Historically, it was decided that it was not required to have read a book/watched a movie to ask a question. This, of course, led to its own issues: the dreaded General Reference.

Of course, as a policy, it was decided that we should not use General Reference as a close reason, and more recently, it and "Too Localized" were removed as close reasons.

The conversation here brings these topics back up again, though.

Keen initially closed the question as off-topic

because it is exceptionally trivial. It's not unclear at all what happens during that scene.

The community, however, voted to re-open it.

The most upvoted answer to the "I haven't read the book/watched the movie" question explains

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.

This becomes a little confusing as it's stated that it's OK to ask a question about something you have basically no knowledge of - but that General Reference still applies (of course, there was always the discussion of what constituted General Reference).

BUT, this question/answer was from a few weeks before meta decided to "burninate general reference"

At this point, Beofett wrote (and was quoted in the accepted answer)

Why is it not sufficient to say "if a question is trivial, boring, and demonstrates little to no research, downvote it"? Note that the hover-text for downvoting states quite clearly that a question or answer should be downvoted when it "does not show any research effort" or "it is unclear or not useful"!

and continues

For truly useless questions, most of them will likely fall into other closure categories (Gilles has mentioned on a couple of occasions that "too localized" in particular can usually cover some of the most egregious examples of "General Reference" questions.

In the answer referenced, Gilles wrote

I do not find the GR close reason absolutely necessary, because too localized can fill its role.

Fast forward to today.

General Reference is gone. Too Localized is gone.

How do we want to handle questions like these in the future?

I downvoted the question that brought this back up. It is poorly researched. I don't see how anyone could possibly interpret that scene any other way. But do we want to close questions for being "too trivial"? General Reference and Too Localized were the two close reasons that "too trivial" would have fit into (based on specifics), but those are no longer valid close reasons.

If we DO want to close these questions, what should the correct close reason be?

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    I can't post an answer now, but that quote of mine still fully represents my feelings on this. Downvote, don't close.
    – Beofett
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 16:44
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    Something to note is that we still have one of the 3 site-defined off-topic reasons available. If this discussion establishes 'too trivial' as a VTC reason, we can add it to our off-topic reasons.
    – user1027
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 16:46
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    If you're downvoting and ignoring these questions, what's the point of leaving them open? If the answer is stupidly obvious and not useful to anyone, what's the point of hosting it? A class of questions that the community doesn't want has been established; closing them as a matter of policy is the only thing that makes sense, IMO. Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:13
  • @MatthewRead that's a reasonable line of reasoning - but IMO, none of the current close reasons cover this situation. As Keen mentioned, we could add it. Is that what we want to do?
    – phantom42
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:18
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    And if we do decide that that's what we want to do, then what are we going to use as a guideline for "too trivial"? As is evident from this question, what is obvious to you or me is clearly not necessarily obvious to the next person.
    – phantom42
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:21
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    And although I've downvoted this particular question, it currently has a net score of +4 and two answers, so the community does not necessarily see it as "useless".
    – phantom42
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:29
  • You can try to edge out such questions in different ways. For example, forbidding questions that ask "What am I supposed to infer?" gets rid of your example question. Regardless of whether they're trivial or not that sort of question is just bad -- it's up to the viewer how they want to interpret something. Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:45
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    @MatthewRead - don't confuse "A class of questions some members of the community disagree with" with "A class of questions that the community doesn't want". It has been repeatedly demonstrated that tons of questions "obvious" for some people aren't quite as obvious. Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:45
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    Asking what the creator "meant" is similarly problematic; in most cases they won't have said anything about a given issue, and the question presupposes that they have. You can't distinguish good from bad without knowing the answer, and the answer shouldn't determine the nature of the question. Of course, those questions are more accepted here, so maybe this is just not going to happen. Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:45
  • @MatthewRead - " in most cases they won't have said anything" - oh, you mean like JKR never commented on her works? or Ridley Scott stayed mum on what he meant by 2000 year old time frame? Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:46
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    @DVK I think we can take as obvious for all that the community will never agree on anything 100%. So that is not what I meant. // Two examples aren't "most cases", and those authors have hardly covered every aspect of their works in exhaustive detail. Try again. Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 19:47
  • @MatthewRead - that's beside the point. Assuming that they have NOT covered a specific question is WRONG, since counterexamples are easily found. So closing a question that asks "what did the creator mean" as "unlikely to be answerable" is a wrong thing since it isn't "unlikely" at all. Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 20:02
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    @MatthewRead "If you're downvoting and ignoring these questions, what's the point of leaving them open? If the answer is stupidly obvious and not useful to anyone, what's the point of hosting it?" Because these are essentially subjective determinations, and therefore we can't unambiguously define a line that distinguishes "totally uninteresting and too trivial" from "marginally interesting, and only somewhat trivial". If we can't define an objective criteria, we shouldn't be using that as a close reason. Of course, if someone can define an objective criteria we agree on, I'll change my mind.
    – Beofett
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 20:16
  • On a side note, it always amuses me when I see questions like this getting downvoted. I know voting on meta is different, and that downvotes on answers indicate disagreement, but on questions, I generally accept downvotes to mean "this question isn't useful". This question in particular is excellent. It asks about an area where we apparently lack a clear consensus, and asks for us to try and form one. This question is exactly what meta is for and about. Yet it's received two downvotes (so far). What do those votes mean? "No, we shouldn't decide how to handle this situation"?
    – Beofett
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 21:17
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    @Beofett I take downvotes on meta questions to mean "I disagree with the question poster's stance on this issue". In this case, they probably agree with Keen's actions.
    – Izkata
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 1:40

4 Answers 4


To repeat myself, even though it was quoted in the question:

Why is it not sufficient to say "if a question is trivial, boring, and demonstrates little to no research, downvote it"? Note that the hover-text for downvoting states quite clearly that a question or answer should be downvoted when it "does not show any research effort" or "it is unclear or not useful"!

I think we can generally agree that trivial questions that demonstrate little to no research aren't usually what we'd consider "good content".

However, there are three reasons I can see for allowing them (i.e. not closing them):

  1. First and foremost, "too trivial" is entirely subjective. What is too trivial for one person may be interesting to another. That, I believe, is exactly why "does not show any research effort" is wording directly associated with downvoting questions. There's no way that I can think of where we can objectively draw a line and say "on this side of this definition, it is too trivial and should be closed, and on the other side, it is acceptable". While that may be true to varying extents with some of our other close reasons, at least they all have basic descriptions that provide some context. If we can't come up with a sentence or two to expand on what distinguishes "trivia" from "too trivial", then we will have a difficult time guiding users to improve their questions. If someone can come up with a clear, objective definition or description of "too trivial" that can be consistently and clearly communicated, I'd be all for it, but I don't believe it is possible (I could be wrong, though).
  2. What seems like a trivial or simple question could result in an exceptionally good answer. It's happened before. I don't have time to search for examples now, but I'm pretty sure they're out there.
  3. Encouraging new users. Nothing discourages someone from participating on a site like their first attempt at participation being slapped down with a "sorry, your contribution isn't up to our high standards". Not every one of these questions will come from a new user, but some, including the one that sparked this debate, will be first-time posts.
  • Re: point 3, this question is almost certainly not being asked by a new user. Someone keeps asking 'did these 2 characters have sex?' questions, and has been doing so for months. Each time they make a new unregistered account.
    – user1027
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 21:27
  • @Keen. I was not a aware of that. That certainly muddies the waters regarding this specific example, but I think the general sentiment of point 3 remains valid.
    – Beofett
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 21:50
  • @Beofett - re: point 3 - this is based on the assumption that a newcomer to this site is also a newcomer to the material they're asking about, which isn't necessarily the case. Newcomers can be quite well versed in the material, but yet have only just found this site. I don't believe that point is valid.
    – user8719
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 22:13
  • @JimmyShelter I think you're misreading point 3. I'm not saying "every/most/many new people on the site will post 'trivial' questions", which is what you are claiming is my base assumption. I'm saying "many of these 'trivial' questions will be posted by people who are new to the site". "Most posts that are x are from new users" != "Most new users make posts that are x".
    – Beofett
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 22:29
  • @Keen - beats time traveling robots, don't it? Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 1:58
  • @Beofett - re: your #1, you're never going to get an exact cutoff point, but the same applies to several of the other close reasons too: too broad, unclear, primarily opinion based. They all require people voting to exercise their own judgement, and I don't think it's reasonable to demand different in this case. All of your 3 reasons could actually be employed as arguments against these close reasons too ("what's unclear to one person may not be unclear to others"/"bad question could have a good answer"/"closure is discouraging") yet these reasons continue to exist.
    – user8719
    Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 13:05
  • @JimmyShelter It's not about finding an exact cutoff point (although we did have an actual cutoff point for General Reference), but rather providing a clear definition of what "too trivial" even means. All of those examples you cited have descriptions associated with them to provide explanation, and even those have just been improved to help reduce ambiguity the old descriptions caused. Until someone can come up with a decent description of what "too trivial" actually means, your suggestion is essentially "let's not have a policy".
    – Beofett
    Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 13:25

I'll restate what @Beoffet said.

TL;DR: If a user personally feels that the answer to the question is obvious, downvote the question. Do NOT close.

If a user can't find a conclusive proof that the answer is obvious for EVERYONE (example: the ST3 Pon Farr question wasn't obvious to me despite having seen the movie, so it clearly isn't everyone), that user has no legitimate reason to demand the question to be closed.

You have no right to deprive other users of useful Q&A information just because you personally and subjectively feel it's not useful to you.

To quote my usual argument about "too obvious" - for pretty much every active supporter of closing "trivia" questions, I can easily find a question of theirs whose answer I consider to be obvious.

Supporting anecdote: @Slytherincess (top HP expert here) at least once asked a question easily (at least for me) answerable by a quote from HP book.

Oh, and for all of you supposed 'experts' who consider the answer to the question being discussed as 'obvious' - according to canon, you CAN survive Pon Farr without sexual activity, via a special challenge. Google "kal-if-fee"

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    Hah. +1 on subjective. When I saw the question in question, the first thing that popped into my head was "Well, yeah, it's obvious, but not the only possibility - there is the koon-ut-kal-if-fee ritual..", and the whole thing with B'Elanna. And those are things that casual Star Trek fans may not have remembered, making it not exactly a trivial question...
    – Izkata
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 1:44

No, unless our goal is to prevent people from joining the site. Since "too trivial" is closely related to google questions, I will address both at once.

  1. We should be encouraging new users to participate in the community, and many such people have questions that might seem very basic to users with more experience and expertise in the field.

This question seems to be suggesting that Stack Overflow should only be used as a last resort - when an answer cannot be found elsewhere on the internet.

Surely this is the opposite of the site's intended purpose. I thought it was supposed to become the first place people would come for answers. To quote the FAQ,

"No question is too trivial or too "newbie"."


Joel says that the only bad simple question is a duplicate simple question. I say simple questions are OK as long as they’re actually interesting (in some way) for other users to consider and answer.
- Jeff Atwood

The podcast quoted above, along with some suggestions from users, led to the introduction of a new close reason: "General Reference". After this new reason was tested, Jeff changed his mind and said that it was a valid reason to VTC:

Per the discussion in Stack Exchange Podcast #20, and after evaluating the close reason on english and scifi, I now agree with Joel: I believe this close reason has too much potential for abuse and misunderstanding. It is unlikely we will ever adopt this close reason network wide.
- Jeff Atwood

  1. The suggestion that an answer can be found by using Google is actually all the more reason to answer basic questions here. We want people to see our site in the Google results, don't we? Imagine a person who has never heard of SE. This person googles "What species is Chewbacca" or whatever, and the third result is from SF&F.SE. This person now knows about us, and it is at least possible that he or she will join the site. This is something to be desired, not discouraged.

Part of the thinking behind Stack Overflow was for those Google searches to link somewhere useful.
By answering questions properly, instead of saying 'just Google it', you hopefully set up a definitive answer that Google will find for evermore.

Seriously, read the article linked in the middle of that quote. One of the original principles on which the SE network was founded was "Make sure that Google searches produce useful results - namely, our results". I see no legitimate reason to change this fundamental principle now.

  1. The most basic questions are likely to be the questions that are most common. All the more reason to answer them here so people have access to the best information available.

  2. Meta Stack Exchange has made it abundantly clear that it is unacceptable to close questions simply because the information is already available elsewhere. The general guidelines are quite emphatic about this point: we should embrace the non-googlers, not shun them.

  3. This site is a community of like minded people who are interested in the subject at hand; we are experts, amateur enthusiasts, students, professionals, scholars, and lay people. We are not the "Did you do enough research" police. It isn't our job to punish strangers for not doing what we might do if we were in their position. We are here to provide answers to relevant questions. We are supposed to make information readily available to whomever needs it. We are not supposed to make sure everyone does their homework.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't see any legitimate reason to deny people access to useful information, especially not on the grounds that it is too rudimentary to be bothered with.

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    No need to add further opinions; I believe the matter has already been decided, and the answer is "they shouldn't be closed". If you came here because of your question about zombie bites, the correct reaction to that question in my opinion is to downvote it as uninteresting/lazy (which I did) and not to flag it for deletion (which I didn't).
    – Andres F.
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 15:59
  • @AndresF. - I'm pretty sure we're allowed to post answers whenever we want. I'm comfortable giving my opinion whether or not I have your approval.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 16:01
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    Yes, yes, "no need" != "it's not allowed". Regardless, if you came here due to the zombie bites question, that was a matter of downvotes, not closing. If this answer is unrelated to your zombie question, then my apologies.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 17:48
  • @AndresF. - It really doesn't matter why I came here. I did it because I can.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 17:58

Without wanting to get too far into specifics of individual questions, I lean towards closure.

The reason why is because the purpose of the SE network is to serve as a useful Q&A resource both now and in the future. Answering a "too trivial" question satisfies the "now" part, but opens the floodgates for a very poor signal-to-noise ratio for the "future" part.

I fully accept DVK's reasoning that sometimes the answer may not be obvious to everyone, but that's where the closure system can play a part. Those with insta-close powers should stand back and let the 5 votes take their course. If 5 separate 3000 rep+ people think a question is "too trivial" then there seems a reasonable chance that it actually is.

I only say "lean towards" closure because I actually watched the Search for Spock recently and for the first time in a while, and this time what was going on was pretty damn obvious to me, but every previous time it wasn't.

Again, however, that's something that the "reopen" system can handle. So the way the system works (and is designed to work) is that it would take a consensus of 5 to make the initial closure, then a further consensus of 5 (or even an insta-reopen) to overrule it.

The "on hold" rather than "closed" wording helps a lot here; it sends a signal to the person asking that the question hasn't been completely ruled out. Some appropriate commenting along the lines of "we think this is a question that can be trivially answered by referring to source material" can also help, and accomplish the job of actually helping provide the asker with the answer that they want, all without clogging up the site with trivial questions.

This is all in the spirit of a close vote not being a slap-down for a question, but instead sometimes being a useful tool to help direct the asker towards an answer (or towards the fact that no answer exists) while at the same time keeping the overall quality of questions on the site at a higher level.

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    The problem is that in essence, this answer is "we shouldn't have a clear policy, instead, we just let the high rep users fight it out on a case-by-case basis every time this comes up" (because there are clearly some high rep users who feel this category of questions should stay open, it pretty much guarantees there'll be a war of close and reopen votes on a lot of these). I'm also not sure that I agree that allowing these will "open a floodgate" or result in "clogging up the site with trivial questions".
    – Beofett
    Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 23:57
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    @Beofett - +1 for the last part. If the site is clogged with anything, it's with story-ID questions :) Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 1:55
  • @DVK - going off topic, but Story-ID questions may be a good candidate for a close reason. They naturally have a limited lifespan and are of little long-term value; once the story's been ID'd, closure after a short time may be appropriate.
    – user8719
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 3:06
  • Whether or not story ID questions are still welcome has been discussed extensively.
    – Beofett
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 3:13
  • @Beofett - it's not whether they're still welcome though; it's whether they're appropriate for closure some time after being answered. I'll drop the topic now though and may put together something on one of the links you posted later.
    – user8719
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 3:19

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