It's easy to find information that will tell site users that questions that attract opinion-based answers are bad ("good subjective bad subjective", the tour ("Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers."), "where do we draw the line on opinion based questions", etc.

It seems like an obvious corollary to me that answers should be objective and provide supporting evidence, but (getting meta-meta for a minute here) I don't see anywhere I can point to for a reference to back up that opinion. The tour says you should answer well-asked questions, should provide context for links, etc., but nowhere does it say explicitly that you should back up your answer with concrete evidence, or what kinds of evidence are allowed/preferred.

The closest I can find is this, from "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective":

Back It Up! means that your answers must be based on either: [1] Something that happened to you personally [2] Something you can back up with a reference

which seems reasonable, but is in the middle of a long post about opinion-based questions (and refers to a FAQ from another site, although the implication is that this principle applies broadly across SE); I was looking for some kind of brief restatement of this principle in the user documentation for SFF (e.g., Skeptics.SE has a detailed description of their referencing policy in a meta FAQ).

Someone has posted (IMO) a subjective answer about the significance of a scene in the LoTR movies and is arguing in the comments that they don't know what kind of references are required/should be required to support a statement, saying "Literary interpretation is inherently opinion, not factual". (The other answer to the question provides quotations from Peter Jackson, so the question is not intrinsically "opinion-based".)

A commenter says

your answer looks like a fact ("it represents blood as Peter Jackson couldn't make the battle as bloody as he wanted because of censorship") and as such it has to/should be backed by something other than "I think so"

and I agree with them, but I'm wondering whether there is anywhere in the site documentation that actually states this guideline ... ? If not, then I guess this is a feature request (maybe a section under How to Answer ? ...

  • 3
    It’s late so I don’t have time to look through meta where there’s probably something. I will note though that the Tour is mostly question focused and most help pages are not per site editable. That means a lot of the advice is generic so something like this doesn’t necessarily belong in those pages.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 23:35
  • FWIW though you may want to check out this meta post.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 23:40
  • @TheLethalCarrot that post seems obviously related but not all that close (it's technically about "what counts as an answer", not "what's a good answer") - although you could just say that there need not be guidelines, I should just downvote and let that form the consensus ...
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 1:13
  • Thank you for asking this here and trying to find some consensus. I’ll repeat the offer I made in the comment thread to my answer: a search for either Denethor tomato symbolism or Denethor tomato represents will give you dozens of links to people interpreting that scene the same way I did. It’s a very common opinon. Pick whichever one to three of those you consider the most authoritative “sources” for the observation that the red tomato pulp running down his chin looks like blood, and I will edit them into my post.
    – Davislor
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 6:36
  • I've had time to do a bit of digging and here are some related posts you might want to look through: accepting speculative answers, literary analysis, deleted speculative answer, logical speculation.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 8:18
  • Those are mostly just related reading, this meta is pretty close to what you're after though.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 8:18

1 Answer 1


To explain why answers should be backed up and not just based on opinion, I generally use this page from the help centre. Technically it's about questions rather than answers (the title is "What types of questions should I avoid asking?"), but a good chunk of what it says is about what makes a good answer:

Constructive subjective questions:

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
  • tend to have long, not short, answers
  • have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
  • invite sharing experiences over opinions
  • insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references
  • are more than just mindless social fun

Almost all of these bullet points can be applied to explain why opinion-based answers are bad. Good answers should "explain why and how", should "tend to [be] long not short", should "have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone", should "share[e] experiences over opinions", and should "[back up] opinion with facts and references".

I like this page because it shows the difference between a good subjective question/answer (some degree of subjectivity is allowed!) and a bad one. In fact, much of this help centre page is copied from the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective blog post that you already found.

  • A bad subjective answer might be a one-liner (without explaining why or how), a rant or fun theory (just how you feel about a story), or an unsubstantiated opinion.
  • A good subjective answer would provide evidence (explaining why and how), at length (long not short), be impartial (evidence based, not just what a random internet person feels), and based on facts, references, sources, or possibly experience (the "experience" thing is less relevant on this site, but does occasionally come up, e.g. "I served in the military and they always do XYZ, so that's why this work of military sci-fi includes XYZ").

Note that "evidence" doesn't have to mean a direct canon quote confirming an answer. Not every question has a clear canon answer, but that doesn't mean they're unanswerable. A good subjective answer could be backed up by a solid argument based on good reasoning, or on general knowledge of what a particular author/director tends to do in their stories, or on a collection of small pieces of evidence scattered across a book.

If I may slightly self-promote, some of my own proudest answers are not based on direct canon quotes but on knowledge or reasoning: for example, this answer (one quote) or this one (no quotes) or this one (two quotes) or this one (three quotes). You'll note that none of them are short, but none of them rely only on a single definitive quote: the quotes are used (if at all) just to illustrate tangentially relevant points, and the main thrust of the answer is a logical argument.

Sometimes, you may think an answer is so "obvious" that it doesn't require any explanation. It's still worth explaining or justifying. If it was obvious to everyone, there wouldn't have been a question to begin with!

  • Respectfully, that discussion has very little applicability to a question about what an image in a film symbolizes. References to the canon could possibly be relevant—for example, that James T. Kirk eats an apple during the Kobiyashi Maru test in the Star Trek reboot just like his Prime-timeline self did in TWoK as he reminisced about it—but literary symbolism is not something that can be answered by in-universe evidence.
    – Davislor
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 10:13
  • 1
    @Davislor Honestly, I didn't even look at the answer that was linked in this meta post - I took it as a meta question about a general principle and answered it as such. To address your comments: note that "evidence" doesn't need to come from canon quotes; it's possible to write perfectly fine "Good Subjective" answers based on reasonable argumentation. Evidence can take the form of "comparing X and Y, and noting the number of mentions of Z, it makes sense that A symbolises B" (preferably quoting the mentions of Z or whatever is used as evidence), not only "the author said A symbolises B".
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 10:31
  • 1
    @Davislor I've made an edit to my answer addressing your comments. I agree, literary symbolism usually isn't something that can be objectively confirmed by a canon quote, but it's still possible to write properly backed-up answers about literary symbolism.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 10:41

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