I am specifically referring to "What exactly is the circumstance of this specific event in book X".

An example would be: How did Ender kill this character?

Basically, the type of question that are fully and easily answered by taking the book and reading the relevant chapter.

I am only referring to things which are obvious to a typical random reader, NOT requiring some special subject or universe or other knowledge.

UPDATE: Please note that the question that prompted this discussion merely seemed to be of the type "What exactly is the circumstance of this specific event in book X" that I'm talking about due to poor wording by OP. After a wonderful edit by Tony, it became and actually interesting and unquestionably on-topic one.

  • FWIW, I've read that book at least once and I always thought the groin kick killed that character.
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 19:59
  • 3
    Why wouldn't they be (assuming an SF book, obviously)?
    – user56
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:03
  • @Gilles - same reason questions that are easily answered by a Wiki look-up are off-topic as "general reference". Among my own reasons, because then the site can be flooded with endless "what happened in this and that scene in every single SF&F book" questions and turn into cliffs notes. Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:20
  • @Gilles - ... Mind you, some questions really aren't obvious (and I'm prepared to agree that the one I used in the example may not be as obvious as I thought if Keen didn't see it) but the question is about those that general community recognizes as obvious. Say "how did Ender deal with preschool bully?", "How did Ender win first battle", "What did Ender say to the teacher after winning a battle against two armies" Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:22
  • @Gilles - basically, those that can be answered by opening the book on relevant page, and quoting a sentence or two straight from the book. Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:25
  • @DVK I'm ok with them, not everyone has easy access to the book, so it's reasonable to ask someone who does. (Unlike questions whose answer is at some obvious place on the web, where you don't need someone to open Wikipedia for you.) Of course I'm biased; for example this answer was (almost) all about quoting straight from the book (ok, it was more than a sentence or two).
    – user56
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:32
  • @Gilles - I hope that last one was tongue in cheek. There's a major difference between the exhaustive research and work on that answer and answering "Who killed the main Nazgul?". An equivalent BAD question would be "what is the first poem seen in LOTR about?" Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:57
  • @Gilles Want to make that an answer? I'd vote for it. I think books in particular have the problem of it taking hours/days to find that one passage that answers the question, so it's fine to post a question. Especially if it's for some non-trivial piece of information.
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 21:01
  • @Keen, @Gilles - so you're not worried about being inundated with unending list of such questions? Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 22:45
  • @DVK No, especially since that hasn't happened. And if it did, we have plenty of people who can cast close votes.
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 23:01
  • 1
    @keen - two answers: (1) "Hasn't happened" is not a necessary condition for deeming a question to be Bad JuJu on this SE site. Witness many not-too-terrible list questions closed on the mere remote possibility that they might possibly one day turn into a non-ending list of answers (which is a lot less bad than a non-ending list of bad questions) without any "has happened" even remotely on the horizon. That specific approach/philosophy was specifically why I considered "cite the book" questions off-topic. Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 2:11
  • @keen - (2) In addition, I have evidence that questions like this will spread if not contained: numerous "RTFM" questions on SO; a vast majority of them from either people too lazy to do elementary Google or from rep whoring. Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 2:13
  • I didn't know how Ender killed him. From what was described in the book, it seemed that Bonzo died from a kick to the groin, and I was confused about the scene in general. Why wouldn't I be allowed to ask a question like this? I mean other questions like the "Can ships explode in space" question is being allowed, but that SHOULD belong on physics.stack exchange.com, not here... Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 5:00
  • @DVK We had a lot of bad list questions, which soured us against them, even the “not-too-terrible”. Whereas we haven't had many “what's in this book” questions.
    – user56
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 7:25
  • 1
    @Oghma - nothing personal. Your question wasn't so bad in intent (though, before Tony's edit, it was poorly worded which made it SEEM bad), what I am worried about is more-obvious questions of the type. Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 13:21

2 Answers 2


I think a question like this is on-topic, but not a good question. IOW, I would vote it down (or at the least not vote it up), but not vote for closure. (If many people agree and vote down, then the asker may decide to remove it themselves; OTOH if other people find it interesting - perhaps there's an element to it that I missed that makes it non-obvious - then the votes may balance out).

I don't think that "general reference" can include the source material itself, because the point of "general reference" was that the answer can be found with a minimal amount of Google searching. That isn't the case here. I don't think it's reasonable to assume that everyone has easy access to all the material they would ask questions about (this is perhaps even more true with TV/film than with books).

Note that you don't even need to own the book to answer it in many cases - e.g. here you can use Amazon's "view inside" feature to search in the text of the book and find the answer. (Not all books have this available, but many, including Ender's Game, do). (I don't think this feature, or the Google Books version, can be considered "general reference", either).

  • 1
    @Tony - I must say I like your approach provided that a sufficient amount of regulars feel the same (otherwise, 1-2 people who agree with you and me would merely trigger sympathy upvotes galore and generate MORE rep for OP thus further encouraging such questions). Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 2:16
  • I still don't see how it's a "bad question". It has to do with the main theme of the story as well as provide clarification to a scene that, as stated on this discussion, more than one person was confused about. Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 5:02
  • 1
    @OghmaOsiris the how to ask (scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/how-to-ask) page says that questions should be researched first, and with the original wording, that didn't seem to be the case. Primarily, questions that simply ask what happened in a book aren't interesting (to me). That's why I wouldn't consider it a good question. If the question is about why something happened or if it's possible, that's not the same (and perhaps your question was asking this, but if so, it wasn't clear, so again not good).
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 5:18
  • 1
    I also feel that a down vote does more to encourage editing (transforming bad/average questions to good ones) than a close vote. The SE rules seem to agree, in that a down vote can be removed after an edit, but a close vote just expires.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 5:20
  • A down vote is worthless if it's not explained. Every down vote I've gotten has yet to be explained to me, so, if I am asking bad questions, or questions in a wrong way, how am I supposed to know? Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 6:03
  • 2
    I agree with downvoting if it's easily found e.g. by browsing Amazon's “view inside” for five minutes. If it's some detail in a TV series that's not found in the fan wiki, I'm likely to upvote.
    – user56
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 7:27
  • @OghmaOsiris It would be nice if people explained down-votes, but there's no way to enforce that. Even close votes only get a suggestion to comment. Remember that a down-vote isn't a huge deal. We learn together by seeing what people vote up and what they vote down.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 9:49
  • That is true. But how am I supposed to know what's so "bad" about my question if no one mentions why it was so bad to begin with? I just think that downvoting something expecting the person to get the drift is kind of a mean thing to do because it doesn't even promote growth or learning. Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 13:12
  • @Gilles - totally agree re: TV series. +1 Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 13:22

If the book is SF, why wouldn't they be on-topic?

I guess you're concerned that they would be considered general reference?

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

Being able to find the answer in a book doesn't fit the letter of the close reason. It doesn't fit the spirit either: the point of “close as general reference” is that the asker could have looked it up, that it wouldn't have been harder than asking the question, so he shouldn't have bothered other people with it.

Even if you had the book, finding the right place isn't always easy. This is even worse for movies, not to mention TV series. If it would take you 20 hours of viewing to find the right place, but a fan can find it in 5 minutes, the question is absolutely legitimate.

General reference still applies if the answer is in e.g. the Wikipedia summary.

  • 1
    No, my motivation for making them offtopic (or at least considering them bad as Tony suggested) is that they provide motivation for every Tom, Dick and Harry to food the site with a question "LIST detail X in book Y" for every detail of every book. Some would do it genuinely, some would see it as a good way to "get published" despite not being able to come up with a good question and some will use it for rep whoring. I have seen similar things happen on SO. IMHO questions AND answers like that don't greatly increase S/N ration of the scifi.SE; but I could be wrong of course. Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 2:19

You must log in to answer this question.

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