Asking Constructive questions (and defining what that means for us) is a big issue I think we really need solved. We need it solved to help us define the site and help people ask questions, assured that they at least have a reasonable idea of what's constructive and how they need to ask their question.

This issue has come up before:

An example of a problematic question is Are constant changes to a projects requirements a sufficient reason for terminating a contract? though I and others have decided it's Not a real Question (as it's rhetorical). The discussion was whether there's a constructive question in there at all; the root problem to me is: when does a Workplace question stop asking for opinions and start requiring expertise?

What are some guidelines for what makes a question constructive for us? Basically I want some guidelines we can point a new user to so that they can read and understand how to phrase their question so that it's constructive; the FAQ as it is doesn't cut it. Eventually we'll probably have a short description of Constructive in our FAQ with a link to a Meta post for this purpose.

You don't have to answer with some firm guidelines, I want us to brainstorm; answer, comment, improve. We can squabble over the exact wording later, but I think this is something we need to have.

4 Answers 4


The million dollar question here is:

How do we define workplace expertise?

One might argue that nobody goes through special training to navigate the workplace like you were training for electrical engineering. Effectively navigating life and issues in the workplace is something that most of us office workers either know intrinsically, fail at consistently, or learn eventually.

So what this means is that we can all be split into three groups, Those of us that intuitively understand how to deal with and answer workplace issues, Those of us that are incapable of understanding the unique social dynamics and issues in the workplace, and those of us that are slowly learning from our collective mistakes.

What inevitably happens in a site for Experts is that group consensus forms around the "experts" opinion, so eventually input from users who not experts or those that are hopelessly lost and need the most help get snubbed out. The experts lose relation and understanding of those that have a legitimate problem that MANY people face, but perhaps they didn't know how to word their questions in a way that would encourage only perfect answers.

These users get downvoted and closed and eventually leave. The experts remain and lack of questions and stagnation set it.

Problem 1:

We are too afraid of the possibility of low quality answers. Remember, this is why we have the voting system. Good answers should be voted up, bad answers should be voted down. They don't pose the same risk to the site as demonstrably bad questions because bad answers don't affect good questions. There is legitimate helpful advice to be had in a LOT of the questions being closed as NC, but I feel we close these because we are too afraid of people posting personal anecdotes, one line answers that could have been comments, links, highly opinionated responses, and web comics.

My opinion, Focus on swift Answer moderation instead of NC Question moderation.

Problem 2:

Navigating the workplace is not a science, yet we treat it as such. Why?

How many peer reviewed journals are we citing in our answers? Not many. Many of the best answers are completely uncited yet most people tend to accept them if they ring true to them. If I were to make a competing observation that goes against conventional wisdom but did not cite references or sources then ultimately my answer will be deemed "Merely an opinion, and an incorrect one at that!"

Imagine for a second a StackExchange site that discusses Stock picks and day trading. The parallels are staggering. Stock picks come naturally to some, never at all to others, and others learn and get better through mistakes. A clique of exceptional day traders will form the vast majority of activity and they will all have a like minded interpretation of correctness of question quality. Anything at all that appears too simplistic a question will be NARQ, even if never asked before. Anything that isn't worded absolutely perfect will be downvoted and closed NC mercilessly. All questions will be taken literally without variance. Occasional stock traders will not relate to the site anymore and leave. People who contribute answers but do not share popular opinion will be downvoted.

Perhaps popular opinion is wrong and somebody was given bad trading advice and loses a lot of money? Who is to say that those answers and questions are any less constructive?

This can happen naturally with a diversity of mods, but more than likely because most people will just give their opinion, doesn't mean that there isn't an excellent and correct answer for the question.


Three problematic ideas seem to be common here:

  1. "Workplace expertise" is different than other expertise
  2. Question wording isn't important
  3. Answers should be moderated more harshly than questions

Workplace Expertise

Having Workplace Expertise isn't really as unrealistic as some seem to think. When I ask a question about hiring process A which recruiters deal with day in day out, recruiters are my experts. They are people actively involved in the problem space of my question. Experts are people with experience in the specific problem domain.

Just because you didn't get a degree in firing employees doesn't mean that you, the HR person who's terminated 50 employees, do not have valuable expertise in that space.

Questions need to be focused to solicit expertise. This means they need to be focused around solving a problem and give some indication (implied or explicit) as to what sort of expertise is required. Generally it's someone who's solved this problem before (How do I bring up this issue to a coworker?) or someone at the "the other side of the table" (what do recruiters look for in an X?).

Opinions as in "What do you think" aren't answers. The problem with opinion isn't that it's subjective, it's that it doesn't solve a problem. If instead of saying "I think doing X would be a good move" you can say "Doing X has worked for me because..." or "I do X because in my experience..." you're moving into solving problems, not sharing opinions.

Question Wording

If the real problem in a question is only implicit, or some poor wording makes a question look bad but you think it really isn't, the question is worded poorly. If the question calls for opinion but you have a really great, constructive answer, the question is worded poorly.

Bad questions beget bad answers, and just because a question can get a good answer in it's current state doesn't mean it's good; a good question renders bad subjective answers as not answers to the actual question. If you see an asker is asking a great question but they've worded it in a non-constructive way, edit the question.

Bonus points; if your question's wording renders bad answers as non answers, they can appropriately be deleted by moderators (and users should flag such answers). But moderators aren't technically supposed to just delete bad, good faith answers to the question at hand.

Questions are people's first impression of the site, so it's very important that they be worded well. This is absolutely not a case where we can accept poor questions and focus on answers, especially given that the Stack Exchange system has great tools for moderation of questions but not answers. We can close, fix and reopen a question, but there's little the community can do about answers beyond editing, downvoting and commenting.

Answer Moderation

This isn't as easy as most people seem to think. Praying that people downvote isn't an effective solution; unless an answer is really terrible, people are reluctant to downvote due to our system. And I'm not very comfortable wholesale deleting good faith answers, even if they're not great or largely repeat other answers; unless there's a firm, community created policy on which answers we should delete, I'm extremely reluctant to delete other people's work. Closing a question is much less significant than shooting down answers.

If you have an idea for a stricter, community enforceable answer moderation policy, bring it up on this meta question.

  • I can't resist downvoting this. The 1st part and 3rd part of your answer are irrelevant. And the point you mentioned is that the question need an expert such as employer who are at the other side of the table. That sum up to 3 kinds of people : recruiter/agent, employer, HR. Can you kindly include the properties that differ these people from normal people because I see your answer is quite vague. May 29, 2012 at 3:33

Constructive: Adjective:
Serving a useful purpose; tending to build up. Derived by inference; implied by operation of law; not obvious or explicit.

Before thinking of Constructive questions, we should think of what constructive answer should be.

  1. Constructive answer is something which consist of a definitive (not vague, not hypothetical) and useful (something from which practical benefit can be derived.

  2. Constructive answer can have opinion. We all tend to jump and press the buzzer way soon when we see opnion. As long as the opinion is backed by reasoning as to why it the opinion is such, and has meaningful insight is definitely constructive.

  3. Constructive answers has finite scope to deal with. When you can write a book (and may be even a white paper) about a subject - it is not answer. This may be useful and insightful in all respect here, but it is impossible that we can be definitive while the scope is arbitrarily large -

One of my own questions - "How do you balance short term vs. long term goals" is a classic example, i can now imagine either only a book can be written here or anyone speaking about it in 100 words will not be definitive about it.

  1. Constructive answers are unbiased. Yes, opinions are quite openly divided quite often. However, personal bias (i never like Europeans or white racists) or filled with emotions (not being objective) will tend to get a more misleading and uselss answer.

So what makes a Constructive Questions?

Any question, which is reasonably worded based on a real problem at hand, which allows to write Constructive answer will be constructive.

  • Just because too many people jump to write me too answer doesn't really make them bad - but mostly this happens when questions are too trivial.

  • You must judge the question by it's intention than words to be focused on being constructive. Yes, may be you should improve upon the question itself, but that doesn't always stop you from writing a constructive answer.

  • Finally even if there is so called constructiviness imposed in question by wording (using How and why, using please provide citations), we can never give constructive answers if it is actually filled with emotion outburst or serious biases (aka rants) - e.g. this or this.

See also: Is "not constructive" really applicable at workplace.SE?

  • The problem with opinion isn't simply "it's an opinion", but when all answers are equally valid. When you're just asking for opinions, not how to solve a problem, opinions turn into polling
    – Rarity
    May 11, 2012 at 14:09
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    Some ppl here are obsessed with opinion, rant etc. They dont let the voting give it opportunity and close questions. In their book anything that is slightly biased is a rant, or too local or how is it useful for others. A question is constructive if it is a real problem and the answer can be constructive
    – TheTechGuy
    May 11, 2012 at 14:52
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    @Thecrocodilehunter This is not a discussion forum, opinions have no place here. We are looking for solutions to problems, answers to questions, and that's about it. Not that everything else is not useful, it just doesn't belong here. And the main problem with opinions is that the voting doesn't work. Popular opinions get upvoted and unpopular get downvoted, and that's not how is supposed to work, an unpopular opinion may be the most helpful solution to an actual practical problem.
    – yannis
    May 11, 2012 at 15:47
  • When you say It's not unthinkable that you will never get to fully see the effects of your work. (in one of your good answers), it is only an opinion. This hasn't come from any research. However, it is valid and useful because it comes from experience. In a site like this, everything is opinion only -just that there are some that are based on great experiences and are useful - there are others which are baseless or biased. May 11, 2012 at 17:52
  • @DipanMehta That's not a good answer (but a valid answer, nonetheless). That said, I'm not sharing only an opinion, but also go at great lengths at explaining how I came to that conclusion, specifically citing personal experience. That's my research, been there done that. A very weak answer, possibly biased, but still not only an opinion. I happen to believe your answer is more useful, and I think that's an example of how the voting system doesn't (always) work (as expected).
    – yannis
    May 11, 2012 at 19:04
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    @YannisRizos "Professional judgment," which I think is the best we will do for answering many valid and good questions here, is still an opinion, though a substantiated one. Also, I don't think voting needs to be perfect; after all, we don't ceremoniously delete the second- through _n_th-place answers. On other SE sites, lower-rated answers (sometimes because they came significantly later) have at times been more helpful as a reference than the highest-rated, accepted answer.
    – Andrew
    May 11, 2012 at 22:03
  • @TheCrocodileHunter and Andrew: The problem with "shut up and let votes solve the problem" is that votes are a very strong form of encouragement, and if a low quality answer gets even a couple upvotes, we've strongly reinforced the behavior of answering every question even if your answer sucks. Multiply that times a few hundred users and we've got low quality answers on almost every question, even IF the actual best answer IS on the top, it's still a problem.
    – Rarity
    May 13, 2012 at 15:00
  • Also, judging the question by it's intent not its words is a reason to edit the question so it's asking the right thing. It is not a reason to just say "screw it, I'm answering what I think the question is". You can edit then answer, and hopefully the asker agrees with your interpretation, but I don't want a site where 50 people are answering their own concept of what a poorly worded question is actually asking.
    – Rarity
    May 13, 2012 at 15:06
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    @Rarity I saw questions on programmers.SE saying my boss has been unreasonable etc etc (opinion but the question is not closed), the answer says, your boss is correct. It is beneficial for him and it is beneficial for us. Please do not demonize opinion. Everyone has opinions. The best question usually is also an opinion which does not contain any scientific truth. This is not a skeptic site. If you answer/advice someone one why a one page resume is better than 3 pages, that is an opinion, or is it exact science?
    – TheTechGuy
    May 13, 2012 at 15:37
  • this question about low salary is based on opinion that my salary is low. The select answer is also an opinion.
    – TheTechGuy
    May 13, 2012 at 15:43
  • @Thecrocodilehunter "everyone has opinions" is exactly the problem. Questions call for answers, not opinions. If you include a bit of an opinion in your answer, that's fine. If your answer is a statement of your opinion and not the solution to a problem, that's not an answer.
    – Rarity
    May 14, 2012 at 15:43
  • @Rarity -can you show me 3 answers in this site which are NOT opinions? Something which is officially published and derived out of theoretic science. May 15, 2012 at 11:09
  • @DipanMehta you're totally misreading my point. Just because it's not from offically published material doesn't mean it's not a solution. But if they're only opinions, not solutions to a problem, that's what's wrong. You (and others) are getting caught up on the wrong thing.
    – Rarity
    May 15, 2012 at 13:05

Probably you who've closed down question with "Not Constructive" should provide an answer. Surely you should know what is in a constructive question so that you can determine what is NOT constructive, right?

Don't give the responsibility to new user and don't blame them because they are not involved in the Area 51 section designing this beta site. Only you pioneers know what kind of question are welcomed here. Didn't you go through the process of giving example questions?

If this site are not ready to guide the new users, this site should be send back to Area 51 right now.

  • 1
    Who blamed you? Or any other new user? And you aren't really a new user, you have about 10K reputation network wide, you should know what "not constructive" means by now.
    – yannis
    May 29, 2012 at 2:58
  • Well I am new here and don't know the place. Who can say I am not new? You cannot answer like "You should know that, I won't explain to you because you are veteran as I seen from your profile." What you are implying is that even you don't know the answer. May 29, 2012 at 3:08
  • The answer to what? And I didn't say I won't explain it you, I'm asking who blamed you or any other user. You didn't came here asking for an explanation, you came here accusing people, and I'm challenging your accusations. If all you want is an explanation, well, all you need to do is ask for it.
    – yannis
    May 29, 2012 at 3:10
  • Well, it seems true, as stated by Rarity, that you can control BAD answer. However there is a sight difference from what he said, which is, my answer usually got downvoted pretty quickly. Now who said the users don't downvote? And even downvote couldn't prove that I am wrong. May 29, 2012 at 3:12
  • I am sorry, but I'm having a very hard time understanding what you are talking about. I get it that English is not your first language, but it isn't my first language either, so please try to clarify a bit what exactly it is you are talking about.
    – yannis
    May 29, 2012 at 3:13
  • I need the answer to the question raised by Rarity. What I try to say is that we shouldn't provide the answer, is it he/she who closes questions with "Not Constructive" should provide the answer. Surely they should know what is constructive, right? Then why he/she is asking here? May 29, 2012 at 3:17
  • This answer doesn't actually mention anything about what is constructive or how it should be defined and is thus basically off topic in this question.
    – Rarity
    May 29, 2012 at 3:23
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    Rarity is not the only one who can vote to close a question, quite a few of us can, and often do. Of course Rarity, being one of our three moderators, is extremely well versed on what "not constructive" means, and every other aspect of the site. However, he, or any other individual, doesn't get to decide alone. Meta is where the community assembles to discuss such matters, and the purpose of this question is, obviously, for the community to decide what "not constructive" means for the site, and what questions should be closed as such.
    – yannis
    May 29, 2012 at 3:25
  • @YannisRizos Okay, I think he is not sharing his/her thought as I left a comment under his/her answer. His/her answer is vague and doesn't tell much. If he/she has a standard of defining constructive question, I think he/she should state it clearly. May 29, 2012 at 4:21

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