I've seen a few questions here on meta about what kind of questions are proper. All of them have answers, but I'm not aware of any place which gathers a synthesis of what are the "rules" of conduct particular to Buddhism SE.

The lack of an official place that we can point users to turns me silent in many Q&As that I find to be ill formulated. When I'm unable to try to stimulate an improved version of a Q or A, I avoid commenting "its off-topic because .." and derivatives since, without an "official" reference, pinpointing problems is a fertile terrain for discord.

Visiting other sites (stack overflow, programmers, christianity, etc), their help center is quite specific to their domain, and thus, a very useful guide. There are often examples of off-topic questions (and which sibling site the user should go where the question would be on-topic), examples of unsuited questions (eg. "a survey of all Christian views on a certain subject"), or instructions to improve questions with unsuited formats (eg. short questions lacking context should share research done so far within the question, etc). Not to mention examples of bad question titles (and I think this question's title falls in that category).

Buddhism SE's help center, on the other hand, is too generic. It would be great to have it resourceful so we could post a "critical comment" with a link to it and then, providing specific details on how that specific Q/A could be improved (or, clarifying why exactly it is being downvoted/closed). Without official guide to refer to, interfering can be painful for both sides, were critics are seeing as hostile, pedantic, opinionated and the criticized ones feel unwelcome, insulted, lost.

So, is B.SE. in the process of formulating richer and specific instructions to be made available through the help system?

  • +1 I agree this would be good to start thinking about this but I don't know how to go about it. Does anyone know? Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 18:19
  • @CrabBucket I suspect that the site moderators are able (i.e. have the tools) to edit some parts of the help text. So the question is whether+when they should edit it, and what they should edit it to. They could a) do nothing b) talk among themselves privately, on a moderators' chat room, and then do it c) discuss it publicly. To do c) perhaps someone who wants to see it edited (e.g. you and/or Thiago) can post (as one or more answers to this meta-question) one or more suggested modifications/additions to the text. People could then comment on and vote on each specific suggestion/answer.
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 22:35
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    I think surveys and research related questions should be on topic. This may be problematic in Christian sites as it is faith based which would not be a issue in a Buddhist site. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 16:36
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    @SumindaSirinathSalpitikorala AFAIK, the rationale for avoiding questions such as "a survey of all Christian views on a certain subject" is that few people are able to do that work, and the ones who are able will probably do better publishing in a journal or writing a book than answering here -- its kind of like asking for a prof of a conjecture on math overflow; sure is a good question, sure an answer is important, but something is off, considering SE's context. IMO, a more acceptable reformulation of such question would be "what are the main surveys published that focus on subject X".
    – user382
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 17:38
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    @SumindaSirinathSalpitikorala Their help page says that questions like "a survey of all Christian views on a particular subject" are off-topic because they "have too many possible answers (many of which will be pure opinion)." ... that's presumably because there are dozens of different Christian denominations. IOW the question is "too broad".
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 21:58
  • Buddhism is not an academic field though it is subjected to different studies. These type of questions identify ways on what and how to practice so someone can choose what to do at a perticular juncture in the Suttas. Only if you are grasping on to the technique of a linage or a particular way advocate then this can be viewed problematic. Also Buddhism is about free inquiry. So comparison with a view to find a suitable technique which works for you should be permissible. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 2:01
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    Any technique to do with meditation or technique should be on topic so it doesn't hinder free inquiry. If the technique is something completely different with no comparison to Buddhism then it should be off topic. E.g. Pranayama alone with no comparison to any Buddhist Meditation. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 2:21
  • What ever the policy is it should not hamper free inquiry and should not be a basis of censorship. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 2:25
  • In Buddhism comparison should be viewed as variation in a swimming style. If you take free style or something a coach will teach subtle tips to improve performance but generally within the main style. The coach may try slightly different variation so you should have the chance to pick and choose the best variations to practice as finally you will be going to the race. This is the light of how comparison questions should be looked at. Best way for this type of questions is to have everything on the table so you can try and investgate each technique and choose the best variations that works best Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 3:10
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    @SumindaSirinathSalpitikorala The point was that different sites have different types of question that are frequently asked at that site but off-topic. For example, "please review my code" is off-topic as Stack Overflow; for example, questions about motorbikes are off-topic at Bicycles. Does the Buddhism site have rules, does it have the experience that certain kinds of question are asked but are off-topic? For example it it OK to ask for a comparison between Buddhism and other religions? Is it OK to ask for personal advice? Is it OK to ask for a reference? Maybe all those are OK, and no ...
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:40
  • ... site-specific rules are needed. The only site-specific 'rule' that I know of is that it's off-topic to ask, "Can you recommend a Buddhist group in [my city]?" (and even that's not very site-specific, i.e. a similar rule exists on most StackExchange sites).
    – ChrisW Mod
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:42
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    OK. But anything to do with 1) the parth. 2) the dhamma and questions which 1) scrutinize it 2) scrutinise perticular interpretation 3) tries to elicit exact meaning 4) compares and contrasts interpretations should not be off topic. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:56
  • Also any question to validate or being skeptical on a claim on Buddhism, an interpretation etc. Or eliciting further information to clear doughts should not be off topic. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 11:20
  • The point is that even if a question pertains to the topic of the site (buddhism) the question still may be too broad. Asking for a sathipatana sutta analysis, contextualization and how different approaches are employed by practitioners pertains to buddhism, but is too broad -- literally, and factually, a phd thesis. I would be inclined to downvote such question if, say, analayo's advisor asked it here :) -- and suggest him to find a phd student to answer it in a research context, not in an SE site.
    – user382
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 11:46
  • I've asked a specific question on meta about what is on or off topic. If we gravitate around a consensus maybe this could form part of the help text? meta.buddhism.stackexchange.com/q/342/157 Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


I notice that the Christianity help page consists of links to meta topics. It couldn't exist if the corresponding meta-topics didn't exist. Do similar meta-topics exist here?

  • One meta-topic would be,

    What is a good question?

    We have found that the good questions on this site tend belong to one or more of the following categories:

  • Other meta-topics are, "What are bad questions?"

  • Similarly, what are the characteristics of good and bad answers.

I notice there aren't even any topics here. There are several FAQ topics on the Christianity site.

Another possibility is to write a single meta-topic which describes what good Q+A looks like. For example, this Welcome to New Users topic introduces the rules of the Skeptics site. The Skeptics site has firm rules, i.e.:

  • Every/any question must be about a "notable claim"
  • Every/any answer must include one or more references, which are evidence about whether the questioned claim is true or false.

I don't know whether there are similar rules or guidelines on this forum:

  • Maybe people (moderators) who have been here for some time know what the rules are (and can define them).

  • Maybe everyone knows what the rules are, so they don't need defining.

  • Maybe it's better not to have rules, so that users can react to individual/specific situations, questions, and answers.

  • Maybe we don't need rules yet (e.g. this answer suggested that other Buddhist sites discovered they wanted a "don't discuss vegetarianism" rule).

The lack of an official place that we can point users to turns me silent in many Q&As that I find to be ill formulated.

You could start that process: post a meta-question, "Is XYZ off-topic?", with an explanation of why you think it should be off-topic. Maybe most people will agree: in which case, there, you have the official place where that topic has been discussed and decided.

I've seen a few questions here on meta about what kind of questions are proper. All of them have answers, but I'm not aware of any place which gathers a synthesis

The few questions, are those these questions/topics?

Assigning tags on meta is one way to make 'important' topics findable, to "gather a synthesis".

  • Thanks chrisw. My feeling is that referring to meta topics is a little tiresome, for those who have to find the corresponding ones and link them. Also, the discussion may not come in a good format (or may have no clues at all) to guide the user to what would be an appropriate Q/A. IOW, I consider really, really helpful a good help system for users. But, as you suggested, I think that's what we have for now...
    – user382
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 0:20
  • btw, I liked the skeptics meta-question-turned-one-destination-guide for new users
    – user382
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 1:40

All "questions here on meta about what kind of questions are proper" are now tagged allowed-questions.

So, see allowed-questions for all the discussion on this topic.

There is as yet no single, comprehensive page which summarizes the consensus.

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