A recent question of mine got quickly migrated to maths.SE, partly for being mathsy and partly for being a big-list question. I'm not contesting the fact, but I must say that - having been warned by the tag description that these questions are discouraged - I looked in both the FAQ and this meta for specific guidelines and reasons for the policy, to no avail.

Shouldn't the FAQ have a specific section on this? The policy on it should surely be immediately available by searching "big list" on both the FAQ and this meta, right?

  • $\begingroup$ I suggested to migrate the question partly to take it out of the fireline, because people here just wanted to close it and on math they are more tolerant. $\endgroup$
    – Dilaton
    Feb 8, 2013 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


The policy on it should surely be immediately available by searching "big list" on both the FAQ and this meta, right?

No. While it is convenient, there isn't any reason the policy has to be available by searching for a particular keyword. And if there was, it wouldn't be "big list." The thing to search for would probably be "list question," and you'd probably get results by doing it on Meta Stack Overflow.

As for why these questions are not allowed, here are some clues:

Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.


To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ______?”
  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?”

But ultimately, the reason they're not allowed is that they break the Stack Exchange model. List questions are junk food for the site, in a way; they tend to be popular and attract a lot of attention, but they don't provide a basis for judging the correctness of answers (so the voting system is wasted on them) and they never really end, thus drawing attention away from other, better questions.

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    $\begingroup$ OK, those are fair enough reasons. I disagree with your first point, though: policy should be clearly spelt out and well backed-up by the reasons for it in clearly publicly accessible places, particularly as other SE sites (e.g. maths.se), as well as (the not unrelated) MO do allow them. It does no harm to specifically discourage list questions in the FAQ (and provide a link to it in the big-list description!), and it can only lead to less breaches of these invisible rules. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2013 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, I wasn't advocating secret policies that are not written out anywhere. What I said was that you can't always expect to find all policies relevant to a particular situation by searching for one specific keyword. All this stuff is recorded on Meta Stack Exchange, you just have to put in a little effort when searching (or ask for help tracking it down). As for list questions, some other SE sites allow them, sometimes for historical reasons, but some don't. We're not obligated to follow Mathematics as a model. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Feb 8, 2013 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Incidentally, the tag wiki for big-list actually does explicitly say list questions are no longer allowed. I'm not sure what could be clearer than that. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Feb 8, 2013 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ A paragraph on the FAQ saying so, and explaining the reasons this site has for disallowing them. That could be clearer. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2013 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ I mention math.se as a comparison because it means that searches in the mother meta, even though they do give reasons are not necessarily relevant as different SE sites have different policies. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2013 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ And finally, I fail to see the distinction between rules that are written down but not on the rulebook and invisible, secret policies. It is in the interest of this site to make policy as up-front clear as possible. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2013 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ My point was that including in the FAQ that list questions are not allowed and linking to it from the big-list tag wiki is less efficient than saying in the tag wiki itself that such questions are not allowed, which is what we do. We're not able to edit that part of the FAQ in any case. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Feb 9, 2013 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavsky it's not "less efficient" for the new user asking the question. If the policy is in the tag wiki then you're unlikely to see it until you've already written the question and are choosing what tags to use. (And "big-list" isn't necessarily even something you'd think of in that situation, it's usually added later by someone else.) The FAQ is what we can expect people to read before posting, and there is absolutely no disadvantage to making it clear about these kind of policy issues. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Mar 3, 2013 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavsky although we can't edit later sections of the FAQ, there's no problem with putting it under "what sorts of questions should I not ask here?" $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Mar 3, 2013 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel yes, that's the part we can't edit. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Mar 3, 2013 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavsky oops, I meant the "Some kinds of questions should not be asked here" section of question 1. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Mar 3, 2013 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ Since this is becoming more of a resource (and you yourself cite it), I have a few comments that were left unaddressed. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2013 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ First of all, this answer confuses "user behaviour" with "mistake". Policy and its explanation should be accessible in every reasonable place users would look; it is a fundamental design mistake to assume users must adequate their use of a product to its design, and not the other way around. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2013 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ Secondly, I must note that searching "list question" and "big list" in meta.so does not turn up relevant results easily, so that reference is out of place in a canonical answer. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2013 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ Third, if this is to become a canonical answer to "why don't we like list questions", it could do with some heavy polishing, and ideally not refer to the abstract "Stack Exchange model" without a specific list of reasons why we don't like it. Or better still, drop this one and make good list, bad list the canonical answer. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2013 at 13:33

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