I admit that I'm unversed in history; so I first read A plea to down voters. and very hard to meet the sites' standards before delivering this question.

I'm genuinely interested in my questions; so the present statuses sadden me. How could I improve them? Could I please request some help with editing my questions to improve them? I heartily permit anyone to do so constructively. I exemplify just 3 'turbulent' questions:

1. I might've forgotten, but initially Why would staff officers carry swords during combat, in World War II? was downvoted to -2? Fortunately, the score reversed, but no edits caused this upturn.

2. Why was https://history.stackexchange.com/q/20918/8309 closed as 'primarily opinion-based' ? What of this positive comment:

Why close votes? Looks like an interesting question to me. ?

3. Why was https://history.stackexchange.com/q/20917/8309 closed as 'unclear what you're asking'? The top paragraph contains my questions; the quote serves only as a context.
If my rudimentary English is to blame, I ask for your forgiveness and apologise.

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    Knowing this is a waste of breath, you can improve them by not ignoring the multiple comments pointing out issues you need to rectify in order to meet the site's standards. Rather than going "What of this positive comment..." - What of it? It's one comment.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 20, 2015 at 3:03
  • @Semaphore Could I please ask why you say that 'this is a waste of breath' ? I haven't ignored anything?
    – user8309
    Mar 20, 2015 at 3:39
  • You received multiple feedback, including to your previous meta question, on what's wrong with your questions. None of them resulted in any substantiate edit whatsoever to any of your questions. In fact, until yesterday you almost never respond to any comment, even those asking quite legitimate questions about what are you actually asking.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 20, 2015 at 3:48
  • @Semaphore I thought to paste this here for those interested but patronise only this site: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/251656/…. About any substantiate edit, I readily consented above to others' edits on my behalf; so I do please wish for edits. The problem, though, may be my naivety in history; I'm untrained in history and so am unsure exactly how to edit. I'd be grateful if someone could edit these contentious questions and then I could learn. Please also see my reply to the answer below.
    – user8309
    Mar 20, 2015 at 19:26
  • You can't rely or expect someone else to fix your questions for you. Especially in cases when it's highly unclear what you are really asking.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 20, 2015 at 22:50

2 Answers 2


I happen to believe that all three of these questions are primarily opinion based. On the third question, I accepted the "unclear" option because that was what the others had already selected.

One of the things I always look for in a question is 1) can it be answered with a clear and concise response, or 2) is it more likely to solicit discussion or opinions? You can almost always bet that any question that starts with the word "why" is going to be opinion based. (Why did Joe wear black shoes on Saturday?) Everyone will have their own opinion, so you'll never get a clear and concise answer.

Sometimes a question can be saved by a good answer, and I suspect that is the case with your first question. However, if it gets called up for a Close vote, I'll probably vote to close it because it truly is opinion based. There may have been some officers who have stated a specific reason, but without that there is no way anybody can give a clear and concise reason for why any officer would choose to do so. I can tell you why I "think" they did it, but that isn't an answer, it's just my opinion.

Also, keep in mind that just because a question has been closed, that doesn't mean that it should be forgotten. If you (or anyone else) can reword it or rephrase it, then it can always be reopened.

  • Thank you for your answer. You wrote: You can almost always bet that any question that starts with the word "why" is going to be opinion based. Likely due to my greenness in history, it's unclear to me where this line is drawn. For instance, why were these questions all allowed and popularised: history.stackexchange.com/search?tab=votes&q=why ? Why not mine? Does this help explain my confusion?
    – user8309
    Mar 20, 2015 at 19:28
  • As I mentioned above, sometimes a bad question can be saved by a good answer. A really popular question, as almost all of these are, will usually generate good answers that will save the question. At some point in the future we will be asked to clean up a lot of our content, and a lot of these, regardless of how popular they are, would be candidates for closure just because they violate the rules on opinion based content. If any of these got at least three votes to Close, I would probably close them as well. Mar 20, 2015 at 19:43
  • In all likeliness, if we do reach the point of having to clean up our content, many of the questions you identified could easily be modified to make them more compliant. You need to look at ways to do that with your own questions. I can think of at least one way to fix each of yours, but as a moderator, I am more inclined to let the community do it rather than appear that I am trying to mold the site into what I want it to be. As a professional writer, words are my forte, but I would prefer to offer advice and have people fix their own questions. Mar 20, 2015 at 19:47
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    That way we get better content and I don't have to spend all my time cleaning up after everyone. Mar 20, 2015 at 19:48
  • Thank you for your comments. I'll try to You need to look at ways to do that with your own questions. but this is hard because I'm necessarily biased having written my own questions.
    – user8309
    Mar 22, 2015 at 14:49
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    I agree with you that OP's questions are usually too broad and opinion-based, but "why" questions don't need to be that way. The site FAQ explicitly encourages "why" questions.
    – two sheds
    Mar 22, 2015 at 15:25

Let me make myself really clear. I am really an amateur in history, and relatively a newcomer here. I am sorry if this extended comment is unacceptable.

But as the other answer mentions, if all why questions are primarily opinion-based, and thus off-topic, then what remains on-topic? Just the who, what, when and where questions, which in my opinion, are far too less interesting.

Furthermore, these are essentially factual questions. Assuming everyone Googles their query at least once before posting a question here, all that remains on-topic is just extended version of "please find this fact for me" questions. I think scope of history is far too more than just fact finding.

I honestly feel that there we, as a growing community, should make ourselves more liberal and flexible while tagging questions as "off-topic" and "unclear what you're asking". Many questions asked by newcomers on this site (such as this one are certainly open-ended and/or opinion based, but they are interesting nonetheless. I think that even if there are multiple theories explaining a certain why question, we should include them as answers. It is certainly better than scaring away new members who want to learn history.

Had it not been for my immense love for history, I certainly would have got scared by this complicated rules of off and on-topic -ness, and would've left this site for good. Let's be generous for new members who want to learn more about history.

  • Disagree with the contention that we should degrade the standards for questions on this site. IMHO we should be kind to newcomers by helping them formulate their questions in an acceptable way instead.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 22, 2015 at 13:40
  • @Semaphore But why (oops! ;-) ) do we have such rigid and restricted standards that exclude vast amount of interesting questions?
    – taninamdar
    Mar 22, 2015 at 14:39
  • +1. Thank you for your feedback. I'm biased but I agree with you. Your comment already has empowered me to try to stay. Merely to strengthen your argument, would it help to reinforce why 'Just the who, what, when and where questions, which in my opinion, are far too less interesting' ?
    – user8309
    Mar 22, 2015 at 14:51
  • @taninamdar I'd imagine because we're not trying to duplicate Yahoo Answers. I don't think we're excluding a lot anyway. The example you named for instance is closed because it is very broad, but the underlying question (*why did the West become more advanced?") has been asked before in several ways. For example, this or this
    – Semaphore
    Mar 22, 2015 at 14:56
  • @Semaphore Alright. Though not entirely satisfied, I definitely don't want this to become Yahoo answers. Still, we should seriously address the problem of being nice and helpful to newcomers. Because IMHO the main purpose of site should be being helpful than to firmly stick to dos and don'ts. It's even more important for us since we are still in beta phase for a very long time and hoping to come out of it.
    – taninamdar
    Mar 22, 2015 at 15:32
  • @taninamdar Yes, I've long thought we do a very poor job of informing newcomers how and what to ask. If you have ideas to improve this please do start a meta topic on it. But that is very much not the same issue as the OP, who was repeatedly informed via comments on how to improve his questions. I don't think we should mix the two in discussion.
    – Semaphore
    Mar 22, 2015 at 18:47
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    @taninamdar: I posted this on the other answer too: constructive "why" questions are explicitly on-topic on this site according to the official FAQ
    – two sheds
    Mar 23, 2015 at 16:59

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