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I recently asked a question based upon the surprising popularity a comment in another question received.

My question received a lot of criticism. I tried to improve the question based on that criticism (and I'm still open to suggestions), but some of the criticism was that hypothetical questions are... well, to paraphrase just a bit... poison. For example, I received this comment:

-1 for hypothetical. Asking hypotheticals where you don't really have a dog in the fight and don't have real details will make for a weak Q&A that will inhibit someone who really has this as a real problem from asking it. Seeding questions is bad, don't do it.

Yet according to the top answer in a meta discussion dealing with hypothetical questions, being hypothetical isn't a problem by itself. Rather, it can lead to related issues:

A hypothetical question should be fine, but if there isn't enough "information" (or a detailed enough description of the problem), then it becomes unanswerable anyway. There will be too many possible answers to the question and the whole thread will become a discussion.

While I understand that hypothetical questions frequently suffer from lacking details necessary to make it answerable, if enough details are present, is a hypothetical question still bad just because it is hypothetical?

If hypotheticals are allowed, should they be identified as such? I had placed a comment explaining the origins of my question, but the question then got edited to mention in the first sentence that it was hypothetical. It felt like that disclaimer was creating more negative reactions, so I removed it from the question body, but some guidelines for if/how/where to put such a disclaimer might be helpful, as well.

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    Be careful not to assign too much importance to the top answer on a 3-year old thread with only just over a hundred views. That said, a lot of what is said on this (also somewhat dated) thread applies to hypothetical questions as well: Should anything be done about a user posting fake questions – Lilienthal Mar 27 '17 at 21:13
  • @Lilienthal The whole point of this question was to avoid assigning too much importance to that answer :) – Beofett Mar 27 '17 at 21:29
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    "I had placed a comment explaining the origins of my question, but the question then got edited to mention in the first sentence that it was hypothetical." - I edited the question to make its background clear. We are always told that comments are temporary and may be removed at any time. Questions that require comments or footnotes for clarification by definition aren't clear enough. I was trying to help clarify your question for you. – Joe Strazzere Mar 27 '17 at 22:56
  • One thing that probably factors into this is that there have been quite a few joke questions recently, in fact that question has spawned at least two "followup" questions. – enderland Mar 28 '17 at 0:29
  • @JoeStrazzere I understand that is what you were trying to do. However, the result was the opposite. The focus became the fact it was hypothetical. Much like Lilienthal's edit of this question turned it from a generic policy discussion to being at least partly about my specific question. – Beofett Mar 28 '17 at 11:12
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While I understand that hypothetical questions frequently suffer from lacking details necessary to make it answerable, if enough details are present, is a hypothetical question still bad just because it is hypothetical?

The problem there is that you start entering fake question territory where you're making up stuff just for the sake of entertainment. When the OP needs to construct an entire fake workplace or imagine a fake situation, you're going to run into inconsistencies and a lack of detail and realism. Adding details simply isn't a feasible solution. These questions often enter a weird type of Catch 22 where they are simultaneously too generic, as they're divorced from a real world situation, and too specific, as you're adding fake details that make it hard to give generally applicable answers.

I think the only way these questions can work is if they're intended to be general in nature, such as for canonical questions. In that case the lack of detail is fine. The example or hypothetical is just there to frame the question or scenario.

And that is really how I feel about hypothetical questions on SE in general: they should be reserved for general questions and should be held to a high standard. By definition such questions aren't posted to help someone with a problem, which is the site's secondary focus. That leaves the main purpose of this site, which is to establish a database of high quality Q&A. So these types of questions should be well written, searchable, eminently on-topic and answerable.


As for your question, the problem is indeed that you're trying to disguise the fact that it's not a real situation. Instead of fabricating a history of events and workplace with multiple supervisors and whatnot, you should have generalised that to something answerable. A variation on "Can I salvage a job offer I accepted when I realised too late that I can't make the schedule work ?" could work, but it depends on what you're specifically interested in: negotiating hours after the fact, negotiating with a recruiter when the hiring manager won't negotiate, or whatnot. You're adding so many obviously fake constraints and setting up such a weird situation that no one else could possibly benefit from answers to such a question.

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    The fact this question is hypothetical is an artifact. It is an exact counterbalance to a real highly voted question. When I got there its counter-balance was called out so that you could tell and so fill in all details from the other one. All answers for the highly voted question are deeply flawed, and the hypothetical question merely makes this obvious. In theory you could convert all the answers into answers for the hypothetical, but they're terrible answers there. In fact they were terrible before, but perspective hid the fact. – Joshua Mar 29 '17 at 2:19
  • @Joshua - And that is the problem with HNQ for a number of users including myself. That question should have been off topic since it was asking for a general course of action(What should I do) instead of a guidance on dealing with a specific issue anyway. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 29 '17 at 17:22

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