My question was closed. :) Hahaha. Okay, so no offense taken. I get it. List questions are not real questions. I read the standards on meta, and realize (1) list questions can be lengthy/clutter up the forum, and (2) closing is a semi-democratic process as is re-opening.

However, one thing confuses me. What's the point? Plenty of people found my question above productive. I was personally very engaged as the answer meant a lot to me. In fact on other SE sites, I usually end up learning a lot from "list questions."

In 1 day, my question received 6 upvotes, 9 answers, 40-some comments, and 180 views. And ironically, one of the close votes came from a moderator who was actively answering and commenting on the question. :-) The dialogue was productive. The information was helpful.

So the suggestion is this: if this sort of question is considered clutter, then:

  1. Add a mechanism to tag questions as "lists"
  2. Enable people to filter their searches if need be
  3. Hide "lists" from appearing in the "Similar Questions" panel

Any measure seems better than closing a popular and useful question. And isn't a half-answered list question more clutter than a "fully-resolved" [sic :)] one?

PS. So that you guys know I did my homework, here's the related reading:

Are book recomendations considered on topic?

3 Answers 3


We close questions for the following reasons:

  • Exact Duplicate (Question is an exact (or very close) match to another question on this site)
  • Off Topic (does not belong on this site, may find a home somewhere else)
  • Not Constructive (fairly vague, but does not meet our quality standards in some way)
  • Not a Real Question (inspires too much discussion, will dissolve into a list, or just plain isn't actually a question (Shopping questions/Book Recs go here))
  • Too Localized (does not reach a large enough people group to be considered on topic)

Your question was closed as being "Not a real question" it already had two close votes on it when I came across it and it quite clearly was not a fit for our system.

It could be argued that a question with some upvotes, answers and views is probably a good question. However, some of those things are actually a sign of a bad question. Look at Stack Overflow in the past few years they have started to delete a lot of questions that were formerly some of the highest voted/most answered on their site because ultimately they were not constructive questions.

One of the signs of a bad question is a lot of comments and a lot of answers. This likely means that the question is either too general or scoped too broadly to really be useful. A lot of those questions do manage to stay open by either being narrowed, more clearly scoped or just because they have ridden close enough to the line without going over it.

In this particular case, book recommendation questions, much like shopping questions are pretty much universally off topic across the Stack Exchange network (there are some exceptions, but they are rare and very special cases). This question while slightly different falls prey to the exact same pitfalls that book and shopping questions falls to. There are too many answers, the pool of answers is likely to change quickly and ultimately its up to a personal choice.

  • Yea, it was probably an egocentric idea to bring my list question up as the example. My point of coming over here to meta was to get some brainstorming going on how to deal with list questions while avoiding the pitfalls. But that's way beyond my expertise and potentially beyond your market space. Thanks for the time to write this post!
    – Kyle
    Jan 24, 2012 at 6:35
  • Hahaha! I just thought of something. You can get the badge "Nice Question" w/ 10+ votes. So I was close to having a "Nice Question" that was technically a "Bad Question!" +1 for Relativism.
    – Kyle
    Jan 24, 2012 at 6:37
  • @Emile indeed. Honestly its definitely OK to ask on meta why a question was closed, either specifically or generally. As for list questions more generally, they are almost always a bad fit for SE sites. They are much better suited to a blog (something we can do if there is community support).
    – wax eagle
    Jan 24, 2012 at 12:28

You have to understand that StackExchange is a different kind of site than you might find elsewhere on the internet. Specifically it is not a forum or discussion board. The purpose of questions is not to drum up attention by being engaging or provocative. In fact questions that are particularly engaging or provocative are often specifically discouraged.

For example the question you linked to garnered 9 answers in 1 day. On a site where expert level questions can take a couple weeks to garner a good answer, that is a pretty sure sign that the question was not a good match for the SE format. Questions should be answerable. In other words: some expert should be able to come along with an answer that puts the matter to rest. After a few really good answers, every visitor that comes along should not feel the need to add their 2c to the chain. Questions that quickly garner lots of answers are probably more opinion based than fact based and the participation demonstrates that they are questions for discussion rather than questions with answers.

Such questions can be actively detrimental to the site in that they attract lots of attention from non-experts (anybody with an opinion) which in turn makes the environment less attractive to actual experts. Closing such questions helps focus the site on the specific niche that the SE format is good at. Some closures can be resolved with some editing work to focus the question, others will just never be suitable for SE.

In other words, there is at least one kind of popularity that is a contraindication of suitability on this site.

If you want to see a mechanism for these kind of questions inside the SE network somewhere, you should make a case for it on the main meta, but don't say I didn't warn you that it probably won't go over very well unless you make a really good case for how they can be handled separately from other kinds of questions without detracting from the benefits of the focused format.


Guilty as charged :)

In reality, the reason I voted to close was because it was a list question, just like you said. (Its actually the first VTC I've ever cast!) I figured if I caught myself being guilty, it would somehow expunge my guilt...

My reasoning was that Joel's answer is technically the "right" one, and I'm hoping to see it get more and more votes. By allowing too many answers, I'm afraid none of the answers will be read...

  • Haha. Well, I wasn't trying to point fingers. More that I like lists and I like SE. Wish the technology would allow for it somehow. You know the "Ten Commandments" was a list?...haha. I don't agree with Joel. There's a personality type that's definitely drawn to lit (i.e., mine). Either way, you saved me. I need to get off SE and back to my real job. God works in mysterious ways... ;)
    – Kyle
    Jan 22, 2012 at 5:40
  • Closing a question because the "right" answer has already shown up is never an acceptable reason. Closure isn't a way of marking a question as "finished". It pulls the question out of the cross-site linking stuff (reduced promotion) and puts it on a course for deletion. Closed questions (with the exception of duplicates) that cannot be edited into shape as real questions will all eventually be deleted. While that reasoning is invalid, the flood of answers you expect is indicative of another problem which is a valid reason to close: bike shed questions.
    – Caleb
    Jan 24, 2012 at 10:42
  • Lesson learned. I'll do better next time. Thanks! Jan 24, 2012 at 18:38

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