When showing a fellow Stack Exchange regular our site, I got the complaint that most questions were in the form of an anecdote, eventually followed by the real question. They said this had a bad connotation due to their experiences on Programmers where this is a common sign of a bad question.

Is it the sign of a bad question here? To what extent should we discourage/edit away anecdotal details in questions?

Generally I'd rather askers stray to the side of offering too much information rather than too little; it's easy to edit out excessive details and often impossible to assume missing ones. But how much is too much? How personal is too personal?

  • 1
    I think the problem on Programmers is different than ours. I agree with you, more details serve as context, as long as there actually is a question.
    – Nicole
    Jul 13, 2012 at 18:41
  • @NickC I think the concern was a bit biased by problems on Programmers...but at the same time I'm concerned and don't want to go down the same exact road as early Programmers
    – Rarity
    Jul 13, 2012 at 18:42
  • Rarity: On the contrary, some moderators only regard abstract questions that can be backed up with anecdotes as 'On-Topic'. Any questions that refer to specific issues in the popular press that may yield largely applicable lessons will be abruptly closed: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/334/…
    – Jim G.
    Jul 14, 2012 at 18:15
  • 3
    @JimG. I really don't think that's relevant here. The issue with your question isn't about presence or lack of anecdotes.
    – Nicole
    Jul 14, 2012 at 20:51
  • What problems on Programmers?
    – yannis
    Jul 16, 2012 at 18:29
  • @YannisRizos double posting moderators. They just mentioned that anytime they see an anecdote in a question on Programmers they immediately hate the question
    – Rarity
    Jul 16, 2012 at 18:32
  • Ohh the irony... Jul 20, 2012 at 18:02

3 Answers 3


Yes, some questions are too anecdote-y, but I don't think that anecdotes directly correlate to bad questions. Given the nature of this site, and the desire to answer "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that [users] face", the questions almost must include anecdotes to set the stage for the real question.

However, plenty of work is still left to be done to ensure that users are structuring questions in such a way that the anecdote supports the question rather than buries it. By "plenty of work" I mean "show good models" -- either by suggesting edits, editing the question directly, or otherwise talking about the issue here.

I try to do this when I see a good question buried in a too-localized anecdote -- I edit it to highlight the question and call out the supporting anecdote via formatting, or sometimes the edits are more significant. But I don't do it consistently (I'd never get any work done, if I did!), unfortunately, and that's not helpful because it doesn't show consistent models.

It is easy to edit out extraneous details, but I don't think we can draw any sort of hard line about what is too much, because like a lot of things at The Workplace (for good or for bad), it depends.

I don't think we're headed down the same road as early ProgSE, for no other reason than all three of us -- and many of our users -- know what that road was and want to avoid it.


Questions here pertain to a real-life situation, in which there is no real good 'blanket'/'cookie cutter' answer. Instead, answers here tend to be more of a situational thing. Thus, the added backstory and context helps to focus answers down to something that will be truly helpful.

Example: asking 'what should i put on my resume?' would be frowned on here, while a question saying:

"I'm currently working towards my [insert level of degree here] in [insert program here] and am looking for some advice. Here's a bunch of things i've done/accomplished, and a bunch of certifications/awards i've received, as well as some overviews regarding my previous work history. If i want to make the best impression to a [insert company type here] company, what would be the best format/ordering/content to include for my resume, and what items (if any) should i include in my cover letter instead?"

obviously, there'd be alot more text in the 'list' parts, but from that question, knowing what exactly there is to work with, we could give a much better answer (for [position] at a [company] company, you'd want to focus more on your achievements and work experience in related field...etc etc)


This SE was originally created to answer a lot of the "Good" questions on programmer that were off topic there. Specifically the career and workplace problems. We want to deal with real world problems not hypothetical problems. I do not think an anecdote (that is good summary of the issue) is bad in a question.

We are not dear Abby, but we are not a class room either. We are trying to deal with real world issues in a timely fashion. In this the context is important, and including an anecdote is not out of line.

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