What is a frame challenge?

We require answers to adress the question. However, some questions may warrant answers questioning whether what the OP wants, really is the best choice. These answers are generally of the form:

Don't do [x], do [y] instead.

This is generally referred to as a frame challenge. This is really close to something like this:

Do [y], so you don't have to do [x]

The latter is generally viewed as problematic, but it is clear that the two are pretty closely related.

So what is our stance?

There has been some going back and forth on whether or not we allow frame challenges and what exactly constitutes to a frame challenge. This is an attempt to get this straightened out for future reference.

There seems to be a meta consensus that frame challenges are allowed, but at the same time this site struggles a lot with answers that don't (exactly) answer the question asked. There is a very thin line between posting a frame challenge and posting something that doesn't answer the question at all.

Therefore it is important to figure out where exactly we draw the line. What does a frame challenge need to have for it to be considered a suitable answer to the question?

  • 1
    @WitanapDanu I think this question's answer will tell what a frame challenge will be on IPS, but here's how they are defined at RPG.se: rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/q/6842/42432
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 11:33
  • There's also this question on meta.se
    – sphennings
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 13:45
  • 4
    Tangential thought: if the only acceptable answers to a question are frame-challenges, maaaaybe it's not a very good question for this site...
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 21:30
  • 1
    @Shog9 How do you decide if the only acceptable answers to a question are frame-challenges though? If all other answers have negative scores? If "we" deem those answers unacceptable? If nobody has (yet) posted any such answer?
    – JAD
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 21:34
  • 2
    That sounds like a fascinating question, @JAD - fortunately, someone asked it already
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 21:36
  • @Shog9 hmm, while I agree that lack of non-challengy answers might be an indication, I don't think we should judge a question merely on the answers it is currently getting. Also, maybe the canonical answer to a certain IPS issue should be don't do it, does that make it off-topic immediately?
    – JAD
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 21:38
  • 8
    I think it depends a lot on how many of these y'all get, @JAD. A few canonical "don't do that" questions are probably fine, in the same way that "don't eat a raw steak that's been sitting out for 2 days" is fine over on Seasoned Advice. If every question devolves into "should I eat rotten meat?" then... That's kinda lame. If it gets that bad, maybe consider a canonical "How do I break social norms to get someone to do something they don't seem to want to do?" post & lots of dup-closure...
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 21:45
  • Can you give any explanation or example of what you mean by "not answering the question"
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 5:33
  • @Jesse anything flaggable as NAA
    – JAD
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 6:07
  • Where exactly a frame challenge ends and NAA begins, is what I am trying to find out.
    – JAD
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 6:07
  • Side issue: Does anyone other than Stackexchange use the term "frame challenge"? This sounds to me like what is commonly called "questioning the premise". Why invent a new term for something for which there is already a perfectly good term? Or is there some distinction between "questioning the premise" and "making a frame challenge"?
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 20:15
  • @Jay "questioning the premise" and "challenging the frame of the question" sound almost synonymous to me. I'd say "challenging" holds a little more weight than "questioning" though (especially in an answer).
    – scohe001
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 20:42

6 Answers 6


Here is what I see necessary for a good frame challenge on IPS:

  • A clear explanation of why the author disagrees with the frame of the question.
  • A presentation of an alternate frame
  • An explanation of how the new frame will solve the OP's problem

The best frame challenges I've seen on IPS have all been similar to this answer from ArtOfCode. The general form of this is:

Q: How do I do X politely?

A: You can't do X politely. Doing X is inherently seen as rude because of A, B, and C. Instead you could do Y, which is polite and will achieve your desired outcome because of D, E, and F.

  • Oops, I was typing up a storm while you submitted this answer... but I like how we even referenced the same answer for a good example.
    – Jess K.
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:00
  • I saw that answer this morning and thought "That's a really good frame challenge", then I came to meta and saw this question.
    – Rainbacon
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:02
  • 1
    So it's basically the IPS version of the XY problem?
    – AaronD
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 17:26

I think a good frame challenge answer has two key components:

  • Thoroughly explains why the proposed action isn't a good one

    You need to explain to the OP why you are not going to be giving them an answer to the question they asked. If you can explain why you believe it's a bad idea to go with the requested approach, that gives credence to why you feel you have the authority to suggest a different approach.

  • Offers a new IPS solution with reasonable explanation as to why it's better than the requested approach

    The explanation for the new IPS solution needs to explain how it will yield different results than the requested action, and why these results are going to be better for the OP.

See https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/11070/8936 for a frame challenge that fits both of these criteria.

What is (still) not an acceptable answer:

"Don't do A. If you do A, you're going to look like a bad person."

This answer tells the OP not to do A (where A is the requested solution), but doesn't offer a different answer. Since there's no IPS solution present, this is not an answer.

"Just do B. Your boss will thank you later."

This answer completely ignores A, without explanation, and writes their own action. This should be invalid, as it doesn't acknowledge the original question, A, at all.

  • 1
    While I would agree that providing an alternate solution in a frame challenge makes it a better answer, sometimes there aren't alternatives. For instance if I asked "how do I create a triangle with 4 sides?" The correct answer is simply "You can't since by definition triangles only have 3 sides."
    – sphennings
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:06
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    @sphennings I see what you mean, but I'd still disagree. Every situation we encounter in our lives gives us a choice of response, and there's never a scenario you just "can't" respond to. In your specific example, I would tell you "You can't create a triangle with 4 sides, but you could make a square." IPS, fortunately, isn't concrete and held down to definitions like geometry is though, so answers are easier. I have one more thought I'm going to post in a separate comment below.
    – Jess K.
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:14
  • 1
    @sphennings There was once a question by a user who was (to be blunt) basically stalking his ex. He asked us how he could talk to her about his feelings after a year of obsessively trying to contact her and being ignored. While this was ultimately decided out of scope for IPS, the obvious answer is "You can't contact your ex to explain your feelings", but to not leave him high and dry, a lot of people also added "You should probably seek professional help in dealing with these feelings." So maybe if the question is that hard to find an IPS solution to, it's not really appropriate for IPS.
    – Jess K.
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:16
  • I was actually answered that question before it was deleted. It was deleted to reasons unrelated to the core question. Both answers challenged the core of the question "How can talk to an ex that has blocked me?" while you can suggest alternatives like therapy, that's an addendum to the core of the answers which both explained why you shouldn't attempted to an ex who has blocked you.
    – sphennings
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:34
  • I think it's important to distinguish between content that makes an answer better and content that is necessary for it to be an answer.
    – sphennings
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:37
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    @JessK. under what category would 'Don't do it, if you're going to do it do it like this, but I wouldn't even recommend that' fall?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:43
  • @Tinkeringbell Well, by my understanding, every answer needs to contain an IPS solution... so if you don't give an alternative to the dissuading of the original action, I don't think it's an answer.
    – Jess K.
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:48
  • Hmmm... okay, so this one will likely be removed then... I'll keep an eye on this meta to see where it goes.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:51
  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell Well, IPS isn't always cut and dry. Your answer goes into a lot of depth and is very informative on the first part (explaining why the desired action isn't a very good one). I still see at the end you included a "your best hope is to have a random encounter in a social setting" which (IMO) still helps address the second part of what I listed as requirement. It tells the user what a preferable interpersonal alternative would be (communicating with her elsewhere than her work).
    – Jess K.
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 15:53
  • RE "Just do B." I don't think it should be necessary to state the obvious. If someone asked, say, how to go about quitting his job, an answer that says, "In the situation you describe, you should stay at your current job" pretty clearly implies not to quit. Do we really insist that someone say that?
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 1:23
  • @Jay I'm confused on what you're trying to say. In my post I was stating that "Just do B" isn't a valid answer?
    – Jess K.
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 14:09
  • @JessK. I'm saying that if someone asks "How do I do A?", and someone replies, "Under the circumstances you describe, you should do B", I think that pretty obviously implies, "Don't do A." To say that an answer, "You should do B" is bad, but "Don't do A, you should do B instead" is acceptable is to demand that, at least in some cases, people waste time stating the obvious.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 20:21

Where exactly does NAA end and a Frame Challenge begin?

A frame challenge is accepted as form of answering on this site where someone answers a question in a wholly different way the querent never asked for. The important factors here are that it still answers the question and that our site considers it an acceptable way of answering. Putting it this way makes the answer to your question quite obvious, If it answers the question and is in a format accepted as an answer - or in other words, if it is a proper frame challenge then it should not be flagged as NAA. If however, the answer fails to adequately challenge the frame of the question and provide a solution then it would not be classified as a frame challenge to begin with, and you would decide to flag as NAA at your own discretion.

So the line between NAA and a frame challenge can be clearly defined if you just ask the question: "Is it a frame challenge?"

I feel that this meta answers that quite clearly. - For IPS, a nice way of putting it is: A frame challenge solves the question's goal in a different way than how the question was framed to be answered.

Lets look at your two examples + one from BlackThorn's answer:

Don't do [x], do [y] instead.

Do [y], so you don't have to do [x].

Here is how you could do [x] (with solid explanation), however, I advise not doing [x] it at all (with reasons)

With perhaps a little imagination, we can imagine a question that clearly prompts for [x] as an answer, in the first two, the answerer writing the response suggesting to do [y] instead of/to avoid [x]. Both of these would classify as a frame challenge, and flagging with NAA would not be appropriate because each of them technically answered the question with Y. However, there are a lot more reasons than just NAA that might make an answer delete worthy. Frame challenges may be the exception to the rule that requires answers to "answer the question" but that fact does not make it exempt from any of the other guidelines for acceptable answers - what do we expect from an answer & how do I write an answer. Answering a question with "Don't do [x], do [y]" seems to me like it is clearly a "try this" solution, since answers should contain adequate explanation about why it is a valid solution, and in the case of a frame challenge they would also need to provide explanation as to why the frame of the question is being challenged. This is different to NAA, but should still be edited or deleted. On the other hand, the third example we always refer to the question in the context of how it was framed to be answered [x], never challenging the frame with an alternate possibility [y]. It is important to note here that saying "Don't do [x]", is a don't answer, not a frame challenge because explaining how to do [x] or why they should not do [x] is all still in the frame of [x]. It is possibly a common misconception due to the fact that a large amount of frame challenges start by telling OP not to do it, however, they only become frame challenges when they introduce [y], a solution that was not in the frame of the askers question, and that they did not ask for/address. That being said, "Don't" answers such as our third example can still classify as great answers, they are simply not frame challenges.

So what is our stance on frame challenge answers?

Frame challenges should all be assessed individually the same as any other question. If it answers the question by challenging its frame and offering an alternate solution then clearly it is an answer (!=NAA) however that in no way impacts whether or not it is a good answer.

  • My answer is focused on the question "where does a frame challenge end and NAA begin" for advice on how to write a better frame challenge, @JessK. & Rainbacon 's answers are both quite helpful
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 10:22
  • If you are using this link rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/a/6843 as a basis for what a frame challenge is, see the second example. It clearly is a don't do X answer. Besides, my answer is a "don't do X, do Y" anyway, aligning with OP's goal outside of his stated frame.
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 22:23
  • @BlackThorn In the second example. The frame is how to kill them X and responding with "Don't kill them" is still within the frame of X. It only becomes a frame challenge when the answer includes "Instead, talk to the dude" as the Y (and hopefully explains how to do THAT). In your answer, the frame is how to give her a gift/money and you answer it in two ways, suggesting how to give her the gift, and then by suggesting to not give her the gift at all which are both clearly within the frame of the question.
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 22:50
  • The question is "I want to be able to supply for her and though I'm unable to pay for everything, I can pay for this particular little thing." OP wants to support and care for his gf (goal), and thinks convincing the girl to take the gift (frame) will accomplish that. I said "If you really hope to have a future with this girl, you must consider the fact that giving her an extravagant gift like this..." challenging the frame (gift) but answering the question (provide for her later by not ruining it now).
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 22:55
  • @BlackThorn That is not correct. To be a frame challenge answer, then you must propose a new frame to answer the question in. Saying that you challenged the frame is only a half truth, I would argue that you only rejected the frame (the first step in some challenges), and that to properly challenge it you need to introduce a new frame for it to be challenged by.
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 23:03
  • Boy you have a very narrow definition for this and a passion for semantics. Call my answer what you will.
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 23:12

Show good faith in the OP's request before you refute it.

Try to honor the OP's request by giving a good answer to their question, then redirect them if you think that is the best course. If these types of answers are possible or palatable, they are probably better than a complete redirect without answering the question. I am not necessarily saying you shouldn't give a complete frame challenge, just that the good faith attempt to answer first makes it better.

One frame challenge I gave that was very well received was more like this half-approach. In this case, I answered the question to the best of my ability then suggested that OP not do it. It was upvoted and accepted.

  • I can't see anything wrong with showing good faith before refuting. But your example is not a frame challenge
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 10:14
  • @Jesse OP wanted to know how to convince someone of something. I said OP shouldn't do that. Please explain how that isn't a frame challenge.
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 16:11
  • Please refer to my answer. "Don't" answers are not frame challenges because they are still addressing the question in the context is was framed
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 21:45
  • 2
    @Jesse Asking how to do [something] always carries the implicit assumption that doing [something] is (socially/morally/legally) acceptable or the better approach to take. "Don't" answers challenge that assumption directly. The assumption is the frame on which the explicit question is built. "Don't" answers are a reframing of the underlying assumption more than the explicit question itself, but this is still a frame challenge.
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 7:46

A Frame Challenge is often related to an XY problem

And those are a problem throughout SE.

Quite often it is simply a matter of reading just a little between the lines. I just saw a question of "how do I get her phone number?" (Y) And I innately read that as "How do I court her?" (X). But would answering X answer the question?

Frame challenges should be necessary

The faceplanting fail of a frame challenge is when everyone else can answer it without reframing.

First, let's set aside an exception. "I want to run power to my shed. I bought and buried 300' of 2-wire cable. How do I do that?" -> You can't / You can't / You can't / You can't / Transformer. You can't fault the vast majority for not anticipating the work of a "steely-eyed missle myn". Nor should you be punishing the odd one, FYI. When this happens it's a no-fault situation.

But when you insist on a frame challenge, and others don't need it, that means you are the one swerving out of the way. And we have a right to ask/examine why you are swerving. Often it's to grind an agenda of your own tangential to the question. A person who wants to grind that agenda should ask their own question to create a proper place for the discussion... preferably on /pol/ :)

In that case, you should not be answering that question. For some people, that can be simplified down to "you shouldn't do frame challenges".

Honestly, I recommend that someone who does a frame challenge, and watches as others plural reasonably answer the question straight, just go ahead and delete their answer, and consider it a learning experience.

"You can't" is a particularly noxious frame challenge

Everything I said above applies -- squared -- when the frame challenge is "you can't do that".

It's a very bold statement and needs very bold proofs.

It better be answering a question like "I'm drunk, how do I drive home safely?"

It's so much fun to slam down "You can't". But that is really where you need to pause and think it through. It is unduly discouraging to the asker, and creates drama where it need not be. It's almost like picking a fight (again see "agenda"). That fun happens at the expense of the community, and that's not cool.

It also tends to resemble superior schoolmarm lecturing, which violates rules like "be nice" and "assume good faith/intent" but again is oh, so fun. Also the fact you are assuming the person is super dumb, making a cartoon caricature of them (a strawman) so you can kick them - Very un-SE.

Find a way. That's what answering is.

I will grant an exception for literary tricks, where you use it as a lead-in to a straight or reasonable answer, i.e. just using it as a bit of clickbait. Wait. Why am I giving that exception?

  • 6
    I don't understand. If a user thinks that a frame challenge is an acceptable answer; are you suggesting that they should be prohibited from giving a frame challenge when other users provide answers that don't require a frame challenge? That implies that a frame challenge is always the worst approach; which is a bad generalization IMO. Sometimes directly answering the question is not the best interpersonal solution. When you feel that's the case, you should be able to present the frame challenge if you follow the guidelines for doing so. Other answers does not mean they are good or work.
    – JMac
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 19:04
  • 1
    @JMac I am saying frame challenges should be a method of last resort, not undergone lightly and only after an earnest attempt to answer the question. Are you failing to see that in my words? Where do you get "prohibited"? Because your statement which follows that relies on that. I don't think I said that. Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 19:21
  • 2
    Can you cite examples of where frame challenges are used "lightly" or without earnest attempts to answer the question? Mostly, my response is to the large bold statement "Frame challenges should be necessary"; proceeded by "The faceplanting fail of a frame challenge is when everyone else can answer it without reframing." which again, implies to me that if other answers are provided without a frame challenge, you shouldn't be able to post a frame challenge. I disagree, in that other answers shouldn't dictate the content of your own answer. It's not really relevant if you support yourself
    – JMac
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 19:29
  • 5
    By the reasoning of this answer, a "frame challenge", it should be deleted by the poster. There are, at the moment, three other non frame challenge answers to the question. The position of this frame challenge is that this frame challenge is "the one swerving out of the way". Therefore, I will "ask ... why you are swerving."
    – User 27
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 3:08
  • 2
    You start with saying And we have a right to ask/examine why you are swerving. And then immediately jump to conclusions with the next sentence: Often it's to grind an agenda of your own tangential to the question. Only to then argue that frame challenges shouldn't be allowed for that reason. What happened to asking/examining the why? To me that sounds like something a frame challenge should contain, for that exact reason: justification.
    – JAD
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 7:45
  • 1
    "You can't" is not a particularly noxious frame challenge because it it not a frame challenge at all. It is a "Don't" answer
    – Jesse
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 0:26

First, let me state that there are some questions where the only rational answer is to challenge the premise. Suppose, for example, someone asked, "I'm very short, and girls are only interested in dating tall men. How can I make myself taller?" Surely you would not say that only answers that explain how he can make himself taller are valid and responsive. I'd think a good answer would be one that helps him find girls who don't care about his height.

I think the essence of a good answer of this sort is to explain why the proposed course of action is a bad idea, and/or why some other course of action is better.

Some answers here say a good answer must provide an alternative course of action. I'd agree that would make a BETTER answer, but explaining why the proposed action is bad is still potentially a good answer. To take an obviously extreme example, suppose someone asked, "What's the best way to murder my wife?" I'm sure that if I replied that you shouldn't murder your wife, I would get down-voted for "not answering the question". But beyond that, is it really essential to give an alternative to murdering his wife? If the poster said why he wants to murder his wife, perhaps someone could suggest more productive ways to address the root issue. But even if there is not enough information to say what the root issue is, or if someone trying to reply can't suggest a solution, "don't murder your wife" is still good advice.

Some answers say that it's insufficient to say "Just do B". You must say, "Don't to A." But in many cases, this would just be wasted added words. Obviously if someone says he intends to do A and you tell him to do B and explain why B is a good idea, you're implying that he shouldn't do A. Do we really need to say that? I suppose if an answer explains why B is a good thing to do but fails to give any reasons why it is better than A, that makes it weaker, but not necessarily invalid.

  • 4
    None of the questions you're using as examples here count as questions that would be on-topic on Interpersonal Skills. Could you use examples of questions that may be on-topic?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 10:42
  • @Tinkeringbell Hmm, I tried to make up examples that illustrated the nature of "frame challenges", I wasn't particularly worried about relevance to the site. But I'd think "I have trouble getting a girlfriend" and "I'm having conflict with my wife" are exactly the sort of questions that are relevant to this site.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 17:23
  • 3
    not really, not yet. You can have a conflict with your wife, but on this site you should still ask about the Interpersonal Skills you are trying to use to resolve it. It's why e.g. we sometimes recommend people to ask a question on parenting or workplace: they can help with the aspects of a situation that aren't Interpersonal Skills
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 17:25
  • "Obviously if someone says he intends to do A and you tell him to do B and explain why B is a good idea, you're implying that he shouldn't do A." Eh, not necessarily. I've seen answers like that where the answerer basically explained it as "well, there's already answers about A, so mine would have been a duplicate if I wrote about that, (but I really wanted to write an answer anyways)".
    – Em C
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 23:05
  • That aside - another option that we've used in the past is closing such questions as "unclear what you're asking" when OP wanted to do something that was, well, very questionable. If we don't understand OP's goal, then it's hard to provide good answers, and OP needs to explain their motivations better in the question.
    – Em C
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 23:08
  • @EmC Well, okay, one could say, "A is a reasonable thing to do, but B is another option worth considering."
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 18:42
  • @emc "OP needs to explain their motivations better" Sure, sometimes. But not necessarily. I might full well understand why someone wants to do A, and believe that B is a better solution. But even if it's not entirely clear why someone wants to do A, I might still say that A is not a wise or morally acceptable thing to do in virtually any circumstance.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 18:45

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