Seems like a lot (most?) badly received / asked questions can be really improved with a few suggestions. And there is the will there to help the wording of questions.

So there should be something which encourages this?

  • 4
    People do earn reputation points for making good edits to questions. And that incentive is well-advertised. So the encouragement is there. I'm not very active here on Phil.se, but on my stacks I'd personally prefer to see more question-askers take a proactive approach to reading and responding to comments by editing their own questions. I've seen one or two askers on my sites (not here) try to shift the burden of asking a good, clear, well-presented question to other people in the community, and that rubs me the wrong way.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 29, 2015 at 15:52
  • @DanBron i agree with that... i do think that a couple of helpful etc. comments can usually make all the different tho :)
    – user6917
    Aug 29, 2015 at 15:57

1 Answer 1


Coming from other SE sites, the only benefit to editing is the gain in reputation points and presumable the knowledge that you've helped the community by improving its content if that's something that matters to you.

On the other hand, if a question is seriously flawed, many people won't bother to save it, simply because it's time consuming, in some cases takes guessing what the questioner actually means, and then there's always the possibility that the original poster will get angry and revert all your edits to their apparently perfect literary work (I know you've commented on questions to say that you're always willing to edit questions to improve them - which is great! - but only a very small number of people who use the site will remember your name in the first place no matter how much you post). As a result, it's simpler to recommend a closure under the already pretty clearly-defined rules and hope that the user re-submits a better one. This is not to be taken as an insult, simply a statement that the question isn't really a good fit for the site in its current state.

This is how SE works, for better or for worse: There is a small benefit for helping improve things, but ultimately the reward is small enough that after a point people will not bother and instead rely on you to improve it if you want answers.

The question then becomes how to avoid people thinking that a question is beyond being worth saving. In my experience, things that can certainly help with avoiding the most common closures (without wanting to re-write the whole SE posting guidelines) are:

Have a clear title

Sounds pretty simple, but you're not trying to write a bestselling paperback or a tabloid news article where you want to be flowery, thought-provoking or witty in the title. If you can summarize the question in a single sentence, then put the question in the title (with a question mark!) and re-iterate and explain it in the question body. Otherwise, a general but descriptive topic-header such as "A question on Berkeley's Philosophy of Mind" and then the question stated below should be sufficient. The question isn't just for you - you want other people to easily find the question at a later date if the have a similar question or if they remembered an interesting point raised in the answers, and a descriptive title is incredibly important like this. I've seen great questions get almost completely overlooked because from the title it looks as though the question is going to be poorly-written, vaguely worded, not relevant or something of the sort.

Make the question answerable

Philosophy.SE, isn't a particularly good place for questions abut broad philosophical concepts or questions in general - "What is the meaning of life?" and "Is it true that we can't know if the world around us is real?" can't be answered in the way that SE expects but instead generates discussion (and SE isn't designed for discussion beyond the chat, which I don't use). Instead changing the central question can fix this in most cases - "Are there philosophers who think that life has no meaning?" (Answer, yes, and then you'll get a list of positions on that), or "Has there been any refutation to Descartes' inability to prove that the world around us is real?" are both much more answerable, because the answers are facts.

EDIT: One thing I always try to do with my questions is to finish the explanation with a (re-) statement of the question in bold at the end of the more in-depth description in the question body. That way, even if most of what I've written there isn't answerable, the question at the end is and so I can at least get some related information.

Make it within the scope of the site

Sounds pretty simple, but with only a few exceptions where there are significant overlap (e.g. Mathematics and Logic where the same things are taught in only very slightly different ways), you need to make sure that the question isn't more appropriate for another SE site or indeed another site in general (you could think of non-answerable as a sub-section of this). This is especially the case if you're not familiar with the existing philosophy in the area - a question you might think is about 'the philosophy of music' might in fact be more of a music question than a philosophical one.

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