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Recently I've found myself looking at questions that have a few close votes for "off-topic: advice on what to do", and I find myself wondering if that close reason is really helping. The text is:

Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", or "what skills should I learn?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do. For more information, click here.

Isn't that pretty much what "primarily opinion-based" means? Tonight I was ready to close a question as POB, but the three close-voters who'd already weighed in voted for this off-topic reason and I found myself reluctant to overrule them. (So I set it aside to see what the community does on its own.) This is not the first time this has happened.

Questions that are primarily opinion-based aren't inherently off-topic; they're just bad fits for SE. The message we should be sending with those is that the topic is ok while the specific question isn't; off-topic questions, on the other hand, are, well, off-topic, and that's harder to fix.

What is the difference in intent between this custom close reason and POB? If we can't describe it, maybe we should stop using this reason in favor of the built-in POB.

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    I for one find "opinion-based" reason somewhat slippery for this site. Meta posts here suggest that I may be not alone. I often find it difficult to decide whether to use it. As opposed to that, "what to do" stuff seems to be relatively easy to identify: "what job should I take?", or "what skills should I learn?" – gnat May 27 '15 at 16:16
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    Since the "what to do?" questions seem to always be seeking opinions, I'd rather we fix whatever problems there are with the baked-in "primarily opinion-based" reason than create an ill-fitting off-topic reason. – Monica Cellio May 27 '15 at 17:15
  • I think I understand, would be interesting to try that. Big question is, can opinion based be made more helpful for askers than custom reason. Note how the latter suggests a guidance on how to improve, in "alternative is..." part – gnat May 27 '15 at 20:46
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    I would rather remove the opinion based option thank the custom close reason. This was originally intended for the make a decision for me, tell me how to achieve my generic goal(What classes/skills should i learn to get a job doing x) That off topic close reason should remain. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 5 '15 at 14:01
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I think there is a distinction, albeit subtle.

  • "Advice on what to do" implies something that would be a logical solution that would be commonly accepted. Given we can't answer them as we simply don't have enough information to be able to answer a question like that intelligently in the Q & A format, it's off topic.
  • "Primarily opinion based" to me implies that there are many equally possible solutions, such as "what colour do you prefer for the curtains in your office?". You could be giving advice, but the number of potential answers is unbounded (or greatly less restricted).

I do use both of these close reasons in different ways based on my above interpretation :)

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There are two things I pushed to create that close reason for:

  1. People were answering (and not closing) these types of questions
  2. Whenever I closed a question as "primarily opinion-based" people would get up in arms

There are people who have the opinion primarily opinion-based can't apply to our site:

You should really abandon the pretense at knowing what is "primarily opinion based". Almost everything in The Workplace is about opinions! Unless the question is about some regulation, procedure or technical issue, it will invoke opinions. Ironically, i once had a question that had a strong technical component and you and others closed it for being "primarily opinion based".

In the past 90 days there have been 37 questions closed as 'primarily opinion-based', and 115 as the custom reason.

If you think that:

  1. The community is more willing to close these sorts of questions as 'primarily opinion-based'
  2. You think that the 'primarily opinion-based' message is clear to people who have their message closed

Then yeah, it's probably safe to retire the message. I haven't been reading the front page enough to see how the community has evolved in the past year, so I'll leave that up to you guys. My guess is that even if the community is now more comfortable closing things, giving the standard primarily-opinion based message to new users/askers will be met with a bit of opposition.

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    As in my answer, I find value in both of these close reasons and use them in distinct ways. But there is an element of truth in the quote. I guess it's primarily opinion if a question is primarily opinion based! :) – Jane S Jun 4 '15 at 1:57
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    Please do not retire the reason all together. Revert it back to the "What job should I take/Skills should I learn" or asking us to make a decision for you. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 5 '15 at 13:59
  • Current example: this question was closed as "advice on what to do", but that's IMO totally bogus there. It's an on-topic question about a real workplace situation; that the OP uses the phrase "what should I do about it" (or some such) doesn't mean the question fits this close reason. I think this close reason is causing more harm than good. Rephrasing it along the lines of Really's comment would probably fix the problem. – Monica Cellio Aug 14 '15 at 23:27
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Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable question

This reason seems unhelpfully written. Consistently applied as written, this would rule out the vast majority questions I've seen in this community apart from occasional "What is the standard in X", many of which risk falling foul of the rules asking about procedures, legislation, etc. I don't think it will help people write better questions in future.

The real problem I see with questions like "what skills should I learn?" is that the answer depends primarily on so many unknowable or unquantifiable factors such as what training is available, demand in the OP's region, and how the OP themselves feels about using the skills, the investment required, their financial situation, etc. Answering it requires an extended discussion, and trying to do that with Stack Exchange is awkward. Answers given therefore tend to be speculative. On the other hand "Do I need to know X to apply for a job as a Y?" might be perfectly answerable (here's a survey showing only 23% of Ys know X).

There is also another somewhat related problem of "what do I do" questions that describe a difficult decision but don't really indicate what the OP intends or wants to know and are extremely open. So again, people guess at intention, etc. Over at Stack Overflow there's a close reason that in essence says "don't ask us to write code from scratch, show us what you've tried", which is similar.

Though there is some overlap, both of these are distinct from genuinely subjective questions like "which job is more enjoyable".

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    There is also another somewhat related problem of "what do I do" questions that describe a difficult decision but don't really indicate what the OP intends or wants to know and are extremely open <-- this is why I think those questions become difficult. Almost all of them on this site end up with a huge train of clarifying comments, because to answer meaningfully require a huge series of questions. By the time the question is clarified enough it's specific to the asker and ultimately something they must make a decision on... (cont) – enderland Jun 1 '15 at 23:23
  • ...but you can normally rewrite those questions in such a way to make them more answerable. For example, when considering "should I apply for a team lead position?" there's really no easy way to answer. But the question, "what factors should I consider when determining if I should apply to a team lead position?" will give the things that the OP needs to consider, and can be helpful not only to them but to others as well. – enderland Jun 1 '15 at 23:25

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