The very first page in the "Asking" section of the Help Center, What types of questions should I avoid asking?, has the following to say in the second line:

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

This sort of seems at odds with what's advertised as "on-topic" elsewhere. For example, the help page about on-topic says:

Please don't ask questions seeking legal advice on a specific matter. These are off-topic for Law Stack Exchange.

Admittedly, these aren't quite contradictory, but the first quote does seem to nudge users toward violating the second. It certainly doesn't say to me (as a relatively new user) that questions should be of a general or hypothetical nature.

Is this a problem?

  • 3
    Note that unlike the "on-topic" page, the "don't ask" page is common to all SE sites and cannot be modified directly by community mods, thus it needs Community Manager (SE staffs) intervention for this.
    – Andrew T.
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 19:47
  • 1
    Apologies for the delay in responding: just wanted to acknowledge that this item is on the CM team's backlog, and that we'll get back to you once someone gets assigned to it.
    – JNat StaffMod
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 14:28

4 Answers 4


I think that the wording "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face" encourages requests for legal advice and discourages questions about principles of the law. Throwing in "answerable" is unnecessary because all SE questions should be answerable (which could include "the answer is in principle unknowable") – questions that are not answerable either are too vague, depends too much on unspecified details, or are just plain opinion questions. Some effectively unanswerable questions can't be answered because nobody (here) knows (e.g. what were the rules of procedure in the Courts of Hammurabi; what is the interpretation of this contract written in Dhivehi).

Questions about Chevron deference are not "practical", nor are hypotheticals. That is, unless your understanding of "practical" and "actual problems that you face" includes "My problem is, I want to know". If that is what "actual problems that you face", then I don't see what this filter is supposed to exclude. I suppose it might exclude disingenuous questions and other forms of trolling, but if that is so, we'd be better served if we articulated a principle that we will judge questions for genuineness of intent, and close anything that we think is trolling.

I can imagine a path whereby a new user might see this "actual problems" requirement and come to the conclusion that they should provide exactly the level of detail required to trigger a well-tailored answer. That path is extraordinarily narrow. A more practical concern is the failure of many posts to include some indication of jurisdiction, as well as the problem that many legal conclusions (as posited in questions) are actually legal conclusions but are framed as facts ("My landlord broke the law" rather than "My landlord entered my apartment to repair the circuit breaker").

However, since the "actual problems" language is generic to SE, there is nothing we can do about it at least at that level, and I doubt that users attempt to construct a unified theory of what they should not ask, based on the structure of the help system. I would advocate having "what's on topic" be the first thing that a user sees in the menu under the title "What types of questions should I avoid asking?" (whose content should be that of "What topics can I ask about here?"), and point to the generic principles as presupposed old information. I understand why they structured the system the way they did, but it detracts from users reading what I think is the most important help info, namely that which you really must not do. Changing the system is not a realistic option.

  • 2
    +1 for the exposition. But I think your conclusion misunderstands the question. The proposal isn't to "change the system," but rather to change that particular boilerplate SE verbiage at least for this site, which is certainly realistic for CMs (and which is why I tagged this question for their review).
    – feetwet Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 20:20
  • @feetwet Thank you for bringing this question to our attention. I do apologise for the delay with the reply. Could you please tell me what exactly do you want me to do? Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 18:14
  • I mean, I see your point about the inconsistency of the current situation. Would you mind to tell me what conclusion did you all reach about the further actions? Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 9:19

I changed

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


You should only ask practical, answerable questions and questions about general legal information.

Please let me know I you have any questions, concerns or suggestions.



The "Asking" page in the help centre is standard across all Stack Exchange sites (or, at least, all the ones that we've had a look at).

It is a legacy of Stack Exchange's origin as Stack Overflow, a Q&A site for programming questions - in that context it is clear that "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face" is a perfectly sensible guideline.

As the Stack Exchange family has grown, it has come to include sites where that clear limitation perhaps needs to be little more nuanced. This is not only the case here at Law but also among other sites where there is potential for more good subjective than simply right/wrong fact-based answers (e.g. Role-playing Games, Philosophy, Budhism, Politics among many others).

That said, it remains the goal of all Stack Exchange sites that only answerable questions are posed even if the answers have to start with "It depends ...". We are not and don't want to be a forum and our structure is such that when answers are posted the OP gets to choose the right answer for them and the community gets to vote on the best answer - which may not be the same answer.

What's happening

The text on the help pages is not within the power of mods to change so we've kicked it upstairs to our Community Moderators.

At this stage, we don't know if this text is something that they can change on a site-by-site basis or if it is a central file used by all SE sites or if it's hard-coded into the SE software.

If the former, we expect that, after consultation, a change can be made, however, we do not expect this to be quick - SE employees are busy and this sort of non-urgent change is way down on their to-do list.

If it's either of the latter two, then it simply isn't going to happen.

We will keep you informed through this question.


Is the “don't ask” help page at odds with what's on topic here?

No. The second excerpt ("don't ask questions seeking legal advice") preserves consistency with the disclaimers that (1) Law SE is not a substitute for individualized advice, and that (2) the answers are not legal advice.

The first excerpt ("only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face") is what prevents Law SE from being a dull site of generic, textbook questions. The details that users offer can be crucial as to what and how legal theories/doctrines apply, besides making us all think about the meaning, scope, and compatibility of those laws and doctrines.

This exercise of analyzing legal ramifications would not be possible if all questions were formulated in purely generic terms so as to avoid triggering others' superstitious alarms that the user is "seeking legal advice". Hence one [of many] reason[s] why it is so unfortunate when some users rush to downvote & close questions that involve particularities.


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