I can see this being a slippery slope. Scrivener questions seem like they ought to be on-topic, at least to some extent. You know, "How do I do this specific writing-related thing in Scrivener?" On the other hand, what about Word? Notepad? Obviously Latex and tex go over on their own StackExchange. What about specific uses of version control software for writing?

And most of all, what about How to add a new section into a numbered list in MS Word? It seems off topic to me because I don't fancy this site becoming a home to all your Word or other word processing Q&A, but then again I can see questions on Scrivener and related software as potentially valid.



I voted to close as being off-topic. That's really a SU question. I consider Scrivener questions on-topic not because we have an (unpaid?) evangelist in our community, but it is a specialist tool. Word is used by people who have something to write, Scrivener is used by writers. This is not the place explaining basic word processor know-how.

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    I take offense to that. I know a writer, who uses word exclusively - not because he likes it, but because he is at an age where learning new software is just impractical. – Andriy Drozdyuk Apr 21 '11 at 16:45
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    @drozzy - I don't think offense is needed. The point is simply that Scrivener is a specialist's tool. Word is for general word processing. – justkt Apr 21 '11 at 19:57
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    I don't necessarily take offense, but I do disagree that Word is "just" for general word processing. I used MS Word to write ten books that have all been published. I am also using it for several current writing projects which will result in at least three more books being published. I happen to be very proficient in using it and would have no issues in helping a fellow "writer" who may have encountered a situation they need help with to complete or improve their work. – Steven Drennon Jul 22 '11 at 17:23
  • @Steven: Writing a book is word processing. There is nothing wrong to use Word if you like it. No-one said you can't write bestsellers with it. But Word is a tool for general word processing. You can use it to write all kind of texts. On SuperUser are hundreds of user who can help with Word problems, even if they aren't writers. It is very unlikely to have a problem with Word, that only an experienced/professional writer can solve. – John Smithers Jul 22 '11 at 19:57
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    @John: Sorry to disagree with you, but I happen to belong to two very extremely active writer's groups, one with at least 100 daily contributors, and there are a good number of them who have only recently decided to become writers. Many of these people are still discovering what tools they would like to use to help them write their books, so it is not uncommon for them to ask questions about various word processors. These same people would never go to SuperUser because they already have little enough time for their writing. – Steven Drennon Jul 23 '11 at 3:11
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    BTW - One very specific request for help that I have seen repeatedly is in trying to add page numbers in Word that start after the table of contents. It sounds simple enough, but is actually very hard to pull off. This is a crucial requirement for documents used to create a new manuscript at CreateSpace, and it is also an important factor at Smashwords. As more people become involved with self-publishing through these channels, there are going to be more questions about such matters. As long as the question pertains to an issue that helps the writer complete their work, it should be allowed. – Steven Drennon Jul 23 '11 at 3:14

I think "how do I make bulleted lists in Word" is off-topic because it's too basic, not because it's a tool question.

There is a spectrum of tool-related question with "how do I make bold text in Word?" at one end and "how do I use Docbook's tool chain to produce a Kindle-formatted document?" toward the other. (I just made that question up.) Non-writers wouldn't care about, and aren't likely to know about, the nuances of that tool chain, so it feels more on-topic to me. But yes, there's a slippery slope.

(I think these kinds of questions probably come up more for technical writers than fiction writers.)

  • So far I think the concensus is that "How do I use docbook's tool chain to produce a Kindle-formatted document?" is likely to be on-topic. It's defining where the cut-off is that seems complicated. How basic is "this is generic enough for SuperUser?" – justkt Aug 31 '11 at 19:43
  • The other issue is probably expertise. At some point and with some tools SuperUser is likely to be better at answering than our current user base. But there is room for some overlap. Cross-site duplicates are explicitly allowed by the StackExchange team. – justkt Aug 31 '11 at 19:46
  • Thanks for the explanation! – Monica Cellio Aug 31 '11 at 20:15

I think SuperUser can answer questions like this better than we can.

  • Agreed, gave my answer below ... +1 for SuperUser, didn't realise it existed. – Craig Sefton Apr 21 '11 at 8:28

Personally, I consider questions about the use of software to be off-topic.

Questions about how to use software are of limited appeal, since they are of interest to those who use the software, and can only (generally speaking) be answered by those that use it. I have the same opinion when it comes to how to use Scrivener. It's all very well recommending software to meet a specific need that a questioner has, but very different when we have to explain how to use software.

Perhaps stackexchange needs another forum dedicated to software, and how to use it ...

Edit: Just realised that there is the SuperUser forum. That's definitely a better fit for this sort of question.

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    How is the limited interest of a particular tool different from the limited interest of a particular genre of fiction? "Most people here don't care" isn't necessarily a disqualifier on its own, is it? If it is, then we will get only the set of questions that apply to all kinds of writing, which doesn't seem like a good growth strategy for the site. – Monica Cellio Aug 31 '11 at 19:36
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    @Monica My take on it is that how to use software is better served by the SuperUser forum. I disagree that it's similar to asking questions about writing in a specific genre. I imagine most writers would have far more interest learning conventions/tips about other genres (even if they don't plan on writing in that field) because it's still about writing, and they may learn something to improve their own writing skills. Furthermore, even writers who don't write in that genre can still give advice because they may read in that genre. The same cannot (IMO) be said about specific software usage. – Craig Sefton Sep 1 '11 at 7:24

I think this can be OK, but only if the thrust of the question is about the writing process and not the specifics of the software.

So probably in practical terms, this should not be allowed, as there's many ways to get it wrong and it might send the wrong messages to the broader community.

  • what do you think about exemptions for specialist software such as Scrivener. It seems like asking about writing software that is marketed specifically to writers would fit better here than anywhere else on the network. – justkt Apr 27 '11 at 20:02
  • @just I suppose we can try it as an experiment, but the focus needs to be strongly on the writing, not "why doesn't scrivener work on OS X big cat edition?" – Jeff Atwood Apr 28 '11 at 2:06

It is not possible to define the on-topic rules of any forum such that they only include those subjects for which that forum is the best available resource. For one thing, any forum that wants to grow has to attract new regular contributors and as it does so, it may become a better or even the best forum for particular questions. So really, there are going to be four categories of questions for any forum:

  • On topic -- best place to ask.
  • On topic -- good place to ask but there may be better.
  • On topic -- not currently a great place to ask because we don't have a lot of people with expertise in that area.
  • Off topic.

The only place for a forum to broaden it scope is in the third category. If we cut it off, for instance, by declaring FrameMaker question off topic while Scrivener questions are considered on topic, that makes it impossible to grow into that area.

If the forum does not want to grow into that area (this site my decide to drop tech comm from its scope if the proposed Technical Communication SE reaches beta) then by all means make those questions off topic. But if it want to grow into those areas it cannot rule questions in those areas off topic.

How should we handle the third category of question, then? Don't rule them off topic but be frank that there are better places to ask, at least until more people show up who are qualified to answer them -- which is presumably what we want.

Alternately, we could rule all tool questions off topic, including Scrivener.

  • I very much doubt that we would remove something already in our scope just because some other site comes along, especially something that's been an established part of our scope from the beginning like technical writing. – Monica Cellio Jul 14 '17 at 3:33
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    @MonicaCellio I'm not saying it should, I merely arguing that if scrivener is on topic because it is a tool for novelists, then FrameMaker is on topic because it is a tool for technical writers and both novels and technical writing are in scope here. But there are also going to be cases where it is appropriate to say to someone, yes this question is on topic, but in practice this is not the best place to ask, and here is a better one. There is no point in saying Technical Writing is on topic and then having a bunch of novelists label Technical Writing tools questions off topic. – user16226 Jul 15 '17 at 10:11
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    Oh, I definitely agree that FrameMaker (and Flare and Doxygen and RoboHelp and other tech-writing tools) are on-topic here. Sometimes we need to educate the community, same as they do with fiction-focused tools. – Monica Cellio Jul 16 '17 at 2:39

I think quick questions are okay, like the bulleted list one, but once it gets into the realm of "using Word to do desktop publishing," then no. These programs are the tools we use, and I can see the logic in asking other people who use the same tools how to get around what might be a really common problem. Wouldn't you lean over and ask a co-worker how to make Word do something which seems to be really baisc? ("Mary, how do I add another section into a numbered list?")

That being said, I don't feel strongly about the issue, and I'm happy to be overruled if everyone else thinks these questions are off-topic.

I didn't know about SuperUser either, so I withdraw my previous answer and I'll support migrating those questions there.


I knew there was a Super User forum but assumed that it was for "superusers" -- in other words, basically for computer server administrators. Just popped over there and it seems I'm right. I didn't dig, but on the front page I saw neither a question nor a tag that didn't relate to Windows/UNIX/Linux superusers. I suspect, but did not verify, that Word questions would not fly well.

I agree that "how to make bullets in Word" is not something I'd like to see here. (Sorry, hope I'm not out of place speaking up as a newbie. I think this looks like an interesting group.) There are plenty of places for that. I do agree with @Craig Sefton. However, there are not, however, a ton of places that I know of for very specifically writer-oriented questions, like "what kind of bullet should one choose for a second-level bullet in order to get the best differentiation from first-level bullets in the eye of the reader". Is there a technical writing stack? Or "can you give me any word processor formatting tips if I'm going to do an e-book".

FWIW, I can probably field "non-structured FrameMaker" questions. I haven't done the SGML stuff much. Also FWIW, there is an e-book stack on its way in Area 51 that needs more folks to commit: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/46400/ebooks?referrer=OtVpOvCYOHg4MsQTKsuBzA . Sorry if this is old news.

  • Technical writing is on-topic here, just under-represented. (Please browse my questions, which are mostly TW -- maybe you can help! Also, there's a tag.) I think the distinction here is between "what the tools do, generically" and "decisions/processes used by writers" -- so a question about formatting for e-books, or meeting readers' needs on anything from content to bullet formatting, is on-topic because that's part of the writing process. But the more general you get (e.g. bold text in Word) the less true that is. – Monica Cellio Sep 18 '13 at 13:02

What I really think what we need are software choice and workflow related questions and answers. What are the best tools for (certain kinds of) writing? Why is one tool better than another? How best to combine them into a workflow? Writers need answers to these questions that non-writing users (on e.g. Superuser) cannot give.

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