There seems to be a difference of opinion about whether asking for citations is a list question as defined by Stack Exchange. And, therefore, discouraged.

I wonder what other people think about this?


I think asking for citations of cases and statutes is a useful tool for constructing better questions about the law.

A big benefit is it provides a potentially better alternative than asking Is X Legal?.


I assume you mean that a list question is defined here, specifically one that "cannot be answered definitively". As such, unclear questions are a species of list question, as well as subjective / opinion questions. In addition, if the question asks for a finite list – what are the amendments to the US constitution as of June 4 2016? – that list would not be a list question. At least, that is the majority opinion, and we don't have to read the dissents.

I am compelled to point out that I find the ban on list questions to be remarkably ill-considered, and should be repealed since it encourages contempt for the law. In ordinary language, a "list" is a set of multiple items that are simply concatenated in an order. If in a legal system there are 5 fundamental elements to a contract, stating what those elements are would be "providing a list". The crime of list-solicitation would at the very least have to include the outcome that a list might be given as an answer. Here, then, is a hypothetical list Q-and-A:

Q: What are the most important elements in a valid contrast?

A: Consideration, Offer and Acceptance, Legality, Capacity, Assent.

This is fairly useless information, because if you know this, you aren't informed, and if you don't know this, you aren't informed (because there is no information via discussion of what the list elements refer to).

The role of a citation is to give evidence for the conclusion. It is not clear to me whether the historical or overarching purpose of SE is to provide just conclusions, or conclusions supported with evidence, however I don't really care – answers that are just unsupported assertions are terrible and we should fight against them. Especially when we don't have extensive knowledge of the professional credentials of answerers, limiting responses to just the conclusions would be the absolute wrong way to go.

A good answer states a general proposition applicable to the topic, and provides evidence that that proposition is true. "Citations" is just another term for evidence (though more narrow, since many people think that "evidence" can include "a made-up line of thought that gets from A to B", whereas a "citation" would be something that actually exists out there -- a statute, legal decision, or even credible expert conclusion set forth in a law journal. Every answer should provide evidence; citations should be encouraged.

I do think that simply dumping the evidence out there is not a good idea -- it needs to be held together with some logical glue, which is what distinguishes an argument for a conclusion, from a list question (though not as defined in SE).


tl;dr: One could argue that many on-topic questions at Law.SE are "list questions," but they should not be discouraged.

The default custom on SE sites (with a few explicit exceptions, like the Recommendations sites) is to reject questions that are amenable to multiple equally valid answers – "list questions." (Canonical example: "What js framework can do x, y, and z?")

My impression is that Law.SE has accepted the reality that:

  1. Law varies by jurisdiction and,
  2. we do not have expert answerers from many jurisdictions, but
  3. answers from other jurisdictions are always welcome, usually informative to both the OP and others interested in the question, and in practice may include the most helpful/useful answer likely to be provided.

Therefore, in practice we have encouraged multiple "equally-valid answers" (which is a large part of what the "no-list-question policy" aimed to avoid).

Does a request for case law that addresses a legal question constitute a "list question?" In spirit I don't believe so: An ideal answer would look like a "law review" article. It might include a number of informative citations, and ultimately there may be a single supreme precedent ... which is the answer for that jurisdiction.

But Law.SE isn't "Law Review.SE." It's rare that anybody has the capacity to post a complete answer with both case history and current law. Therefore, as with all Stack Exchanges, while we lack a perfect answer we are willing to build our way to better and more complete answers. And a series of incomplete but equally relevant answers – a list – is one way to do that.

NB: This doesn't mean that all "list questions" are on-topic here.

Data requests – e.g., "What is the age of consent in every state?" – can certainly be closed with a comment linking to the list on wikipedia.

Opinion requests – e.g., "What's your favorite SCOTUS decision?" – are closed because they are "primarily opinion-based," not because they're list questions (though they are that too).

The question that inspired this question – "Case law on insider trading?" – is challenging, in large part because the law is in flux.

  • If it was posed as, "Please give me a list of precedential cases on insider trading," it could be closed as an undesirable form of list question along with a snarky, "If you can't afford WestLaw then go to your local law library."
  • But posed as, "I can't figure out what insider trading laws are. Can anyone post illuminating cases?" Yes it's likely to product lists, but it's an invitation to provide helpful, useful answers.

There appears to be two highly upvoted answers in the link to the definition of a list question.

The second answer, with 9 up-votes, provides the definition below:

"A "list" or "poll" question is a question that cannot be answered definitively. List/poll questions are asking for a list, not a single answer."

I believe asking for citations is asking for a list and not a single answer, and thus is likely a "list question".

  • I think the higher-ranked answer there is more illuminating: It defines "list questions" as Questions that are geared toward creating responses, not answers. Presumably one asks for citations in order to find and/or authenticate an answer. – feetwet Jun 4 '16 at 18:07
  • @feetwet, the first answer does leave some ambiguity as to what is a response and what is an answer. That is why I believe the second is more illuminating. – Kenshin Jun 5 '16 at 0:33

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