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I'm new here, and I'm trying to get the hang of what's considered appropriate and what's not. I discovered this forum while browsing around Stack Exchange not too many days ago. After signing up with Stack Overflow to ask programming related questions I saw that there were many, many other communities. But each one, I've seen, tends to have varying degrees of strictness regarding what one should or should not post.

Let me take a stab at this. Correct me if I'm wrong.

A common theme is to try to ask questions for which there are definite answers. For Writers, an example would be: "Is this citation form correct per Chicago Style guidelines?"

That all makes sense. Another acceptable question is, "Which of these two forms is better?"

It asks for an opinion. It's a bit gray, but when the answerer is able to say, "Well Strunk and White would say this, and an aficionado of Hegelian grammar might want to qualify that, but modern usage tends to be a bit more flexible and forgiving, particularly in dialog, for example…"

So it's an opinion, but it's backed by references, if not facts carved in stone.

Now, getting a bit grayer, one might ask, "What do you think about publishing on cheap or free ebooks to get your name and work out there?"

There evidence that can be cited about this. It can be shown that this has been a successful business model for some people. On the other hand, there are professional writers, agents, and publishers who vehemently disagree. So even there the opinion can be backed by evidence, even if contradictory. Yet there might be a best answer. [I am actually very interested in this question, but (confession) I've already made up my mind, and traditional publishing ain't it.]

Then, there are the "other" kinds of questions because writing is an art, and art abounds with opinions. It's the nature of the creature, I think.

I suspect people who love to write will find that the questions that really interest them might often slide into questions for which there is no definite answer. Example: "Which is more beautiful?"

Even there, someone might answer, "Who is your audience? Perhaps you could rephrase that as, 'Which do you think would be more effective with my intended audience?'"

But probably that kind of question would get "Closed as not productive."

Obviously, off topic posts tend to not be welcomed, and incendiary posts are anathema.

I'm trying to get a feel here. Asking about the rules seems the polite thing to do when one is engaging with a new group. I did not see a FAQ particular to Writers, but I'm traveling and accessing this via mobile device, so I think I miss things that some using a web browser might see. Any references would be appreciated. Any special advice for a newbie?

migrated from writers.stackexchange.com Nov 23 '14 at 7:08

This question came from our site for the craft of professional writing, including fiction, non-fiction, technical, scholarly, and commercial writing.

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    Thank you for asking this question and welcome to Writers. Standback has already covered what I would have said, so rather than add another answer I'll just leave this comment here. I look forward to seeing your questions on the main site. – Monica Cellio Nov 23 '14 at 20:47
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Welcome to Writers.SE! It looks like you've got a good grasp on our basic view, purpose and philosophy, and now you need to of the details fleshed in :)

That's terrific, because I think the basic approach to our site should be:

  • Know the basic idea,
  • Read up to understand our site-specific rules,
  • Participate,
  • and if somebody points out some issue with something you've written, then accept it as constructive critique or as a point for discussion, and keep enjoying the site :)

So mostly what I can give you are our go-to resources for reading up on our site definition and policy. There's some overlap, but not too much, and you can figure out from the titles what it is specifically you're interested in learning more about.

  • Good Subjective, Bad Subjective - This is the seminal Stack Exchange blog post addressing the issue of Q&A sites dealing with subjective questions. It talks a lot about how some subjective questions can still work really well as Q&A, and how to tell which is which.
  • Writers.SE On-Topic summary - A quick run-down of what we see as on- and off-topic. This page also links to the original discussions where community consensus was formed, and for greyer areas - it touches on what works and what doesn't.
  • Writers.SE FAQ - Questions we've marked as particularly important to understanding the site and its guidelines. A lot of your questions are addressed in these topics.
  • Writers.SE Meta - Anything that isn't addressed in the FAQ may have been raised as its own question - or, you can raise it as a new question! There's been a whole lot of discussion of the nature of the site, all the way back to Does a writers Stack Exchange even make sense? .

Hope this helps, and welcome aboard!

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    Thanks much for a thorough answer. I spent some hours reading through the linked material. Like a growing set of more or less overlapping circles, certain congruencies revealed definite agreements fading into gray. I think I get the picture. This will help me to stay on topic, and it will help me to help others. In particular, on "Does a writers Stack Exchange even make sense?" A phrase from sjohnton's answer strikes to the heart of the question I posed. On subjective questions: Are they "subjective in a way that makes them difficult to answer usefully?" [emphasis added] – Richard G. Crockett Nov 24 '14 at 6:07
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    I just saw that I never accepted an answer. Well, the rich set of links won me over. – Richard G. Crockett Nov 25 '14 at 5:56
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Welcome to the site, and thanks for taking the time to ask this question. I'll see if I can answer it, but others may have different opinions.

I think you've got a pretty good handle on how questions get handled on Stack Exchange sites. Writing is a very subjective thing, and this site has had to learn to embrace some degree of subjectivity, more than other sites might be comfortable with.

Stack Exchange sites aren't discussion forums, they're Q&A sites. Questions need to be answerable, potentially with a single canonical answer. There's a lot of leeway within that, though.

I suspect people who love to write will find that the questions that really interest them might often slide into questions for which there is no definite answer. Example: "Which is more beautiful?"

Even there, someone might answer, "Who is your audience? Perhaps you could rephrase that as, Which do you think would be more effective with my intended audience?"

This sort of question could work, if it were well written. Taking "which is more beautiful" as an example: While there might be a few different opinions about which framistat is more beautiful, it's possible to write an answer that gives an overview of what certain types of readers (in. say, different genres) might think. So while it's not possible to find Truth and Beauty objectively, one can be instructive and educational, leaving the questioner more informed.

Or an attempt to answer such a question could leave things a muddled, incoherent mess. It depends on the knowledge and ability of the person answering.

Which brings up another point: On sites with potentially subjective subject matter, sometimes it's okay to let the questions be a little "soft" when you know the site has users that will give good answers anyway. There are several power users on this site who do just that, people with a good grasp of writing and how to sling text.

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