We have a “general reference” close reason:

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.

What sites are considered standard internet reference sources? At the moment, our community FAQ on general references states that Wikipedia, IMDB and ISFDB are general reference sites.

What about per-universe wikis such as Memory Alpha, Wookiepedia, L-Space, …? Are some of these sufficiently well-known and sufficiently reliable to be considered general reference?

This question is intended for discussion. The companion FAQ question is intended as a presentation for casual visitors.

4 Answers 4


Part of the reason this site needs to exist is because of the fragmentary nature of sources for information on SF&F. I, personally, agonize over closures that are general reference for this very reason.

We should only consider as general reference questions that can be easily answered by typing all or part of the question into Google.

I continually see questions here that are housed on Wikipedia, but that aren't found by asking Google. If there were only one alternative source - or even only 5 - for finding the information we could be justified in considering something that is easy to find on that source itself as general reference, but if Google can't find the answer for you it may be impossible given your limited knowledge to find it elsewhere.

Sometimes it is really hard to find something that, given the right words, would be easy to find. Finding where to start with Dr Who might be really easy if you knew about the Dr Who wiki. And, as a nice recent example,If you know about the Science Fantasy genre, it is really easy to answer this question: https://scifi.stackexchange.com/q/4842/51 but Google is surprisingly unhelpful.

What seems obvious to me, may be entirely obfuscated to someone else. Which is exactly the point of the site.

So we need to lower our standards. We should deter the use of our site AS a search engine, but we should encourage the use of our site as a hub for locating sources and as a gateway to the world of Speculative Fiction.

It goes beyond the focus of this discussion, but other ways we could improve our stance and reduce redundancy are:

  • Link to the various universe-specific wikis and sites on that universe/series tag wiki.
  • Routinely use those sites as linked references, helping to improve their rank on Google.
  • Being tolerant of "stupid questions" that may not be all that stupid from an outsider's perspective.
  • Adding comments and improving answers with rephrasing of a question or important searchable details that will allow the question to appear on a wider variety of searches, thus reducing re-asking.

Added the Flowchart Jeff mentions in the comments, because it is helpful: enter image description here

  • I think the flowchart in the blog post does cover some of this, e.g. if the resources available aren't good enough it is OK to answer: blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/02/are-some-questions-too-simple Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 1:42
  • @Dampe - if you're still around, can you please clarify whether "We should only consider as general reference questions that can be easily answered by typing all or part of the question into Google." you meant to imply that Googlability is a sufficient reason to close as G.R. no matter what Google points to, or merely a necessary condition? (e.g. whether you meant that it must be BOTH Googlable, AND a Google pointing to a site considered G.R. by a site standard)? Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 14:59
  • @DVK I literally meant that if I type in the question headline into google, and it doesn't spit back a page with the answer I wanted within a few minutes of clicking, we should answer it. I still believe this, I don't think that being good at google or wikipedia should be prerequisite for getting your questions answered. We are often better than both of them, and are frequently faster than them too. Our answer then becomes the highest hit for that question on google too, and increases the value of google. And if we link to wiki, its SEO gets boosted too. It is good for the internet.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 18:45
  • @DampeS8N - OK, that makes sense, but I'm not sure it resolves the contradiction. Would you please mind reading and commenting (Yes or No) on my answer here: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/2395/… - basically, did you mean what I think you meant, or what Beoffet thinks you meant? Commented Nov 6, 2012 at 21:10

My take on this is that Google should not be used as a tool to determine whether a question is a legitimate Stack Exchange question.

If I want to know the meaning of an English word, I'm not going to look it up on Google, I'm going to reach for an English dictionary. If the word is too obscure for my dictionary, or if none of the definitions make sense in the context where I found the word, then I'll reach for other tools. Ok, so I google, and I find that according to www.urbandictionary.com it means “penis”. Hmm, maybe I'd better ask on English Language & Usage.

If I want to know who a science fiction character is, I'll first look it up on Wikipedia, under the character's name or failing that under the name of the work where this character appears. If I don't find what I want, I'll try Google, and I might find a per-universe wiki. But the per-universe wikis are not always satisfactory:

  • If I haven't heard of that wiki site beforehand, how do I know whether it's reliable?
  • Many per-universe wikis are written with an in-universe perspective. If you are not a fan of that universe, they are hard to follow.

So I think general reference should be reserved for information that is easily found on a reference site that should be known to any user in our target audience. Wikipedia and IMDB fit the bill, per-universe wikis don't. I'm on the fence about ISFDB: on the one hand, it's a reference site, and I don't want this site to be cluttered with “in what collection can I read short story X?”; on the other hand, ISFDB isn't that well-known, even amongst SF fans.

  • These are your own habits, @Gilles, not the habits of everyone. Google is the ideal tool to use because the goal of SE is to make these questions answerable to the world. Not just to regulars of SE sites. We win when someone can Google any question and find a link to SE where it is absolutely answered. That's how it works on Stack Overflow, and is in fact how I came to this network. Every time I asked a code question, I ended up on SO. Eventually I started to look into what it was because it was just so DAMN good at answering my questions.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 17:44
  • @DampeS8N The “I” in this answer is actually a generic “I”; I personally do google. But I embrace the non-googlers. I'm surprised by your comment because you seem to be refuting my dislike of rejecting googlable questions (i.e. you seem to be against googlable questions), and then you go on to defend those questions.
    – user56
    Commented Aug 6, 2011 at 18:51
  • I wasn't attacking you, 600 characters just isn't a lot to work with. :) I am against Googlable questions, I wasn't defending them. My examples are where SO has become the solution to what was once not googlable. I want SFF.SE to be the same solution to once not googlable questions. Such as when someone seeks a reading order for Heinlein's World as Myth. We improve Google with our great answers.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Aug 7, 2011 at 3:29

Don't get too carried away with this "General Reference" close reason. It's not about "WHICH BOOKS SHALL YE NOT QUOTE HERE?!" — It's about common sense and offering a close reason for those times when you just want to yell "Go look it up!" when the proverbial 12-year-old asks, "How do you spell 'trivia' ?"

One of the fears of deploying this close-as-reference tool is arming users with a mission to close all questions that even vaguely fit that definition. We don't want users to seek out and close questions if posts are useful, canonical answers to the question simply because there is a close reason for it.

But there's a point where anyone with 15 minutes experience on the Internet should know that a word can be defined in a dictionary, the author of a book can be found on Amazon, and a discussion about "What is Fantasy?" can be found on Wikipedia.

I wouldn't suggest literally compiling a list of "standard references" because the last thing I want to see is a FAQ entry which says

We do not allow questions covered in the following texts:

  • "The Star Trek Compendium"
  • "Wookieepedia"
  • "The TARDIS Index Wiki on Dr. Who"
  • "The Unexpurgated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Volume 1-47"
  • "The Pompous Collection of Trivia You Should Already Know If You're a 'Real' Sci-Fi Fan."

In an ideal world, we'd love to have every possible question regarding science fiction on this site. But as a pragmatic matter, this site has to remain relevant and entertaining to the experts who come here to answer questions. If they're left feeling "Holly cow! Why are you wasting my time?", this site will ultimately fail.

That's the genesis of the "Standard Reference" close reason.

So consider the "Just look it up!" acid test. If you really, truly feel that the question author should already know where to find the answer — If a lazy asker obviously has not spent even 10 seconds trying to "just look it up" — that's when you break out the [close as reference] reason.


For me a general reference is not only about the site that could answer it, it's about the nature of the question. When the question is the only subject of an article (Who is X, What is Y), the answer to the question is a single link, that fully, completely and easily answer the question. We don't want to repeat the content of those universe-specific wikis in this site, so it should be closed as a general reference.

Questions like "What is the Force in Star Wars?" or "Who is Jean-Luc Picard?" are obvious and extreme examples, but I think it could apply to question like Who was Sifo-Dyas?.

Update :
The other argument about those question is about the purpose of the site. This is not a encyclopedia, this is a question and answer site. As I said, questions like "What is the Force in Star Wars?" or "Who is Jean-Luc Picard?" are extreme example, the answer to those hypothetical questions would be encyclopedic information. Same thing for "Who was Sifo-Dyas?".

As Gilles noted in the chat we had

Davrob60 : The problem with this particular question is that it was possible to answer it with a single cut and paste from that site. that was about nothing to add or remove.
Gilles : But your answer is not that! [...] That's sort-of explained in the Behind the scenes” section of the Wookieepedia article, but your answer says it much more clearly

The counter argument of this is that should edit the Wookieepedia article to include my "improvement". I don't think having complementary information in tow place improve anything.

In fact, nothing guaranty that there won't be article in Wikipedia for any character in the List of Star Wars characters; and I could create one right now for Sifo-Dyas.


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