I asked a question seeking links to online video lectures on psychology. I originally structured it as a poll-style community wiki question (e.g., one link per answer that people could vote on). The comments suggested that such questions may not be wanted on the Stack Exchange network.

I can think of a large number of questions where I want to get a list of what is out there, but I also want to know what is best. For example:

  • What reviews have been published on a topic and what would you recommend?
  • What textbook on topic X are available and what is best?
  • What theories exist on topic X and which is the most supported?

I think such information is useful and often does answer a question of interest. Often such questions that list resources can be some of the most popular.

Thus, my question:

  • Is there any guidance on how such questions should be asked?

3 Answers 3


Yesterday I've been looking through meta SO for some guidance on this, and it seems there is no consensus on this matter at all.

The general guidelines from the faq are:

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ______?”
  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?”
  • there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”
  • we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”
  • it is a rant disguised as a question: “______ sucks, am I right?”

Jeff Atwood discusses these guidelines on his blog, and mentions the following in a comment:

The guideline for poll questions isn’t that they are not allowed, it is that they must be constructive.

Contradictory to say the least. I believe it is up to us as a community to decide whether such questions would be valuable on this site or not, and decide on how to handle them. We need to define proper guidelines on this so we don't end up closing some but keeping others open as has happened on other sites.

A later blog post by Grace Note discusses abuses of community wiki, but one of the subtitles says it all: "Community Wiki is not for Fun".

I suggest the following guidelines:

  • Constructive. The answers contain actual information relative to the subject.
  • Not for fun.
  • One answer per 'resource'.
  • Not overly broad.
  • Should be community wiki (CW). Votes in a poll represent the 'quality' of the items being listed, and not how well it was formulated. Polls attract a disproportionate amount of votes, resulting in a lot of easily achievable reputation which could motivate people for the wrong reasons. Making polls CW results in the posters not getting any reputation for their posts.

Basically this boils down to just sticking to already established guidelines for good subjective questions.

Constructive subjective questions:

  • inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  • tend to have long, not short, answers.
  • have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  • invite sharing experiences over opinions.
  • insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.
  • are more than just mindless social fun.

For poll questions this would translate to:

  • Explain why you add a resource to the list, what contents can you expect to find there?
  • Refrain from adding subjective information in your answer. State facts about the resource.
  • Another relevant discussion on MSO.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 10:56
  • 3
    That Meta discussion is from years back, and before we re-evaluated our strategies for Community Wiki (which is to say, it shouldn't be a factor here). I wouldn't put too much interest into it. You cited my post explaining why these shouldn't be Community Wiki, so I'm not sure what the argument for making them Community Wiki is.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 18:15
  • 1
    @GraceNote: You are right that my reference to your post is a bit out of place. Only upon a proper rereading of your post it occurred to me you actually also intend poll questions not to be CW. I understand your reasoning, but the main issue with 'poll questions' in my opinion is the up votes don't necessarily represent quality posts, but quality 'items'. You reference a gaming question as an example of a great question. Do you find it fair that the first person mentioning fraps and a block quote earns 310 rep, and an unlimited resource of rep?
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 23:19
  • 1
    I think it's fair. It's no less fair than the 860 reputation I've gotten for this answer being on Gaming's top voted question. Votes are important to these sites, in fact I might go as far as to say they are more important than reputation, because they're what's attached to the actual content we produce. And Community Wiki does nothing about votes. It's not a solution to the inherent flaws to the approach. Not even as a stop-gap to votes on polls being wrong.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 3:07
  • "Votes are important to these sites, in fact I might go as far as to say they are more important than reputation" Agreed. It's the same reasoning I follow to conclude reputation shouldn't have anything to do with a poll question. CW does something about rep. Rep causes unwanted behavior, posting badly formed poll questions, spamming polls with one liners. Down voting wouldn't be a solution, as the vote wouldn't represent the poll item anymore, but the fact that it's badly formed. You could say you should edit the post to improve it, continuously ... resulting in what? CW ...
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 23:01

As there are still poll questions being asked, I thought I'd add a late opinion on this discussion.

On many of the SE network's more technical sites, your typical poll question asks

What are the best references to get started with topic X?

One of the often given solutions is to add these references to the tag wiki for topic X rather than have a poll type question.

Some of these tag wikis now form proper introductions to the topic by themselves and list a big number of resources in one easily accessible place. Though how easy it is for newcomers to find this information is up for debate.


When you posted that, I downvoted and voted to close it.

I didn't intend to cause offense and didn't downvote because what you were asking for was off-topic or was a bad question. I tried to close it with extreme prejudice because it's the early beta and with some of my experience elsewhere on the Stack Exchange network, I thought it would be deemed "not a good fit" for a Stack Exchange site.

Now, I am not saying that I personally am against list questions like this. And in his answer to this question, user Steven Jeuris makes a very good point:

I believe it is up to us as a community to decide whether such questions would be valuable on this site or not, and decide on how to handle them. We need to define proper guidelines on this so we don't end up closing some but keeping others open as has happened on other sites.

Ultimately, I believe Steven is correct. We as a community decide if we will allow poll-like questions like these. As a proof of this point, review this Meta Stack Overflow question which details that Ask Different has decided to allow these kinds of questions. However they are going "against the grain" and Stack Exchange employees are less than thrilled about this:

The "problem" you describe here is an exemplary illustration of exactly why we forgo these types of questions. You say they're "a select few poll questions that are educational" and "a great way to add some fun to our site" — and then you lament that they are crowding out the hot questions on the site for everyone to see. What happened to "a select few?"


The features of Stack Exchange are designed to make it easy to do the right thing while simultaneously difficult to go the wrong way. By going against the grain, you've taken on an up-hill battle.

That's from Robert Cartaino, Community Manager for the Stack Exchange Network. Robert will play an extremely critical role in this very site ever going live, so, we may want to think very carefully before going against his established view.

I posted a poll-like question of my own here on Meta. I thought it might be permissible for two reasons:

  1. It was on Meta, and not the real site. Meta questions are different in may ways than real questions.
  2. I was hoping to find some resources for early beta users to use to seed this site with / assist us in answering questions. I somewhat expected my question to be deleted eventually

I now think it was hypocritical of me to post my own poll question and have voted to close it. I have a suggestion for a better way for us to run "pool-type" questions: We should be using chat for this.

Chat is, by nature, free form and less structured than the main site. The rules are more relaxed and it's a better fit for discussions / opinions. However, chat still has stars, so one can create a room specifically for recommendations, and people can star the posts with the best recommendations. In this manner, the recommendations with the most stars will rise to the top and similar poll functionality can be achieved.

I have voted to close my own poll question and created a chat room for it instead. I think this solution will allow us to have our cake and eat it too, so to speak: We can have polls, and also be more in-line with what the Stack Exchange network model says we should be.

  • Original thought, but I have some concerns with this. How SEO friendly is chat? Wouldn't a lot of 'chat noise' be added in between proposals? However, the idea is definitely a good alternative in case we can't use the Q&A format for this.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 14:51
  • @StevenJeuris chat has an SEO friendly transcript. And if the room members star recommendations, then the star list (also available via RSS!) works great to filter out noise.
    – Josh
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 14:53
  • Bigger problem I realized, is chat doesn't show up when searching through SE's search function.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 3:39
  • @StevenJeuris chat has it's own search function.
    – Josh
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 12:59
  • 2
    What about the best of both worlds? Allow those questions (when they are constructive as in my guidelines), closing it as not constructive, but editing it and linking to the relevant chat room? Perhaps there is even a possibility of adding a 'dump' of the chat as community answer.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 19:53
  • 1
    In chat, it is hard to achieve a nice overview as this. This question definitely set a nice standard if we are going to allow them. I still disagree with Grace Note on not making it CW though.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 22:53

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