I have been noticing a chicken&egg problem (Ie: The classic "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?").

People ask questions because they don't know the answer, obviously, so they want help from those who know better. But question askers cannot possibly be expected to ask those clarifying questions first before the question they had in mind when they don't even know what clarifying information others will want. That is often literally impossible.

I actually anticipated this in my question How much fish can a saltwater angler catch per day?, assuming there would be the inevitable "We can't answer because X, Y, Z, A, B, C, etc... you need to tell us what those parameters are first." Preemptively, I created the secondary question What are the variables that will significantly affect saltwater fishing success? at the same time.

Both of those questions have attracted close votes. In Why can't we get the question rate up?, one of the comments suggests

It would help if high quality questions were not frequently closed on technicalities.

and from ab2's answer to that question

Someone always suggests that the real experts on ELU should ask more questions, and one of the responses always is:

When I have a question, I can usually find the answer pretty quickly myself.

And ELU is not very welcoming to neophytes who ask conceptually simple questions.

Do we have a similar problem: (1) that the most expert users here know or can deduce the answers to the few things that puzzle them, and (2) we are not welcoming (or are somehow intimidating) to very basic questions from neophytes?

I decided to open up and ask more questions because there seems to be a general consensus that more questions are needed. And I'm trying to make them good.

I am right now writing such a sub-sub-question. But really, in my mind, it should have been the other way around.

  • Q: "How much fish can I catch?" A: "It varies a lot. A few days with nothing on a bad day to a few hundred pounds on a good day."
  • Ok, cool, now I want to know what causes it to vary as per answer... Q: "What are the variables?" A: " - Fish type targeted affects it in such and such a way. - Whether or not you use a fish finder. - ..."
  • Ok, cool, I wonder how fish type affects it... Q: "What fish should I target for situation X?"

and so on..., but instead I get hints about what an answer might be and then have to do those questions in reverse order, and that is quite obnoxious.

So which comes first, the question or the sub-question?

  • I got a laugh as the first response to the sub-question of the sub-question of my question was that I need to provide more detail about what type of water I would be fishing in, coastal or pelagic. Fortunately this one was simple, and a quick Google "define pelagic" was enough to avoid a sub-question of the sub-question of the sub-question of the question.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 28, 2018 at 20:22
  • 2
    I would very much recommend you to either try to shorten posts or provide a summary. I don't want to take the time to read such a wall of text up front. If a shorter version sparks my interest, I may read supplemental arguments. And I would guess that's even more so true to many other potential "readers".
    – imsodin
    Sep 29, 2018 at 4:46

4 Answers 4


There is no paradox.

But question askers cannot possibly be expected to ask those clarifying questions first before the question they had in mind.

Yes, they can, and they should. The first paragraph from How do I ask a good question?" in the Help Center says the following:

Search, and research

Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

So, in the case of the particular fishing question, yes, the asker should be expected to know that e.g. different parts of the oceans will have vastly different results, and that knowledge should be reflected in the question.

Additionally, from the Help Center, questions should:

Be specific

If you ask a vague question, you’ll get a vague answer. But if you give us details and > context, we can provide a useful answer.

The value of SE is in the specific questions and specific answers. If you want to know what fishing conditions to expect where you are going to vacation, then ask for that information. When you make the question broad and vague, the usefulness to you and to everyone else goes down. That's why you've received negative feedback, and why you perceive hostility to "conceptually simple" or "basic" questions.

That's also why for the most part, this site and SE sites in general frown on questions that fish for answers of the "give me the values for every possible X" variety.

  • The "provide us the research you've done" might have some merit here, but really how am I supposed to do that? Provide a list of every website I have poured over that did not provide a useful answer? My original fish question is one that I have found no good answer for, so there is nothing good to show despite days of research sometimes hours at a time. I found some results that could have been provided as "here's something I found, but this is why it doesn't help" for freshwater fishing, but that is for freshwater fishing.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 28, 2018 at 21:08
  • Also, you are requesting something that 95% of SE questions do not provide, so those questions are hardly exceptional in that regard.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 28, 2018 at 21:09
  • As for vague: It is only vague to the person who already knows, and if I already knew I would not ask the question. To the one who does not know, the question honestly sounds perfectly focused and narrow. You have suggested that I "should have just known that the location would matter", but no, I honestly did not know. I honestly believed that the fishing would be the same off the US east coast as it would be off Chile as it would be off Japan. I had no reason to assume they would be different. Even if that information were commonplace, the nature of my Google queries didn't dig that up.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 28, 2018 at 21:12
  • As I suggested in chat: If I had a time machine to go to the future and see ahead of time what information you needed, then could come back and ask questions about that instead, then ask the original question after I could provide the details, then maybe I would. But I do not possess a time machine. You are expecting people to operate with hindsight... before it becomes hindsight.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 28, 2018 at 21:13
  • That is, I agree with what you say. We have no disagreement in the theory of how we might prefer the procession of questions to go. But you are missing the fact that what you ask of me is literally impossible. If I am wrong, please explain what I could have done different in the sample questions, and be specific.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 28, 2018 at 21:15
  • 1
    @Aaron - in your specific fishing question, I would expected you to Google best fishing spots in your area, perhaps look at fishing clubs. Instead of writing those two questions at once, try starting with the basics in one question.
    – Rory Alsop Mod
    Sep 29, 2018 at 9:53

In the tour of the site, one of the bullet points of "questions to avoid" is "Questions with too many possible answers or that would require an extremely long answer". Your questions about saltwater fishing seem to fall squarely in that category. People have written thousands of books about "What are the variables that will significantly affect saltwater fishing success?". The answer to your questions can't be usefully summarized in paragraph or two, or even in a page or two.

As @whatisname wrote, the SE format is geared to providing specific answers to specific questions. If you are completely ignorant of a subject, SE is (to my mind) the wrong place to start. It's no crime to be unaware that a subject is much broader or deeper than you may have thought, but once you get that information, the appropriate response is to take a step back and build some general knowledge. That may mean you have to fall back to such old fashioned methods as reading books, or at least studying a few dozen of the millions of articles on subject linked to by Google. I don't mean that you should skim the background material looking for the paragraph that answers your current question, I'm suggesting you should study the material so you'll have enough background to frame an answerable, specific question.

I don't think the site simply needs more questions, it needs more good questions!

  • Please put that as an answer to the question then. "The answer to this question cannot be usefully summarized in a paragraph or two, or even a page or two." That would make a better answer to that question than it would here. That doesn't work for question askers since they cannot be expected to know that ahead of time. I expected there could be a short, mostly exhaustive list written in a short space. If that is not true, then make that an answer there.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:17
  • 2
    As for "more good questions," that is just arrogant. The questions I asked are good questions. The fact that they cannot acquire good answers appropriate to the site's style is not a fault of the question. A question can be a perfect question for SE and, unknown to its author, require an answer which is not, invalidating the whole thing not because anyone asked a bad question, but because the question is overcome by events.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:19
  • Answering too-broad questions with "The answer to this question cannot be usefully summarized in a paragraph or two, or even a page or two." is, honestly, a contradiction since questions that should be closed shouldn't be answered in the first place; that's also the reason why the "too broad" close banner already explains about this. Also, good questions are in the eyes of the beholder. What you might think as a good question doesn't necessarily mean a good question for this site.
    – Andrew T.
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:47
  • 1
    "Please put that as an answer to the question then." No, because that's exactly what the close votes labeled "too broad" are telling telling you. Close votes are not marking you as a bad person, or an ignorant person. They're simply telling you that (in the opinion of the voter) your question has problems that make is unsuitable for the site. Sep 30, 2018 at 16:04
  • I apologize if "good questions" seemed arrogant. I assumed the context of "good for this site". The SE sites are not designed or purposed to provide tutorials or to compete with Wikipedia. They are designed to answer specific questions on specific topics that can be completely and definitively answered in a few paragraphs and provide a useful resource beyond the immediate needs of the asker. A question might be perfectly good in a general context, but not good for this site. The closes votes are the feedback you need to modify your question. Sep 30, 2018 at 16:09

I don't know anything about fishing except what I've read in books like Men Against the Sea (Captain Bligh's journey in a small boat across the Pacific after he was kicked off the Bounty) and Surviving the Extremes by Ken Kamler, MD and a few accounts in magazines and newspapers. Thus, I have not voted on or commented on any of the recent fishing questions.

About all I know is that there are places in the ocean where flying fish will literally jump into your boat, that there are places in the ocean where fish are very scarce, that there are places where the available fish roam the deeps, but are rare on the surface -- and that the oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth's surface, according to NOAA. I've read several accounts where the people adrift couldn't catch any fish, but were saved by spearing a large turtle.

Thus, I think that any fishing question that does not identify what part of the ocean the OP is asking about, or what drifting (or sailing) route the OP is asking about, or what fishing conditions (if one had good gear) the OP is asking about, is too broad.

To make my answer more general, not just about fishing, one has to know something before one can ask a question that is focused enough that it can be answered without an answer that starts out with a long list of assumptions.

To get back to the fishing questions, if, for some reason, I had to write a fishing question from my platform of ignorance, I would reread Men Against the Sea and build my question on their fishing experiences on their 3,168 nautical mile journey from close to Tahiti to Timor in what is now Indonesia. I'd pick that book for my research, because it is an absolutely un-put-downable read.

  • For the first and third questions in my series ("How much could one catch?" and "What type should I target?"), the location information is understandable (now, anyway... again, by hindsight, which only proves my point), and I have continually refined the question, including the location. I even asked one of the people who requested location if Atlantic ocean was precise enough, to which I did not get a response. On the last of the three, I even specified North Atlantic, off east coast of the US. Is that still not enough? If now, someone should say so (proving the point here again).
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:26
  • For the second of the three ("What are the variables?"), your point actually would be part of the answer to that question. And that is actually why I asked it, because I have looked into this, more than just reading a historical novel, and yet many people are still treating me like a "help vampire", which is the opposite of what I have been to this site. I will probably just stop asking anything fishing or boating related here... which will probably mean I'll ask few to no questions.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:30
  • @Aaron Men Against the Sea is not merely an historical novel; it is the second in a trilogy to attempt to recreate the history of the Bounty mutiny, and is very well researched. It is less than a purely historical account, but more than a novel. I'll take a look at the fishing questions this evening.
    – ab2
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:37
  • 1
    I meant nothing negative against the book by it. Part of my research actually has included reading "Mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty". I just didn't want to say "I've done more than just reading a book," as perhaps there is some book out there somewhere that would be just what I need. I meant nothing bad, I just meant it literally: I've done more than reading a book or two about a historical account. I have read a book, watched some fishing-related shows, and poured through dozens, maybe hundreds of websites doing my fishing research. That is part of what makes this so frustrating.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:47
  • @Aaron I didn't think you meant anything derogatory.
    – ab2
    Sep 29, 2018 at 22:02
  • 2
    I looked at the fishing questions, and have a suggestion. But bear in mind that this comes from someone who knows nothing about fishing or sailing. A question such as: "A couple of friends and I are planning a one week sailing trip in the late spring in the neighborhood of Cape Cod (or Key West or wherever). One of us is an expert sailor, so no worries on that score. I have to plan the food supplies. Can we count on getting enough protein from fishing (angling) or should we take some freeze dried beef stew? Any recommendations on what fishing gear to take and what books to read?
    – ab2
    Sep 29, 2018 at 22:21

From the tour

Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced. Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do.

Avoid questions with too many possible answers or that would require an extremely long answer.

On the first you want a number for the entire east coast. You provide no information on the gear you have. A small boat cannot fish some of the larger fish. Clearly too broad.

On the second what are the typical significant factors that are known to affect such fishing? There are whole books on that.

On the third you have narrowed it down to the North Atlantic. Still too broad. When asked for a specific location your attitude is prove to me I need to. That is not how this site works. You refuse to narrow it down to a even a specific state.

You don't have a specific question you have a concept.

You lack research. If you would just pick a state you could google state saltwater fish and get an answer.

I plan to fish out of Portsmouth New Hampshire in month in a x foot boat and a range of y. What species of fish can I expect? Now that is a specific question. But is also a question you can just Google.

  • For the first, yes that is what I did. I never said that no further information was needed, instead I have been updating the questions and asking further clarifying questions so that I can understand how to answer your requests for clarification. In fact, that is the point of this meta question. For the second question, "whole books"? Ok good, I did not think that would be the case, now I know it is, but someone should have said that there, not here. For the third, when I was told North Atlantic was still too broad, I did narrow it by edit yet again. I never refused, never at all.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:35
  • As for "no specific question," that does not even make sense, as they are 3 very specific questions. The fact that the answers would be too broad just means that they could be narrowed, which is what I have been trying to do the entire time (which is why there even are 3 questions)... that just supports this meta question. As for research, I'm not going to rehash that blatantly false statement again.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:38
  • @Aaron Thanks for the down vote. Not going to debate with you.
    – paparazzo
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:39
  • As for state, are you seriously suggesting that an answer would truly need to know right down to the state that I was closest to, or possibly even the city? Really??? If that is true (along with the other things in your example there), then that is something that belongs over there, not here in the meta. Also, none of that invalidates the point of this meta Q, which is "I don't know ahead of time that you need data X.", so you are asking something that is literally impossible of any mere mortal. assuming you are taking the context of this meta into account. I cannot predict the future.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:41
  • Your welcome. The down vote is nothing personal against you. Your answer just does not take the actual meta question into account at all. If you edit to make it an actual answer, I'll retract it, and if it's useful I'll even up vote, even if it's an answer I don't want to hear.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:43
  • I tell you what is required to make it a specif question and you argue. I give up.
    – paparazzo
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:53
  • I argued, but now about "what is required to make it a spefic question, in fact, I have repeatedly thanked people for helping with that. If I haven't thanked you yet as well, then sorry for that: Thank You.
    – Loduwijk
    Sep 29, 2018 at 17:55

You must log in to answer this question.

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