This question about works using the second person has been closed as Off-Topic.

In comments, opinions have been offered that the question is

  • open-ended to many answers


  • could result in a list rather than a definitive answer.

The question was closed using the community-specific reason:

Questions asking for list of works or reading recommendations are off-topic, as they generate opinion-based answers.

While that does clearly state that requests for lists are off topic, the reason is that answers will be opinion based.

That is clearly the case where recommendations are being sought on the basis of quality, as was the case with the original example questions for why recommendations were off topic, all those questions ask for an opinion, ‘what are some good books about...’.

My question is in two parts

a) Is necessarily the case that answers to ‘list questions’, absent a quality qualifier, are more likely to be opinion-based than for any other type of question?

b) where are users to find the prohibition on ‘list questions’ given their absence from our ‘What Topics can I ask about here?’ and ‘What type of questions should I avoid asking?’ pages?

  • As the first person to vote for closure, my position is that this is an acceptable use of the close reason. Please interpret my upvote, then, as in support of having an open, focused discussion about this topic, and nothing more. – bobble Apr 10 at 19:14
  • 1
    The sister site Science Fiction & Fantasy has faced a similar issue; you may be interested in their meta discussions saying to allow finite well-scoped list questions but not open-ended lists and more recently to close "is there any" questions with the recommendation close reason, unless clearly scoped. (Of course SFF is a different site and their rules don't apply here, but maybe it's interesting reading and some of the same arguments could be used here too.) – Rand al'Thor Apr 11 at 8:19
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    By the way, thank you for raising this! Although I agree with the closure of the second-person narrative question specifically, you're right that we shouldn't throw out the finite-lists baby with the open-ended bathwater. It's good to have a meta discussion about this issue which we can point people to in future. – Rand al'Thor Apr 11 at 9:00
  • @bobble Er.. noted, but since I was asking questions not making proposals or debating the particular closure, I'm not sure how else you feared I might interpret it. – Spagirl Apr 14 at 15:01

I voted to close the question that prompted this meta question, but agree that Spagirl raises a valid point. I think that we need to clarify our guidance to askers about list-based, recommendation-based, and opinion-based questions.

To begin with, when we say "list-based questions," we are actually conflating two things:

  1. A question that asks for a listing based on a finite set of works. Such a question is on-topic. Here are a couple of examples of such list-based questions:

    In both these examples, the answers are closed-ended and definitive. Such questions are fine for our site.

  2. A question that doesn't ask for a closed list, but for an open-ended one. Such questions lack a definitive answer, making them unsuitable for the site. Here are a couple of examples, both of which were closed:

    Both these could result in several answers, all equally correct, and with no limit to the number of correct answers. That's too broad, and such questions are unsuited to our site.

Our guidance needs to disambiguate these two clearly. Calling the latter "list-based" and citing that as a reason to close could be confusing, since the former are also list-based. Particularly since both sorts of questions could be asked as "Are there any ...."

Perhaps we should characterize the latter as asking for an open-ended list and specify that in our guidance. For example, the suggestion for post-owner guidance in the comments to the meta question about audience-specific texts for close reasons is as follows:

Your question asks for recommendations or for a list of works that meet certain criteria. This is too open-ended for our site's format unless scoped to a small set of works such as a single series. If you're seeking a specific work () or the earliest work with some criteria (), please edit your post with the appropriate tag. Otherwise, feel free to ask your original question in chat.

We could tweak this as follows:

Your question asks for recommendations or for an open-ended list of works that meet certain criteria. Questions where many answers could each add examples to an inexhaustible list are unsuitable for this site. If you're seeking a specific work () or the earliest work with some criteria (), please edit your post, then include the appropriate tag. Otherwise, feel free to ask your original question in chat.

I think that in general, the reason recommendation questions are off-topic is that they too solicit open-ended lists, rather than being opinion-based. For example, Recommendation of books on reversal of fortune of communities in post-colonial societies? asks for examples of works with a particular element, making it a solicitation for an open-ended list.

So I think that we need to clarify our guidance to askers: questions that ask for an open-ended list are off-topic; recommendation questions ask for an open-ended list; therefore, recommendation questions are off-topic. (Mood AAA [Barbara] of the first figure is valid.)

Asking for such a list, however, does not mean the question is opinion-based. Here are examples of questions that actually are opinion based:

Notably, neither asks for a list. An opinion-based question, like an open-ended list question, lacks a definitive answer, but that doesn't mean that open-ended list questions are opinion-based. All opinion-based questions lack a definitive answer; all open-ended list questions lack a definitive answer; therefore, all open-ended questions are opinion-based is not a valid syllogism. (Mood AAA of the second figure is not among the valid forms.)

There are, however, questions that are both open-ended list-based and opinion-based. The question that prompted this meta question is an example. It asks for notable works narrated in the second person. There are any number of works narrated in the second person, so it's an open-ended list; and what counts as "notable" is subjective, so it's a matter of opinion. This particular question could be closed for either reason. There will always be such edge cases, but in general, open-ended list-based questions and opinion-based questions are distinct.

To sum up: I agree with Spagirl that our What topics can I ask about here? and What type of questions should I avoid asking? pages need revision. I think we need to separate out "opinion-based" from "list-based"; further separate out "open-ended list-based" from "finite list-based"; and clarify that the former two are off-topic, while the latter is fine.

  • Agreed. Finite, clearly scoped lists should be fine; open-ended lists are the real problem. I like your re-wording of the custom close text. – Rand al'Thor Apr 11 at 8:28
  • Thank you for this thoughtful answer. In essence, I don't really much care what the close reasons are, I care that it is possible for people to find out that they are committing a close-able offence before they do it. – Spagirl Apr 15 at 12:23

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