A relatively new user took the Meta question Why can't we get the question rate up? to heart, and posted a question about beginning boating. That question was very broad, and probably should have been put on hold (as it was) in the hope of being fixed by editing.

The OP then asked two more questions, one about beginning sailing and one about beginning paddleboating, which were also put on hold as too broad.


If someone had asked a question about how to get started "moving on snow", that would be too broad. But if someone asked a question about how to get started skiing, or snowmobiling, or snowboarding, or snowshoeing, or mushing, that would be answerable. I would be astonished if it were not.

One reason given for the questions being too broad was that where the sailing or paddleboating was to occur was not specified. Would my hypothetical skiing question be closed as too broad because the OP did not specify whether he was going to start on the bunny slope or on Mt. Everest?

If someone asked a question about how to get started ice-skating, I could answer it even if the OP hadn't a clue if he meant figure skating, speed skating, or hockey, or skating on an outdoor rink, or an indoor rink, or a lake. The answer would spread out the menu and say a bit about each item to enable the OP to decide what form of ice-skating he wanted to start with.

The same ought to be doable on the sailing question.

An expert on the topic in question (whether sailing or skiing or reading the mind of a rattlesnake) should have the imagination to put himself in the beginner's place. Always requiring tightly focused questions can reduce an interesting question to a boring question or eliminate the question completely and eliminate a new user who is genuinely asking for guidance.

My main criticism of the questions is that they were written in a See Spot Run style -- a primer question should not be written in a primer style.

  • Both the sailing and paddle boating have been reopened. Closing questions and reopening them a week later really doesn't encourage people to ask questions... Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 22:07

3 Answers 3


There are a couple of good answers here already, which both have upvotes from me.

Personally I think the two new question Beginning paddle boating and Beginning boating: sailing have potential for good conscise answers that are seqways to other more detailed answers on TGO.

A sister site recently had a very questionable quality new question. Do cats have a theory of mind? but along came someone who was able to write a quality answer that addresses the primary question, and suddenly the question does not seem so bad anymore. This is just one example, I am sure we can all think of other questions we thought were subpar but along came an answer that made it all clear.

Some have said "there are no bad questions" this is clearly not true. BUT; is the question one that others might ask, and can it be a venue for a great answer? I think both of these can be venues for really good answers, and I think we have users here who can write good answers to them.

Edit I have posted an answer at the paddling question that I think works. I believe an answer at the sailing question is also apporpriate. It currently needs two more reopen votes. I guess we will wait and see what happens.

  • 2
    There are bad questions, but not nearly as many as SE users seem to think. A real expert can turn a naïve question into a profound answer.
    – ab2
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 19:35

Better question:

Why not just narrow the questions until they work?

Yes, the questions are probably too broad, but at the same time, we ought to be narrow them down and then reopen them.

Something like,

  • How to get started paddleboarding on a lake?
  • What books would be good for a beginner to read before trying sailing?
  • How can I safely try out a kayak for the first time?
  • Where can a beginner kayaker learn how to eskimo roll?

There are a lot of how do I get started questions including,

The bottom line here is that we have a user who wants to ask question, we should being trying to encourage that and salvage these questions by making them less broad.

  • Charlie, as you said, this is a different question rather than an answer! Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 3:48
  • However-In general I agree. We do try to give guidance before closing broad questions. We either ask the OP to edit, or do the edit ourselves. But, the OP of these wants them left broad. The comment here: "I very specifically am against edits that will change the nature of the question, and anything that could reduce the scope of the question would change the nature of the question." Our job is to respect the OP. Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 3:49
  • 1
    Nope - we should encourage the OP to ask this questions, but changing his questions into something different is not ok. And yes, narrowing a question down makes it different. If the OP responds in comments with information, that allow to narrow it down, then yes of course, go ahead and edit, but not arbitrarily. If you believe the question in a narrower version is worth asking, but the OP does not, you can always post that question yourself.
    – imsodin
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 6:17
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 12:28
  • @Sue My point in suggesting the question should not be narrowed is that narrowing the question would require more knowledge on the part of the asker (which you cannot assume they have) and would also change the question for other future readers. Ex: Random future reader is in the same situation and sees the question edited to "What safety guidelines should I be aware of when starting boating?" but realizes there are more than just safety concerns and so asks another Q "What legal guidelines should..." and a later user sees them both and wonders if there's still more, etc., etc.. ...
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:24
  • @Sue ... and then you might think "Sounds good, we have more questions, and they are more focused." And that would be true, but there is still no answer for the person getting into it from the starting point, and each person always wonders if they are ready to start, or if there's some other category of question to ask. And so, after all that, we eventually get the question anyway, the original question that was too broad. In this scenario though, at least you can then link to all the other specific starting questions. But requiring things in that order is putting the cart before the horse.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:26
  • I would have had no problem with there being multiple focused questions. In fact, I originally suggested that myself as a good way to handle the situation. I thought a series of Q's would be great. But instead of working with me, the question was put on hold, as were the follow-up more specific questions, and originally without any guidance on what anyone thought was a good way to start the Q&A series. So I left, annoyed, feeling like the community was cutting off its nose to spite its face, and I did not bother to look at SE for the next week...
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:29
  • ... fortunately, the people who care about the well being of the site (Sue, Charlie, ab2, etc.) started picking up the pieces, and I came back to find things better than when I left.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:30
  • @imsodin In this specific case, I did think the narrower questions were worth asking, as I suggested in my previous comments a minute ago. However, the problem here is, at least partially, that you cannot expect things to go in that order. Otherwise we leave a wake of on-hold questions as we keep asking more focused questions, possibly to have them put on hold as we ask still more focused questions... all the while the person with the original question might not even know what focused questions to ask, so the original asker is not helped unless the community jumps through hoops.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 20:33

I still believe this is a forum type question, which requires a back-and-forth communication for a clear answer, because the "right" answer depends on so many factors. Also try to think of what might be the "right" answer. Someone might direct the new user at yachting courses, the other at a local club for starting on a sunfish. Someone might include safety instructions, because heck why not it's relevant, someone else wont, because that's part of the suggested training etc etc
In the end those can be great answers and contain lots of good information, but they still essentially are opinion pieces, which can be judged whether they are being factual and useful, but not whether they actually cover the question and are better than the other question.

That being said I am not opposed to just not care about the above and let such open questions fly - mainly because I agree that due to knowledgeable users here there will be useful content, even if they will be "opinions".

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