"List questions" are generally off-topic on Stack Exchange sites, and Science Fiction & Fantasy in particular, because they tend to be open-ended, generate debate, have some level of personal preference, and not meet the criteria of being "answerable". But there are plenty of list questions on this site that do have a single, demonstrably correct answer that just happens to be a finite list of items.

Just today, on the front page, there are a bunch of questions with list answers and our treatment of them is very inconsistent:

All of those questions have a list-based answer. Some of them are being rapidly downvoted and VTC'd, while the Harry Potter one has 33 upvotes and an accepted answer.

Note that, in every case, we have all of the information needed to build the list, the criteria is objective, and since the works are completed, the list will never change. That addresses almost every complaint people have about list questions.

So, if list-questions are off-topic, where's the line?


1 Answer 1


The ban on list questions is mainly on open-ended infinite list questions. This is touched on in the site FAQ:

Please note the following types of questions are off-topic here:


  • Questions calling for a list of works, authors, …: What are all the books that have X? Who wrote about topic Y?

It's not reasonable to ask a question on a Q&A site that requires knowledge of all works that ever existed, and then request a massive list of the works that contain one specific element. This sort of question lacks a single, finite answer. In practice these questions accumulate a steady flow of "me, too" answers where people add a few examples in a new answer.

However, finite and well-scoped list questions are allowed here. There's a question asking for a list of all of Doctor Who's Doctors, for example. A mere 13 Doctors exist (within the main BBC show, in both incarnations), which can be reasonably included in one, canonical answer. Similarly, a question asks about all of Star Trek's Enterprises. There's a reasonable, limited number of those as well.

The reason half the questions linked in your question are getting downvotes is likely due to their low quality. They show a lack of research, and come off as 'do this time-consuming research for me!' types of questions. We'll see how the community reacts to them, and what sorts of answers they receive.

In contrast, the high-upvoted questions show some expertise. The details in the question indicate the asker has a familiarity with the works, and is seeking something odd, rare, or not-obviously-stated in those works.

  • 1
    I flagged this for re-open. Based on how I read your answer, it's not VTC material (even if not terribly worth an upvote due to lack of work shown, e.g. with at least one example). Feb 11, 2013 at 14:39
  • @DVK is Fringe still in production? I think a big part of the criteria is "is it possible to know all of the items in the list, or could the list change over time?". X-Files and Tolkien's works are both finished, so the lists we get now will be the same lists that will be accurate 50 years from now (barring any ridiculous "reboots"). If Fringe is still airing, though, the list could change with each and every subsequent episode.
    – Beofett
    Feb 11, 2013 at 14:48
  • @Beofett - Sorry, but the general approach seems to be that asking an otherwise on-topic question about an unfinished work is on-topic even if the answer may change later. Witness JRR Martin's works. Or Enderverse. Or Star Wars - pretty much ANY and ALL answers for Star Wars can be easily invalidated by George Lucas "improving" something else. That's why we have the whole "edit later" ability; and a good answer would explicitly state ("Accurated as of current episode, SxEy") Feb 11, 2013 at 14:55
  • @DVK generally, I agree with you. Of course you can ask questions about unfinished works; it would be silly to argue otherwise. However, the specific case of "list questions" is a different story. In a finished work, the scope is knowable; knowing that there were 12 individuals who were known to have carried the One Ring is a bit different than knowing that so far there have been 12 references to X-Files in Fringe, but that by this time next year there could be 40.
    – Beofett
    Feb 11, 2013 at 15:05
  • 1
    @Beofett Fringe's final episode aired a few weeks ago.
    – user1027
    Feb 11, 2013 at 15:23
  • 1
    @Keen Ah. I wasn't sure. I don't follow that show. If its done, then its a finite list. That doesn't necessarily mean a question is good, but it certainly helps.
    – Beofett
    Feb 11, 2013 at 15:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .