I would like to ask a question about a book or short story that I haven't read, or about a movie or TV series that I haven't watched, or about a radio program that I haven't listened to, etc.

Is that allowed? I've read a little about the book/movie/…, checked its Wikipedia article, googled a bit, and didn't find the answer to my question. Is this sufficient, or do I need to read/watch/… the work in full before I can ask a question?

To clarify, since one of the answers has completely gone on a tangent: I am not asking about any specific question on the site, recently discussed on meta or otherwise. This is a general issue, and I hope this thread can have generally-applicable answers and can be made a .

  • Should this also have "faq" tag? (I can't add one - mod-use-only) Commented Oct 28, 2012 at 22:52
  • @DVK Given that we've gone almost two years without this being asked, I don't think so.
    – user56
    Commented Oct 28, 2012 at 23:00
  • it wasn't asked explicitly, but was argued over several times, in both comments and on meta. Don't know if that qualifies as "asked" for FAQ purposes Commented Oct 28, 2012 at 23:03
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    @DVK I've tagged it featured to give it more visibility. We can tag it faq if a consensus emerges (faq normally indicates threads where there is an answer that is useful to new visitors because it reflects the habits of the community).
    – user56
    Commented Oct 28, 2012 at 23:05
  • makes sense..... Commented Oct 28, 2012 at 23:08

4 Answers 4


Yes, you can ask a question about material you have not read/watched/listened to.

However, that does not exempt you from any of our other rules.

General reference is still general reference. You can't claim "I didn't read the book, so it isn't general reference to me".

Questions that demonstrate a lack of research should still be downvoted. Posting a question about material you haven't read isn't sufficient research on its own.

A question is still a duplicate if the original is worded in such a way that the duplication wouldn't necessarily be obvious to someone who hadn't actually watched/read/listened to the source.

There are still plenty of legitimate questions that can be asked for those who haven't consumed the media in question.

As a comment in another answer mentioned, questions about suggested reading order are a good example. Other examples of good questions about material the OP hasn't read/watched yet could include "Does this movie adaptation of a title remain faithful to the written works it is based on?", or "Does this title I haven't seen have any cross-over with this title that I have seen?"

  • @Beoffet - this covers completely obvious angles. I think what Gilles was asking was a very specific situation where the answer is NOT on Wikipedia (or at least not easily foundable there without reading the book first - e.g. knowing specific terms to search for); but IS easily answerable by "well, the answer is in the book, on page XX, quote YY". In other words, the meta-question pre-supposes that the question is NOT an obvious VTC candidate by the usual rules (GR/dupe/etc...). Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 18:06
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    @DVK His question, as it stands, can be paraphrased as "is reading/watching the actual material in question a fundamental requirement to asking any questions about it". My answer is quite plainly: no, that is not a requirement. The angles I address are simply to make clear that the fact that it isn't a requirement does not provide an excuse for not following any of the other rules. Even assuming the question pre-supposes that the question should otherwise be left open (I disagree, btw; nothing about the question implies that, nor is it actually relevant to the question), my answer stands.
    – Beofett
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 18:16

I'm giving a temporary answer, if Gilles has a better one typed up I'll delete this.

This is fully allowed.

Reason 1:

Unless the question is about a major easily googlable critical point of the work, there is absolutely no way to distinguish a question asked by someone who has not seen/read the source material, and someone who did but doesn't remember all the details.

Since we are supposed to only judge the posts on their content, and not context, you can not prohibit questions based on unread books while allowing questions on not-remembered-in-perfect-detail books.

Reason 2:

A ton of currently existing questions (hell, probably a vast marjority, or at least a sizeable chunk) are answerable from the source material. We would have to close all of them if such a rule is adopted.

As a random exhibit of both reasons #1 and #2:

  • Why could Quirrell tolerate Harry's touch at the beginning of Philosopher's Stone?

    The question is answered trivially from the book (heck, I knew the answer 1 second after reading the title). Yet the question was asked by @Slytherincess, who is universally acknowledged on this site as not merely a deep expert ion all things Harry Potter, but self-admittedly has a great memory and remembers a great deal of Harry Potter trivia.

Reason 3:

It's not reasonable to expect people to read large volumes (e.g. LOTR/Harry Potter/Comic series) or hard-to-obtain works (old comics).

  • 6
    And reading-order questions are, by their very nature, from those who haven't read the books.
    – sjl
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 5:15

The reason it's never been brought up in the past two years is because you've framed a scenario no reasonable person would argue against:

I've read a little about the book/movie/…, checked its Wikipedia article, googled a bit, and didn't find the answer to my question.

The context, however, of bringing this up now is your answer on "Is general reference used inconsistently?", where you claimed (emphasis mine):

Note that asking questions about a movie does not require having seen the movie, let alone be intimately familiar with every character.

as a defense to not closing a question as "General Reference" even though it was demonstrably shown to be something that anyone checking the Wikipedia article for or googled a bit would've gotten an answer to.

If a question is easily answered by a reference, regardless of whether or not the person asking did, in fact, do that research, it's closable as "General Reference". If someone legitimately did basic research before asking a question of this ilk, the whole problem doesn't come up.

But what we're really talking about asking a question blindly: that is, I know nothing about a movie, didn't do any preliminary research, but I want to ask a question about it.

Like I said above, the motivation or background for asking the question has very little, if anything, to do with closing a question as "General Reference". While unlikely, one could ostensibly stumble blindly into asking a really difficult question that's not easily answerable by a general reference.

But that doesn't mean SE doesn't expect or require users to do basic background research before asking questions, because it does. For many forms of media, that which you enumerated—checking the Wikipedia article or googling around a bit—is a good place to start. For movies, however, it's reasonable to expect people to have watched them for two reasons:

  • Having seen the movie helps demonstrate this is an actual problem you face.

  • Movies are generally no more than 3 hours long, with most these days in the 90-120 minute range. If it's something you're really interested in, taking 2 hours to watch the dang movie is the least you could do before asking.

Which leads to what it means that something is "required" or "expected" if it's not to close a question. There are at least two things:

But, to reiterate, the Dark Knight Rises judge question is not "General Reference" and did not need to be closed because the person asking did not see the movie.

Rather, it was closed and should remain closed because it was easily answered if someone did take the time to do some basic research before asking it.

Or to put it another way, you don't have to do any preliminary research before asking a question, but don't be surprised if your question gets closed for being "General Reference" or you get a number of down-votes for asking it.

  • 1
    “But what we're really talking about asking a question blindly: that is, I know nothing about a movie, didn't do any preliminary research, but I want to ask a question about it.” No, this is not what I asked about. Which is why I wrote in my question: “I've read a little about the book/movie/…, checked its Wikipedia article, googled a bit” — precisely to avoid the cases where on the face of the official description (by Jeff, not by me), general reference would not apply. My question here has nothing to do with the example that you expound on.
    – user56
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 8:17
  • Why is there a difference between movies and other forms of media? I suspect (and hope) that you don't think it's necessary to have watched every single episode of Doctor Who to ask questions about it, but it would be helpful if you were more explicit. Is it ok to ask about a short story that I haven't read? Is is ok to ask about a movie I haven't seen if that movie was released 50 years ago and never came out in DVD?
    – user56
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 8:20
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    @Gilles I know what you wrote about, and what you attempted to ask about. I reframed it because you completely missed the point. Nobody's arguing that if someone actually did the research they can't ask a question. Nobody could argue it, because it's absurd. So let's actually talk about the thing that someone is arguing for, namely me, and the reason why this question even exists.
    – user366
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 14:54
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    @Gilles Re-read my answer: you don't have to "suspect" or "hope" anything. I explicitly state the reason why movies count as basic research. Trying to attach an aburdist argument to it is largely pointless, because—just like Arda XI said yesterday when you tried to do it then— nobody expects you to know everything about the canon to ask a question. Watching a 2 hour movie is not even in the same league as watching every Doctor Who episode ever.
    – user366
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 14:58
  • This question exists because I asked it. And I purposefully did not ask about a specific situation, such as the Dark Knight Rises question. Neither the DKR question nor the GR close reason are relevant here (I explicitly specified that the asker has done what usually comes up when GR is discussed). Again, please tell us where you draw the line. Is it ok if I haven't seen an old movie that isn't easily available? What about a new movie that isn't distributed in my country yet? How doe this carry over to other media?
    – user56
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 19:30
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    @Gilles You're the one who made the connection by shutting down discussion and insisting we talk about your defense of the DKR question here. But, despite your mischaracterization of the issue in that comment, there is no new policy to discuss: you just completely missed the point. So the only thing one can do is explain that to you and how your question is fundamentally misguided. Again, read my answer. You're attempting to draw a line that does not need to be drawn.
    – user366
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 20:00
  • “You're the one who made the connection by shutting down discussion”: this is a serious accusation. Please justify it.
    – user56
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 20:15
  • The only connection between the DKR question and this one is that a remark in your answer about DKR prompted me to ask it. This question itself is however not about DKR. It is unfortunate that you are hijacking a community discussion as a platform about a different issue. I am, of course, not going to censor it: you are free to say what you like. But please, think of the good of the community before any personal resentment you may have against me.
    – user56
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 20:17
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    @Gilles I'm sorry you won't listen to reason and take this answer at its merits. As someone who is intimately familiar with the Stack Exchange platform, surely you must recognize that "don't do it"/"your approach to the problem is flawed" is a valid answer to a problem. Of course, as the currently highest-voted answer on this question, obviously several members of the community agree with my assessment, and your attempts to dismiss it as a "tangent" or "personal resentment" are not constructive.
    – user366
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 20:26

I think that what Mark Trapp was saying in his answer has some merit in that if, as you declare in your question, you do the proper research on Wikipedia/etc. and still cannot find the answer to your question, then it almost by definition should not be closed as General Reference, even if to someone who reads/watches/listens/feels?/tastes? the work in question the answer is obvious.

That being said, it is possible and likely that a question such as what you describe will be down voted, and possible VTCed. This is due to peoples interpretations of the rules of "General Reference". Personally, when I come across questions that I feel may possibly be General Reference, I do the research first myself. If I can find the answer in a reasonable amount of time from a reference site that is considered "reputable", then I will VTC. However I also will usually leave a comment with where the information can be found, unless the answer is glaringly obvious, that's when I leave it up to the OP to figure it out for themselves.

In the situation that you describe, it is highly unlikely that I would find the answer, as the research that the OP would have done would not have found it. Though admittedly if I had read/watched/listened/felt/tasted the work then I may have better luck researching the answer (having knowledge that the OP wouldn't). If the answer is not found on a reputable reference, then I don't think the question should be voted down and/or closed. That doesn't preclude other people from thinking differently however.

In short, I think questions of the type that you describe are most certainly allowed, however they are much more likely to receive errant down votes and VTCs than questions from people who have read/watched/etc. The best practice for anyone submitting a question like that in my opinion would be to be up front about the fact that they haven't read/watched/etc. the work in question. The main reason for asking a question IMO should be to receive an answer, and as long as that is accomplished, the question has performed its function adequately.

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