In Mathematica SE, there should always be two parts to a question:

  1. The question
  2. A (failed) attempt to answer your own question.

The failed attempt indicates that you have put some effort into solving the problem yourself, doing some initial research, and are stumped. For Mathematica (and I assume other SE programming sites), it works very well.

Do we try to do that here? Quite often, there are questions where no research, not even a cursory look into Wikipedia have been performed. These questions are irritating; I think they should definitely be closed.

However, take as an example Bureaucratic structure of the state during the Ottoman Empire which has been recommended for closure. The OP starts with what I find to be a decent question:

To what extent did the bureaucratic structure of the state that were required to sustain the Ottoman’s wealth and power undermine (damage or weaken) the foundations of the Ottoman state in the late 19th and 20th centuries?

The answer to this question will relate to the technical advances in political administration and cultural comparison. Both of which are interesting (at least to me) when comparing the Ottoman administrative techniques to those of contemporary western Europe.

Then the OP takes a stab at answering the question. A quick read through their theory shows that the OP doesn't know enough historiography to take a stab creating a quality answer. It would be very difficult for the OP, without a few years of reading, to find the answer. So the OP has done some basic research, and then came to SE History to ask us, "the experts" for help.

One of the comments by @MarkC.Wallace then asks:

Are you advancing a theory and asking for proof, or are you asking for the answer to a question.

So basically, this comment indicates a preference for no effort put forth by the OP? In my opinion, it seems like there is a catch 22 for new SE History members:

  1. Need to show some basic effort
  2. However, don't put forth evidence that you've put in some effort, or your question will be rejected as pushing a pet theory.

This might mean that we have a poorly defined standard for good questions. To be honest, after a few months here, I haven't quite figured it out.

Should something be done about this?

Part of me wishes it was standard for each question to have part A) the Question, in bold, then part B) Initial research and clarification about the question's topic. That way, we won't send away newbies who are willing to do some initial research, and put up a stronger shield against those who do no research at all.

However, I am relatively new here so I don't know. I think an authoritative example question might help us increase the user base, and make moderation more straightforward.


Please Note: Just to be clear, it is obvious that Mark Wallace has been working to improve the quality of questions asked here, and I want to support this thrust. I think standardization will help.

  • 2
    Fantastic question. I will upvote almost any question that follows this form.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 7:37
  • I don't want to defend my error, but I do want to reconcile my support for your proposal with my error - I didn't understand the question (and to be frank I'm still not sure I understand what is being asked). I support your proposal, I'm just confused about the specific example.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:44
  • @MarkC.Wallace I agree; the OP didn't make it entirely clear what he was driving at. I might be interpreting it totally wrong. Nonethlless,if we had suggested template, perhaps he could have made it clear. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:57
  • My gut says that your last comment is especially pertinent; there are two distinct phenomena (1) Questions with no research, which could be improved through your suggestion and (2) questions where OP cannot communicate the question clearly (frequently because they lack the historiography). Case 2 is, IMHO the core mission of H:SE. But I think I'm missing something.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 13:01
  • @MarkC.Wallace I think we're on the same page. We are not endowed with telepathic abilities; there should be a guide for newbies. Would you mind if I open another meta thread requesting templates for newbies? Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 13:05
  • Mind? Quite the opposite - I think it is an excellent idea. I tried to do that some time ago but failed.
    – MCW Mod
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 13:13

1 Answer 1


Do we want the asker to attempt to answer their own question?

No. History SE is not Mathematics SE where questions (I believe close to 100%) can be answered definitively as long as they are well-asked with the OP's own research and failed attempt. Topics and the way of asking on history could vary and range from some trivias to very complicated issues that an OP might not be able to attempt to solve in the first place.

This might mean that we have a poorly defined standard for good questions.

I don't think History SE's standard for good questions has more to do with the quality of a question than the OP's attitude and sincerity to get an answer from total strangers on the internet. The OP of the linked question should have responded to helpful comments, obviously he didn't. Why not?

There are many questions that have just been asked out of curiosity or boredom without any research efforts or reference. I strongly doubt any standard improvement of History SE could make those OPs change their attitude. They just post whatever they want without thinking so seriously about it and go as if nothing had happened. Look at the OP's another question. I voted to close it as it reads unclear or too broad.

In order for the improved standard of History SE, if any, could work in the future, those OPs should change their behavior. Do I expect them to change it? No. I don't. They will either (1) get tired and leave History SE or (2) improve their questions and stay. I have seen No. (1) far more than No. (2) not only on History SE, but also on other sites.

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