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In the past, people have criticized the "primarily opinion-based" close vote reason by saying "well, aren't most of our questions kind of opinion-based"? (This has definitely been a discussion on a number of occasions where questions were closed as "primarily opinion-based," and I can see it continuing to be a discussion in the future, especially as the site grows).

The current text of the Primarily Opinion-Based close reason is:

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

Technically, I guess that does apply, but it's actually not all that clear from this why that's a problem or how the original poster should fix it.

The predecessor to "primarily opinion-based" was "not constructive." Ironically, while Stack Overflow and some other sites have moved away from this reason, I think that this close reason is actually a better fit for our site than "Primarily Opinion-Based." Here's the original text of that close vote reason:

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance.

To begin with, changing the name from "Primarily Opinion-Based" to "Not Constructive" would end the whole "well, aren't most literature questions opinion-based?" discussion and bring the focus back to improving the question to be a good fit for the site.

Secondly, it's actually not intuitively obvious why opinion-based questions are a bad thing on a literature site. This close reason is actually a lot more specific as to what the problem is: the fact that "discussion questions" aren't a good fit for a Q&A format.

Third, it's much more specific as to what kinds of questions this applies to: questions that would tend to lead to debate, arguments, and discussion rather than evidence-based answers. (Obviously, the kinds of things that constitute valid evidence on our site are different than what constitutes valid evidence on, for example, Stack Overflow or Math Stack Exchange, but we can tweak the message a little bit to reflect that fact).

This can be modified to fit our site by tweaking the wording. For example, we could do something like this:

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by quotes, textual evidence, contextualizing information, facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. While good literature questions may be somewhat subjective, it should still be possible to construct answers that can be defended with evidence and convincing arguments; please edit the question accordingly.

The wording of this is hardly perfect, but it seems like a good direction.

Should we replace "Primarily Opinion-Based" with "Not Constructive"?

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  • Is there a word/character limit on the text for a close reason? – Rand al'Thor Dec 2 '17 at 11:33
  • @Randal'Thor Custom close reasons are limited to 400 characters. – user80 Dec 2 '17 at 12:14
  • @Zyerah If this is something that we're seriously considering doing, is it worth featuring for a couple of days with a "generic" title (like they do with burnination requests on Stack Overflow) in case anyone wants to agree, object, or give feedback? Maybe something like "Should we replace the 'Primarily Opinion-based' close reason with 'Not Constructive'?" as a title? – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 4 '17 at 19:21
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    'not constructive' has never really struck me as a very constructive close reason name, to be honest. – Mithical Dec 4 '17 at 20:32
  • @Mithrandir Maybe "poor fit for Q&A" or "Not supportable" or something like that? – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 4 '17 at 23:21
  • @Mithrandir Yeah, I thought the same when writing this answer. – Rand al'Thor Dec 5 '17 at 10:53
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    Accepting an answer on this question when that answer has a lower score than a competing answer is kind of the opposite of showing that you respect community consensus. – user111 Dec 19 '17 at 22:17
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This could be a good idea, but I think you chose the wrong part of it to tweak.

The bit about "facts, references, or specific expertise" works just as well for our site as for any other. You proposed adding "quotes, textual evidence, contextualizing information", but all of this really comes under facts, references, or specific expertise.

On the other hand, if the goal is to make it more obvious why these questions are a bad thing and not suitable for a Q&A site, then I don't think "will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion" quite cuts it. Many good questions could solicit debates or extended discussion, e.g. in multiple competing answers or in comment chains on the answers. Arguments or polling, maybe - but the main point here is that answers wouldn't (or couldn't) be backed up properly. If there's no way to answer a question with objective supporting evidence, then it's probably not a good fit for our site.

So I suggest something like the following (improvements welcome):

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit polling or unsupported opinions. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance.

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  • I would just use "unsupported arguments and polling." Shorter, and removes confusion (we're OK with opinion pieces if they can be argued). – user111 Dec 2 '17 at 12:10
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    @Hamlet If it can be argued, is it still an opinion piece? To me "opinion piece" means pure opinion, unsupported by arguments. – Rand al'Thor Dec 2 '17 at 12:13
  • To me an opinion piece would be something like an editorial in a newspaper: still dependent on arguments (even if those arguments are often quite poor). That phrase might not have the same meaning for everyone, but it's probably best to remove that source of confusion. – user111 Dec 2 '17 at 12:22
  • @Hamlet Fair enough. I changed it to "polling or unsupported arguments and opinions" - better? – Rand al'Thor Dec 2 '17 at 12:26
  • I think that this should probably be the text of the close message. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 3 '17 at 4:09
  • Possibly "... solicit polling, unsupported arguments, or unsubstantiated opinions" or something like that? Just to avoid the argument that "well, aren't opinions good?" Obviously, we do accept opinions here, it's just that we expect people to provide evidence for them. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 3 '17 at 4:40
  • @EJoshuaS The "unsupported" in my latest formulation was meant to be an adjective describing both "arguments" and "opinions". I guess we could just leave it at "polling and unsupported opinions" - the word "argument" (in this context - not that of a quarrel) does sort of suggest a reasoned, i.e. supported, argument. – Rand al'Thor Dec 3 '17 at 11:29
  • Yes, I like that wording a lot actually. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 3 '17 at 14:57
  • @EJoshuaS Edited! :-D – Rand al'Thor Dec 3 '17 at 15:39
  • @EJoshuaS accepting an answer this quickly runs contrary to the ethos of let's get everyone's opinion that meta runs upon. – user111 Dec 3 '17 at 23:35
  • @Hamlet Fair enough - seems worthwhile getting as much community input as possible. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 4 '17 at 4:06
  • @EJoshuaS - this really hasn't seen a ton of discussion yet, I think it may be a little early still to accept an answer ;) – Mithical Dec 7 '17 at 21:31
  • @Mithrandir Fair enough - should it be featured or something if this is something that we're seriously considering? – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 7 '17 at 21:37
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What's wrong with "primarily opinion-based"?

Let me play devil's advocate for a moment here. Do we really need to change the existing close reason? Yes, many of our good questions are subjective and may not have a single correct answer, but the close reason doesn't say "opinion-based": it says "primarily opinion-based". Some questions ARE more opinion-based than others, and the most opinion-based ones ("is X a good book", for example) don't have any place on our site.

As I mentioned before, this close reason works on hundreds of SE sites, many of which are about deeply subjective topics and have their own versions of the "back it up" principle. The only question each site needs to consider is where to draw the line for what's too opinion-based. Our line will be higher than on most sites, but there is still a point beyond which questions are too opinion-based and should be closed. The existing close reason even says this very explicitly:

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

"Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience." This part could almost be tailor-made for sites such as ours with a large degree of subjectivity. This close reason text accepts that it's OK to be partially opinion-based, but tells people there's a line beyond which questions aren't acceptable - i.e. the line at which answers can no longer be sensibly backed up. Isn't that exactly what we want?

What does "not constructive" mean anyway?

What does it mean for a question to be "not constructive"? Do questions have to be constructive - and constructing what exactly? This reminds me of the age-old debate about sites such as ours violating the principle that SE questions should be about "an actual problem that you face". Nobody is going to lose their job if they don't get their question answered on this site. We're not trying to solve any real-life problems here, and any question posted is presumably of interest to at least one person.

The issue isn't that questions aren't "useful", but that they're not properly answerable. We don't care how useful or interesting your question is (at least in terms of its on-topicness for our site; we might downvote it, but not close-vote it). We do care if it's so far over the subjectivity line that its answers can't be backed up properly - that's the kind of question we want to close.

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I think you have a really good point about the wording of the close reason. I agree that the older close reason is preferable, but if we're going to change the wording, I recommend changing it to the following concise mishmash of the two close reasons:

While questions about literature often have multiple contradictory but equally correct answers, we still expect questions to be answerable using arguments and evidence. As it stands, this question is likely to solicit polling or extended discussion, and as such is not a good fit for our Q&A format.

Pros for this wording:

  1. "arguments and evidence" is a lot more to the point than "quotes, textual evidence, contextualizing information, facts, references, or specific expertise". This also has the benefit of being flexible: we aren't telling people what kinds of evidence or arguments are acceptable.

  2. Ditto for "polling or extended discussion" v. "debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion." Also, often questions are about a topic that has been the subject of a debate or argument; so long as people can do so respectfully, we want people to come, post contradictory answers, and have a debate in Q&A form.

  3. This wording emphasizes how we do questions about subjective topics: while answers can come to completely different conclusions, we're not evaluating the conclusion but whether the answer is well argued. I think I managed to do that in a clear and concise manner.

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    I'm not sure I agree with the "equally correct" part. That could introduce controversy by being dependent on a specific view of literature that not everyone agrees with. I agree with the rest of this, though. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Dec 2 '17 at 3:54
  • @EJoshuaS Unfortunately, regardless of whether people agree with that statement or not, it is something that occurs on the site (here's one example out of many: literature.stackexchange.com/questions/3105/…) and something the site will need to base policy around. – user111 Dec 2 '17 at 12:03
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    @Hamlet Perhaps not everyone would agree that the answers to that question are equally correct? – Rand al'Thor Dec 2 '17 at 12:18

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