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The ‘What topics can I ask about here?’ section in the Help Centre currently apologises for being unable to say what is on topic:

Unfortunately, we haven't been around for that long and therefore don't have an authoritative definition of what is and what isn't on-topic. Philosophers have spent centuries debating what literature is. In some circles, the definition of literature has been politicized to exclude certain cultures. We're still trying to find our place in the world of Literature.

However, we can give an incomplete list of topics that we mostly agree are on- and off-topic. Keep in mind that this list is incomplete; if your question isn't here, then you should try asking it on the main site and seeing what happens. Also keep in mind that this is not an authoritative document; should community consensus change, then the advice here could become out of date.

and:

What counts as a work of literature for the purposes of allowed questions on this site? We don't have a specific answer—we're still trying to work this out—but questions have been successfully asked about written stories, comic books, plays, and poetry.

I understand that this level of uncertainty and hedging was needed due to a lack of agreement among the early participants in the site. But the site has now been running for three years and I think that it might be time to remove the apologies and state things clearly.

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    This got a lot of votes for a relatively inactive meta site, and it's been open for more than a month now. I've gone ahead and implemented your proposed wording. Thank you again for taking the initiative to get this changed! – Rand al'Thor May 1 at 13:21
  • @Randal'Thor: Thanks for making the change. A month was fine, to give less frequent participants a chance to see the proposal and object. There was no particular urgency. – Gareth Rees May 1 at 15:21
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My proposal is that we remove all three paragraphs of apologies and hedging quoted in the question, and replace them with the following:

We interpet ‘literature’ in a broad sense, including written, spoken and sung works, in all genres, languages and forms: poetry, plays, stories, novels, lyrics, comic books, essays, belles-lettres, and so on.

I’ve tried to keep this short and clear, without caveats and technicalities, and used ‘including’ (not ‘consisting of’) in the hope of leaving plenty of room at the edges and avoiding rules-lawyering. But please suggest corrections and improvements!

Sources:

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    Sounds eminently reasonable. (Hamlet was rather ideologically opposed to defining "literature" in any way, which is why we wound up with what we did.) I think after a few years we can write down what's on topic :) – Mithical Mar 29 at 12:32
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    The impression I get is that Hamlet regretted having named the site "Literature" and would have preferred something like "Arts and Culture" so as to include visual arts, music and so on. – Gareth Rees Mar 29 at 12:50
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    Is "of cultural and artistic interest" necessary? I feel that might be misinterpreted as an exclusion of supposed "trash fiction" with purely entertainment value. On the other hand, it does serve the purpose of excluding e.g. recipe books and manuals, which are technically "written works" but probably off-topic here. I'm trying to think of a constructive rephrase suggestion ... "works of cultural, artistic, historic, or entertainment value"? Not sure. – Rand al'Thor Mar 29 at 12:58
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    Stealing an idea from SFF, a phrase I've always liked to describe scope inclusivity is: "If you're not sure it's [literature] but you think a good case can be made for it, it's on-topic." Something like this might fit well at the end of your paragraph? – Rand al'Thor Mar 29 at 13:01
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    The reason I put "of cultural and artistic interest" in there is that questions about the factual content of literature are off-topic here. We would be happy to accept a question about the rhetorical strategy of a scientific paper, say (cultural interest), but not one about whether the paper's statistical approach was valid (scientific interest). But I can see that my intention is not at all clear, so I will remove the phrase. – Gareth Rees Mar 29 at 13:08
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    Should we also add some examples from meta, e.g. the questions you linked, as well as the [scope] tag? – Gallifreyan Apr 3 at 21:20
  • @Gallifreyan Not necessary IMHO. The help centre is authoritative on its own, without needing lots of meta links to back it up. Providing too many links may just distract people. We could add something like "if you're not sure whether a particular question is on-topic, you can ask on meta" ... but someone could also just go ahead and try posting their question, and in the worst case it gets closed; we aren't getting inundated with off-topic questions. – Rand al'Thor Apr 4 at 17:04
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    I think it is best for the help text to be short and simple. – Gareth Rees Apr 4 at 17:27
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    Very well, I think that's best too. I'll wait a bit more and after the votes stabilise, update the help centre. – Gallifreyan Apr 4 at 20:32

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