With us trying to review and re-tool our site, one thing has become unclear to me which is how to handle research based questions. Some times I read on meta that it should be open to help the site and I see them still get closed, other times I see people say it should be off topic and yet they are left open.

Today a question about Pregnancy has been asked that probably should be closed as it is a "how to write" question as this person is asking for us to explain pregnancy to her/him.

Then a few days ago, we have a question about what it feels like to be in a fight and this was pretty much instantly closed. I understand the fighting one lacked effort, but they both are basically the same question.

It's getting confusing for me as this is seemingly becoming an interpretation of the rule based on how they feel the question is presented rather than something black or white.

I don't mind the opinion that research based questions should be allowed since technically it is part of the writing process. Should we then limit it to where someone has to show effort and provide links of research found so far? Should we continue to close them?

A possible side affect for allowing research based questions could also lead to more technical writing questions. It could potentially allow technical people to ask about questions related to their field and draw others in as well.

It would be great if we can start nailing out some of these grey area questions in our journey to revamp the site. Ultimately I just want to know how to proceed when questions like the 2 above are asked.

2 Answers 2


I think this is a very interesting question. It would be easy enough to say, we don't do research for you and leave it at that. And a question that is simply asking us to do research definitely should be off topic, if only because you should ask subject matter experts your research questions, not other writers. We are united in our craft but diverse in our interests and knowledge.

But there is certainly a general question here that is a writing question: How do I write about an experience I have never had? This is a problem that writers have to face all the time. Anyone who writes fantasy or historical or science fiction, or thrillers, or (for the most part) detective stories, is going to be writing about experiences that they have not actually had.

And it strikes me that "do your research" is not an adequate response to this question. Research gives you information, and that is important, but information is not the novelist's stock in trade. Their stock in trade is experience. It is not clear that research, in the ordinary sense of the word, gets you experience.

It is also an interesting question what kind of experience the reader of a novel wants. Definitely the reader is looking for vicarious experience. But at the same time, the reader is not looking to get a split lip or busted knuckles or a concussion from reading a fight scene. The experience we seek from novels is not the full physical experience, or we would go out and do things rather than sitting home reading about them. What the reader wants is some element refined from the experience. We want to drink the wine; we don't want to pick the grapes.

I may sound like a broken record here, but I believe that the elements we want refined from the experience is the moral element. If I were in a fight, how would I behave? How should I behave? Or, at minimum, how does someone, or should someone behave? What is the nature of courage. What is the quality of anger? What is the yeast of revenge?

And if that is the case, how do I write about a fight, or how do I write about being pregnant are both specifically writing questions. They are not simply questions about fighting or being pregnant, they are questions about writing about fighting or writing about being pregnant, which is to say that they are questions about distilling the moral element (or whatever element you think the story is concerned with) out of the experience of fighting or being pregnant.

And if that is the case, "How do I write about being pregnant" and "How do I write about being in a fight" are legitimate and specific writing questions, the answers to which could be useful to multiple people. And if that is the case, they ought to be on topic here.

But drawing a line between that and the simple "please do my research for me" question is not trivial, and I suspect that even if we try, we will still be inconsistent. On the other hand, I am willing to defend my decisions to close the fighting question and to let the pregnancy question run on the grounds that the former showed no research or effort on the part of the questioner and the latter did show effort.

  • Mark you make an interesting distinction about writing in regards to the experience of that subject rather than asking for the research aspect of it. I still view it as the same thing, but I understand more so now why some are allowed to stay open versus others. I agree fighter one should be closed. It lacked any form of effort. I am definitely comfortable with the angle you take and viewing future questions with those thoughts in mind and feel better at understanding which is good or not. Might we consider modifying our tour to make this distinction?
    – ggiaquin16
    Oct 3, 2017 at 23:31
  • "I'm not going to leave my house to talk to a pregnant woman" is what tipped me into VTC. If you can talk to a real live human being who has undergone what you want to write about, you really should. Obviously you can't talk to someone who has ridden a dragon, but you can talk to someone who has ridden a horse. So that seemed like an unwillingness to do basic research. Oct 4, 2017 at 2:22
  • @LaurenIpsum, I see your point about that comment. I think I took it more in the spirit of not wanting to ask strangers personal questions. That's the main reason my journalism career was very brief. I still squirm at the "how did it feel" question that seems to go with every accomplishment, defeat, or disaster the media reports on.
    – user16226
    Oct 4, 2017 at 17:06
  • 1
    @MarkBaker I can definitely understand that with a stranger but, most people usually have family or friends who have given birth before or can ask a friend of they know of someone willing to talk to them about it for research. I know we can't assume family or friend relations but unless you are a hermit, you are bound to know someone who you can have this kind of discussion with.
    – ggiaquin16
    Oct 4, 2017 at 22:06

I think there's a place for "I'm writing about X; what is important to include?" questions. Like "I'm writing about pregnancy but I've never been [or can't be] pregnant. What do I need to consider?" Or "my character is in a fistfight. What physical effects do I need to think about so that the fight is realistic?"

These are legitimate questions which can be applied with relative breadth. I wouldn't mind including those. I think that direction is different from "do my research for me."


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