I've been puzzled by a slew of downvotes, and I think the issue is that I am writing to someone who might be able to answer the question. Rather than to a reader who doesn't know the answer, but might stumble upon it.

Perhaps when asking you should take the attitude that the reader doesn't just need the question explained, but the subject too. i.e. assume they know nothing.

Is that right? If so, it would be helpful.

2 Answers 2


You do not need to assume zero preliminary knowledge of the reader. You ask a question to get it answered - you need to be helped in the first place. This means that you can assume that the reader has at least as much knowledge on the topic as you do (otherwise he cannot answer).

However, it should be clear to the reader what knowledge you have, so that he can explain it on your level, adding or leaving out details that may (not) be needed for you, specifically. When asking a question, keep in mind that the person you're asking cannot look into your head - this is even more so on the internet.

Ideally, questions are useful for people searching later, but this is not the primary goal. (SE used to have a 'too localized' close reason for questions that were not going to help anyone else, but it has been removed a couple of years ago.)

  • that's interesting but can you explain these downvotes otherwise philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/37835/…
    – user6917
    Commented Sep 25, 2016 at 17:17
  • @MATHEMETICIAN no, sorry. I don't have the time to speculate over every downvote of yours.
    – user2953
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 6:57
  • and i'm obviously not asking you to
    – user6917
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 15:03
  • hey, i think you're right in fact, though it's not obvious how to do what you suggest. sorry for aggressively demanding more feedback, it was very stupid of me :)
    – user6917
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 5:28

I think you should always keep the larger audience in mind when posting in ANY public location on the internet.

On SE in particular, I think both questions and answers serve a pedagogical function. A question should not be an excuse for a lecture, but at least minimal context, ideally with links, should be provided for the benefit of the reader. And any question that is not written as clearly and as neutrally as possible will inevitably be downvoted (rightly or wrongly).

You're also more likely to get high-quality, relevant answers that way. Even experts don't like to work to puzzle out your intent.

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