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As in the sister-question What good practices can we identify for creative writing posts?, I'm interested in collecting observations and insights people have had about the site so far. But here I want your rants and annoyances; anything you feel is a repeating pattern that serves as a warning sign that a question isn't very good.

This isn't about on-topic or off-topic, or right or wrong. I want to know what annoys you when you encounter it in a post - either question or answer. Big or small, rare or common - now's the chance to vent!

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Something that bugs me about critique questions is that they can make it very hard to stick on topic. There's a natural tendency to answer a critique request with a full critique - with any major criticism you have on the piece.

But that doesn't necessarily respond to the (hopefully, according to the guidelines) focused, direct question being presented - or if it does, it might be mixed in among a lot of other stuff. That makes it difficult to understand which points are pertinent to the main question, and which are just asides - so you don't even understand quite how the criticism answers your question.

So what bugs me are critique responses that don't stick to the precise critique questions, and critique questions whose precise question is vague enough to encourage that.

  • Perhaps what we can do is edit these answers, so that they're a little more focused. Put the relevant parts of the critique first, then get into ancillary issues. If that's not possible, downvote and move along. – Neil Fein Mar 4 '12 at 3:04
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List questions are questions that can generate a nearly unlimited number of responses, all of which are equally valid. Sometimes these are written in an attempt at social interaction, sometimes they are polls. ("What's your favorite..." "Who uses...") These are a poor fit for Stack Exchange sites, and should be closed.

There's a lot more about list questions and why they're not a good thing in this timely thread on Meta Stack Overflow.

Some list questions are sometimes retained if it can be demonstrated that they are finite (only a small number of responses possible) or if they can be used as a good reference, like a site glossary. However, these should be the exception and not the rule.

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I don't like "please write me an essay on X" questions.

That's questions which say "Hi, I want to do X, but I haven't started yet. I don't have any problems yet, but can you tell me what to expect, and any random thoughts and insights you have on the subject?"

A question like this is both "not really quite a question," and also usually runs counter the "tell us what you tried already" guideline - because OP hasn't tried anything yet, by definition.

I understand the instinct to post such questions - forwarned is forearmed! - and I've posted at least one myself. But I always have a really tough time answering or even addressing questions like this - I don't have any place to start; I don't have a problem to solve or latch on to. It's just, "tell me what you think I should know about X"; by definition, anything I happen to think up on the subject of X is a valid answer.

  • I disagree. Many, many good questions on Stack Exchange sites have come from someone asking a very general, broad question. As long as there's a real-world problem behind it, I don't see the issue. Sometimes people don't even know what questions on a topic need to be asked and they need an overview before they can do proper research. On the other hand, there is a limit. If I were to ask, "How do I write a book?" it would be taking it too far. – Neil Fein Mar 4 '12 at 17:59
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    Worldbuilding.SE has a close reason just for this kind of thing; they call it "idea generation". They realize that practically all the questions on that beta are some form of idea generation, but they basically identify three things required to solidify an element of a universe (what you start with, what happens and where you end up as a result) and require that you have two of the three before you ask the question. If all you know is that you want a world in which X is true, and ask how to get there but don't tell us the background, you'll be asked to clarify. – KeithS Oct 20 '15 at 18:45
  • Standback's example of "Hi, I want to do X but haven't started yet and therefore don't really know what isn't working for me" is along these lines; all the question has is the desired end result (a work of literature), and it wants multiple things from an answer (how to start, what problems to expect and how to solve them, etc). The ideal answer will either depend on the answerer guessing some of the specifics and answering along those lines, or else it will be a combination of a lot of submitted answers, basically a wiki article on common writing process issues. – KeithS Oct 20 '15 at 18:56
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Posts which make incorrect assertions as the basis for a question irritate me, as to answer first I have to convince the asker that his assumption is incorrect.

I think that it's worth mentioning that there are instances where something would bother me on any other site, however the same thing is appropriate here, as this is a softer discipline than the site is used to accommodating. On every other site but this one, posts which ask for speculation on the part of the answer-er would irritate me, but this is required here: Obviously I am speculating if I am suggesting a good way to phrase dialog, there is no way I can know what's going to work to communicate your thoughts to your readers.

In that spirit, I think that we need to make it clear that there will be posts that are perfectly acceptable here which wouldn't work on other sites, and that the standard for "quality" needs to be relaxed here, or altered to a less arbitrary set of criteria.

  • Good points. I think that all Stack Exchange criteria boil down to this: Questions need to be written so they can be answered in a way that they can be voted on. That usually means it should be possible to provide a single, comprehensive, correct answer. That's one reason why requests for speculation or discussion don't work here. – Neil Fein May 2 '12 at 4:13
  • @NeilFein, well, that's kind of sticky, because there isn't really a definitive answer for the question I suggested... – Nathan C. Tresch May 2 '12 at 4:52
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    You mean the example about a good way to phrase dialog? Of course there isn't a binaryesque way to answer something like that. But doing stuff like defining "good" is a start. Telling us the context helps, too. This ain't Stack Overflow, but neither is it a discussion forum. All we can do is try our best to make things specific. – Neil Fein May 2 '12 at 6:41

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