I've noticed a trend here where people have issues with certain types of questions, although I've been impressed by the dedication and generally good intentions of those on the chat for sorting things out. Given our low question turnout and beta status of the site I think we should make an effort to make questions work, even if they end up being reworked a lot after having been asked.

What gets pointed out as criticism, close and down vote reasons are:

  • The question being too vague, however then going on to ask, for example to define "average person" or "involuntarily".

  • Not being able to contribute any answer because of, for example not knowing what type of cognitive science to use, where this is not relevant.

  • Someone having googled the question, knowing what they were looking for and finding the answer quickly, then presuming that because they could so others would be able to.

  • Not being able to understand simple, accessible language, that's both easily understood and well defined to those of less expertises.

Furthermore, there are references such as "how to ask", but these are not necessarily helpful for the reasons given above.

  • 1
    This seems almost entirely based on This post, are there other questions where you feel you've encountered this situation?
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 13, 2012 at 20:15
  • My one, it's been replaced now by Josh better attempt at the question. cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/328/…
    – alan2here
    Feb 13, 2012 at 20:21
  • I think a problem here is that "too accessible" really can mean "too vague", you might be giving an understandable explanation of what you want but to be able to actually research such a thing, it needs to be specified. Things need to be specifically defined before they can be measured or discussed in any serious context. If the question is so vague a whole wikipedia article could be written on it (and probably has) that's a problem.
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 13, 2012 at 20:32
  • 1
    what is "continuous or discrete cognitive science"? Feb 13, 2012 at 21:06

1 Answer 1


The problem you address isn't related to the experience of the person who asks the question, nor to questions being "too basic". As the matter of fact, we somewhat established basic questions are welcomed on this site. Plenty of basic questions have been asked and answered successfully (including my own). 1 Sometimes they need a little push in the right direction, fill up some gaps. 2

To quote Ben's answer:

As long as a good, well supported answer can be provided I don't think there is much of a risk in "general reference" questions that are explicitly on topic. Cognitive Science is a difficult issue to grasp, we should be an open and helpful community to provide answers for these questions.

However, if I take anything out of those 'easy' questions that got answered, it is they were humble, very small in scope, and were just asking for a push in the right direction.

I believe the problem lies mainly in how a question is phrased.

From How to Ask:

Do your homework

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 most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!

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.

Even a basic question can be phrased in such a way to indicate you thought the question through, and indicate you did some initial research. I'll use mine as an example, as it seemed to attract quite a few up votes.

Why do you sometimes write down one word while actually intending to write another?

Explain the context, why is it relevant?

I've caught myself writing (typing) "possible" instead of "possibly" a few times over the past few days, while I do intend to write "possibly". Only upon rereading the sentence I notice my mistake.

Eliminate possibilities, what did you already think about?

It is not a typo. I am able to touch-type on a qwerty layout on which 'e' and 'y' are both written using a different hand, and different fingers. The keys are two keys apart from each other.

Indicate what you found/couldn't find, why it didn't answer your question. Ideally quote the relevant parts, so people don't have to read through the entire reference, and so they know what you are basing your conclusions on.

A simple google search for "psychology writing wrong words" didn't show up any immediate relevant results. I did read about a Freudian Slip, but it seems highly unlikely I would make such a mistake due to an "unconscious ('dynamically repressed'), subdued, wish, conflict, or train of thought".

State a clear question. What is it that you want to know? Can it be answered without having to write an entire book, incorporating all possibilities? Attempt to make it more specific than the question title, which generally just sketches the subject. Don't phrase a question which is built around assumptions. If you make an assumption, that's worthy of it's own question.

Is there any psychological phenomenon explaining why I would make such an error?

1 Basic questions:

2 Basic questions which needed some editing:

  • 2
    I think it's important to specifically point out that the problem isn't the topic or accessible language, it's low effort, ambiguous questions
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 15, 2012 at 0:38

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