As I was once again clicking on the close vote for a question about 'what to write' it came to me that we the community ultimately decide what is on-topic.

For instance, the choice that critique requests are off-topics was made by the community 7+ years ago. I was too lazy to figure out when the 'what-to-write' was banned from the site, but I suspect it must have been at least that long ago.

The community has substantially changed since then, and enforcing choices made back then today has a bit of the flavour of a ritual or a tradition. Kudos to us for sticking to it, but perhaps we ought to make our own choices too rather than propagate the will of someone else.

For instance, there are a number of questions that get closed that fall in the critique or what-to-write categories that get answers, and quite good answers at that. I don't know whether now it is the time, but we could think about revisiting these choices made by our writing.se ancestors and decide again between us:

are there any disallowed topics that we would rather allow?

  • It might help to go through the list of recent closed questions (note: No deleted questions) or even the close vote history (>500 rep?) to get an idea of what questions are getting closed. If you have any questions about what types of deleted questions we have, I can also answer questions on that.
    – Laurel Mod
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 18:19
  • 3
    FWIW, as an old dinosaur and former mod, this is a subject I think is really worth going back and reading old discussions on (we had a LOT of discussions). I'm 100% in favor of continual self-assessment, but at the same time: it's worth learning from our experience, seeing what we tried, seeing what the issues that brought us down were. All the best :)
    – Standback
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


Questions involving existing works that are about the craft of writing

Questions about writing should not be closed simply because it quotes another author, or the work has been previously published. The question is still about the craft of writing.

This orphan question – which should be here on Writing because it is about a specific edit choice made by an author – has been rebuffed on THREE exchanges. The reason it was closed here is the technicality that we can't discuss existing text:

  1. What is the difference between self-evident and sacred and undeniable?
  2. https://literature.stackexchange.com/questions/21810/what-is-the-difference-between-self-evident-and-sacred-and-undeniable
  3. https://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/309233/what-is-the-stylistic-difference-between-self-evident-and-sacred-and-undeniable

I answered in the comments.

Examples how this question might belong to other exchanges:

ELL: "I don't understand this sentence..."
(knowledge of idioms, vocabulary and punctuation is required to answer)

Literature: "Which holds up better today, the Declaration of Independence or The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen…?"
(knowledge of the full work(s) is required to answer)

History: "Were people even aware of the Declaration of Independence in 1777…?"
(knowledge of history is required to answer)

Writing: "Why is the revised version of this sentence more persuasive than the author's first draft…?"
(Knowledge of the craft of writing is required to answer)

The question is orphaned because of our technicality against discussing pre-existing text.

Literature Exchange seems to be more about discussing existing works as a whole, but presumably a question can be posed to Literature if it is more a 'fan' discussion and Writing if it is more a 'craft' discussion.

  • I'm not persuaded quite yet. I believe that the question should be on topic at ELL (but asked as a separate question). And I suspect that it would be better answered there, where it can be analyzed in the context of the time period and context that it was created in, with a focus on making the content accessible for someone with limited English skills. After all, Writing is a site for 21st century authors writing for 21st century audiences.
    – Laurel Mod
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 17:59
  • While I could see a possibility of a question that would be about writing craft using part of an existing work as a reference (in the same way that we can use parts of our own as examples) being on-topic. The example you give isn't that IMO, it's not about writing but about the authors of a historical document changing what they were saying. If anything there's probably a decent question for History SE in there somewhere Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 12:53
  • It should be ok to use an example in a question without fearing deletion for discussing pre-existing text, but questions that are purely about existing texts are different, and I can't see e.g. "Why does Swift mention horses not cow in Gulliver's Travels?" as being appropriate here. With the example you quote, the OP was told how to edit their question to make it more appropriate for other boards, but ignored that advice.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 12:00

Critique Requests

Oh boy.. I'm fully aware that I'm opening a family-sized can of worms here but I believe they should be allowed in a controlled manner.

From how I read it much of Monica's reasoning stems from critique-based questions not really fitting the original Stack Exchange model of there being a broader benefit beyond the original poster of the question, and I'm just not sure that's true.

Monica likened offering critiques to Writing SE becoming a "writer's circle" and that's actually where I'd say it can offer benefit to others. Certainly from my own experience in writing groups both social and those and on creative writing courses in an academic setting I've found that the critiques of other's work to be valuable to my own writing. Just because I might not have written (or ever write) the same passage being critiqued doesn't mean I can't apply the same good techniques and practices to my own.

I think there's a good analog between a critique request for writing here and the existence of whole Stack that does the same for programming and they've managed to make it work, and work well.

Yes, I think implementing it here would bring challenges, and that's why I mentioned that they needed to be controlled. So what would that look like?

  • Length - I think a reasonable maximum length needs setting, you can't expect people to wade through pages upon pages of someone's writing and provide a detailed critique on an SE site. For that sort of thing the existing Beta Readers chatroom is a far superior solution. Obviously it needs to be long enough to be worthwhile but I think 200-250 words as an upper limit would be sufficient, even if it weren't impractical for a whole host of reasons posting whole works on SE would potentially run into issues with users unhappy that they've just posted the whole of their novel as Creative Commons!

  • Concrete question/goal to address - I think at least the notion of a single "question" or problem needs to remain, and for that not to be too broad and not too opinion or personal taste-based (just as we require questions to be now) - "Is my writing any good?" wouldn't work clearly, but "How can I increase the pacing in this scene?" or "I'm trying to show this character's sense of building anger here, does it or if not how should I change it?" would be more like it in my opinion

  • Answers - there would also need to be the other side of the coin, the answers would need to provide good detailed critique. "I liked it", "This sucks" aren't good answers, the why of an answer would be as important as ever, and should relate to the writing not opinions, and the how to approach improving the writing is critical. Without those things it's not an answer - it's just an opinion.

There's still potential pitfalls though - for a start a max length for the excerpt is something that wouldn't be controlled by the SE system, it would rely on high-rep users and moderators to actually check and handle accordingly. Which is a headache - one you can mitigate by giving an approximate range and only acting on those who obviously or egregiously exceed it, but still it's inevitably going to result in someone getting annoyed when they have a question closed for length reasons.

I'm sure there's one or more people reading this and thinking "But moto you silly duck, what your proposing is just the same as using an example of your writing to illustrate the problem/question and that's already allowed!", and you'd have a point, partially, but I think what I'm proposing is that we move the writing front-and-center and allow somewhat open-ended feedback even if it strays from the specific question - more like how Code Review does it. As it stands anything that has even a whiff of being a critique-request to it is off-topic.

What To Write

This I'd firmly say should remain off-topic, there's much better ways to do similar things than asking a question on a Stack Exchange site, better ways within the Writing SE community even - chat, the writing prompts/challenges on meta etc. This isn't to say that answers can't include plot advice or suggestions as part of answering an on-topic question but we aren't a suggestion box for people struggling for inspiration and that frankly that would just descend into a mire of rubbish content very quickly.


I think we already strike a good balance here - "straight" grammar questions have their home on EL&U or ELL SE already, and we damn sure ain't a spellchecker. So I wouldn't change the way we currently handle this.

  • 3
    Note that proofreading is explicitly off-topic on both ELU and ELL.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 12:17
  • Critique requests would depend on whether people were willing to read texts and provide critiques, as well as on those people having sufficient skill and knowledge to critique writing in a useful way. Performing a critique is very different to answering most of the questions on the board. If we allowed critique requests it should be for a trial period to judge (1) are they being answered well and (2) is the board being swamped with substandard writing begging for a critique.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 11:57
  • I absolutely think allowing this would open a tidal wave of posts, to the point where it would drown out every other type of question. I'm strongly against.
    – Sciborg
    Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 13:39

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