There's been a lot of discussion on whether certain types of questions should be closed or not. In particular, it seems there's some disagreement as to what, exactly, constitutes a question that should be closed as "primarily opinion based".

Some related discussions are:

One answer during those discussions declared:

If I asked "Why don't Jedi use the force more often?" it would be rightly closed as opinion-based.

Yet another answer pointed out:

The specific question he used as illustration "Why don't Jedi use the force more often?" - while opinion based and subjective if asked in this bare form - indeed becomes 100% fully objectively answerable if you restrict it to canon.

(Specifically, this is answered in Vision of the Future as well as NJO, mainly through Mara Jade's teaching of Luke and later Jacen Solo. There were other interesting facets to the answer, e.g. from prequel novelizations)

Additionally, there was this concern expressed, regarding whether limiting a question to canon-only answers would be acceptable:

My issue was that slinging a "canon only" tag onto an opinion-based question might evade the letter of the law, but ignores the spirit.

To me, this raises the question of: what is the 'spirit' of the law as pertains to 'primarily opinion based' here on scifi.se?

In going through our previous meta discussions on "opinion" and "subjective", there's not a lot that's very current. Most of the discussions I could find were more than 2 years old, and didn't really clearly address the area that I feel needs a better definition.

So, what is the dividing line for us where questions become "opinion based"? Should questions that can be answered with opinions be closed, even if a canon-based answer is potentially possible? Should questions that ask for speculation of any kind be closed, even if the speculation is canon-based? Or is there some other criteria that we can define and use as a milestone?

  • 4
    I don’t know, but good question. I’m so confused by this distinction that I almost always skip Close Vote review items with an “opinion-based” vote.
    – alexwlchan
    Oct 20, 2014 at 18:12
  • 1
    @alexwlchan - given how poorly-thought-out or invalid most those close votes are, I almost never skip... but (NOT by design or purpose) almost always end up having to vote to "Leave Open" when the current votes are "opinion based" :) Oct 21, 2014 at 11:33

1 Answer 1


At this point, it seems like there is subset of users who draw the line on "primarily opinion based" at a place that is very different from my expectations based upon the history of the site. In fact, arguments I'm seeing today as justification for closure seemingly apply to questions asked long ago that were well-received.

Some examples of questions that appear to be varying degrees of subjective, yet which were not only accepted, but actively embraced by the community:

It seems, going by historic acceptance, that there is a place for some level of subjective questions on this site.

Yet clearly some sort of subjective questions are problematic, and need to be fixed (or, failing that, closed). The preference should be fixing it, of course, but sometimes either that isn't possible, or the OP ignores the advice. We don't want questions that lead to discussion, or where every answer is equally valid.

The definitive description of "good subjective vs. bad subjective" for Stackexchange remains, as far as I know, this blog post by Robert Cartaino:

Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions

  1. Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”. The best subjective questions invite explanation. If you’re asking for a product recommendation of some kind, you want answers to contain detailed information about the features and how they can be used, and why you might want to choose one over the other. “How?” and “Why?” has more lasting value than a bunch of product-feature bullet points or a giant enumerated list, no matter how extensive. In contrast, the bad subjective questions let answerers get away with hit-and-run answers that maybe provide a name and a link — but fail to provide any sort of adequate explanation, context, or background.

  2. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers. The best subjective questions inspire your peers to share their actual experiences, not just post a mindless one-liner or cartoon in hopes of being rewarded with upvotes for being merely “first.” Sharing an experience takes at least one paragraph; ideally several paragraphs. If I’m asking about how to bake cookies, don’t give me a list of grocery items: milk. butter. vanilla. eggs. There is virtually nothing I can learn from a short, static list of grocery items that make up a recipe. Instead, tell me what happened the last time you made cookies from that recipe! Share your detailed experiences, so that we all might learn from them.

  3. Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone. The best subjective questions avoid the all too seductive route of ranting and flamebait. They set the right tone of constructive learning and collaboration from the very outset, by emphasizing that we’re all here to learn from each other, even if we have different viewpoints or beliefs about the right way to handle what are inherently subjective decisions. We’re not here to fight each other; that’s an enormous waste of everyone’s time. There is always more than one right way.

  4. Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions. Certainly experiences inform opinions, but the best subjective questions unabashedly and unashamedly prioritize sharing actual experiences over random opinions. It’s more useful to share with us what you’ve done than what you think. Everyone has an opinion. It takes zero effort or imagination to have an opinion about anything and everything. But people who have done things, real things in the world, and have the scars and arrows in their back to show for it — now that’s worth sharing. You should be uniquely qualified to have your opinion based on the specific experiences you had. And you should share those experiences, and more specifically what you learned from your experiences, with us!

  5. Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references. Opinion isn’t all bad, so long as it’s backed up with something other than “because I’m an expert”, or “because I said so”, or “just because”. Use your specific experiences to back up your opinions, as above, or point to some research you’ve done on the web or elsewhere that provides evidence to support your claims. We like you. We want to believe you. But like wikipedia itself, {{citation needed}}. And good subjective questions make this clear from the outset: back it up!

  6. Great subjective questions are more than just mindless social fun. The best subjective questions avoid the social pitfalls of “Getting To Know You” (GTKY) and mindless entertainment. Sometimes people just want to poll a community for ideas that might help solve a problem (best book, best approach). These can be okay when there is actual knowledge in the collection of answers. What isn’t okay are the social bonding questions which are designed just to impress others, such as “What is the coolest/stupidest/weirdest/funniest thing you saw/did/tasted today?”, or questions where the site’s actual topic is tacked on as a token afterthought, such as “Favorite food for programmers.” If you removed the “for programmers” part of this question, is it really unique to our profession? Could an average member of our community reasonably be expected to learn something that makes them better at their job from this question? If not, then it’s a bad subjective question.

So, there you have it: the difference between a good subjective question and a bad subjective question — expressed as six simple guidelines. If you’re wondering if a particular subjective question is worthy, wonder no longer. Apply the six subjective question guidelines and see how it scores. If the score is low, close it. If the score is high, vote it up.

Criteria #1 seems to cover a lot of the justifications I've been seeing for closing things as "primarily opinion based", and I feel that's wrong. Questions asking "why is x seemingly underused in title y?" are explicitly called out as being one of the criteria of good subjective. We shouldn't be using that as justification for closure, let alone the sole justification.

Item #3 is the one that I feel highlights the warning signs for our site. If the question violates this impartiality (it is based upon or promotes a pet theory, or focuses on criticism rather than seeking explanation), then it needs to be edited to be impartial. If it can't be edited to be made impartial, then closing as "primarily opinion based" may be the correct action. Note that discussion of pet theories does not necessarily indicate it is "bad subjective"; if there is evidence to support a particular theory, it may be okay.

  • 1
    I've never been convinced by that blog post. Sure it can be used to justify leaving old questions open (but not without counter arguments), but the criteria are not easily applied to a new question with no answers. Oct 22, 2014 at 8:25
  • I don't think Robert Caitano's criteria for a good subjective answer is at all non-applicable to an answer to a new question. That doesn't make sense to me. I've got an answer I'm working on right now for a relatively new question -- I might print those out as a guideline of sorts. I don't think I'll copy the style verbatim, but it's a decent guide to keeping subjective answers in check. :) Nov 1, 2014 at 2:21
  • In regards to some of the sub-questions about canon-based speculation, criterion #5 seems to provide a pretty clear answer: opinions backed up facts and references (in our case, canon sources) are "good subjective".
    – KSmarts
    Apr 9, 2015 at 21:08
  • @Beofett Well said! Points 1 and 5 alone would carry the debate. If an opinion based answer is well supported by references and quotes, it deserves an upvote. If an opinion based answer provides insights that explain subtle points in a sci-fi story, it deserves an upvote.
    – RichS
    Apr 11, 2017 at 5:54

You must log in to answer this question.

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