I asked a question about general cooking techniques that can be done in a microwave. Nothing crazy or elaborate, just the basic stuff. It's collecting close votes and discussion, so let's move that here. Should the question be closed or left open?

Note: when we discuss closing a question, we're ideally discussing whether the question in some form can be left open. It's far better to tweak a question and leave open than to just close it.

For reference, since the obvious potential criticisms are "open-ended" and "broad", the "not a real question" close reason reads:

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

and the "not constructive" one reads:

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.

(where the debate and arguments it refers to are debates about answers to the question, not debate about whether the question is okay!)

2 Answers 2


"List question" is an ambiguous term. You can't just slap the name on anything with more than one answer and call it not constructive/not a real question/off-topic.

Some list questions are clearly bad - in general, anything with dozens of equally valid answers is going to start getting out of control, like a "good cookbooks" question. It's open-ended, broad, solicits discussion, polling... all of these are explicitly cited reasons to close questions. This is why in general, list questions are a bad idea - they tend to be questions that meet the criteria for closing. It's not the other way around; they're not closed because they're list questions. Polls are in this category, as are many shopping questions.

Some list questions are fine: they don't have a whole lot of different answers, so they don't really meet the explicit criteria for closing questions. This is why we allow some kinds of culinary use questions. While they may have many good individual answers, they're not infinite; you could reasonably expect one posted answer to cover most of them. For example, there are a lot of ways to make homemade ice cream soft.

I claim that my question falls into the latter category. There are only so many basic traditional cooking methods that translate easily into the microwave. Yes, there are many things you can find a way to do - that's why there's an "ask a question" link at the top of the page, and why there's already for example a question about how to scramble eggs in the microwave. But the scope of this question question is limited to not include those things, making it quite answerable, and the question does not solicit polling or discussion (except for this meta-discussion).

Appendix: Something like this has been asked many times on various site metas as well as meta-SO (going back to before *.stackexchange.com existed). A few examples:

(genealogy) "How can we word the FAQs to make clear the site policy on list questions?"

(SO, from linguistics) Is there a canonical source I can link to / quote from to back up “list questions are bad”?

(SO) Should we have a “List of X” close reason?

(SO) Are list questions off topic?

(UX) List questions - another take

(SO, back when community wiki was more common) Should polls be maintained as Community Wiki questions, or should they be closed?

If you read through all of this, I think it's fair to say that there's a lot of debate about how exactly to draw a line between good and horrible list questions, and about how to explain this concisely (e.g. in the FAQ), but that the rough consensus is that there is such a line, and it's not all the way at one end or the other. There are also a lot of problems caused by the fact that people tend to lump all list questions in one bucket, expecting them all to be either all okay or all bad.


The thing is, it is an open ended question on a common device. It boils down to "What is a microwave good for?" How is this effectively different under our guidelines than (hypothetically) "What wheat bran good for?"

There is a reason the question you modeled this after was a list question, and not in our current guidelines: because it is open ended.

I don't see any way to save this one.

Any answerable question would be much more more specific, to the point where it would no longer be this question--for example, "Can a microwave be used to melt chocolate effectively? If so, what tricks or tips are there?" The scope on this is specific and answerable, yes or no. And some follow up on why.

I don't know any way to withdraw a close vote, but right now I would let mine stand.

  • It's not open-ended and is not asking for an extensive list. The set of common, basic cooking techniques is not infinite (and is indeed fairly small), and the common characteristics of those which do and don't work in a microwave are well-defined. This is like saying that you can't ask, say, "what kinds of things is kosher salt good for (and not other kinds of salt?" Yes, there are a million dishes that work as examples, but there are common characteristics, and you can write a concise answer explaining why it's good for some things and maybe not others.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:08
  • In summary, I think you're confusing "has a single specific, correct answer" with "answerable".
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:08
  • I don't think I am... but then again, I would also change the guidelines of this site to make it an acceptable question; I just don't think it meets the guidelines as currently enumerated. I like reference list questions, but they are not part of what is in scope at this time.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:22
  • Can you provide a link to the guidelines you're referring to, which define reference list questions in such a way that it includes my question? Specifically, the main problem with list questions in everything I've seen, the problem and reason that they're discouraged is that they can keep going on and on, accumulating arbitrarily many equally valid answers, and as such fall under the "open-ended/broad" categories - but that's not the case here.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:23
  • I am not motivated enough to go digging... its the same guideline that says a list of great cookbooks is out of scope. And yes, this question is just as open ended--some people might say that making cupcakes or cookies in the microwave is a good use, because there is at least one example of a recipe or technique. You cannot fry in a microwave--except bacon. Its hard to cook eggs in a microwave--except scrambled... And so on. Its a list question, what are the things it is good at?
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:25
  • And yes, I like the idea of lists of great cookbooks.... but we closed the one asking for great vegetarian cookbooks a month or two back.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:27
  • That's completely different. Lists of thousands are bad. Lists of 5 with little room to grow are fine. (What's in five spice? Well, these five things, or maybe these other variations.) If you go digging, this is what you'll find - I've done it in the past. With respect to your claim that it's open-ended: in the question I specifically excluded things that require special techniques.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:34
  • I don't think the size of the open universe matters, so much as it is unbounded in the sense that there is no real way to say application a is more suitable than application b. There is no way to rank the answers. There is no way to pick a best answer. The five spice reference is a red herring, as it has one cannonical answer. The corresponding question would be "What is a good spice blend?" The better question would be "What principals make a spice blend good?" How can we turn this microwave question into the second sort.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:39
  • Read my answer on the question.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:39
  • I think "What makes a microwave good or poor at XXXX application" would be a great question.... but it specific.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:40
  • let us continue this discussion in chat
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Feb 22, 2013 at 21:40

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