There are many degrees of initial research:

  • read the wikipedia article on the topic
  • read the first hit of a Google search on the topic
  • performed a basic search on Google scholar and read one or more articles
  • etc.

Following on from another question on how to encourage initial research:

what are the expectations regarding showing initial research on a question?

  • Our current questions often show the level of "I've dug through a couple Google results or read a wikipedia article". However it's harder to tell the person's research history. A person with a formal background in psychology can form a very good question with "only" a recent google/wikipedia article to show for it.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jan 23 '12 at 22:22
  • This is a topic I will be following with close interest. I don't have an answer just yet, I'd like to see what the rest of the community has to say and then I will probably weigh in.
    – Josh
    Jan 23 '12 at 22:25

I think to really answer this question, we have to be able to answer what is too basic. But even for basic and advanced questions, there are varying levels of showing initial research.

Basic: If a question can be easily answered by a quick google search, wikipedia, or an introductory textbook in psychology, then the person has not shown initial research on a question.

Advanced: If a person cites a specific paper or result, and the paper clearly answers the question then the person has not shown initial research. Unless they make it explicit they are fully aware of the content of the paper but are struggling with it.

  • Yeah, my pet peeve is with questions like "is there any research on X" where putting X in google immediately produces hits on such research. psychology.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2382/… The answer can contain any random selection of the results. It's not clear how one answer is better than another for such questions. Such questions are ok IMO (I even asked some myself), when the topic seems obscure and no easy answer is found in Google.
    – Fizz
    Aug 19 '18 at 22:51

For comparison, see this thread for the early consensus of StackOverflow]:

There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to "easy" questions that involves quickly answering by copying/pasting an embarrassing link to lmgtfy.com (or similar responses in comments, which aren't downvotable) in an attempt to belittle the questions' authors. I think this comes from engagement in forums, where people would ask simple questions like "What is a variable?"

I would argue that we should NOT do this. As Stack Overflow grows, it is quickly becoming THE source of Google's suggestions. For instance, yesterday I did a quick search on Google for a particular framework, and Stack Overflow came up in the top three results...

This position was famously demonstrated when Joel Spolsky posted a question on "How do I move the turtle in logo?" and it received a couple of hundred upvotes. However, the position of the community has now shifted and that question has been deleted. A StackOverflow blog post clarified that StackExchange was not designed to be used for questions that could easily be looked up in a general reference source:

We’ve seen it come up enough times now that I’m comfortable making a final decision: yes, some questions are too simple to be answered … at least on our sites.

Not because they’re bad questions, mind you, but because these types of questions can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference site with no additional explanation necessary. We discourage “answers” that are links, but for these questions, it’s hard to argue that anything else is required.

Below is a flowchart created by Borror0 suggesting how to deal with these issues:


It is worthwhile noting that the exact rules are up to each individual StackExchange community to determine. Just because other communities adopt certain rules, we don't have to adopt them either. But the general consensus seems to be that easy questions are generally allowed, unless it they are "general reference" questions and also not interesting questions to answer.

  • 1
    We don't have a 'general reference' close reason, and I hate closing questions like that as Not a Real Question. Off-topic might be best, and adding a comment linking to a meta post which defines what is too basic for this site. Although, I also hate closing as off-topic, as it's clearly on-topic, it's just not welcomed.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Mar 14 '12 at 13:18
  • @StevenJeuris Off topic should NOT be used in that manner unless it's something specifically addressed in the FAQ. The topic of the post is fine, it's NARQ or Not Constructive because the actual post is problematic, not the topic.
    – Ben Brocka
    Apr 2 '12 at 15:26
  • Since this was posted this community has evolved, we now do have a custom close reason which encompasses 'general reference': "This question is not framed in psychology or neuroscience.".
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Apr 4 '18 at 9:02

We somewhat established non-experts are welcomed here. Of course there is a good chance that 'consensus' mainly originated from this site having more non-experts than experts.

Is this a problem?

This is really difficult to analyze. In its current form this site is trying to be open to experts and non-experts alike. Does the presence of the non-experts drive away the experts? If this would be true, eventually we would only have non-experts on the site, and nobody is left to answer questions correctly. That would be bad.

However, as long as the community is able to distinguish between bad and good posts, which is something we all can do, I don't see a real problem. We might have a limited amount of experts at first, but we are still growing. If we were to decide only professional initial research would constitute good initial research, we would scare away all the non-professionals and we would have a considerable smaller user base. I feel it is more important to have an active site with valid content (professional or not), than to have an inactive site with solely professional content. Wouldn't an inactive site drive away professionals just as well? As long as we can prevent inaccurate posts from filling up the site, we should be fine.

Required initial research

In line with the points I raised earlier: I feel we shouldn't hold up every question to the same standards.

What I am about to say is very much in line with the FAQ. Mainly the following two points which I've noticed tend to be a problem with the questions being closed on this site.

there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”

Initial research should resolve this issue. It should be clear there is an actual problem. What is it that you don't understand, and how would an answer to your question help you? Just stating facts and asking an open-ended question (or no question at all) isn't answerable. You could give tons of relevant information, but that is not a good fit for Q&A.

we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”

This is our main problem. We should make it very clear that although non-expert questions are welcome, we shouldn't allow questions which aren't founded in any way. Even non-expert questions shouldn't be hypothetical. Stating you heard something once, but don't recall when or where doesn't constitute a good question. Non-expert and expert questions alike should show proof there is reason to ask the question.

The difference lies in what proof. If a non-expert can link to dozens of articles/forum-posts/TED talks and the like, there is reason to believe his question is founded. There is nothing wrong with being skeptical and asking for more scientific resources. They usually don't expect a very broad answer, just a push in the right direction so they can attempt to look into it themselves. This will guide them into self-learning and being able to ask a more professional question on the topic the next time around.

Adjust your answer to the level of initial research

This leads me to a tip for those answering questions with non-professional initial research. Don't answer them as if it is a professional question. Just point them in the right direction. My guess is it constitutes a good answer just as much as a more extensive answer would. Save your time for the more detailed questions.

  • 2
    There was a good blog post about how important the "tell us why you're asking" bit is of a question; it shows whether you're asking out of idle curiosity or if there's a problem you need solved. It also requires you to show why you're asking, you must have SOME reason you think X happens. If it's a totally unfounded claim I'm not sure we have any reason to answer, I'd say it becomes Not a Real Question at that point.
    – Ben Brocka
    Mar 25 '12 at 18:44

I added a few opinions about prior research here. I just thought I'd quote them here given that this seems to be the central storage place of initial research requirement discussions.

I agree that good scientific questions will typically show prior research. However, I don't think that prior research per se should be a requirement for questions on this site. I'm much more concerned with issues like:

  • Is the question answerable in a scientific way? (e.g., Is the scope of the question appropriate?)
  • If such a question was answered, would it improve the Internet?

If the question is easy to answer, then someone will probably add an answer, and that will be the end of it.

I think it's much more important that answers are held up to standards of scientific rigour. For questions it's more important that they are answerable and interesting.

  • 1
    The problem with this is it's impossible for the asker, who's done zero research, to even guess the answers to these questions. Going from a clear requirement/expectation to a guessing game where everything is debatable is a step in the wrong direction.
    – Ben Brocka
    Sep 18 '12 at 13:27
  • 1
    I like the idea of a guideline. That said, if a question is answerable and interesting but does not show explicit initial research, I don't think it should be closed.
    – Jeromy Anglim Mod
    Sep 19 '12 at 0:05

As I said in What requirements should we have for prior research, I feel having a prior research requirement will help deal with homework type questions as these questions will be more geared to tackling those areas the OP does not understand, rather than the kind of "this is my question, please answer it for me" questions I am seeing a lot lately. When someone says, for example,

I suspect that a or b will cause c

What makes them suspect that? What have they read to come up with that hypothesis?

Anyone can come up with a hypothesis, but is it based on information they have read or is it purely supposition? If it is supposition, have they tried to confirm it? What did they Google?

With the assertion from @JeromyAngolim that it is needed to ask

Is the question answerable in a scientific way? (e.g., Is the scope of the question appropriate?)

Trying to help moderate questions as a community member, I may have a fair knowledge in Psychology but limited knowledge of the neuroscience behind it. When assessing this question, I would need to know that the hypothesis posed is feasible. Prior research information will help.

I agree with the statement by @StevenJeuris which points out that

although non-expert questions are welcome, we shouldn't allow questions which aren't founded in any way. Even non-expert questions shouldn't be hypothetical. Stating you heard something once, but don't recall when or where doesn't constitute a good question. Non-expert and expert questions alike should show proof there is reason to ask the question.

I feel some questions need to be more based on information found and not just plucked out of the air.

So, what prior research requirements should we set for questions?

Something substantial such as research papers or scientific magazines etc. would be more helpful as they will be more reputable. Maybe you found them via citations in Wikipedia. So, I think that just posting a Wikipedia link or 2 to indicate that you have read something about the subject can be sufficient.

Having said that, although not necessarily needed try to make sure you are provide something that cites their sources of information.

You may have stumbled upon something the answerer didn't know. Even experts learn something new at times.

Putting prior research into your question not only helps identify what you have read and therefore the answerer doesn't need to repeat what you already know, but it also helps others who are learning about the subject to learn what you have learnt.

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