In the context of Workplace, what makes a question close-worthy based on this reason:

"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.

While this makes much sense for many Stack Exchange sites, where facts and references are expected, I'm having difficulty seeing how the lion's share of questions here could not be primarily opinion-based.

In particular, a moderator decided this question was close worthy for that reason:

How can I interact professionally with female colleagues whose appearance I find distracting?

While I can't disagree that this situation is subjective, I fail to see how this would be different from the many (unclosed) questions of a similar style.

(Curiously, I found that the question of distracting dress was if anything was less opinionated, judging by the number of empirical studies referenced in its answers.)

What is the distinction?

  • disturbing female dressing was closed because "That is a terrible question"
    – gnat
    Dec 3, 2014 at 9:07
  • 3
    @gnat, ? It was actually put on hold (pending possible improvements) for the reason I quoted, not a vague and ambiguous "terrible"....unless that is somehow a joke that I am cluelessly missing.rather Dec 3, 2014 at 16:35
  • this refers comment of a guy who closed that question... and also answered to your question, right here
    – gnat
    Dec 3, 2014 at 20:59
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    @PaulDraper, thank you for raising this issue; I had not seen the closure before your post. I appreciate knowing about it so we could address it. I'm sorry you had to spend the time compiling all that data. Dec 3, 2014 at 23:48
  • @MonicaCellio, no problem. I just wanted to make the case that Workplace should be different than Skeptics, Mathematics, or Stack Overflow in the level of objectivity it requires. I hope future visitors will also agree with me. Dec 4, 2014 at 21:51

3 Answers 3


Shog's answer raises some good points, but it misses the mark in some fundamental ways.

We've had, and closed, many "agony aunt" questions. This is not one of them. Especially with the community edits, the question focuses on what the OP can do when placed in this uncomfortable position. It meets the bar I just laid out in another meta post for not being "primarily opinion-based".1 We get a lot of those too, but this isn't one of them.

The OP is not asking for validation; he's asking for a coping mechanism. I think that's reasonable. Could it be more specific? Yes, certainly -- in particular, it would be helpful to know what he's already tried. I think it's pretty obvious that the desired outcome is "still working here and not feeling uncomfortable", and it seems fairly clear to me that he's not trying to change their behavior but his. That's reasonably scoped. As as the OP of this meta question points out, many other such questions have done fine here.

Shog points out one answer as unhelpful. I agree with that assessment. That answer went through the low-quality-posts review queue twice, which should tell you something about its flag history, but ultimately it was not deleted by the community. I seriously considered deleting it myself based on all the negative feedback I saw, but in the end I didn't -- while it is my opinion a bad answer, it's not a non-answer. Shog has argued for letting considerably worse than that stand on other sites, saying that the remedy for a bad answer is a downvote. That's what I followed here. For those who can't see it, that answer has 16 downvotes.

Surely the solution to a bad answer isn't to close the question; if it were, a few people could wreak havoc on sites across the network. Rather, the solution is for the community to use downvotes and deletion votes. Or tell us clearly that you want the mods to take a firmer hand. Or, you know, edit it if there's something to be salvaged; 58 people apparently think there's merit there.

1 I'm not citing that post as a source of authority; I'm citing it to avoid repeating myself.

  • 3
    Your other answer is quite good. There is is the sort of question that is "pure" opinion, e.g. what do you prefer. Then there is the sort of question that while still subjective, has answers grounded in basic human understanding, reasonable standards of behavior, etc. The bar might be different than it is on other sites (an answer on Skeptics should be almost entirely reference-based), but the bar still exists. Dec 3, 2014 at 19:13
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    I agree with this. Good summary of my thoughts too.
    – enderland
    Dec 4, 2014 at 3:16

You're not the only one who struggled to see "how the lion's share of questions here could not be primarily opinion-based." I, along with many others here and elsewhere on Stack Exchange, struggled with this for a long time... Robert Cartaino put together some pretty good guidelines for constructing questions that discourage answers consisting of little beyond unsubstantiated opinions, but the epiphany for me came with the blog post Real Questions Have Answers which built on Aarobot's answer regarding poll questions. You should take some time to read all of those posts, but the relevant portion boils down to this:

Does the question provide criteria for evaluating the usefulness of the answers?

Everything else builds on that. If the asker constructs a framework for evaluating the answers, then we're no longer left to judge each answer based solely on our own subjective opinions; we can instead attempt to gauge whether or not they solve the asker's problem.

Unfortunately, the question I closed - as well as some of the other questions in your list - fail to provide that framework. We're given a scenario in which the asker feels uncomfortable, but not a desired outcome nor any constraints that might necessarily apply to the solution. That doesn't prevent good answers (there are a couple of them posted there), but it doesn't discourage bad ones either - and worse yet, it robs us of the ability to quickly identify bad answers.

Now, there's a school of thought that says the solution to this is to just clamp down harder on new users when an open-ended question is posted. But while that can buy y'all time to reformulate a question, it doesn't solve anything if you don't.

One of the well-regarded answers on that question was posted by a veteran member of this site, and boils down to "just ignore it". That... Probably doesn't solve the asker's problem. Indeed, if he'd been willing to flesh out his problem a bit more, I suspect we'd find he was already trying to ignore distractions and failing... This has been the case in the past.

And that's the root of the problem here:

"How can I deal with this?" ...is not an answerable question.

Without anything more specific than "how do I deal/handle?", these become classic Agony Aunt questions. The asker is struggling with something, and presents us with his tale of woe... But doesn't identify what he actually wants to accomplish or what's preventing him from accomplishing it. So our army of helpful Agony Aunts jumps into action and lays out their trademark advice. "Toughen up!" "Quit your job!" "Have you tried a nice cup of hot tea?"

They make for good reading while you're having your morning coffee and danish. Hey, Pauline Phillips is dead; gotta get your cheap feelings of moral superiority somewhere, right? But they do not make for good answers.

So when I see questions like this, I follow jmac's advice:

The closest thing we have to a tool for dealing with these questions is the primarily opinion-based close reason

If you don't want to do likewise, then I recommend following jmort's lead:

we can make a huge difference by editing and leaving constructive, helpful comments -- comments which accompany close votes yet are as nice and encouraging as possible. To salvage these posts, we'll have to be a little more forceful in our edits and take some risks.

I did the former earlier, and now I've attempted to do the latter: replacing the closing "how do I personally handle this?" with a specific goal and a request for help in accomplishing it. Note that this completely invalidates several existing answers to the question - in particular, "get over it" is in no way an answer. Invalidating existing answers is never fun; ideally, such corrections would be made before the question is answered - but if there are answers worth preserving, it is better late than never.

Whatever option you choose, don't leave these questions to fester, or pin your hope on a technical solution. Turning these questions into something answerable or shutting them down are the two options here; if you don't do either, they'll assuredly come back to bite you on down the road. It's happened before. And...

I can't deal with that

  • did you consider site-specific close reasons listed in help center? ("advice on what to do..." / "focus on ranting...")
    – gnat
    Dec 3, 2014 at 17:13
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    Thanks for a thoughtful answer. I agree with much of what you say in general, though I find Workplace to be different and inherently subjective. "'How can I deal with this?' ...is not an answerable question." Should I flag/close each of the questions listed? Dec 3, 2014 at 17:40
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    Close or edit, @Paul - if there's a good answer and you can suss out a more specific question, you may wish to salvage some of these instead. Also, be sure and read past the title: this one sounds pretty awful, but he does go on to state a more specific goal as well as outline what he's tried and how it has worked out.
    – Shog9
    Dec 3, 2014 at 17:48
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    Great post - I agree with almost all of it. One issue I'd take is with the "How can I deal with..." indicating a question that can't elicit very good, very rankable answers. I agree that they almost always need a lot of detail about what you do and don't want to achieve, but we often see advice like that lead to really broad application. Frankly, a huge percent of question on TWP could be titled that way, and I think you're talking about a much narrower subset than comes through.
    – Jaydles
    Dec 3, 2014 at 18:05
  • See my reply to Paul, @Jaydles - it's always important to read past the title; there are plenty of questions that appear ill-defined at first glance but go on to outline a specific goal and constraints. It's the ones that never build on that title that tend to lead to problems.
    – Shog9
    Dec 3, 2014 at 18:35
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    @Shog9, yeah, I know what you're getting at. But it doesn't read nearly as clearly as what looks like "How can I deal with this" questions are no good. It's the kind of thing we sometimes see quoted without the other nuance... (You still got my upvote; I just might make it clearer that you're talking about something a lot more specific than "how can I deal with...?" which describes, well, most questions on anything. :)
    – Jaydles
    Dec 3, 2014 at 18:39
  • See edit, @Jaydles.
    – Shog9
    Dec 3, 2014 at 19:06
  • Congratulations for nuking my answer. So far as I am concerned, you engaged in a high handed act of vandalism and censorship and you simultaneously showed utter disrespect to the 60 individuals who upvoted my answer. I can't wait for you to repeat your stunt. Dec 5, 2014 at 1:47
  • @gnat If Shog thinks that suppressing answers he don't like will suppress the fact that people who act and think the way I do exist and that the point of view expressed in my answer is not widely shared, then good luck with his concept. Dec 5, 2014 at 16:57
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    @VietnhiPhuvan "get over it" is right up there with "get a new job" IMO, hence my downvote. Also, the bulk of it was an anecdote about you looking at nude art, which I don't see the point of. Dec 5, 2014 at 21:34
  • @MonicaCello The fact is, close to 60 other people upvoted my answer because they saw the point of it. And I put that anecdote in in the first place because I saw the point of it. Which part if "you give women respect no matter what they wear and you give them respect even if they are nude" is pointless? Tell me. Dec 5, 2014 at 22:35

I wasn't going to go out on a limb, but since the statement was made referring...

a school of thought that says the solution to this is to just clamp down harder on new users

...I would like to address that.

To start with, if you click the link clamped as "school of thought", you'll find plain support request to provide statistics to learn whether particular feature works as intended. There is nothing there indicating desire for "clamping harder" (few isolated examples in comments only serve to illustrate that stats are requested not just of idle curiosity).

As for the system that "clamps" new users, it is already there, for about half year: Auto-protect questions that get more than N answers from new users in a 24-hour period.

The "school of thought" that established clamping new users is Stack Exchange team. And they did it network wide, not just for Workplace. Except for using couple of our posts to demonstrate details of the new system, its announcement did not even mention Workplace as a specifically troublesome site...

...which is not surprising. Per my observations, at Workplace (as opposed to, say, Stack Overflow) we have got a fairly strong culture, norms and moderator will to deal with troublesome answers.

I believe we can handle this with the help of the system and without such help. And even when system is actively working against site community.

  • IOW, post clamped school of thought is not a begging like "oh please dear system, save us, otherwise we all die", not even close. It's more like a simple note, "hey system, if you intend to help us, consider checking whether you do it as intended"
    – gnat
    Dec 4, 2014 at 16:25

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