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Sometimes we get questions that are "not good enough", as anyone individual might think; and as opinions differ: on quite a few questions. So much so that we do not reach a consensus on "badness".

Sometimes an ambiguous phrase or a background difference between asker and answerer invites different readings of 'what the question actually is', or 'how it should this be answered' become visible.

Ideally, if a question is problematic, it should be edited. But this doesn't always happen and is even less likely if it already attracted answers.

Our help-centre provides the guideline:

Read the question carefully. What, specifically, is the question asking for? Make sure your answer provides that – or a viable alternative. The answer can be “don’t do that”, but it should also include “try this instead”. Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer. Brevity is acceptable, but fuller explanations are better.

This "don't do that" could in our case to be interpreted as "if you understand the question to mean…". That is one example of thinking outside the box or leaving the frame of reference.

Questions have to be framed by the original poster, and we demand of them to do that as narrowly as they can to enable us to post specific answers. Sometimes this too narrow, sometimes the questions contains material others find under-referenced or even a bit pushy, not quite right or otherwise objectionable; slightly.

Framing in this context means limiting how people view a topic; challenging the frame means breaking out of those limits to look at the problem from a different perspective. Challenging the frame is usually appropriate when the asker has the XY problem (when you have problem X, and identify potential solution Y, and ask for help implementing Y instead of just asking for help with X).
Oblivious Sage in a comment

This has been historically coined a "frame challenge" on StackExchange. To which we might find the following explication:

A frame challenge is where an author answers a question in a wholly different way the querent never asked for, or potentially expressly forbade — but in a way which, the answerer feels, will actually solve their problem (or generally improve their life quality or prevent them from making a terrible mistake).

The “frame” being challenged here is specifically the way the question was framed — the way they put it forward, the parameters they offered, the kinds of answers they're driving for.

Frame challenges are risky; sometimes they're a good idea and sometimes you just cop a whole lot of downvotes. We advise you also answer the question at face value, though you may prefer not to do so (and sometimes, it's a very good idea to not do so).
Doppelgreener on rpg:SE

These kind of answers can be found frequently on History:SE, but we have not discussed this before. Sometimes they have been challenged as "this does not answer the question", sometimes they just fly.

Since recently quite a few people got quite angry if they found such a frame challenge we might have to discuss this a bit better.

What is our general stance on this?
What are the pitfalls?
How can we give guidance as how to avoid the pitfalls?


A few examples:

How do we know baroque art depicted obese ladies because of a different ideal of beauty?
("obese ladies"?)

How did native North Americans conceive of property rights?
("Lanape … didn't Indians"?)

How would ancient Sumerian astronomers predict length of the next lunar month?
("How did they…" assuming they did, although it looks like 'no')

Does any country have an official celebration for the annexation of foreign territory?
("Annexation" is defined or means in common parlance what?)

https://history.stackexchange.com/posts/50503/edit
("near War-zone" "reasonably safe" "only commercial plants")

Why did the ancient Romans use groups of eight?
("Why did…" did they?)

Why wasn't sauerkraut used to combat scurvy?
("Why wasn't…" without the timeframe…)

This answer to speed limits.

Another answer heavy in re-framing.

https://history.stackexchange.com/a/9345/26786

https://history.stackexchange.com/a/50571/26786

Is the biblical Joseph story historically valid?

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    This has the potential to be a very valuable reference question. Thank you for this. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 13 at 19:42
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    People who have framed things wrong in their head are a major source of questions here. It seems better to answer their questions by showing where their logic went off the rails than to just close them for having bad framing. – T.E.D. Jan 13 at 20:28
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    I like all those questions but I'd bet you money I haven't upvoted any of them. The "This question is useful" button is not a like button. And I'm about 100% sure you can blame the HNQ list for any of my trite participation at each of them. – Mazura Jan 16 at 13:21
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Nothing.

The question poster is the only person who is qualified to decide which answer best resolve their problem - as indicated by their power to mark an answer accepted. It is thus not up to us to decide which reading of the question is valid (of course, this doesn't apply to "answers" that are seemingly completely tangential to the question - feel free to leave a comment requesting clarification or flag for moderation attention).

We should thus vote on the question based on its quality, and let the SE system handle the rest.


More generally speaking, a question's word choice might not be optimal, but noneteless sufficiently conveys the meaning of the author for a definitive answer. Alternatively, the question might have made a wrong assumption, but demonstrating this answers the question. For example, Q: Why did Romans use groups of 8? A: They didn't.

Most of the examples given falls under this category. For such questions, it is sufficient to simply answer them.


The really thorny problem is for questions that are genuinely confusing.

Ideally, if a question is problematic, it should be edited. But this doesn't always happen and is even less likely if it already attracted answers.

It's far too late to deal with a confusing question after answers have already appeared. In these cases, therefore, pre-emptive action is needed - the question should be put on hold ASAP and fixed, and then reopened and answered.

Unfortunately, there is an extremely negative perception of the put on hold process. Questions put on hold are often abandoned, or treated like a punishment, instead of a temporary status of transition.

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    Unironically, this looks a bit like a frame challenge to me ;) AFAIK, the OP is the most important, but not the only person to judge answers, and OP can be on a serious but not obvious (to all) garden path. // You illustrate "most of the examples… Just answer them", but I focus mainly on 'the others' and how to avoid the pitfalls that arise from a thought-of simple "just answering". / The Sonderweg being another example in which the process you outlined and I tried to follow so far seemed to fail (in my eyes). Hold, RO, yet OP no clarify. – LаngLаngС Jan 14 at 12:37
  • @LangLangC ? Although the OP did not edit it themselves, Mark revised the question and OP indicated their approval. That's a success for the Hold, Revise, Reopen process. As for your question here, what my answer attempt to express is that there's no need to overthink this. If the question seems clear to you, just answer it. If it's genuinely unclear, then that's what the Put on Hold function is for. Perhaps I did not quite understand what your OP is trying to express. – Semaphore Jan 14 at 12:41
  • A re-open is great. In this case premature, as the edit did 50% of what I expected? Going by cause&effect the Sonderweg is cause by OP, yet going by en WP the most important proponent places that Sonderweg as an effect of botched revolution and starts during the aftermath. The lit request is understandable if coming from es WP, but not from either en or de. // Point is, I eg didn't overthink it with 'NPPs' or 'pay after D-day' and got thrashed for "not answering" while doing FC & face-value answers in one. Others on other Qs did similar and those As are often undervoted & contested as well – LаngLаngС Jan 14 at 12:54
  • But if what remains of OP's question stems from an understanding, clearing that up forms an answer in and of itself. I don't know what questions you're referring to for your negative experience, so I can't judge there. – Semaphore Jan 14 at 13:44
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    "It's far too late" - FGitW says it's always too late. If people had to write better titles, questions wouldn't suck so bad. Ironically, that's how (I answer SE questions) and why most of them are frame challenges. – Mazura Jan 16 at 13:14
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    tl;dr: questions go viral and then we've just got to deal with that BS. Do nothing unless you're going to reinvent SE. +1 – Mazura Jan 16 at 13:29
  • I'd like to respond to your statement about the hold process being temporary. I don't think users want to click on an "[on hold]" question just to see if it's worth reopening. Question 48985 is an example of a closed question that the author (me) kept working on; three prominent users commented about approving it being reopened, but their votes have expired. PS, I'm not sure that what I just wrote above is about a frame challenge. It was the last sentence in your answer that really got my attention. – Aaron Brick Jan 17 at 19:27
  • @AaronBrick Interestingly, question 48985 has also attracted 2 delete votes. Seems that, for some reason, that question is more divisive that I would have expected. – sempaiscuba Jan 17 at 20:09
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    That's not surprising considering how long it took for me to come up with a title after I finally found the question mark. – Mazura Jan 17 at 20:18
  • @sempaiscuba Yes, it was divisive, unintentionally of course. Wouldn't it be nice if the "[on hold]" message indicated "[reopenable]" or "[almost reopened]"? – Aaron Brick Jan 17 at 21:54
  • @AaronBrick Well, it does sometimes feel that the close process is something of a trapdoor function. Sometimes, but not always. – sempaiscuba Jan 17 at 21:59
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    @sempaiscuba I won't deny that the trapdoor aspect can be socially useful. Posting about this with you today, another possible framing came to mind that I could use in a new question. It may even be healthy to have 15% of one's questions closed: blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/… – Aaron Brick Jan 17 at 22:03
  • @AaronBrick And yet many questions has been reopened. I think that was just a question that doesn't attract a lot of attention and, for some reason, is seen as controversial by those who do click on it. That said, in the future, you might find it more useful to also flag a question for reopening. – Semaphore Jan 18 at 4:39
  • @Semaphore Sure, perhaps that question is not representative of any trend. I did vote to reopen it twice. – Aaron Brick Jan 18 at 5:35
  • @AaronBrick It was reviewed three times and a majority of reviewers voted to leave close each time. As I said, flag it; I think the last edit was sufficient for reopening had we seen it. – Semaphore Jan 18 at 5:47

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