I have only been using Stack Exchange for a month or so and I have to admit I have not found it the most welcoming to newbies. Admittedly I only use the app so maybe that is where I am going wrong but I can't seem to find any rules about what can be asked, what sort of answers are allowed and what format it all has to be in.

A few days ago someone was asking about improving a soup recipie but was accused of being 'off topic'. Today I saw someone asked about sourcing ingredients but had their question closed because it was off topic. It seems to me that a group of people have deemed themselves the moderators and have a list of unwritten rules that everyone must adhere to.

Please do not misunderstand me, I 100% agree that there should be rules as it keeps the boards uniform and helps when looking for answers but if someone who is new to this cannot find the rules then it is very off putting. Personally I am slightly nervous about posting a question or answer for fear of it being down voted and then not being allowed to vote on answers, which has happened to me.

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    The first rule is that we do discuss this kind of thing in a special place called the Meta page, not on the main site. I will try to migrate this question there.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Feb 15, 2014 at 12:47
  • OK thanks, didn't realise that there was a place do ask this sort of thing, hence why I put it here.
    – user7829
    Feb 15, 2014 at 12:49
  • And I'm going to edit out the worries about your question going away, since this is exactly what meta is for. You're safe here!
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 15, 2014 at 17:56
  • I just want to say personally, if you ask a question on the main site and it's the kind if thing we'd vote to close, I'll do my best to find a form of the question that works well on our site, and I think others will too. So don't be too scared.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 15, 2014 at 18:06
  • One more note: I've posted a question on meta.stackoverflow (which is for now the central meta for all of stack exchange) asking for better help in the app. Thank you for bringing this to our attention - hopefully the next new user won't have the same experience you did.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 15, 2014 at 18:33
  • Thanks Jefromi, read your question on the other post and hopefully they will look into it. I have looked around but there is a chuck of stuff still missing (as you would expect from a new app) I.e. The ability to edit your profile name (I don't want to be user7829, I am not a number, I am a free man!) and I have noticed that there isn't a way to pick a 'correct' answer like I have noticed on some questions.
    – user7829
    Feb 15, 2014 at 19:10
  • @Jefromi I mentioned this in a comment to the answer - I already posted such a question there when I asked this one, I will flag yours as a duplicate there and tell the mods to decide which formulation they prefer to keep, mine or yours
    – rumtscho Mod
    Feb 15, 2014 at 19:27

1 Answer 1


I just took a look at the app and I indeed can't find the sources you need there. I don't know if they are not there, of if they are hidden somewhere I didn't think of looking, but either way, I can imagine that it is hard for somebody new to the network to find them.

If you visit the web site at cooking.stackexchange.com, you will see a "help" menu in the top bar (look at the place I marked yellow):

enter image description here

(you will probably not have the "mod" and "review" menus, you need to be moderator for the first and have enough reputation for the second).

The menu has three options:

enter image description here

  • "Tour" will mostly teach you how a Question-and-answer site works (as opposed to a discussion forum). It will give you information on the only-one-question-with-many-answers format, voting and such. It is very short and basic.

  • "Help center" is more specialized. It has short articles on what is on-topic, what closing reasons there are, what style of answer tends to be upvoted by the community, and similar. It is close to what other sites would put in a FAQ or knowledge base.

  • "Meta" is a second site dedicated to discussing stuff not about cooking, but about the cooking site itself. It uses the same question-and-answer format as the main site, but the scope (the rules about what is on-topic) is different.

Meta is used in different ways. People who don't understand something specific can ask here for help. If you find a bug, you can also report it here. It is also used for discussions within the community, for example decisions what to do with "grey zone" questions which are not forbidden in the on-topic list, but tend to get the requisite five community close votes to get closed.

This is a bit similar to a country's legislature. There is a compilation of all laws (similar to our help center articles), but if you want to know how each detail is handled, you need to know what court decisions have there been in the past (our Meta threads are an analogue to them).

But don't worry. We don't expect new users to have read the whole of Meta; most existing users have not. Reading the Help center is encouraged, but also not completely necessary.

One thing you should understand is that what we are doing is not about punishment. Closing questions, deleting answers and downvoting has the goal to keep the site content the way we want it to be, not to punish users who have created "wrong" content. I know that it feels very unpleasant when it happens to you personally, but if you manage to get a degree of detachment, you will notice that it is not that bad when it happens. If you use the site in a way it is not intended to (for example, ask an off-topic question, or leave an answer which does not address the question), all that happens is that we stop this use and tell you what you did wrong. There are no punishments or reprecussions beyond that, there are no black marks on your record (OK, downvoting reduces your reputation a bit - but you only lose 2 rep per downvote, and a single upvote gains you 10 reputation). There is nothing personal in these measures; I may even delete your not-on-topic answer on one question, and a minute later upvote your answer to another one. Everybody makes mistakes (moderators and high-reputation users included); when we do it, the community reverts your action (deletions by moderators are often based on flags cast by members), and everybody moves on.

Asking about the way we are doing things already makes you different from the crowd who bitches that the rules are stupid because they didn't expect them to apply to their question. Thank you for doing it, and for your willingness to learn about our ways. I hope that the existing material will help you, but if you find something you still don't understand, you can ask here on Meta, or more informal in chat. Note that chat has no on-topic rules, and if you have a question of the type not allowed on the main page, you can get advice in chat on it. The downside is that you will only be speaking to the few chat regulars, not getting all the eyeballs present on the main site.

  • Thank you rumtscho. I suspected that it may be to do with the fact I am using the app. Later today I will get on the site and take a look at the stuff you have advised. It seems that the app is a continuation of the site and maybe it would have been better if I had started on the site and then moved to the app. I really appreciate your response.
    – user7829
    Feb 15, 2014 at 14:01
  • The app is less than a month old, so I guess they still haven't ironed out all details. I posted a description of your case on Meta Stackoverflow (a place like this, but for our mother site Stack Overflow, which is read by the developers) and I hope they will find a solution which integrates a visible help link into the app.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Feb 15, 2014 at 14:05
  • re: the punishment part. I think that most people (on SA anyway) are also pretty good about explaining close votes, etc. I frequently see comments along the lines of "This is currently off topic, but if you can modify it to x, we'll leave it open." Everyone wants the best possible questions and answers to be here!
    – SourDoh
    Feb 15, 2014 at 16:30
  • @user7829 I think rumtscho covered the important things, but I just want to add that we moderators aren't just self-declared. We were elected by users, and we're responsible to you. You can always call us out here on meta, or in chat, if you feel we've done something wrong. Also keep in mind, a lot of "moderation" is not done by mods - as you gain reputation the site will let you do more things, like voting to close questions.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 15, 2014 at 18:01
  • @user7829 Oh, and to provide a brief understanding of the rules for what questions we take: we like specific, answerable ones! We don't like ones with a ton of possible answers that'll turn into popularity contests or big unproductive debates.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Feb 15, 2014 at 18:04
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    Yeah about the mods being self declared I think this comes back to me only using Stack Exchange through the app, since posting this question I have noticed the symbols next to people's names but nowhere on the app does it say what these denote. Can I add a thank you to the commenters, I was worried that my question may come across as rude but the help you guys have given me is awesome. Thanks again.
    – user7829
    Feb 15, 2014 at 19:16

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