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Update: We asked this question almost two years ago, and it took a while for voting to produce a clear winner. We'd like to implement this answer.

As described here, I feel the current wording of one of our close reasons is misleading:

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.

All questions, fundamentally, are asking for "advice on what to do". The trick is in how you refine them. "Here's my tale of woe; help!" doesn't work, and broad "what would you do?" opinion surveys don't work. The key info in this close reason is in the examples -- what job to take, what skills to learn, etc -- rather than in the first phrase that people see.

I just came across a wording we used to use (found in an old, closed question):

Questions seeking advice on what job to take, what skills to learn, etc. are off-topic as the answers are rarely useful to anyone else.

That's much better. Apparently we found it too restrictive and broadened it, but I think we went too far. Can we find something in the middle?

What wording should this close reason have that is sufficiently inclusive but not too broad?

Also, bear in mind that "primarily opinion-based" is baked into SE; that option already exists.

  • if memory serves, intent was to make it easier to see how to edit the question to prevent close or to reopen. You edit out "what should I do" and after that, try to make sense of what remains - and, if you can make it, question is worthy of staying open (I didn't actively participate in wording this, so I may miss something) – gnat Aug 19 '15 at 22:27
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    I've always thought we should not include the phrase "What do I do?" when explaining the reason to close. I come across so many questions that clearly state the problem and the desired outcome but finish with "What do I do [to achieve what I have just explained]?" These questions almost always get a few close votes just for having that specific wording at the end, even though they meet our standards. – David K Aug 20 '15 at 14:38
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    For some context why that close reason exists: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/q/2693/16 – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 26 '15 at 20:47
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    Another for Context: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/2644/… – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 26 '15 at 21:10
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    I think the general consensus is that this close reason should change, though we maybe haven't settled on a particular wording. (My current favorite is Chad's.) I'm guessing the mods need to take the next steps? I just want to make sure this doesn't drift away and get forgotten before action gets taken. – David K Sep 9 '15 at 13:40
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    When I first came to this SE site, I couldn't help but notice that 99% of the questions violate at least the letter of that rule... as written. – Fizz Sep 28 '15 at 6:51
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    Per the update, I'm totally on board with this! – David K Jul 18 '17 at 17:46
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    This question should be closed as it's asking for advice on what to do... – Dukeling Jul 18 '17 at 21:37
  • Thanks for updating this Monica! Slight grammar nitpick - I think the last line should be "asking how to make the decision, or for more specific details" – David K Aug 3 '17 at 12:10
31

How about:

Questions asking for advice on a specific choice, such as what job to take or what skills to learn, are off-topic as the answers are unlikely to be useful for anyone else, and are often primarily opinion-based. Instead of asking which decision to make, try asking how to make the decision, or more specific details about one element of the decision.

Keeping a little bit of the breadth I think is helpful, as otherwise people will think it only applies to the listed points (yes, 'etc.' is there, but giving some clarification on what 'etc.' means is useful).

I also think that the 'rarely useful to anyone else' is less important than the 'opinion based' side: we answer all sorts of questions that wouldn't necessarily be very useful for other people on StackExchange sites, but in these cases it's really that there is not a good answer possible: it comes down to opinion and preference.


Moderator note: At this writing this answer is +30/-1, so we're going with it. I did some minor wordsmithing to prioritize "too subjective" over "not useful to others" and to make room for a meta link. Here's the final version:

Questions asking for advice on a specific career choice, such as what job to take or what skills to learn, are difficult to answer objectively and are rarely useful for anyone else. Instead of asking which decision to make, try asking how to make the decision, or more specific details about one element of the decision. (More information)

Further Update: This close reason has been modified again:

Questions asking for advice on a specific choice, such as what job to take or what skills to learn, are difficult to answer objectively and are rarely useful for anyone else. Instead of asking which decision to make, try asking how to make the decision, or more specific details about one element of the decision.

More Information

  • Nice! I like this wording. – Monica Cellio Aug 20 '15 at 15:53
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    This is much, much better than the current version. – Roger Aug 20 '15 at 20:31
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    The final sentence doesn't flow smoothly. I'd suggest something like Instead of asking what decision to make, try asking how you should come to a decision or narrow your question down to specific elements of the decision. – Lilienthal Aug 24 '15 at 10:46
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    I like this too! – enderland Aug 24 '15 at 17:31
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    If Lilienthal's version of the last sentence is preferred that's fine - I have no preference. – Joe Aug 24 '15 at 17:33
  • This wording implies that "advice on a specific choice" is an accurate summary of what's problematic with these questions, which seems like it would include every question on the site (i.e. the same problem as the current phrasing). If it was made more precise like "advice on a specific long-term career development choice" then I'd support this. – Ixrec Aug 24 '15 at 19:42
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    This close reason loses the close for the general here is my situation tell me what to do questions that the current close reason is intended to include. Perhaps rewording "Instead of asking which decision to make" to "Instead of asking what/which decision to make" will make it clear that those questions are not appropriate but im not sure. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 24 '15 at 21:43
  • @ReallyTiredOfThisGame I'd probably be tempted to close "here is my tale of woe; what do I do?" as either "too broad" or "primarily opinion-based", depending on the specific content of the question. That sort of question isn't on-topic anywhere on SE that I'm aware of, so maybe the general reasons work? (Just thinking out loud here.) – Monica Cellio Aug 24 '15 at 21:55
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    We wanted them declared specifically off topic though. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 25 '15 at 15:48
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    Why? All close reasons say "doesn't fit here"; if an SE-wide reason applies, why does our close reason need to be specifically an off-topic reason? "Here is my situation; what do I do?" is closed all over the network as unanswerable, but most sites haven't made custom off-topic reasons for it as far as I know. – Monica Cellio Aug 26 '15 at 21:11
  • @MonicaCellio because they were a problem that is effectively dealt with this way. Read the linked threads above. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 30 '15 at 6:41
  • @really I disagree with "effectively". Have you read the many comments on those questions about this reason? You can also prevent poor questions by allowing none, but that would obviously be overkill. I say this reason is overkill and the built-in reasons apply to those not covered by a new wording here. It looks like the community agrees, so barring a compelling argument we will probably change this. – Monica Cellio Aug 30 '15 at 12:41
  • Well the IMO the mods should be culling comments far more agressively. If their comments dissappear people will stop chatting in comments. And while we have more of a comment problem we have far less of a question problem. And even the comments are not as bad as they have been. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 31 '15 at 12:59
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    I like this wording a lot - it gets at the core of why these questions are a problem ("tell me what to do") but doesn't stop "tell me what to do to accomplish this goal" which is great. The difficult questions are when people ask us to make a decision for them. Which are nearly impossible to answer, since there are always more factors which are unknown and yet is required for a good answer. – enderland Sep 1 '15 at 14:10
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    I can think of no better phrasing. – Richard U Jul 18 '17 at 20:27
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My proposal:

It is not practical for us to answer a question that depends so heavily on your own abilities, preferences or circumstances. Instead, consider asking a factual question that will help you make your own choices, and that can be answered without detailed knowledge of your personal situation.

Rationale:

A good close reason focusses on why the question is unsuitable for this site, and suggests an alternative (where one exists). If it focusses on the wrong thing, it can be both too restrictive and too broad.

Putting topics or forms of words in the close reason (as opposed to the comments or guidance page where they can be contextualised) risks misleading close-voters (into closing things they shouldn't, and possibly ignoring other questions which have the same problem but don't fit the mould) and question authors (it doesn't help them fix the question or ask better questions in the future), unless those topics/phrases are outright prohibited on their own account (e.g. belongs on another SE site, we are not lawyers, etc.).

It's possible to have good questions which - implicitly or explicitly - ask what to do, what skills to learn, what job to take, but which are sufficiently focussed and convey enough information that the question answerable and the answer is applicable to others.

The real problem questions are generally asking for personalised career advice, which results in some combination of:

  • asking the OP loads of detailed questions about what they actually want (which of these incentives is more important to you?)
  • finding out what the OP's tolerance of a range of different risks is (how happy are you trading away all job security?), which may depend on the financial position of the OP (household savings, etc.)
  • assessing the OP's abilities (which skill are you better at, and by how much?)
  • determining if certain factors exist which the OP has ommitted (is your company currently short-staffed or looking to reduce its headcount?)

For every Question proper, we end up firing two or three questions back (or writing flowchart answers in which we try to give all possible answers and the circumstances in which they're appropriate).

Quite often the OP doesn't rightly know themselves, and even if we give them a satisfactory answer, we only get it 'right' for that one person's situation.

A good-fit question will elicit answers which are useful to someone else, which means someone else needs to read the question and be able to confidently say either "I am in the same boat" - or not.

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    I think I really like this. I fear that some will think this also over broad but I think it is exactly what we need. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 9 '15 at 14:31
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    I like this too. – Monica Cellio Sep 10 '15 at 14:45
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    I like how this is short yet covers this close reason very well. One nitpick, I'm admittedly not a native speaker but "Consider instead asking" feels like an unnatural construct, wouldn't "Instead, consider asking" be preferable? It also scans better and makes it clear that sentence is what the OP should do to improve the question. – Lilienthal Sep 16 '15 at 15:23
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    Lilienthal: done, thanks. – user52889 Sep 16 '15 at 16:45
  • You might want to remove "or circumstances" from this (and rephrase "your personal situation" in some manner), as most on-topic questions depend heavily on the asker's circumstances (and personal situation). – Dukeling Jul 18 '17 at 22:08
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    Of course this could also be phrased like: "Questions that depend exclusively on one's own abilities and preferences (e.g. ...) are off topic because ...". – Dukeling Jul 18 '17 at 22:23
  • "abilities, preferences or motivations" maybe? – Dukeling Jul 18 '17 at 23:02
  • This option has my vote. – Mister Positive Jul 19 '17 at 18:51
3

My proposal:

Questions seeking advice on what job to take, what skills to learn, etc. are off-topic as the answers are rarely useful to anyone else. Instead of asking what decision to make, try asking how to make a decision. For more information click here.

The "here" link would point to something very similar to the current one, maybe even an edit to that. The reasoning is the same; it's just the presentation that I think is a problem. That post should probably also link to this help.

  • I think it's a good improvement. I sort of wonder if we should include that asking "What should I do?" is not what we can answer but rather, "How can I make an informed decision?" – Jane S Aug 19 '15 at 22:22
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    Not just rarely useful to anyone else, but also rarely answerable without going into far more detailed analysis of this person's hopes fears, likes and dislikes, skills, and so on than we could possibly address here. – keshlam Aug 20 '15 at 4:08
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    This reason was changed a year or so ago with the intent of encompassing the general here is my problem tell me what to do questions. This would remove that part. I have always disliked the wording on the close reason, but I also hate to see that portion removed. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 24 '15 at 21:39
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I Suggest:

Questions asking for advice on what decision(s) to make, 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 decisions to make or course to take. For more information click here.

2

How about this:

Questions asking for advice specific to one's own career path ("what job should I take?", "what skills should I learn?", etc.) are off-topic as it can be difficult to give objective advice to such questions and the answers are rarely applicable to a broader audience.

This can also be phrased like:

Questions asking for advice relating to career path decisions (...) ...


There may be questions not falling under "career path decisions" (currently) commonly closed using this reason, but these can either:

  • Just be closed as opinion-based instead.
  • Be edited to be on topic.

The reason I think career path decisions should be singled out here is because they are fundamentally outside of the scope of this site (right?) - it's often impossible for such questions to be edited to be on topic by the author or anyone else, even if one can come up with some more objective version of the question.

The rest are just opinion-based and trying to have this close reason cover all of those when we already have a reason for that just seems counter-productive.

  • Thanks for this contribution. I added "career" to the final version (see the accepted answer for the full text). – Monica Cellio Aug 3 '17 at 3:46

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