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This is related to this meta-question about asking questions if you haven't read/watched the source material, but in reverse.

I don't think most people would be completely familiar with all the different aspects of Science Fiction and Fantasy, but would be pretty good at searching online resources and coming up with an answer based on their research.

Is it okay/permitted/allowed to answer a question if you are not familiar with the source material? Or is it frowned upon, and best practice is to rather allow someone who is well versed in the source material to answer?

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Yes, absolutely you can.

There's zero prerequisite that you've watched. read (or even heard of) a property before you can answer questions on it. The only warning I'd give is that you need to make damn sure that when you answer, you double-check a few things;

  • Am I answering questions about the right property?

    As a non-expert, the sheer plethora of available sources can be quite bewildering. Is the OP talking about the film, the book or the graphic novel. If they want to know about the film, which film? From which film series? Do they mean the original film series or the reboot?

  • How sure am I that my answer is solid?

    Unless you're 100% certain that your answer covers the question asked, there's a very good chance that you're giving incomplete information. That's not a bad thing since partial answers need love too but do be aware that your answer might be supplanted (or even contradicted) by an answer from an actual expert.


There's not a single user on the site who's an expert in everything. A lot of the time the asker may well be the person who knows the most about a work but that doesn't preclude someone with some talent for search finding the answer to their question on a blog post, a twit or a script.

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Sure.

It's absolutely possible to research and write up a good answer about something you've never read/watched. (For instance, I have a score of over 700 in the Star Wars tag despite never having seen any of the films or consumed any of the supplementary material.) But you need to be careful, because it's also possible to embarrass yourself by missing something that would be glaringly obvious to anyone who's read/watched the work in question. I suggest the following caveats:

  • Be confident. If you think your answer might work but you're not really sure, it's probably best to leave it to someone who's more of a subject matter expert.
  • Avoid plot questions. Out-of-universe or behind-the-scenes questions are often answerable just as easily regardless of whether or not you're actually familiar with the work being asked about: anyone can Google up the appropriate quote or interview. In-universe questions are more dangerous: without knowing the story, it's much easier to not take account of something obvious or simply to have no clue about the answer.

Examples of things that might be answerable without knowledge of the work in question:

  • "Is there a canonical map of [region]?"
  • "Why did [actor] leave [show]?"
  • "Has [author] ever revealed what happened to [character]?"

Examples of things more likely to require knowledge of the work in question:

  • "Why did [character] do [thing]?"
  • "What would have happened if [event]?"
  • "Why is [thing] true, in-universe?"
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  • Was hoping to see some examples (even if invented) of the ludicrous answers that might arise from not knowing something that's obvious to actual watchers/readers. That would have been entertaining. :) – Wildcard Aug 7 '17 at 22:25
  • @Wildcard: "What if the ST: TNG writers had come up with a good Wesley episode?" - to which the correct answer is "They did, but it was too little, too late." A wrong answer would claim that Wesley was an inherently terrible and irredeemable character, which is clearly belied by that episode. – Kevin Aug 17 '17 at 4:13

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