A question of mine just got VTCed with the following "explanation" (I don't want to be rude and say "excuse", but I can find gazillions of SFF questions that fit the same criteria which were NOT VTCed for the same reason):

Voted to close as not a real question for being incomplete due to lack of demonstrated relevance. From How to Ask: "Make it clear how your question is relevant to more people than just you, and more of us will be interested in your question and willing to look into it"; from How to Ask Questions The Smart Way: "If you are trying to find out how to do something [...], begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on."

That is, what does it matter? What issue with the text are you trying to rectify by getting an answer to this? If this is a stepping stone to a larger question that has more context, ask that question instead.

Frankly, this seems WAY off base on SFF (both the reasoning in general, and in particular quoting a FAQ on how to ask technical/programming questions by ESR).

  • First of all, I'm not aware of any rules on SFF of demonstrating "relevance".

    • Is there some rule somewhere that every question must be because of "issue with the text are you trying to rectify"?

    • How is that specific question materially different from 100s if not 1000s of OTHER SFF questions that are asked merely because someone is curious about something?

    • Is there a rule that says that I MUST specify the reason for asking or else the question will be closed?

  • As far as the second comment, the last time I checked, tons of mods and high rep users commented on newbie posts containing several distinct questions "Please split it up into more than one question".

    Moreover, in my case, WHAT will get asked in a followup heavily depends on what the answer to the first question (and if there is an answer at all). I don't see how that's grounds for penalizing the question.

NOTE: I have split off the question about the quote from How to Ask Questions The Smart Way into a separate meta question

  • 3
    We're in the business of answering only the important science fiction questions. You claim to have a reason to want to know, but do you really? Or are you just saying that? We can't tell.
    – John O
    Sep 7, 2012 at 3:37
  • Are you sure it's just not part of a plot to make sure you never get the Legend badge?
    – Tango
    Sep 7, 2012 at 4:04
  • 1
    I'm with @JohnO here. I realise this probably your MO but it sounds like you've not done work and are asking this like a homework question on SO (I want X, with options A,B or C in Formats P and Q please.) Perhaps that's how people saw it?
    – AncientSwordRage Mod
    Sep 7, 2012 at 19:47
  • 2
    @Pureferret - (1) what work should I have reasonably done? If I knew the count I'd not have asked; (2) How is that related to "you didn't provide a motivation"? Should I prefix every one of my questions that's asked merely "because I am curious" with some bogus made-up motivation? How would that improve the site? Since when is "I am curious" not enough of a motivation for SFF? Sep 7, 2012 at 19:56
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    @DVK "Whilst I've read the books and done some preliminary research, I can't pin down a figure for the number of men in Arda (or any of the other regions). To be honest, I'm just curious, but I think it might help me phrase another question." That alone should cover both points. Prelim research could be anything from checking google to wikipedia. No one cares what you've done so long as you did something. Anyway I didn't vote up down or to close as I don't really want to get too involved.
    – AncientSwordRage Mod
    Sep 7, 2012 at 20:08
  • @Pureferret - Hm. I'll make an experiment and copy/paste your wording into the Q. Let's see how many people who downvoted after your and Mark's comments change their downvotes Sep 7, 2012 at 20:10
  • @DVK Bear in mind, some people might not think to come back and un-downvote.
    – AncientSwordRage Mod
    Sep 7, 2012 at 20:20
  • Since few questions are actually useful and non-speculative, getting VTC'd here has a lot to do with timing. Sep 12, 2012 at 17:02
  • @Tango - the plot failed Nov 20, 2013 at 19:22
  • @DVK: Good job, then.
    – Tango
    Nov 20, 2013 at 20:29

2 Answers 2


As far as I'm concerned, it is a valid reason for any question on any Stack Exchange to ask something because you want to know. Saying why you want to know is likely to give you more useful answers, but that is your problem as an asker. If you get answers that turn out not to apply to your issue because you omitted some information in your question, it's your problem as an asker.

“I don't see the point of this question” is a perfectly valid reason to ignore a question. It's even a valid reason to downvote it, if you think the question is a complete waste of attention.

Closing is another matter. It's deliberate that the close reasons do not include “I don't like this question”. “Too localized” can apply to a question that is so specific that no one else would ever find it; this is far from the case here. “Not a real question” is pretty broad, and applies to underspecified questions, but only when the fact that those questions are underspecified makes them unanswerable. Again, this is not the case here; adding motivation might make the question more appealing but does not change what would constitute a good answer.

So yeah, mentioning your motivation might be a good idea, but it's not required.

  • 1
    Totally incorrect. It's even in the FAQ: "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page." Also see the MSO FAQ: if there's multiple people asking for more information (which there was in this case), the problem is with the question. It's not unreasonable to require the asker to elaborate on what problem is actually being solved by asking the question.
    – user366
    Sep 7, 2012 at 20:36
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    @MarkTrapp You're putting far too much in “actual problems”. “I want to know how many Men live on Arda” is a perfectly valid “actual problem”.
    – user56
    Sep 7, 2012 at 20:39
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    Saying it is doesn't make it true. We have tons of guidelines on what it means to describe an actual problem: being merely curious is even one of the things that we explicitly call out in the FAQ as being a great reason to get your question removed. Answering the question "Who cares?" and having a cogent answer other than "Just me" is one of the cornerstones of asking questions on SE. It's totally amazing to me how completely resistant you and DVK are to explaining why the answer to a question matters. It's the simplest thing in the world to do and vastly improves the quality of a question.
    – user366
    Sep 7, 2012 at 20:41
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    @MarkTrapp - as noted in OP comments, while you (quoting Gilles's favourite phrase) can not take upvotes as a sign of quality, you can most definitely take upvotes as a sign of interest. If 8 people so far upvoted my Q despite the controversy, you can not possibly claim people don't care about that question. Especially since someone actually posted an answer. You seem to be mistaking "I don't care" (or even "I and a couple of other people don't care" to be fair) with "Nobody cares". Sep 7, 2012 at 20:49
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    @DVK Sure I can: votes are private and people can vote for whatever reason they want. If votes were signifiers of appropriateness, we wouldn't have a separate moderation system. You demonstrate relevance in your question body. The fact is you had two people asking for clarification about why you're asking the question, yet you refused until 40 minutes ago to do anything about it. The question attracted a response, but it's not answer: it's one guy's opinions about about Stalin and speculation that the world population from 6,000 years ago has something to do with the population of Arda.
    – user366
    Sep 7, 2012 at 20:53
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    @MarkTrapp - offtopic (for meta) but that speculation is not unreasonable since JRRT explicitly stated that Arda was supposed to be legends from the past of Earth. And I have a feeling that the opinions about Stalin were a direct result of my posting the reason for the question which you required since it harkens back to it on a high level. In case you didn't see it before deletion, I posted my reason not 40 mins ago but early in the morning, in the comments. 40 mins ago I stole Pureferret's wording for the reason into the Q body Sep 7, 2012 at 20:57

I took a look at all the questions that had the phrase "how many" in them and categorized them based off of whether they provided context/relevance, whether they were closed/open, and how many votes they got. Here's what I found:

Provided context

  • Count: 90 (79% of total)
  • 10 score or higher: 33 (29%)
  • 5–9 score: 30 (26%)
  • 0–4 score: 25 (22%)
  • <0 score: 2 (2%)
  • Open: 85 (75% of total, 94% of context questions)
  • Closed: 5 (4% of total, 5.5% of context questions)

Didn't provide context

  • Count: 24 (21% of total)
  • 10 score or higher: 7 (6%)
  • 5–9 score: 7 (6%)
  • 0–4 score: 9 (8%)
  • <0 score: 1 (1%)
  • Open: 21 (18% of total, 87.5% of no context questions)
  • Closed: 3 (3% of total, 12.5% of no context questions)

Based on this survey, it seems that most people don't have a problem providing context to their questions, and on average, the questions that do provide context tend to do better.

And to be honest, I'm kind of surprised that you're so resistant to providing context to this specific question, especially since apparently every single vote matters to you. In the comments, you said:

P.S. And trust me, if I DID put a convoluted "Why I am asking this" with a logic diagram, it would generate a negative reactions. I had my questions downvoted when I added long "why i'm asking this" explanation, or at best, got edits or edit suggestions to remove them).

But what I found, when looking at the "how many" questions, was something different. You provided context (in many cases a lot of good, meaty context) in several of your questions, and they all did pretty well: they all got answers and most did well in terms of score (average score: 9.2). None of them had substantial edits by other people or comments suggesting that you should split them up into multiple questions.

When you didn't provide context or relevance, your questions on average didn't do as well (average score: 3.6):

So not only are people more likely to do well with a question that has context, you personally do better when you do. Providing context benefits everyone.

Like I said in the comments, you don't have to go into excruciating detail or write an essay on why the question is good, but provide something to better understand the problem you're having. Any of the below would qualify:

  • Describe what brought about the question

    I was thinking about Tolkien's experiences in World War I, and was wondering if there was a connection there. How many men...?

  • Describe a discrepancy that needs clarification

    In the Fellowship of the Ring, Bob says the armies of Gondor number in the thousands, but Jenny says in the Two Towers that they were decimated at the start of the Third Age. What is the correct count?

  • Frame it around another question

    In [this other question], Jack says that we know Bilbo liked Pipeweed because of the number of battalions that went through the Shire. How many were there?

  • Show your work so far

    I'm trying to determine the number of men in Arda. In the Fellowship, I've calculated it to be 6 based on passage X, Y, and Z. Is this accurate? What's a better number?

After 17 comments, you finally provided something close to the above:

I'm thinking about WW1 and its casualties; and War of the ring.

Which is great, but what about it? There's a connection you're trying to make, but you haven't explicitly stated it in the question body. You do that, and I'll retract my objection to your question.

  • There is a difference between "question does less well" and "the question is so bad as to deserve a VTC, which is what you said in the comments. I never once disputed that adding background ideas makes for a better question, so I'm not really sure what the point of this answer is - I fully agree with most of it. But it does NOT in any way address what my META question was about - which is what the minimal required plank is for a question to be so irrelevant that it deserves a VTC (as opposed to "does not deserve 10 upvotes, or even one"). Sep 7, 2012 at 18:22
  • From your own data, (1) out of my 5 no-background questions, only ONE had one downvote; and none were VTCed except Arda one. Sep 7, 2012 at 18:25
  • (2) and more importantly, the % of closed questions with and without context is almost the same: 3% vs 4%. Sep 7, 2012 at 18:26
  • As far as suggestions to remove context, they weren't on "how many" questions. Frankly, they were a while back so I'd be at a loss to name a specific one, you just have to trus that i'm not completely mental and imagined it happening. Sep 7, 2012 at 18:27
  • (3) Another thing from your statistcs: of the "no context" questions, 87.5% were not closed (including 100% of mine)! It seems that there's a consensus on the site that they aren't THAT bad. Sep 7, 2012 at 18:29
  • My original question from comments also remains: did you VTC and downvote every single one of those 20 no-context "how many" questions? Did you do the same to the 100s of non-"how many" questions with no context? I can accept your point that Pureferret's question had context (frankly, I would say it didn't but I will accept your judgement). But that leaves 20 ones that YOU claim have no context. Sep 7, 2012 at 18:32
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    @DVK There's a lot to unpack in your rapid-fire comments, so a few general points: 1) you apparently don't understand what closing's for. It's not a punishment, and it's not a condemnation. It's to prevent new answers to a problematic question so that it can either be salvaged (by editing) or deleted. Your question is problematic (see the NARQ reason, i.e., "It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete...") and can easily be salvaged by providing context: why you are completely resistant to that is beyond me.
    – user366
    Sep 7, 2012 at 18:34
  • 2
    2) I work on evidence. You've provided no evidence that you, or anyone, does worse on account of providing context, and I've found the opposite. Perhaps you're just mistaken.
    – user366
    Sep 7, 2012 at 18:37
  • You did not answer why a question withuot context is "problematic" at all. You merely provided (very convincing) evidence that it's - judging by votes - NOT AS GOOD a question as one with context. I'm not disputing that. But there's a fairly huge chasm between "not as good/not deserving upvotes" and "so problematic that it doesn't deserve an answer" Sep 7, 2012 at 18:38
  • Frankly, I don't see any way where my question was either ambiguous, nor vague, nor incomplete. To asnwer it, no context was required. I full accept that context would help to motivate someone to answer by making it more interesting. But I can not possibly accept that lack of context makes it so bad that you see it fit to prevent someone from answering it. Sep 7, 2012 at 18:40
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    @DVK In the first line of what you quoted from me, I stated my reason for closing: the question is incomplete due to lack of relevance provided. You obviously disagree with that assessment, and that's your choice, but I did provide my reason. If you're looking for a fight over my close vote, I'm sorry I can't oblige: I can only explain why I voted and how you could improve your question, and I don't think I could've been any more clear: your question is incomplete and could be made complete by providing context, and I don't agree that it's an unreasonable request or that it would harm you.
    – user366
    Sep 7, 2012 at 18:56
  • you still did not explain the most crucial point that I'm in disagreement on: WHY does a lack of explanation of "relevance" make the question **incomplete". More specifically, "incomplete" in the message is referring to "not enough information to be able to answer correctly". In this case, 100% of information was present and my reasoning of why I wanted it answered didn't provide even a single bit of information to help answer it (which is why it was not included). Sep 7, 2012 at 19:01
  • 1
    @DVK I'm afraid you've misread the NARQ close reason; it's "It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form." You can disagree with my assessment, but I've been clear that I find it difficult to tell what's being asked and unable to reasonably answer it in its current form, and that you can fix that by providing context. Your complete and total refusal to do that is your choice and, absent you addressing my objection in edits, all I can say is "good luck with that."
    – user366
    Sep 7, 2012 at 19:13
  • I would really like to understand how "why do you want to know" can even remotely help you answer a question of "how big of a Man population Arda had". That's all I'm asking for. You keep stating that the context is critical, but never explain WHY, specifically for this question. How would it affect an answer (or your answer) in any way? Would you count differently? Would you use different sources? I can fully understand why having no context would make you less interested in bothering to answer. But not how it would change the answer in any way had you bothered. Sep 7, 2012 at 19:31
  • @DVK, Mark: once again, please take it to chat.
    – user56
    Sep 7, 2012 at 19:49

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