17
$\begingroup$

This has been bothering me for a while, and I'd like to speak up about it. I see, with a much higher frequency than I would like, comments that look, with rather little variation, like

This question seems like a list question.

and which say nothing else at all. I would like to argue that these comments do not do anyone any good and they should not be posted at all.

Presumably the intention behind these comments is to initiate a closure procedure on the question they're posted under. To some extent, the description offered by the comment tends to be accurate, in the sense that they are indeed generally posted under list-based questions, but the (bare) implication that this means that they should be closed immediately is not. List-based questions can be on-topic on this site, which means that identifying a given question as list-based is not an ipso facto reason for closing it.

Now, there are indeed a bunch of good reasons why list-based questions are often such a bad fit for our format that the only reasonable thing to do them is to close them. These include:

  • Many list-based questions are little more than junk food: they appeal to a broad userbase ('many users enjoy them') but the actual content they invite is quite low. They therefore invite many answers along the lines of "ooooooh, I've got one too" that add very little to the debate.
  • They tend to be phrased in a way that invites contributions that are short / shallow / undescriptive, and this lowers the quality of the responses that show up.
  • They have a particularly long half-life, staying on the front page for weeks and popping back up for months, thus taking attention away from newer content.
  • Because they have a broad possible answer-space, most answers will either be too long or incomplete; this isn't fatal but it is a bad fit for our format.
  • The existence of multiple equally-valid answers puts our voting system into a bit of a tailspin, and it makes its usage for sorting and validation much less useful.

Now, here is the important thing: we don't close list questions because they are list questions. We close them because of the reasons I stated above (or some suitable superset).

This then brings me to why a comment that says "This question seems like a list question" (and nothing else) is so noxious. The role of comments in Stack Exchange is to help clarify and improve the post they comment on, and that comment does nothing to help the OP (who will very often be quite new to the site) understand why their question might be problematic and how they could improve it to make it a better fit for the site.

In fact, that comment is a good deal worse than empty: the only thing that it really accomplishes is serve as a rallying cry. "Here", says the comment, "I've thought about this and I've come to the conclusion that it should be closed so you should vote to close it too" -- without even bothering to explain why the question should actually be closed, either to reviewers, other prospective closevoters, the OP, or future visitors. It is very little more than an attempt to shut down the debate.

So, say you've found a list question which you think should be closed, and you're itching to leave a scathing comment. What should you post other than just the self-styled-kiss-of-death "this is a list question" not-actually-an-argument zinger? Well, why not actually explain (from the reasons above, or otherwise) why you think this particular list question should be closed? That does have the seeming disadvantage that you'd have to think a bit before you close down someone else's discussion - but in this context that is a Good Thing.

So: explain what you mean, or at the very least link somewhere appropriate. Explain to the OP why their question is not a great fit for the site, and point them to a resource that tells them how they can improve it.

In particular, I think the canonical place to go is the meta thread Good list, bad list, which makes a pretty solid show of consensus that not all list questions should be closed, and explains the things to avoid and how those differ from the things to shoot for.

$\endgroup$
  • 29
    $\begingroup$ This question seems like a "this question seems like a list question" question. $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Feb 12 '18 at 20:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I know I personally try to explain what is wrong with it when I say "This looks like a list question."; but realistically, how many users are only saying "This seems like a list question."? I don't see it very often. Is this a realistic issue? It doesn't seem any worse to me than downvoting and VTC without a comment, for example. It's not particularly helpful, so I see no real reason to keep the comments; but I don't think they are really antagonizing either. Just pointless; because if you VTC you would need to pick a better reason than that anyways. $\endgroup$ – JMac Feb 12 '18 at 21:04
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @JMac They are consistent enough, and from users who should really know better, that I do think this is an ongoing problem. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 12 '18 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose the "consensus" you're citing is that Nathaniel's post is highly voted on and not based on the two answers by mods, both of which say pretty much no to list based questions (though Manish's post is way more about resource rec's than lists, he does certainly say I'm not really sure how to make these work. when talking about lists). $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 13 '18 at 11:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My personal least favorite is when the question is something like "is X possible at all?", "does Y ever happen?" and it's just closed as a big list. That's literally the least helpful thing to do. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Feb 13 '18 at 11:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A lot of 'list questions' are actually just confused conceptual questions. For example, "how can particles be created or destroyed?" shouldn't be closed as a list, it should be answered conceptually, i.e. by showing how particle creation is natural and ubiquitous in QFT. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Feb 13 '18 at 11:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Every post on that thread contains a version of "general list questions can be on topic, if they're posed correctly", with (partial) indications of why the bad ones are bad and how to step around that to write a good one, and the highest vote load is on the question, which goes further along on those lines. I don't see how you could possibly extract anything like "site policy is that all list questions are off-topic" from the Good-list-bad-list thread. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 13 '18 at 16:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ ... but, in any case: even if it were the case (which it isn't) that all list questions were off-topic, comments of the type "this is a list question" still serve no one. The only way they could begin to be helpful is if they linked to a canonical still-current site-policy meta thread that said that list questions are indeed off-topic, in which case OP and newer reviewers would be able to follow up and understand the site policy better. If you don't provide such a link, then you need to make the case for the implications of your observations then and there. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 13 '18 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty not every post, as dmckee's post suggests we close them all; his 'support' for it would be if the community decided to allow them (which I don't believe has happened). One can easily peruse the help pages were it still says questions in which every answer is equally valid are off-topic (which would include list based ones). $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 13 '18 at 16:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos dmckee's answer expresses a personal disagreement with the consensus as well as clear and useful rules for how to make general list questions (i.e. explicitly not limited to res-rec lists) work with our engine. There is a clear consensus that the SE dictum as embodied in the help center (which are always guidelines) is too narrow for this community and needs to be taken with a good bit of nuance instead of literally. There just isn't a community mandate to close all list questions no matter what. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 13 '18 at 18:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (But, again, even if there were, then the comment as quoted with the veiled threat and no link is still inappropriate: it is not useful, abrasive, and ultimately quite rude. Add a link or an explanation, or don't comment at all.) $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 13 '18 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ There is no policy that says we should leave all list based question open, but there's strong indication such questions are off-topic, as expressed in the link you give and the Help Center and that they could be in topic if phrased differently. You vote how you want on them, but I don't think we're going to change either ones mind about it. As for the comment you're complaining about, I have been adding why list based questions are considered off-topic for some time, so you're barking up the wrong tree here. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Feb 13 '18 at 19:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I'm not asking you to change how you vote (I mean, ultimately I am, but that's not what I want to bring up in this specific thread), I'm asking you instead not to leave useless and abrasive comments when you do vote to close. You're perfectly entitled to VTC list questions that you consider too broad - but you're not doing so under an overarching kill-with-prejudice site policy, you're doing so under a policy that includes a collective judgement call of whether specific instances are too broad or not. So, reference the latter and not the former. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 13 '18 at 19:17
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I'm addressing you directly here because historically you've written many of these useful-to-no-one comments (many now deleted). I can't and won't speak to your recent commenting history, and if you've since moved away from the practice, then good for you! and we can drop this here. (But in that case I do wonder why you're spontaneously jumping in front of a bus to defend a commenting practice which is frankly indefensible. But then again people do weird things all the time, too.) $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 13 '18 at 19:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Indeed, this kind of comment coming from a moderator is a major part of why I think this needs addressing. I'm glad you agree with me that the comment lacks substance. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 13 '18 at 19:28
-7
$\begingroup$

This post seems like a list question is a standard comment that I have been using in lack of better to bring attention when a question has no unique answer, and fits poorly into the SE Q&A format in its current form.

The comment is not meant as a full explanation, and there is often no time for that. (It would be good if someone could crystallize the entire good-list-bad-list discussion so that it fits in a single comment!)

Writing nothing is not an ideal option.

In practice, other users step in and help with explanation, reviewing, and suggesting how the post could be improved.

$\endgroup$
  • 15
    $\begingroup$ This seems like bad practice to me. Wouldn't reasons like "The question has no unique answer and fits poorly into the SE format" be far more clear than just saying "This post seems like a list question"? This way the user at least knows you think that it isn't a good fit; and they also have some reason in the SE policy why it's not a good fit. Telling them it's a list question doesn't even let them know they need to take action. Comments are to ask for more information or suggest improvements; not state facts about how the question appears. $\endgroup$ – JMac Feb 17 '18 at 15:45
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I think a lot of users read that comment and take away the message that the moderators reflexively and uncritically shut down certain questions for not obeying some secret set of arbitrary unlisted rules, so the users get discouraged and stop using the site. I respectfully suggest that this comment is damaging to the site and request that you stop using it without further elaboration tailored to the specific question. $\endgroup$ – tparker Feb 17 '18 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Mentioning the fact that the comment “This is a list question” is informative to the poster in that it points that user to the established common problems with such questions (and listed in this question) might improve this answer. $\endgroup$ – Dave Feb 18 '18 at 3:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How about: "This post seems like a list question, as it has no unique answer, so it fits poorly into this site's Q&A format"? If supplemented with a link to a suitable resource, that'd start clearing the usefulness bar. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 19 '18 at 11:41
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ As to "in practice, other users step up", that is not an argument for the usefulness of the comment, particularly with fresh questions that are already in the front page and/or various review queues and which were going to get attention anyway. "Other people fix the problem" is not an excuse for not fixing the problem (and even less for adding a comment that serves no function beyond being a lightning rod for reflexive, shallow close-votes that are not well argumented and which do not help the OP improve their post). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 19 '18 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ @tparker discouraging the people responsible for the flood of terrible questions and stopping them coming to the site isn't by any means a bad thing. $\endgroup$ – hobbs Feb 20 '18 at 12:45
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ There's a huge difference between "This post seems like a list question." and "This post seems like a list question." You don't necessarily have to fully summarize the good-list-bad-list discussion in a single comment. This is the internet -- you can link it. The comment with the link is far better than the comment without a link. -- Ideally you could point out what the OP might change to make it a good list question, but pointing them to what the criteria is should be a bare minimum. $\endgroup$ – R.M. Feb 22 '18 at 20:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Computer Science SE has a meta post of useful canned comments. The comment for list questions links to a meta.se post about lists and a couple of CS meta discussions. It seems much more useful than just saying "This is a list question." $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 24 '18 at 0:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .