I have questions I'd like to ask on SF&F, but the problem is they're list questions. Some are for my own reference, which means they are useful to me for my writing (which is my work). Others, at least that I'm thinking of at this point, are just about comic books because friends have been suggesting I take a look into that world. These include questions like:

  • Are there superheros that are created or gain powers through their own desire, instead of being born with them or having them forced on them?
  • What are the more common tropes seen in the origin stories of superheros? (A result of modifying the first question.)
  • Are there any superheros without angst or who enjoy what they do?
  • Are there instances of Vulcans initiating armed combat?

In some cases questions like these are to find out if there's a rule (for example, Vulcans are pacifists, so does that mean they never start a conflict?).

I discussed this issue with a moderator in chat and what came out of that was that if it could be answered with a short list in one answer, it's not a list question, but if it can be answered with a number of answers, each with one or more items on a list, and encourages multiple answers to amend any lists, then it's a list question.

How can a question like the ones above, where limited examples are all that is needed, or the goal is to find out if there are exceptions to a rule, how can that question be asked in a manner that makes it something other than a list question?

  • 6
    You discussed this with a narrator in chat? Did he describe the chat as it was going on?
    – user1027
    Jan 26, 2012 at 15:14
  • Thanks, Keen. Without going into details, word substitution is part of a learning disability that I usually monitor, but every now and then I use the wrong noun or pronoun or proper name and am unable to perceive that I did, even with proof-reading (unless I proof it after I've forgotten what I would have intended to say). In some ways it's frustrating, but at times, like this, it can be comical.
    – Tango
    Jan 27, 2012 at 8:14

2 Answers 2


Pretending that a list question isn't a list question isn't a good idea.

With your examples, I'm pretty sure that the first would survive (especially if the question made it very clear that if the answer is "yes", then one or two definitive examples suffice). The second one would certainly be closed.

Unfortunately (IMO) even if there are a short list in one answer, that's still off-topic. This was discussed at great length when setting the on-topic list for the FAQ. Many such questions (not all, because if you didn't have you generally escaped the great purge) have been not just closed but also deleted.

I think the best way to fix this would be to push for a reconsideration whether this type of question is on-topic. When the topics were added to the FAQ, it had a positive vote count, but wasn't included because it was controversial (apparently, although there's only one down vote) and because it didn't have many votes either way (because it was added to that meta post late to try and establish that there are different types of questions that involve a "list" of some type, when most people were thoroughly sick of the "what's on topic" debate).

  • Actually, that first one is pretty close to one that gote one vote-to-close, then was closed by a moderator. But, working with the rules as they are, it seems almost impossible to ask, for example a question like, "Is there any exception to this rule?"
    – Tango
    Jan 26, 2012 at 9:16
  • 1
    @TangoOversway I fought as hard as I could to get an agreement to keep this type of question on topic, but I lost. If the community consensus has changed, then IMO that would be great. But I think the solution is accepting that these questions are ok that will solve the problem, not re-wording to get around the issue.
    – Tony Meyer
    Jan 26, 2012 at 9:31
  • I don't think the consensus necessarily changed (no evidence for or against), but there definitely is a non-empty portion of the community that feels that classification and/or especially "exception to the rule" questions should NOT be on-topic even if they are technically "list". though I agree that they require grater than usual amount of effort from being bad Qs Jan 26, 2012 at 16:28

The key here is that you want to prompt people to give examples to back up their answers. Something not unlike citations and references.

Before that, you'll want to nugget down the question to its true core.

Instead of asking if there are common tropes, ask about the template they all start from. That way you understand what the basis is. A great answer on that will show where it may deviate by mentioning a few where they don't take to the template or modify it in someway.

It's going to be hard to ask about non-specific titles as that falls to the way of a list of lists question. The more specific you can be about what you're analysing, the greater chance of steering it away from a list generator.

Given too that the activity in the chat room is busier now with more users, recommendations or asking for things to try out in a new franchise might not fall on deaf ears.

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