Most, if not all, Stack Exchange sites are "how to" sites, e.g.

Even Programmers, which allows "constructive subjective questions" encourages how (and why) questions (see the FAQ).

"How to"s don't come naturally to this subject matter. The only time that something like it has been discussed (that I know of), the idea was rejected: Is writing Science Fiction part of this site?

Is this a problem for the long term viability of this site?

Should we consider how this might site become a "how to" site?

Finally, note that by not being a how to, we are more aligned (and therefore, more in "competition" (for want of a better word)) with Wikipedia which is not a how to.

(Background info: see my related answer on meta.)

  • There's a precedent: English. Anyway, I think not being a how-to makes it a lot harder to get started (due to lack of experience), but I think we can converge to something worthwhile.
    – user56
    Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 19:09
  • 2
    @Giles - disagree about English. It contains How To spell & pronounce questions. Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 19:15
  • English is also largely about grammar. Most questions are How Tos. At least, they are now (might have evolved a bit since feb last year).
    – naught101
    Commented Sep 18, 2012 at 6:40

3 Answers 3


Using the proposed FAQ on-topic categories:

  • Plot, character, or setting explanations: how to understand this book I'm reading, TV show I'm watching, movie I saw.
  • Historical context: how to understand more about ...
  • Behind-the-scenes and fandom information: how to get the best out of a conference, how to contact an author
  • Story identification: how to find this story I'm looking for
  • Franchise/series reading or viewing order: how to consume this sequence of stories.

I don't think "how to" really captures the spirit of the Q&A, it's too limiting.

Certainly "Why" is also valid, as explicitly explained in the faq:

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. If your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK.

  • I'm not saying that "how to" describes the whole site, I'm asking whether we can do without it and, by implication, if we need something in its place. But first, "is it a problem?" Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 21:25
  • @wikis the title of your question disagrees Commented Feb 24, 2011 at 22:04
  • I see your point - I meant to say, "does not include how to like questions". However, Tony's answer corrects that point. Commented Feb 25, 2011 at 11:36

Perhaps you should see it as: How should I have analyzed this to draw a better conclusion?

Because for users who analyze stories for a living, like literature students/teachers or editors and writers, there clearly is long term value in it.

Off course the questions won't be phrased at such, but seeing a true expert spot details you missed hopefully teaches you something.

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