New users are often told they need to focus their question. It is one of the more difficult concepts for users to learn. The new user may feel their question does not need to be narrowed to one group or they take it personally or even feel that they and/or their perspective are being discriminated against.

How can we better communicate both the need for focus and provide an objective standard for it and how much focus a question needs?

Having an objective, well defined explanation will allow users, new and old, to be confident in asking and voting on questions. Attempts have been made to better define what focus or scope is, but I am not sure these do a good job of first communicating the need or rational behind the requirement.

  • Asking a good question is critical to the SE format working. (I had to learn that by trial and error in the first SE where I participated). Sep 19, 2016 at 21:48

1 Answer 1


Consider this statement:

  • All valid C.SE questions have one ideal correct answer.

This is a product of the Stack Exchange system. Only one answer can be selected for any one question. But this does not mean there cannot be multiple answers given to an answer that are correct, but are not the same quality.

What is an ideal correct answer?

An ideal correct answer is not an actual answer, but rather a hypothetical perfectly representative and factually verifiable answer. A Platonic ideal answer, if you will. Acceptable user submitted answers to a question will contain some (hopefully most) of the ideal.

Note that an ideal answer can represent multiple views, depending on the question. We cannot oversimplify this to only allow one perspective per an answer. Such as overview questions or instances where a good answer will point out variations on one minor point while the majority of the answer is a consensus. So this Ideal Answer is not singular in its perspective, but singular in the comprehensiveness and communication of its content. Only when the main thesis of one ideal answer is fundamentally different than another possible ideal answer do we have multiple ideal answers.

There can be only one

Now consider this statement:

  • A valid C.SE question cannot have more than one ideal correct answer.

After all, if there is more than one ideal answer that conflict with each other, then none is truly ideal for that question.

Defining "Too Broad"

Using this understanding we can simply say a question is "Too Broad" when it could be given multiple factually correct answers that disagree.

We are not asking users to limit their question. We are not asking users to pick favorites, one group over another. We are simply asking for the question to be narrowed until it only has one ideal answer.

Who decides what is ideal?

This is admittedly the human element that is always present. It will require reasonable judgement by the community to identify where there are clearly multiple possible ideal answers.


How can we clearly and consistently do this and communicate it to users?

Focus Flowchart


The final goal here is to get questions that are clearly focused enough that users that may answer can easily identify and work toward giving a singular ideal answer.

This is just my humble attempt to formalize what I see as a very nebulous and difficult idea for new users to quickly grasp, and a process which can be objectively applied to the very subjective questions this site involves by nature of it's topic. If you disagree with the fundamental philosophy behind my answer, please comment. If you have a criticism or suggestion for my application of this philosophy, also please comment. I am not trying to make a duplicate of other meta posts on this topic, but felt simply offering this answer to any one of the others would lose some of what I intended for it.

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    Many questions will not have an "ideal correct answer," but will have the potential for more than one excellent answer. Also, on this site, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant branches of Christianity are no more representative of Christianity as a whole than the Mormon, Swedenborgian, or Messianic Jewish branches are. So the flow chart starts out with a false premise about question scoping for this site. Sep 19, 2016 at 16:44
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    @LeeWoofenden As I say above, the ideal answer is not an actual answer. It is the ideal of what the perfect answer would be. If you don't think that concept is useful, that is fine, but as you have stated it I'm not sure you have understood what I mean. Are you familiar with Platonic ideal forms? And lastly, I sympathize with your second point, however, technically we can include Mormonism and Swedenborgianism within Protestantism simply by the fact that they Are not RCC or Orthodox. The chart was meant to be very pragmatic example. Is there a way I could better phrase the second box?
    – Joshua
    Sep 19, 2016 at 16:57
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    Swedenborgianism is not Protestant. Mormonism is not Protestant. Messianic Jews are not Protestant. Protestantism is not defined as "not Catholic or Orthodox." Protestantism has its own particular starting point, history, general doctrinal stance, and so on. Not all Christian churches are part of the three largest branches. Sep 19, 2016 at 17:09
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    Scoping must specify a particular denomination or group of Christians. Questions that ask "what do Christians believe about X?" are off topic because they are too broad. The scoping chart must start with identifying a particular denomination or group of Christians. Sep 19, 2016 at 17:11
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    And we're not dealing with Platonic ideals here. We're dealing with specific, embodied Christian groupings, and with the reality that even individual denominations are complex, and that therefore there is more than one useful angle from which to look at even a well-scoped question. Otherwise instead of voting up or down, we would just delete every answer but the one closest to the Platonic ideal. Sep 19, 2016 at 17:13
  • @LeeWoofenden I'm afraid you've possibly missed the point. Yes that is the normal way and it is incredibly subjective. I am trying to come at it from the other direction. If someone is asking about messianic Judaism...then it is already focused. I'm not trying to identify who the question is for. I'm trying to identify who can answer. And there needs to be only one that can answer.
    – Joshua
    Sep 19, 2016 at 17:15
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    I understand. I simply disagree with you. Sep 19, 2016 at 17:20
  • Joshua, as an SE this one deals with a "soft subject" rather than a "hard subject" like "what is the optimal set of lines of code for achieving X?" Within the constraints established, it's good, but let's not try to make Christianity SE something it's not: technical. It isn't. What it is is useful, providing we keep questions well scoped. IMO, that's always going to be an interactive process because of the variety of views and the many imbedded assumptions - to include what Lee has pointed out in comments. It took me a while to "grok" that point when I began here. Sep 19, 2016 at 21:53
  • All valid C.SE questions have one ideal correct answer. Nope. "all" and "ideal" are killing your premise. The Hive Mind/Voters are not purely objective on any SE, and even moreso on "soft" SEs. Sep 19, 2016 at 21:55
  • @KorvinStarmast Do you agree if a question can be given two quality answers that simply disagree entirely in their factually verifiable conclusions then it is not focused enough? Time after time users ask questions and mods and experiences users tell them "it needs to be more focused/scoped". Yes these are subjective humans, but the reasoning that because we are subjective we cannot or should not try to establish an objective standard is fallacious. All the more reason to try. 1) are you imposing absolute language where you tell me not to 2) are you understanding my meaning for ideal?
    – Joshua
    Sep 20, 2016 at 10:57
  • @KorvinStarmast Think of it another way. We have a no "truth" question rule here, yes? Yet we are supposed to be a factual Q&A about Christianity, yes? So a good question will only have one correct answer(as an idea not an actual submitted post). We as humans are going to try our best to post an answer that communicates that correct answer. If a question can be answered with factually correct answers that still disagree we are asking the user to not pick the correct one, we are now asking them to pick the true one. That's the line between focused and not focused.
    – Joshua
    Sep 20, 2016 at 11:26
  • To your first question in your first comment. No, I do not agree. When a question needs more scope there are so many things that it may need. The subjectivity I refer to is the voters, not the persons asking questions. The stack theory is that over time and with enough voters participating, the better answer will percolate to the top. That doesn't make a given answer "ideal" but better/best meets the SE standard. Regarding your hypothetical, I am not interested in the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. Sep 20, 2016 at 12:04
  • A good example of two answers that won't agree, but both can be right, is when a Catholic responds, and is OK with Vatican II, and another Catholic responds who, as a sedevacantist, is not OK with Vatican II, or parts of it. You can get two well grounded and well supported answers whose voting result will depend on how many in each Catholic internal faction responds, as well as how all other non Catholics respond. Neither answer will be ideal, however, though both may be good answers. Sep 20, 2016 at 12:07
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    @KorvinStarmast Please stop applying the term ideal answer to actual given answers. You are either misunderstanding the concept or ignoring it and making a straw man out of it. That is not what I am saying. The ideal answer in the scenario you gave would be a balanced answer that reflects all of what Catholics believe, Vatican II or not. The two given answers are just actual answers that only communicate part of what would be in the ideal. The scenario you have given is fine. Both answers are correct, just not complete. Please re-read my answer, particularly "What is an ideal answer?"
    – Joshua
    Sep 20, 2016 at 12:24
  • By that comment, you are tying an answer to a Truth statement. That isn't the objective of Christianity.SE. Why do you demand ideal? Good is good enough. If you go back to the KJV, "and it was good" was the standard God set for Creation. Beyond that, your flow chart is just plain wrong, as Lee pointed out. The opening question is "I have something I want answered" but your initial entry is not correct. Initial question is what denomination believes this? That requires research before asking a question: an SE requirement. Scope 101. Sep 20, 2016 at 12:32

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