This question recently surfaced:


and I had to vote to close, as it is quite obviously an open ended opinion and poll question. Under our current rules, I simply cannot see any justification for keeping it open.

On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of question which we probably should have, and should have lots of answers for, which is probably why it is getting some votes to stay open.

Should we adjust our guidelines to permit questions like this, and others such as

https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/7135/vegetarian-cookbook-for-kids (currently closed)

to be included? If so, how should we change them?

  • Could you try to elaborate which kind of poll questions are good? What makes them different from bad poll questions?
    – Mien
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 21:57
  • I think the key issue is requesting resources that allow the reader to enhance their own skills or knowledge, as opposed to just lists of acceptable items.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:11
  • The problem is, as you say, we'll get lots of answers. and voting stops working well when you have too many answers, especially once they don't fit on one page. I'd love to have some resources like this, but I'm not sure how to effectively curate them. The example question here doesn't look promising, either.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:18
  • I am thinking they only stay when voted in by meta discussion or something. Very much the exception rather than the rule. Maybe we can bring in some SE experts to advise us. This does seem to be the biggest gap between what we reasonably should be expected to provide in terms of answers, and what we actually do.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:22
  • @Jefromi And while the example question is not great, some of our most common voters on closing refuse to vote to close it even though it is quite clearly outside the current bounds. So we are neither governing nor closing.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:24
  • Lack of close votes doesn't mean people are refusing to close it. I hadn't seen it (not recently anyway) until you posted this. There are lots of old questions that should be closed and aren't. It doesn't indicate deliberate lack of governance.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:31
  • @Jefromi The close history shows active "leave open" votes. It indicates people are saying that they don't want to close it despite it being clearly outside the guidelines as they stand now. So maybe we need to move the guidelines.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:32
  • Ah. Well, the body of the question is okay, asking about approaches to learning. The title is bad (encouraging posting any and all resources) and the answers are pretty wide-ranging too. I can see voting to leave open based on the body, but that's not the whole story and shouldn't be used as justification for allowing a broader category of questions which more explicitly encourage the mess of answers even this somewhat better question has generated.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:41
  • How is the vegetarian cookbook question worse, that it should have been closed? it is actually more concrete and focused.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 22:46
  • This question was from the site's early days ... and we were perfectly willing to have those sorts of questions back then, and there wasn't bitching by the SE overlords about what is/isn't a good question. (we'd just set it to community wiki) ... but as you'd see in the other questions I linked to, most of 'em survived for a couple years, and were closed in 2012 or 2013. (years after they had been fine). One of which is still in the top 25 top-rated questions, with 30+ people starring it.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 23:18
  • I'm of the opinion that these questions are useful, but they require more moderate time to police the answers ... maybe lock them so you need some reputation to post, and try to weed the ones that are duplicative or not an answer.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 23:19
  • @Joe Did you mean to post some links?
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 23:21
  • @SAJ14SAJ : nope, look at the comments attached to the one you linked to.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 23:21
  • Exactly - useful information, lack of policies and mechanisms for moderation/curation. (And one of the big reasons some of these have a lot of trouble getting closed is that close votes age away, so a question can easily remain open after a dozen people have voted to close it.)
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:10
  • Another possible resource on this issue would be the SO meta. I'd expect this issue to have been hashed and rehashed there to death by now. Not all of the arguments might apply, but some should.
    – millimoose
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 3:35

3 Answers 3


First of all, good opinion questions are good, no question about it. The canonical resource is Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. The issue here is really poll questions. I'd love to be able to create this kind of content, but I don't think our site is currently a good way to do it. There are two main directions we could consider exploring.

Accepting some poll questions

We could decide what kinds of poll questions are okay, as you've suggested. We have to do this in a way that's clear and easy to explain. Anything that'll cause debate on most poll questions is a non-starter. Anything that's hard to explain to newcomers is bad too. This is really difficult, and given the questions I've seen over the years here, I'm not even sure it's possible. Almost the entire set of poll questions is gray area. We can agree we don't want the ones that'll get 100 answers, and if there are really only going to be three, it's fine. But most are somewhere in the debate-prone middle ground.

I don't think there's a good solution to this currently, and even if we come up with something, we won't be able to handle the really popular things, like basics cookbooks. On top of that, some of the short-list poll questions can be written as good subjective questions anyway ("how can I learn vegetarian cooking with my kid?" could be good) so there's even less headroom.

Handling poll questions better

We can try figure out how to deal with questions with tons of answers, some of which came in an initial surge, and some of which are just one more getting tacked on three years later. This seems to be somewhere between difficult and impossible in the site's format. Our cookbook/resource type questions demonstrate this very well - duplicate answers, rambling answers, low-scoring excellent answers...

But if we had better tools, we could start to address this. Think of it as Community Wiki 2.0 - we still probably throw per-user rep out the window, grant people broader privileges, and think of it as building a single page. But we don't want a free-for-all. A couple main things come to mind:

  • a voting queue, to get enough votes on both new and old answers to put them in a reasonable order. Think Google Moderator - show people with voting privileges the answers that haven't reached a "consensus" yet. Additional upvotes on something already at the top don't mean much.

  • ability to merge answers. This is tougher than it sounds, probably involving something like the suggested edit queue, affecting revision history, and so on. (Duplicate answers are common, but partial dupes are even more common.)

The existing system is nothing like this, of course, and it's not something we can build ourselves - it's a task for the devs. But I think we've seen ample evidence over the years on SA, and before that on SO, that with the current structure, these questions really just don't work - we need something more.

Example questions

Your first example is a kind of hybrid of a decent on-topic subjective question asked in not quite the ideal way in the body (what approaches are good for getting started learning?) and an implied broad poll question in the title (what resources are good for beginners?). The subjective half is cool, but the poll question is pretty iffy. The broad spread of answers is a good demonstration that while we certainly do generate some helpful lists of things, it doesn't work well and we should be wary of allowing broad poll questions without changes to our system. (This makes it tough to make the right call on that specific question, because it has the good subjective stuff in it right alongside the uncurated mishmash.)

The second example is decent purely because it's a list question with a pretty limited potential set of answers. That's kind of a separate debate, and I think there are decent arguments on both sides. The big problem is that it's tough to draw a line between an okay restricted short list question and a huge open list question. It's unrealistic and often unfair to try to say something like "there will probably be five or fewer answers." I'd like to allow some questions like that (even within the current system), but I don't see a good way to define the scope, especially in an easy to understand way for newcomers.

  • I wasn't trying to narrowly define the scope; my question is not a concrete proposal. I was hoping we would get those in the answers.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:25
  • @SAJ14SAJ Then post a question more explicitly asking for what scope of poll questions would be a good fit within the current site structure. I was trying to address the general question you actually asked: should we change the guidelines.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:28
  • Darn it, you are supposed to read my mind. You have been answering questions here long enough to know that.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:29
  • I've rewritten this a bit to more directly answer your intended question.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:44

Opinion (AKA subjective) questions are fine; poll questions are not. In fact, that has always been the critical distinction between questions that we answer and questions that we close.

To clarify, subjective questions often call for opinion and speculation but still require answers to draw upon some amount of verifiable facts or experience, and there exists some kind of more-or-less objective criteria that can be used to rate answers relative to each other.

On the other hand, what we call poll questions:

  • Don't normally require any special knowledge or experience to participate in;
  • Have a very large or even unlimited number of possible answers;
  • Don't require answers to be substantiated with evidence.

There are no good "poll questions". There may be good polls (minus the "question"), but we decided many years ago that they don't belong on Stack Exchange sites. The exclusive options for those are chat, the blog, or... somewhere else. There are still plenty of discussion forums for cooking and sites like Reddit; we're not aiming to swallow the whole online-cooking-discussion market, just the part that fits into a convenient Q&A model.

So the short answer is, if you see poll questions, no matter how old they are, vote to close them. That's it. Don't worry about the apparent discrepancy in standards, especially from questions dating as far back as 2010 - those are from the times when we either had no moderation at all (private/early public beta) or very lax moderation due to a lack of content. I'm probably not allowed to reveal how many page views or UVs we get, but trust me on this, we're long past the point where we still need to worry about pumping out new content quickly.

Of course that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to salvage questions if they're salvageable, but that's already been discussed at length and is actually right there in the close text for "too broad":

Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

If you can do that, great. Then it's not a poll anymore. Otherwise, close it.

P.S. No matter where our boundaries lie, there will always be some people who think they're too narrow. If we widen them, we'll just attract another set of users who think the new boundaries are too narrow. There will also always be some people who think that we're too permissive, although deletionists almost always number fewer than inclusionists. The point is, just because there's a small group of people who believe that we're closing questions that should be left open, does not mean that we've drawn the map all wrong. We should only start to worry if questions are constantly being closed and reopened again in cycles, which would indicate either serious ambiguity in the site definition or highly contentious rules.


If you don't want to leave it completely open-ended, you might want to consider this for the blog -- get a few of the users to write some op-ed pieces to answer the question, rather than leave it as a free-for-all. You can then weed out or edit the less useful answers.

(and possibly revisit some of them a year or two later, as cookbook recommendations and such may change)

  • Interesting idea.... crazy enough it might work. But the blog is so obscure, how would we get it linked to the main site questions so people could find it?
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 24, 2013 at 0:57
  • @SAJ14SAJ, I've proposed a community ad which links to the blog. It's not the full solution, but I think it would make it a bit more visible. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 10:46
  • @PeterTaylor I upvoted that....
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 15:42

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