're asking since there is no question. Polls will likely be closed as primarily opinion-based since there is no proper answer.

Explain Your Desired Solution

Make sure that you properly scope the question so that we know what you're looking for in an answer. If your problem is that your employer hasn't fulfilled a verbal promise to give you a raise after your first year with the company, where do you want to go from there? Do you want to know when to bring it up? Do you want to know how to bring it up tactfully in a performance review? Do you want to know how to prevent him from doing the same thing next year?

If we don't know what your goal is, we can't give an appropriate answer.

Avoid asking for advice on the following:

  • What should I do? "I have a choice between A, and B. Which should I take?"
  • Do you have any advice for my situation?
  • Is it legal? "My company did C. Can I sue them?"

The Workplace is designed to provide answers to help you decide what to do, not to make decisions for you. Questions that ask us to make decisions for you will be closed as off-topic. We are also not a place to get questions on legal issues, and recommend you consult an attorney if you want to know what the law says. Legal questions will also be closed as off-topic.

The Workplace is not Ask Aunty, we are a Q&A site. Asking for advice on the situation is a cue to many that you are asking for an opinion. You could be asking about a solid and answerable problem, but when you ask for advice it seems like you are asking for opinions. Instead ask plainly for a solution to the problem without asking for advice, opinions, or thoughts.

Use to Future Readers

The Workplace is a long-term resource for other people with the same problem and desired solution looking for answers, so questions asked here should be useful to future readers. Questions should be applicable to more than a certain company, a certain point in time, or a certain uncommon situation. If your question is unlikely to be useful to anyone but you, it won't help improve The Workplace as a resource for future visitors.

Avoid questions that depend on:

  • Specific Work History: "What jobs are appropriate for someone with X years of A, and Y years of B?"
  • Specific Company Environments: "What is the job description of a Director vs. a General Manager?"
  • Specific Location/Time: "What is an appropriate salary for a Certified Electrical Engineer in East Lansing, Michigan?"

These types of questions may get downvotes (a downvote indicates that "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful"), and may be closed as this type of question often does not clearly explain the problem, or desired solution.

These are Just Guidelines

Even if you clearly define the problem, explain what you want in a solution, and have a question that is useful to future visitors, that does not guarantee that it is a good question. Due to the subject nature of our site, a lot of judgments on quality are subjective and come with experience ("I know it when I see it"). Here are some topics which are more likely to get closed than others:

  • Ethics: "Is it ethical to play office politics?"
  • How Do I Do My Job: "How should an accountant calculate business expenses?"
  • Interpersonal Relations: "How can I tell my spouse I don't want to work in the same company anymore?"

If you still think your question is appropriate, post it. We will do our best to give you advice on how to edit and improve it if we don't think it quite fits, and are more than willing to help you create quality content for the site. Welcome to the Workplace!

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