Yesterday, Shog9 laid down some ground rules in chat for what definitely isn't on topic on this site (source), namely:

It is, most emphatically, NOT a site chartered to discuss any of the following:

  • Human sexuality
  • Relationships
  • Neurolinguistic programming
  • How to win friends and influence people
  • Politics
  • General discussion

So. We have quite a few questions about relationships, quite a few questions touching on highly political topics and quite a few questions which are essentially discussion. And quite a few questions about making friends and influencing people.

Now the challenge is where to differentiate between which of these questions are really about interpersonal interactions and merely have these topics as a setting, and which of these questions are fundamentally off topic for the site according to these guidelines.

So how can we distinguish off topic questions from on topic questions with general settings like relationships or friendships? Where do we draw the line? How do we draw the line here?

related: Let's start working on our help center "what to ask" text!

  • 8
    I think "discuss" is an important word in that guidance, too. Too many answers and comments here aren't about solving the IPS problem but are about other stuff. And sometimes they're not very nice. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 15:20
  • 4
    Wait ... are we considering this question of what may not be asked closed for all time? Because if we cut out in particular relationships and making friends, we're going to be left with a dreary wasteland of "How do I do [x] without appearing passive aggressive" questions. This is a comment not an answer because I'm questioning the premise...
    – akaioi
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 17:00
  • 1
    @akaioi, no.... It's about those questions that invariably lead only to discussion of these topics :-)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 17:41
  • To be honest, I'm quite surprised. @MonicaCellio do you think the word "discuss" in the list of topics mean that we can still ask about romantic relationship and questions nuanced with LGBTQ+ ? Or it's just forbidden to make remarks "I don't know why you voted for X" in comment and answer?
    – Vylix
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:16
  • 4
    @Vylix SE is not a discussion site, it is a Q&A site. If the comment isn't designed to improve the question or answer, it's disruptive.
    – user4548
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:32
  • 1
    @Vylix no, I'm not saying it's only about discussion. I'm just saying that in addition to the topic-based guidance, the main Q&A site isn't a place to discuss stuff. Any stuff. That's not what comments are for, let alone answers. The kinds of topics that Shog listed are particularly prone to inappropriate discussions, but don't come away from it with the idea that "using comments to discuss thing-that-is-not-on-that-list is just fine". (I am not Shog and do not speak for him, but that's my read on this.) Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:34
  • @MonicaCellio I'm not asking about comments (which is pretty obvious not a way to discuss something), but rather are questions that carry romantic relationship, LGBTQ+ related, politic related, now still on-topic? I'm afraid the answer will be yes.
    – Vylix
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:45
  • And to tack onto what the @TheSnarkKnight said, those comments need to be removed.
    – user1856
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:48
  • 2
    @Vylix I think answers to this question (and the votes on them) are the way to work that out. Personally, I don't think questions about, say, politics were ever on-topic, just questions about how to interact with people about politics (or whatever). So "what arguments can I use" is out; "how can I soothe ruffled feathers" is in. But answers can address this better and be voted on in both directions, so I suggest going there. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:49
  • 1
    Community Manager's Take home message for members (as I interpret it): whatever be the background topic, a question should have a real and specific interpersonal issue to be on-topic, and both answers snd comments should address only the interpersonal issue while avoiding any discussion of the background topic @Vylix. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:54
  • 4
    I'm going to make the strong recommendation that anyone interested in this conversation read the full text of what Shog said in chat as there's a lot more there there than is feasible to include in a question on meta.
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 19:18
  • 1
    I've read the full text, and I'm still a bit confused about what is meant by "relationships" being off-topic. Surely every single interpersonal interaction ever happened in the context of a relationship, even if that relationship is "strangers"? I see far more questions where relevant details about the relationship between principles is too thin than the other way around. Relevant interpersonal skills and approaches are often going to be very different for interactions with your beloved aged grandmother vs your boss vs your student vs a stranger off the street.
    – 1006a
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 20:05
  • 3
    The relationship is the context for an interpersonal question, @1006a... Not the topic. You can be dealing with an interpersonal problem while in a marriage while living in Denmark, or while a member of a bowling league in Boise - in both cases the context is helpful in understanding the problem, but the context isn't the problem. Questions about marriage or bowling or Denmark or Boise don't really belong here... And getting into a discussion about the merits of marriage or of Denmark is in the context of a question doesn't help anyone trying to communicate more effectively with their spouse.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 23:46
  • @Shog9 I think I just have a slightly different definition of "topicness"—all of what you describe is clearly (to me) off-topic. I think of a question like "I'm having this specific conflict with my sister/roommate/coworker/whoever, how can I respond without endangering our existing relationship" as being partially about the relationship in question, so the blanket statement threw me.
    – 1006a
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 13:52
  • Yeah, nothing I wrote should be non-obvious or controversial, @1006a. I only wrote it because there are folks here - including core members of the site - who nevertheless produce pages of text expounding on their personal philosophies and beliefs regarding specific relationships while ignoring or giving lip-service to the actual problems being asked about, failing to edit or close questions that only describe a context (lack a clear problem statement), etc. So I think this discussion is useful for no other reason than to encourage folks to make explicit what they had formerly assumed.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 16:47

6 Answers 6


TLDR: None of the topics mentioned in the question are off-topic per definition. The bickering about these topics, including bickering about answers and edits, IS.

It is, most emphatically, NOT a site chartered to discuss any of the following:

  • Human sexuality
  • Relationships
  • Neurolinguistic programming
  • How to win friends and influence people
  • Politics
  • General discussion

This statement wasn't made to tell us what was off/on topic, with regards to topics. The statement includes some examples of topics that tend to raise debates when mentioned in a post.

We're not here to answer

Is this remark racist?

This probably falls under 'general discussion'. Here's a statement, now fight! I'll accept the answer that confirms my own views. There isn't an Interpersonal problem here that needs to be solved.

Such questions will lead to debate right away, and are hightly opinion based. Close these questions as opinion based or off-topic, whether or not something is racist isn't an interpersonal skill.

We can answer

Someone told me my reply to the street vendor was rude. How do I appropriately dismiss a street vendor?

We're not here to discus whether the reply was really rude. We're here to give answers that provide alternative means of dismissing a street vendor.

That doesn't mean questions touching any of these topics mentioned above are per definition off-topic here. It does mean that we need to move on to what was said in the second half of that list of rules:

If you do want a site for Q&A on interpersonal communications, then you must be willing to help build it. That means:

  • Editing questions to ensure they are within that scope
  • Answering questions that fall within that scope such that the asker and future readers have the tools needed to solve their current and future communications problems
  • Editing answers that stray from that goal
  • Leaving comments that prompt the askers to clarify their questions and answerers to focus their answers
  • Flagging and/or deleting questions or answers that cannot be salvaged by editing.
  • Discussing problems that you cannot solve on your own with other members of the site so as to arrive at a solution that can be collaboratively implemented. It does NOT mean:
  • expecting to always be right
  • asserting that you are always right
  • refusing to accept that the rules apply to you as they do to everyone else
  • refusing to accept the outcome of a discussion when it would prevent you from doing or saying whatever you might want to do or say in a given moment
  • throwing out unsubstantiated accusations or otherwise tying up the time of other members of the site that could better be used doing one of the things listed above. Again, if anyone reading this cannot accept that... Quit.

As I've said before, these 'rules' aren't about whats on-/off topic here. It's about what we need from the community to avoid a total derailment of the site.

IPS questions are in general pretty popular. Last week, I think I saw at least 4 questions in HNQ the entire week. But, these are also the sort of questions were a certain degree of bickering over answers/comments took place. They attract some 'disaster tourism'. The ones that have the most arguments or offer the best opportunity for people to voice their opinion on the matter stay in HNQ for a very long time. This one was there for about 2 weeks if I recall correctly.

Take a look at the comments there. They are exactly the kind of thing Shog was warning us about: Arguing about the wording of an answer. Is it victim blaming or not?

enter image description here

  • Neither user is the OP of the answer.
  • We shouldn't be bickering about victim blaming here.
  • We should be focusing on helping the OP find some Interpersonal Skill she can use while in a pool, out of the lifeguards reach and being harassed by another swimmer.

If we think a should would read better as a could, that might be pointed out in a comment. That is 'suggesting an improvement'. Starting a comment thread arguing on the OP's behalf whether or not they meant to actually do victim blaming IS NOT OKAY HERE!

Even better would be to edit it in right away, and explain in the editing message to the OP why you have done so. This will avoid a lot of bickering, because other people than the OP of an answer are much less likely to get involved!

If there was bickering, and someone did an edit and the bickering stopped, don't run to reverse the edit. Accept that the post in its original form wasn't the best fit for a Q&A forum.

We will have to start living by these rules Shog set out, whether we like it or not.

  • If that means being even more strict on our questions and answers, so be it.
  • If that means no more questions in HNQ because they aren't 'controversial' enough for disaster tourists, so be it.
  • If that means removing all comment threads and pointing our new users to Shog's rules when they ask 'why was my post removed', so be it.
  • If that means we should make some serious work of our Help Center text ASAP, so be it.

So how can we distinguish off topic questions from on topic questions with general settings like relationships or friendships? Where do we draw the line? How do we draw the line here?

  • Questions about interactions taking place within these general settings are okay. Example: "How do I disclose to a friend that I'm LGBT+?" is a good question. But so is "How do I tell my friend I'm not comfortable hanging out with him anymore, now that I know he is LGBT+?"
  • Answers to these questions should focus on the interpersonal aspect of these questions: "How to tell a friend". Not on whether or not the OP has a right to be LGBT+ or if the OP has a right to be uncomfortable.
  • As for relationships: No asking who should I date, is this person flirting or not, do I break up. What is a good thing to ask is 'When and how do I disclose I earn a lot of money to my boyfriend'.

If we're getting questions of the good variety, LIVE UP TO THE RULES!. As a community, we can ensure that no disaster tourist get their daily dose of kick here on IPS.

If we're getting questions on the bad variety, LIVE UP TO THE RULES!. Close them and add a comment that offers an explanation of how the post should be improved. Feel free to edit it yourself if you think you can. I'll be dropping of another answer on this soon on Let's start working on our help center "what to ask" text!

  • Really comprehensive answer @Tinkeringbell. Somehow the whole issue comes back circularly to: we know what is off topic and how to deal with off topic questions and we are dealing reasonably well with them, though we could certainly be stricter in the interests of quality; but how do we deal with off-topic answers (and off-topic discussion in comments)? -- I think that has already been asked a few times on meta and that is really the policy question we need to find consensus on here. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 21:02
  • 1
    The only problem I have with this answer - which I agree with completely - is tht we're not supposed to substantially change the meaning of the question with edits. I briefly thought about editing the anti-semitic question to make it OT because I think one of the answers is important, but then I realized (with the user's help) that that's not an IPS question in the first place. Editing to make a question clearer is appropriate; I'm not sure editing to make it on-topic (when it's not) is. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 0:39
  • @anon, Editing to make things on-topic is a bit strange for me as well... Editing to make things fit in a 'scope' so they no longer attract discussion may be better.... Bad example: where someone tried to edit and make it on topic by adding disclaimers everywhere: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/4504/1599, Good example: the rollbacks here, interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/6433/1599 (although the OP was refusing to accept them, so that's why it's now deleted). Another good example from Workplace: workplace.stackexchange.com/posts/99099/revisions ...
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 6:45
  • Basically, I think it's about removing fluff when it's there, so that the question that is on-topic comes across better.... But we'll have to ask Shog to be sure, it is just my interpretation of the rules...
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 6:46
  • 2
    What I've observed elsewhere is that when there are problems, there has to be some fairly strict adherence to the rules initially. Then when everyone gets the tone of the place, the regulars will begin to faithfully flag things and the site becomes self-policing.
    – user4548
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 16:45
  • I think a lot of the discussions are because of the XY problem. We need to figure out how to approach XY questions on this site - it will be different than for other sites. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 2:24
  • @curiousdannii If an OP is asking for X, and we can't be sure they actually mean Y, we vote to close + leave a comment saying what we can help them with..... Then, we hope the OP clarifies. If not, we can't edit and reopen. I've been doing that for a while now, and I've seen other people do it as well (see also this meta )
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 9:08
  • @anongoodnurse On the workplace there is a lot of high qualities edit to salvage questions. However they're generaly for question that are too broad or unclear. Eventually off topic can be salvaged by keeping the part on-topic if there is one (ex in the workplace, remove the legal part of a question)
    – Walfrat
    Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 15:26

I have the same question. I was struck by "Relationships" being off topic. Isn't part of the whole point of having interpersonal skills to preserve relationships, however shallow or transient they may be? My question about being followed by a stranger in a car was essentially about a relationship: as someone in the neighborhood whom I haven't yet met, the guy is a potential future acquaintance with whom I would like to have an amicable relationship, hence the accepted answer.

I don't want this to be a dating advice site. That waitress question needed to be shut down quickly, and deleted. So far I'm the only delete vote, but it has 4 reopen votes! Clearly the expectations on this site are wildly dissimilar.

I don't have a solution that most people will agree with. I advocate close voting, down voting and deleting bad questions ASAP. I know people don't like to DV (for a lot of reasons I'm unsure of; I think the responsible use of a DV is critical to a site's quality.) But to delete a question as users (not mods) we need the question to have a net negative score.

The question is, what's a bad question? If four people think a question about how a waitress might possibly like you personally enough to date you... this question (what's a bad question?) is going to be very tough to answer.

  • 1
    I agree I could be more active in deleting questions!
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 9:02
  • 1
    I fully agree with you! I know that I'm also a bit to blame for being rather reluctant to DV. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 10:14
  • 1
    Deletes are the best way to snap things shut.
    – user4548
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 16:22
  • Re: But to delete a question as users (not mods) we need the question to have a net negative score. Not always the case. A closed question can be deleted by multiple users' votes. The number of votes required may increase subject to the total upvotes on the question.
    – NVZ
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 5:10

Some things that can help maintain order on this site.

  • Vote to close off-topic questions and questions that deal with the issues Shog outlined.
  • BE CONSISTENT. Inconsistent enforcement is worse than none at all.
  • Have a clear definition of what is on topic.
  • Migrate questions that belong elsewhere.

Now, how to stick with interpersonal skills and what to ask.

There is a distinct difference between any of the topics you listed (and the rest of what Shog listed) and interpersonal skills involved in addressing things.

"My uncle is an obnoxious (fill in the political philosophy here). How do I tell him he's wrong?" Would be off topic. Whereas "My family tends to get into heated political debates during the holidays, how can I tactfully re-direct the conversation" would not be.

The focus needs to be on the interpersonal skills themselves such as tact, assertiveness versus aggressive or obsequious behaviors, how to approach subjects delicately, how to avoid unnecessary conflict, how to deal with mistakes, how to apologize for bad behavior, et cetera.

A person's politics, relationships, et cetera should be irrelevant, as it's the skills themselves that are important.

There may need to be some aggressive editing in the short term, but I think it would help.

Back to the political example I gave, editing a post from "My uncle is a rabid (fill in political affiliation here) and I just can't deal with him during the holidays, how do I tell him to keep his opinions to himself" into something like "How do I bow out from political discussions during family events during the holidays" or something else that removes the rant.

Ranting is, in general, off-topic and posts with rants should be shut down or edited quickly.

So... TLDR:

  • Clearly define what is on and off topic
  • Deal with rants quickly
  • Flag comments aggressively
  • Vote to close off-topic questions.
  • Edit when possible.
  • Focus on SKILLS over situations.
  • The Help Tour content is inadequate. I should be able to read that an know clearly what is and is not on topic. Nice answer sir!
    – user1856
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:38
  • Why is this answer getting a down vote? SMH
    – user1856
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:48
  • @MisterPositive I don't understand drive-by downvotes in meta. Probably just someone with an axe to grind.
    – user4548
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 19:00
  • Although I agree with most of the answer, the main reason I downvote is I disagree to VTC questions that deals with issues Shog's mentioned. They are not off-topic. They just need to be handled carefully. I think we have learned far better to recognize interpersonal questions that deals with sensitive topic and handle them, and differentiate from purely political question.
    – Vylix
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 19:16
  • 2
    Very true @Vylix. That tells me the Community Manager's post is not so much about what is off topic here, as a stern reminder to all of us not to get pulled into off-topic discussions in answers and comments. Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 19:18
  • Voting in meta is very different than on the main site. It's just a way to agree (upvote) or disagree (DV). It's not anything more than that in meta. Every meta site works the same way. That's how consensus and disagreement are gauged. (E.g. a score of +7 with 0 DV is much different than a score of +4 that is +10/-6.) The former shows support, the latter means maybe more discussion is needed. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 0:30
  • Also, I have no idea why the CM deleted your point about migration. It's a valid option, although there aren't a lot of sites on SE like this one. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 0:31
  • 3
    Migration is a massive distraction for a site like this one. Unless you get a sudden, massive influx of people asking about LCD screens, forget about migration - focus on determining what is appropriate here.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 15:19
  • @Shog9 isn't that what migration is doing? Not being snarky about that, It's a serious question.
    – user4548
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 16:21
  • In theory, migration is a secondary step after deciding "this is definitely off-topic", @TheSnarkKnight. In practice, for a site still struggling to nail down their scope, it tends to creep into that initial decision: "is this a question about an interpersonal problem in the workplace, or a workplace question? Well, TWP can handle it; punt. Is this a question about cycling or about communication within a cycling group? Better let Bicycles take a crack at it." etc.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 16:37

Since Interpersonal.SE has got off to a very good start, it is time for the community to be stricter about insisting that questions, answers and comments should be on-topic. This is necessary for the long term health of the website.

Reading the Community Manager's impressive post again I think the main and timely reminder to all users here on IPS is:

Answer the question if it is on-topic as defined in the help centre.

Don't discuss the background topic itself but only answer the question, focusing on the interpersonal issue.

Don't use this website as a platform to express your political or social opinions or debate these topics with other users.

In short, whatever be the background topic, a question should have a real and specific interpersonal issue to be on-topic for IPS.SE, and both answers and comments should address only the interpersonal issue while avoiding any discussion of the background topic.

In that context we do not really need to radically redefine what is off-topic for IPS.SE (which is already well defined in the help centre) but simply remember not to get sidetracked into general discussions of various social or political topics, and we must always be particular to focus only on the interpersonal issues while posting questions, answers and comments.

On the other hand, the help page for what is on-topic remains essentially 'under construction' and does not help a member know what topics are allowed here, as pointed out by @Mister Positive in a comment. We do need to be very clear and comprehensive in deciding and publishing what is on-topic for this website.

Let's start working on our help center "what to ask" text!

  • "it is time for the community to be stricter about insisting that questions [...] should be on-topic." Did your stance on voting to close change? Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:44
  • "it is time for the community to be stricter about insisting that questions [...] should be on-topic." Did your stance on voting to close change?" __ I am seriously reconsidering it @Anne Daunted! Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 18:46

Provide your post with only relevant details.

If a person's political view is not important to the question/answer, don't mention it, at all.

If a person's sexual preference is not important to the question/answer, don't mention it, at all.

and so on.

If the OP do include some information that they deem relevant to the question, such as gender, country, sexual preference, or political view, treat it as a "cultural background". No need to tell them right/wrong, good/bad about it.

If you feel an information is irrelevant to the question, mention it at the comment, asking how it is relevant to the question.

As I interpret it, Shog's list of unwelcome discussion:

It is, most emphatically, NOT a site chartered to discuss any of the following:

  • Human sexuality
  • Relationships
  • Neurolinguistic programming
  • How to win friends and influence people
  • Politics
  • General discussion

does not make questions with those backgrounds off-topic. Rather, a post should tread carefully when it involves those topics. A question that asks for "how to stop argument with X hater" can be reworded to omit "X", and rather mention "different political view".

This does not ban a question from mentioning specific at all, if only by mentioning the political figure then the question makes sense, for example "X has recently do this", but only if it is really necessary and relevant to the question. Changing the name to a placeholder name, like Alice, Bob, X, Y, Z can work too!

  • 3
    "How to deal with" is not a specific question. We can not answer that question. We need to know how someone wants to "deal with" the person, what they want the outcome of the situation to be and other parameters before we can suggest an approach.
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 19:20

The problem that I have with most the topics on Shog's list is that they tend to lend themselves to questions that are "too broad," and therefore not answerable. For instance, a bad "relationship" question might be something like, "My boyfriend/girlfriend wants to dominate me. Should I submit or leave?" A good answer to such a question requires a detailed analysis that is basically out of scope for the site.

On the other hand, a better, more answerable question on essentially the "same" topic is, "How can I tell my boyfriend/girlfriend that s/he is too bossy without jeopardizing our relationship?"

  • More like, "how can I tell my girlfriend that she's too bossy without jeopardizing our relationship?" Asking for how to phrase something isn't a good question, either. Your bad question example is bad because it's asking us what to do in that situation which has nothing to do with IPS, it's just a plea to an agony aunt. We can't tell people what choices they should make in life.
    – Catija
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 1:41
  • @Catija: I adopted your edit for the "good question example. I believe that my "bad" question example is "good" at illustrating what's off topic. Because people do ask those kinds of questions from time to time. I wrote that "A good answer...is basically out of scope for the site."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 1:54

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