I've writing a question revolving around the rape in Ian McEwan's Atonement.

I do not want to put "rape" in the title, as it will show up on the main page. On the other hand, I also don't want to surprise readers who didn't realize the question would heavily involve rape.

As I don't expect (or want) any topics to be off-limits, this might be a recurring issue. Do we need/want any kind of content warning for questions that deal directly with difficult or triggering topics?

Do we want any kind of guideline or community norm on this?

  • Is this with regards to questions or answers?
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:03
  • 2
    I would say this at the discretion of the poster
    – Skooba
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:03
  • @HDE226868 : I'd expect it to be most acute when it comes to questions - they're the ones that set the discussion topic. Hypothetically you could have an answer veering somewhere that might warrant a content note, where the question didn't, I suppose.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:06
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    would a generic trigger-warning tag be useful or too vague? Jan 19 '17 at 22:46
  • @LaurenIpsum : Hmmm. Fairly useful, maybe -- it would allow filtering of material that might be sensitive. No resolution, but that's still enough for readers not to come in and be flatfooted. OTOH, it'd be a meta-tag.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 22:58
  • Maybe "adult-topics" or "difficult-topics" or something might be a better-received name, though.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 23:00
  • 1
    adult immediately spells erotica for me. difficult could be politics or religion. The reason I like trigger-warning is that while it's vague, there's no other way to interpret it. The tag is warning you that some content could be triggering — upsetting, traumatic, otherwise a problem. Maybe content-warning could serve the same purpose if people object to the word "trigger." Jan 19 '17 at 23:58

First off, tag the question properly. That won't help if I don't know what the book is about, but if I know that the topic of Atonement (or Twilight, or Le Morte d'Arthur or whatever) is something that will bother me, having it tagged properly will allow me to avoid it without having to seek out warning labels. Folks can add tags to their "ignore" list, check the "hide" box and avoid seeing questions related to those subjects in most places on the site without having to put in any further effort.

When (as in your example) the question itself concerns potentially-sensitive content, then do as Robert suggests and avoid gratuitously shocking language. You demonstrate this admirably in your title, which is both sufficiently detailed yet avoids any unnecessary or salacious details as to the nature of the assault.

...unfortunately, you kinda ruin the effect by including those same details as the first paragraph of your question:

image of question preview on new questions page, including detailed content warning

This warning is problematic, since not only does it de-emphasize your actual question, it includes rather more specific detail than the question itself - and rather negates your attempt to keep it off the list of questions!

As you said originally, putting "rape" in the title should be easily avoidable - but more than that, unless your question is directly about events or terminology that might be upsetting to others, there's no real need to include it - so don't. Sometimes this will be difficult; sometimes it will be impossible... But with a bit of attention, it should be possible to treat them - and your readers - with a delicate touch and avoid undue discomfort.

  • What would you suggest I tag a question about Ian McEwan's Atonement, which concerns the rape of a young woman?
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:07
  • @Standback atonement.. Jan 19 '17 at 20:07
  • @ChristianRau ... that does not seem to be Shog's meaning for the purpose which we are discussing :P
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:08
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    tags atonement and ian-mcewan should suffice, @Standback. Folks can add either or both tags to their "ignore" list, check the "hide" box and avoid seeing questions in them most places.
    – Shog9
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:10
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    OK, but... this doesn't address the issue of content warnings at all. People who would rather avoid rape questions won't necessarily know that this book, and this question, is about rape.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:14
  • And, yes, the question is about the details of a rape. It would be silly to content-note a question just because there's a rape somewhere in the book; it's only "questions directly about something that might be upsetting to others" that's actually an issue.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:15
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    I think you should just post the question then, @Standback. If there's a (non-hypothetical) problem with the specific content of the question, it'll be much easier to discuss it when it is apparent rather than in abstract now.
    – Shog9
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:20
  • Done and linked in the question, thanks :)
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:47
  • just tagging the question atonement is not helpful if I don't know what the book is about. I've never read it. How would I know it's something to avoid if I don't want to read questions about rape? Jan 20 '17 at 0:02
  • The question here has changed somewhat, @Lauren - as originally asked, it concerned asking a (potentially rape-unrelated) question about a book that was itself rape-focused; the revision now concerns a question about the rape itself. I hadn't made it back here to update my answer yet, so... working on that now.
    – Shog9
    Jan 20 '17 at 0:22
  • Oh wow. Hadn't considered the effect of capsule summaries. Where the original problem also remains. This is more than I can fit into a comment; can we continue in chat ?
    – Standback
    Jan 20 '17 at 7:11

I respect that people have had traumatic things happen in their lives but this is not something we should be doing.

There's no way we can guarantee that every time there's a trigger subject, even if it's only "rape", we can post a warning about it... which means that someone who is troubled by these subjects may incorrectly assume that anything that doesn't have a warning is "safe" to read... which wouldn't be the case.

Much like with actual spoilers, what someone considers a trigger is completely different than another person, so there's no way to adequately warn everyone without just writing the question. Where do we draw the line about what gets a warning - rape, racism, torture, clowns?

If someone has an issue about something in the writing, I'm sure they will just close the page and move along the second they start to have trouble with it.

Please note that, just because someone is sensitive to rape (as an example) doesn't mean that they will be triggered by all mentions of it, so by warning them about the content, they may opt not to read it and it's possible that it wouldn't have been an issue for them anyway.


No, please don't. If this is going to be a serious site on literature, subjects might might deal with the occasional adult theme and sometimes uncomfortable situations on occasion.

While we don't allow posts to get overly gratuitous simply for the shock value, I wouldn't want to oversee a site where folks are asked to speak in hushed whispers whenever talking about naughty bits and adult themes as a matter of policy. Let's not hack up these posts with unnecessary markup, and I'm equally against plastering warning stickers all over the site trying to suss what subjects should receive such a treatment. I wouldn't want to use such a site, and I certainly don't want to be that guy with the marker who's job is to cover up all the naughty bits before the magazine hits the newsstand.

  • 3
    Oh, hey, that's absolutely not my intention with this. Quite the opposite -- I expect people to touch on topics which are difficult, adult, traumatic, what have ye. I don't want to discourage such questions, or lower their volume -- but I would like it to be fairly easy for people who do have a problem with those topics, to be able to avoid them, if/when they so choose. It's an option a fair share of people find valuable, and I respect that.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:53
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    I definitely hear you on "unnecessary markup." I'm less seeing how that's "speaking in hushed whispers," though -- I'm aiming for, well, a little note at the top (example in the question I linked), so that the topic doesn't catch people by surprise. Again, I think it's particularly difficult if we're keeping titles "clean", because then they can't use that to filter by :-/
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:55
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    I am equally against posting warning stickers all over the site (and working up a policy about which subjects need such treatment). Jan 19 '17 at 21:07

Original poster can decide if they want to add "spoiler" markdowns to their posts. However, I feel they are unneeded and will detract from the quality of the question overall, especially if they are done en masse.

We are adults (or at least over 13), we can decide for ourselves what we find offensive or not. If something IS offensive we have mechanisms in place for that, flagging. As long as question well written and not just profanity laced rages, you will be okay.

I have an example from my own postings, where I was cautious because I was asking a question about offensive language and so hide those words.

  • 2
    I think you misunderstand me; this isn't about "offensive" at all. On Writers.SE we have an "erotica" tag, and that's absolutely on topic, and you shouldn't be closing an erotica question as offensive. But, it's SUPER easy to avoid those questions if you want to. Whereas here (as far as I see things going) there's no tag to mute, and no easy way to avoid topics you'd rather not deal with, or at least would rather not have sprung on you unprepared.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 21:00

I would propose putting in content notes at the beginning of such posts, with the actual warning spoilered out - like so:

Content Note:

Discussion of rape.

This is fairly unobtrusive, doesn't impact people who don't feel the need to check content notes, but is helpful to the people who would rather have them.

I don't think this needs to be policed in any way, but I think editing to add a content note to an existing post is fine, within reason.

  • 6
    If you're spoilering out the content note... why include it at all? If you're going to spoiler anything (which I'm not really sure is necessary), you spoiler the content not the warning about it.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:03
  • @Catija: Spoilering the content seems to obscure, well, the actual content. I'm not trying to hide it; just to make it easy for people who do try to avoid certain topics to do that. I like Scott Alexander's The Wonderful Thing About Triggers for this, and the guidelines he proposes are basically "at the beginning, handy to those who want it, unobtrusive to those who don't."
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:11
  • 4
    My point is that, if you're going to have a content note, putting it in a spoiler only draws more attention to it, makes it more intrusive, not less.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:12
  • @Catija: The idea of a content note isn't "let's pretend traumatic topic doesn't exist". The idea is "FYI: This post is about possibly-traumatic topic. Your call if you feel like reading it right now or not." That's a huge difference to have stated upfront, then to get halfway through the question before you realize it's all about the analysis of a rape case.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:19
  • 5
    But how does putting it in a spoiler box help anything at all? It obscures the warning and makes it useless.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:21
  • @Catija: That makes sense. Spoilering might be carrying "unobtrusive" farther than needed; I can see that. (I don't think useless, because somebody who cares about content notes is exactly the type of person who will open the spoiler. Because it says 'Content Note'. But yeah, I can see that that's probably unnecessary.
    – Standback
    Jan 19 '17 at 20:24

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