The policy of each SE site is defined by its community, for each specific site like Buddhism.SE. In this topic (which is long, you probably don't want to read it all) I asked, and a few people discussed what 'moderation rules' or policy we do or do not want to implement, for questions asked on this site.

The desire or consensus which people suggested then (in that topic) is more liberal or more permissive about questions, than the policy on other SE sites that I know of.

Anyway, based on that input, I wrote the following to summarize what I think is this site's current policy (i.e. the policy which the three people who discussed it asked for) for moderating questions.

You can discuss or define this policy more if you like: post another answer, post a comment, vote, etc.

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This policy has two parts:

  1. A long list of various reasons for which a question isn't moderated
  2. A short list of other reasons for which a question should be moderated.

These kinds of question do not need to be closed

On this site we will try to avoid closing questions for any of the following reasons:

  • "Too broad": we are allowed to ask a broad question, even a question which could theoretically take a whole book to answer. The site allows (welcomes) beginner questions. You can't expect hugely long answers though, so if a question is very "broad" then an answer might be quite 'shallow': a superficial summary of the topic, and/or a reference to further reading on the topic.

  • "Unclear what you're asking": if possible we prefer to avoid closing 'unclear' questions, because:

    • Someone else might understand the question even if we don't
    • There are not too many questions on this site, and we want to allow as many as possible
    • Asking a totally clear question might be, sometimes, too difficult
    • Closing their question may confuse a new user and send them away from the site

    Instead of closing, our other options options are:

    • Politely leave a comment asking for clarification. Please be very polite, don't be too hurried (which might seem rude), try to make a good/friendly first impression on the people asking the questions. Don't assume that the people posting questions have the same experiences that you have with the norms of this and other Stack Exchange sites.
    • Politely edit the question. Leave a comment explaining why and inviting a reply, clarification, and/or rollback. Don't lose sight of what the OP wanted to ask (so that any answers might still satisfy the OP).

    On a high-volume site with too many questions, 'bad' questions are put on hold until/unless they're improved. At the moment, here there are not too many questions, and so we'll leave questions open and allow them to be answered, even if the question might be altered or improved after people have answered (which might be a waste of those early answers).

  • "Too theoretical": unlike some other SE sites which are only for solving specific practical problems, this site is for (among other things) Buddhist "philosophy". This site has a generic help page which says,

    You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

    That's not true on this site. On this site that should, instead, be read as saying,

    You may ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face, but that's not the only kind of question you can ask.

  • "Too practical": some other SE sites are only for theory. For example the Christianity.SE will refuse what it calls Pastoral Advice Questions. However this site is also for Buddhist "practice" so practical questions (about Buddhism) are on-topic.

    Advice when asking practical questions might be to include:

    Any background research you've tried but wasn't enough to solve your problem.

    Questions about ethics (e.g. about the 'precepts') are also allowed.

  • "Too controversial": this site allows some controversial or seemingly 'heretical' questions, including for example "Is rebirth a delusional belief?", especially if it's asked politely/respectfully, and with the intention of learning.

  • "Too obscure": this site is fortunate in having some experts who are willing and may be able to answer. If a question is too difficult then the worst that will happen is that it won't be answered.

    You can try not to ask too many unanswered questions (you'll learn what types of question people can and can't answer).

    Also kindly avoid asking question just for the sake of asking questions, of trying to 'improve the site' (by asking questions), of increasing the number of questions asked, because (as one expert user wrote),

    Personally, I find seeded questions irksome; it's generally easy to see that the asker isn't really looking for an answer, so there is no sense of accomplishment in answering. It feels more like a chore, like editing Wikipedia or something.

  • "Too easy": some experts might not like questions which can be answered using Google or Wikipedia; but some other users on this site don't mind trying to answer those 'beginner' questions as well. You might not get an expert answer to an easy question; but if the answer is written by a regular user, and if that answer is reviewed and voted on and/or commented on by the other users and/or by the experts on this site, at least you'll be getting peer-reviewed answer (fairly reliable or hopefully not completely wrong).

Closing questions

A moderator and/or the community should (and does) close the following types of question:

  1. "Off-topic" (insufficiently related to "Buddhist philosophy, teaching, and practice")

  2. "Polling questions" which only ask "What's your experience?"

    For example, this question was closed by yuttadhammo and it's a type of question which he regularly closes. The question asked this, after describing an experience,

    Has anyone ever experienced anyone like this off or even on (!) the mat? It was most striking...

    I gave the following comment as an explanation for closing this question:

    I think a problem with a question that is phrased like, "Has anyone ever experienced anyone like this?" is that it could attract an unlimited number of people each answering "Yes, me!". Each new answer would be a bit new (different from previous answers) and as valid as any previous answer. There's no obvious way to select any best answer to that question, no way for any answer to finish answering or to provide a complete answer to the question. And it doesn't seem to describe any practical problem you have, so there's no way for anyone to help to answer/fix that problem.

    Crab bucket's question is modified (a sufficiently different, on-topic version of the same question): it's different/better because in particular it identifies a problem to be solved, and it asks for advice (on how to deal with this problem).

    The site's format and strategy is not designed for long discussions. Its strategy is to serve for Q+A (answering questions) now, and for previously answered questions to remain in a clean format which works well for reference (so that future readers who find the topic using a search engine can read simple Q+A).

    If people wanted long unfocused discussions, an option would be to use of a 'Chat' room.

  3. "Exact duplicates": if a question has already been asked and answered well, then it's better not to answer it again elsewhere (because it's better for the reader if all those answers can be found under the same question). Hopefully the person whose question is closed will be happy to find that their question has already been answered!

  4. "Hostile": rarely we may get a question which seems to be hostile or mocking. It's reasonable to say "I don't understand" something, but less easy to post a question which says "I disagree". If you disagree it's probably better to rephrase that as "I don't understand". We tried to discuss this kind of thing in the topic, How to ask questions about different traditions of Buddhism? In summary, we won't close what seem to be genuine or sincere questions, but we would edit (or close) questions which seem to be just a disguised complaint about another belief or practice.

  5. "Broad comparisons": we don't support questions which ask for broad comparisons between different approaches and traditions; for example:

    • What's the big difference between Christianity and Buddhism?
    • Which is better: Mahayana or Theravada?

    Some 'comparative' questions are allowed, but only for comparing some specific detail; questions which devolve into broad comparison tend to lead to discussion, rather than to finite answers that are expert and balanced.

    On the subject of comparisons, there are different schools of Buddhism. When you ask a question about any topic, if you want answers from within a single specific school, you might tag the question appropriately. If a question isn't tagged with a specific school, then it may attract different answers which attempt to answer it from the perspectives of different schools.

  6. "Seeded questions": the standard Stack Exchange Help says,

    You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

    Also this topic includes the following popular answers:

    I find seeded questions irksome


    I do not mind beginners asking beginner questions. I do not mind experienced people asking beginner questions because they have a gap in their training or education.

    But, questions which may be intended to teach other people a lesson are less popular. If a question is to benefit you then please ask it; but not if you ask it only to teach other people.

    This is similar to other policies, about answering questions and minimizing controversy:

  7. "Too open-ended": long answers are welcome on the site, but a question should not require an overly-long answer. A typical "answerable" question on this site can be answered, by an answer which consists of just a few paragraphs with maybe a reference to a canonical literature or a book. The rare question which would requires a 1000-word essay as an answer is therefore off-topic. You can ask broad questions (if a shallow answer is OK), or a detailed question if it's focused on one topic and answerable.

    Similarly a question which most likely requires a back-and-forth discussion, perhaps because almost any answer will be seen as unsatisfactory, would also be too long for this site.

    For example, "please explore X and tell me everything you can about it", makes for a good homework assignment but not a good (finite) topic for the "Question & Answer" format of Stack Exchange.

And ... that's it: no other reason? The above are the only usual reasons for closing questions.

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  • 4
    Very, very nice! – Thiago Jun 5 '15 at 13:48
  • Thanks Chris, for a very comprehensive answer. – user2424 Nov 8 '15 at 10:20
  • I think we need to add a section link only answers unless it is a reference request question. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 1 '16 at 17:35
  • @SumindaSirinathS.Dharmasena This whole topic is about questions, not about answers. We have several meta-topics about answers, but not one combined FAQ-like topic like this one (and/or like the Welcome topic) for answers. – ChrisW Apr 2 '16 at 8:43
  • Let's have one combined topic under the Welcome topic about question, answers, comments, chat, writing tips, referencing tips, sourcing, etc. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 2 '16 at 10:55
  • Also answers asking to do a google search just linked to a search need to be mentioned in the welcome as there are not helpful or fit for the site. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Apr 2 '16 at 10:58
  • See also Questions about choosing a tradition? -- consensus is that you can ask similar questions i.e. "recommendation-like questions" but not that one. – ChrisW Mar 28 '17 at 8:50
  • See also Let's reconsider the 'Moderation policies for Questions' which says that the community of users can choose to close other specific questions when they want to. – ChrisW Mar 28 '17 at 8:52

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