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If I understand correctly, on History SE we want to have questions that are precisely answerable and don't ask for open-ended lists. That makes sense. In light of that, would questions like the following be acceptable? Would they lead to a slippery slope, and if so how would we assess which ones are okay?

Example 1: Is there a daily record or reconstruction of the number of court visits per day to any one of the queenkings of Widgettia for an entire single year between 1600 and 1610?

Example 2: Are there any examples of a reconstructed Widgettian blarg ship? If so, pick one and tell me how long it was.

For each of these questions, there could be a finite, manageable-ish but still possibly large number of distinct correct answers. There would be a rules-based way to decide whether an answer is correct but it might stray too far into list territory.

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    The goal is that every question has one authoritative answer that can be verified by any member of the community. Example 2 cannot comply - if I present example X and SempaiScuba presents example Y, there is no way to identify which of those authoritatively answers the question. Example 1 technically has an authoritative answer "Yes", but it is not really useful to anyone. (or "no", which is also not useful). These are both also X:Y questions – MCW Oct 15 '20 at 16:44
  • Thanks @MarkC.Wallace! I understand the open-ended part. For the XY part, are you saying that my "real" question is how long Widgettian blarg ships were, and I should just ask that instead? – capet Oct 15 '20 at 16:59
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    That's a decent summary - I linked to the best reference I've found. – MCW Oct 15 '20 at 17:01
  • @MarkC.Wallace Sorry, I ninja'd you with the last comment. – capet Oct 15 '20 at 17:02
  • @MarkC.Wallace For example 2, if you present X and SempaiScuba presents Y, couldn't you each easily prove the correctness of the other's answer by consulting the other's sources? How is this different from any two different sourced answers to any of the "why" questions on SE? In my experience, such pairs of "why" answers are rarely mutually exclusive, and they are usually totally mutually consistent but with significant areas of "non-overlap." – capet Oct 15 '20 at 17:40
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    See edit to my comment. How would you select the (singular) authoritative answer from those two overlapping answers? Q&A site is one answer; multiple overlapping answers is a discussion site. – MCW Oct 15 '20 at 18:03
  • Aha okay, I think I get it. So in my "why" questions example, you could in principle take the "union" of all the distinct answers and that would constitute the authoritative answer? – capet Oct 15 '20 at 18:04
  • SE requires that you mark one and only one answer as the authoritative answer; there is no "union of" option. – MCW Oct 15 '20 at 18:20
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    That makes sense @MarkC.Wallace. I would draw a distinction between 1) the existence of one authoritative answer in principle, which according to my interpretation of the guidelines should exist in order for a question to be appropriate, and 2) the existence of one best answer according to the SE architecture, which is how I think about what you mean when you say there is no "union of" option. Even if you agree with the distinction I'm drawing, it's a pretty pedantic distinction because the principle based on #1 and the architecture based on #2 tend to work in the same direction. – capet Oct 15 '20 at 18:25
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    But I think you've given me enough to understand why a question like the examples I gave does not meet the "one authoritative answer" requirement, even within my framing. So no argument from me as far as my question is concerned. Thanks! – capet Oct 15 '20 at 18:27
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    But in philosophy-land, I think you take my meaning. If I were to identify #1 and #2 with each other too rigidly, then either I should never mark any near-complete great answer as correct in the presence of another near-complete great answer, or else no question is too broad because it is possible for the questioner to accept an answer. – capet Oct 15 '20 at 18:49
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Based on the comment from Mark C. Wallace

The examples you gave are open-ended enough not to be recommended.

They also raise suspicion that what you really want to know is something else, and that you just want to use the answer to this question to figure out your "real" answer. That can be frustrating for the community because they will want to answer your "real" question but would be constrained to answer your "mistaken" question.

For example, a better question would be to ask about how many visitors the queenkings tended to get during that period, or what the normal range of blarg ship lengths was.

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