I'm a little confused.

Recently, it seems there's been a push to "respect the premise of the question" in answers. It's causing answers like this to be heavily downvoted and flagged with comments explaining that it's not a valid frame challenge.

However, I then look back at answers like this, this or this that take the OP's question of "how can I do this thing?" and respond with a glaring "DON'T".

It seems like in the first case, it's argued that saying "This thing you're asking how to do? Yea, don't do it" is "not respecting the premise of the question," while in the second case, doing the same exact thing is considered a valid frame challenge (and even worthy of a bounty and almost 300 upvotes).

I feel like a lot of flagged and downvoted on the fence answers are right on the gray line between being not-quite-frame challenges and not respecting the premise of the question, so I want to make sure I'm clear on what the difference between the two is when I'm reviewing and commenting.


It seems like in the first case, it's argued that saying "This thing you're asking how to do? Yea, don't do it" is "not respecting the premise of the question," while in the second case, doing the same exact thing is considered a valid frame challenge (and even worthy of a bounty and almost 300 upvotes).

We've already talked a bit about this in chat, but I'll write it up in answer here.

TL;DR: The difference between a frame challenge and an answer that doesn't respect the premise of a question is quite simple: A good frame-challenge still respects the premise of a question. It can challenge a proposed course of action, but in the end works towards the same goal/premise. They're also almost always written from personal experience.

Let's take a look at the core message of 'respect the premise', as it was taken in the very early days of IPS from the Parenting site:

In these cases, I feel it is best for the offended party to pass the question by. If one doesn't practice $whatever, then one is not likely able to provide expert-level advice on it. All that is accomplished by soapboxing is to create a community with an agenda, instead of a community that provides information. I believe that responding to "How do I $x?" with "Doing $x is inexcusable and/or evil." is inappropriate, and should be dealt with using downvotes and/or deletions to prevent shrill bickering over our differences from obscuring useful information that the questioner is seeking.

Most importantly, it is never appropriate to post an answer that does not directly answer the question asked.

That still holds. It has over 41 upvotes, which seems to me like a very strong community consensus that this is important.

Frame challenges came up after that. There were a few questions on IPS that seemed like they were based on wrong assumptions, but these assumptions weren't of the 'objective, verifiable fact' kind mentioned in the Parenting post on respecting the premise. I was confused at the time, one of them got closed as 'unclear what you're asking' while the other went through an extensive close-reopen and editing war (I still personally feel that second question has no place on IPS).

But even frame-challenges, as presented on the RPG site, still directly answer the question asked, still respect the premise. Please read that entire post, it even recommends 'answering the question at face value as well'. Take a look at one of the examples used in their meta:

  • Q: How can I teach my warlock foo? I refuse to do (thing), it's bad because reasons, so don't answer with that.

    • Regular answer: You can't. Sorry.
    • Frame challenge answer (sort of): (thing) is the only way to do it. It's actually a good idea, so you should do this. Plus I think you're mistaken about those reasons, let me explain...

Now, this seems familiar, does it not? For IPS, the question/answer pair would look a bit like this:

  • Q: My religion prohibits me from being profane, how can I tell my friends to stop swearing so that I am not influenced by their actions?
  • Regular answer: You can't force your religious rules on other people. Sorry.
  • Frame challenge answer (sort of): You don't. You can't expect other people to follow your religion. If you phrase your request like that, it will likely feel to them like you're asking them to adhere to the rules of your religion. What you can do, is ask them to refrain from swearing around you because it makes you uncomfortable.

And there you have it. The above frame challenge is a good one: It challenges the proposed course of action, but works towards the same goal/premise. Ask, don't tell. Take the crow instead of the bronze steed.

In the end, answers to your question should end up with Bobby knowing Sarah cheated on him, and there being as little fall-out as possible for the three of you. You've decided you want a way to make Bobby aware of this, answers should respect that. The answer may be 'don't tell' or 'tell anonymously', but they should explain how that will make Bobby realise Sarah cheated on him and how it will minimize damage to your relationships with them. The answer you linked, before it was edited, certainly lacked that. I haven't had the time to look at the edited version carefully, but it at least seems to propose a course of action now.

The same goes for the question on dating the cashier. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have used a big, bold 'You don't' at the start of the answer as it confuses people. But I did offer suggestions in my answer that may help the asker to reach their goal of having a date with the cashier, even though I also pointed out continuously that even these approached might not have the desired effect due to social constructs. Only the OP, in the end, can make the decision whether or not to risk this.

All in all, I've noticed one thing about 'good frame-challenges'. And that is that they're almost always written from personal experience. If someone did a thing, or had a thing done to them, their answers are much more likely to point out what will work and what the risks are of doing a dangerous thing.

One last thing that was brought up in chat, was a discussion about 'putting hands on hot stoves'. There's actually two possible scenario's to that.

In the first, the asker is having cold hands, and is thinking to warm them by putting them on a hot stove or in boiling water. This has a frame that can be challenged, we can help the asker with other, less dangerous ways of warming their hands. Much like the religion example above, by explaining the risks of burning when using a hot stove, and then recommending mittens or a cup of hot chocolate.

In the second, the asker already knows they're not supposed to touch hot stoves, but are asking about it anyways. Or they're asking about touching hot stoves, without providing any reasoning for why it is absolutely necessary to do so (Basically, that boils down to having a question without a goal, that we already close on IPS). Of course an answer that explains 'here's how you put your hand on a hot stove, but don't do it, use mittens' seems a bit silly under these circumstances.

I like to compare the hot stove questions to a question we had on IPS a loooong time ago, about asking people whether they were pregnant. (deleted now). It was discussed on meta, and although it may seem arbitrary, I'm going to link to this answer. It's not the most highly upvoted, but it contains the most important point IMO.

If people are asking about touching hot stoves (and it doesn't really matter whether or not they seem to realise it's a bad idea), and the reason they want to do so isn't clear, use comments and votes to first clarify the question before answering it with a 'you don't':

Comments should be made that request clarification of the question.
Particularly if you feel that the answer is "don't do it", and the OP's question infers that they're aware of that, as was the case in this question. We can not respond in a helpful way if we do not know why the OP feels it's absolutely necessary to broach this subject. A question with no explanation is only half a question.

IPS has has A LOT of frame-challenges over time, and not all were moderated as well as the ones posted recently. This is likely to have caused a significant amount of confusion on what a frame challenge on IPS is supposed to be, and what exactly can be challenged and what is part of the question that should be respected.

The recent push is mainly caused by us now having these guidelines black on white somewhere, in our How do I write a good answer faq-proposal, and me using that to cull some answers on a question about veganism that challenged the 'veganism' instead of focused on communicating about the veganism.

I'm happy to see the community picked this up, and I'm hoping that everyone will continue to do so. Asking questions on IPS is tricky, but if all you get is answers bypassing cultural customs, societal norms, life-style choices and religion with a 'you don't', asking questions will become discouraging after a while. This site is still in beta, and in order for it to graduate we need to create a place where everyone can get useful answers to their questions.

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    “Or they're asking about touching hot stoves, without providing any reasoning for why it is absolutely necessary to do so.“ what if the asker doesn't clarify and there's a lot of answers (hnq) saying “carefully“, “fast“, alternating between hands“, etc? Because then “don't“ is a valid answer. And would be deleted by the standards you're explaining here.
    – DonQuiKong
    Oct 10 '18 at 9:20
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    @DonQuiKong The point being there is that then, the question lacks some information and should be improved first, before being answered with 'don't'!. If there's no clarification, hopefully such a question is put on-hold as 'unclear what you're asking, we'd like more details'. If the asker doesn't clarify, such questions and answers (if voted on accordingly) are going to be cleaned up automatically.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 10 '18 at 9:22
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    @Tinkeringbell yeah, in theory. Not in HNQ.
    – DonQuiKong
    Oct 10 '18 at 9:26
  • @DonQuiKong, even questions in HNQ can be closed. If something needs closing, close it. Regardless of where it is. That's the first step. If there's really that many answers that should be deleted and the post won't be improved, it's likely some day it will get flagged and manually deleted by a moderator, if the votes don't allow automatic deletion. Usually though, we don't really 'moderate' answers on closed questions, up until they get reopened. IF the question is edited and being reopened, leave a comment and give a heads up to the answerer, perhaps flag their answers as well.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 10 '18 at 9:53
  • @Tinkeringbell so when op doesn't clearly state they know what they want to do is not the best course of action (aka "Or they're asking about touching hot stoves, without providing any reasoning for why it is absolutely necessary to do so.“) you advocate closing the question and/or deleting the answers instead of providing an answer based on an assumption that seems probable?
    – DonQuiKong
    Oct 10 '18 at 10:14
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    @DonQuiKong Yes. It's perfectly fine to request more clarification before answering it. We ask questions to provide us with information on what they have tried or haven't tried and why. So if someone is asking about touching a hot stove, there's should be some information on what they've tried before touching the hot stove or why they think touching the hot stove is necessary/the only option left. If that information is missing, we can use comments to request clarification and improve the question before it is answered.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 10 '18 at 10:34
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    Well that doesn't make sense to me. Good luck with trying to supress common sense answers because the question isn't clear enough.
    – DonQuiKong
    Oct 10 '18 at 10:42
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    @DonQuiKong common sense doesn't exist, it's neither common (what's common differs a lot among cultures, and cultural differences make up a huge part of some of the problems on IPS) or sense (otherwise, we wouldn't have to learn things are hot by touching them and/or being told by someone that has touched the hot thing). I still stand behind what that answer says, if it isn't clear why someone wants to touch the hot stove, what goal they have in mind with touching the hot stove, we use comments to request further clarification, and don't answer.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 10 '18 at 10:46
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    Awesome answer! Just one question: to relate my question to the "hot stove," couldn't my goal be seen as trying not to "betray" either friend? In that case could a frame challenge say "Don't do that by telling Bobby what happened, do it by not saying anything, this won't be a betrayal since...and if Bobby ever finds out you can say..."?? I guess my question is how much of the premise do we respect? Is it what's actually said in the question or the feeling behind the reason the question was asked?
    – scohe001
    Oct 10 '18 at 13:13
  • @scohe001 as we can only guess at the feeling or reasons for asking, we can either leave comments asking you for more clarifications, and if you think you may have one or two conflicting goals, you're requested to rank them in your question. We haven't seen this happen a lot yet, as most often these questions end up being a 'what should I do' instead of 'I want to do this, but I realise it conflicts with that, which is why my goals are 1,2, and then 3'.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 11 '18 at 18:11
  • If there's no black-and-white indication of the reason for asking, we can only take the question as it is, and moderate accordingly. If your goal was to not betray either friend or handle the fallout should Bobby find out, those are quite different from 'telling Bobby I know Sarah cheated'. Although I think that 'how do I not betray either of them' would've likely been closed as 'what should I do, tell or not'.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 11 '18 at 18:11
  • The other thing you have to do when requiring respecting the premise is to be very careful to enforce the code of conduct with respect to question premises. If the premise is hostile or unwelcoming toward a group of people, that's unacceptable, and if answers can't refute the premise, then it has to be handled via moderation.
    – Cascabel
    Oct 14 '18 at 14:54
  • @Cascabel, I don't really know what kind of examples you're thinking about, but maybe something like this may ease your mind...
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 14 '18 at 15:05
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    Yes, I'm aware that some amount of precedent exists, but I'm saying that it's really a key part of this. One of the primary times people are inclined to challenge the frame or premise of a question is when they believe it's harmful to others. If you want folks to behave as you suggest here, I think you have to mention the way in which those situations will be handled, not just that they shouldn't get answers.
    – Cascabel
    Oct 14 '18 at 16:38

Re-framing a question should be fine - but obviously the new question posed by the contributor must meet the conditions of the site.

For example, if somebody asks:

"How do I tell my friend's boyfriend that she cheated on him?"

it should be fine to reframe the question as:

What you really should be asking is "how can I encourage my friend to confess to her boyfriend she cheated on him?"

The re-framed question is still an interpersonal question so it belongs on the site and the ensuing answer should also answer the question with an acceptable interpersonal solution.

But if the question is reframed as:

What you really should be asking is "should I tell my friend's boyfriend that she cheated on him?"

this question would not belong on IPS because it is a "what should I do?" question. The answer would be about the morality of telling, or not telling, and would be opinion-based if it suggested one way or the other. If such a question belonged anywhere it might be on philosophy.

So we don't need to redefine what "re-framing" means - we simply need to ensure that any re-framed question is still suitable for the site. If an out-of-scope question doesn't belong here, then an answer which avoids the original to reframe the question in a way that goes OOS should be treated the same way and flagged for deletion.

  • 1
    Are you talking about reframing by the person that asked the question? Or by a creative answerer? The first is okay indeed (although a bit frowned upon, such questions are also sometimes referred to as 'chameleon questions' because reframing does carry a huge risk of invalidating already given answers). The second (an answerer reframing the question on their own) is troublesome. It would give everyone the right to twist a question in such a way that it fits their own worldview, and an ability to bypass most things that make a good q/a pair on a subjective site.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 14 '18 at 15:24
  • @Tinkeringbell I'm talking about creative answers - same as the question here. If an oos question doesn't belong here, then an answer which avoids the original to reframe the question in a way that goes oos should be treated the same way and flagged for deletion.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 15 '18 at 8:32
  • I think what's confusing me in this post is that we're talking about frame-challenge answers everywhere, yet here you mention/use different terminology (reframing the question). I think I get it, and indeed your second example may be a proper frame-challenge answer provided it has enough back up. But asides from 'anything on-topic on IPS goes', the OP here is asking for the difference between respecting a premise and a proper frame-challenge. Would you think a frame-challenge like you're suggesting should always honour a premise? Which premise is then being honoured here?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 15 '18 at 9:21
  • Because right now, I'm getting the impression that you're in favour of allowing people to make whatever question they want out of the original question, instead of challenging e.g. a proposed way of doing something by explaining why the first isn't a good idea and their method may yield the same results in an answer
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 15 '18 at 9:23
  • @Tinkeringbell The OP says "I feel like a lot of flagged and downvoted on the fence answers are right on the gray line between being not-quite-frame challenges and not respecting the premise of the question". So he is talking about answers, and so am I. A "re-frame challenge" has to provide a re-framed question and then answer it, right? Otherwise it is just an opinion-based answer telling them what to do / not to do. I'm saying the new, reframed question must be in-scope too.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 15 '18 at 9:39
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    There's still quite a lot of room between in-scope and respecting the premise of a question though. Like from the examples on Parenting, both questions about co-sleeping and putting a kid in their own bed are on-topic, yet in their policy about respecting premises, they're clear that reframing a question about cosleeping into one about putting a kid in their own bed is a no-go. So I'm wondering how 'as long as it's on topic' measures up to 'respecting the premise' in your answer.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Oct 15 '18 at 10:23

The way I understand it, to have a good frame-challenge who respect the question, you need to have the following point:

Say why doing what the OP wants isn't a good idea.

Tell the OP what they should do instead to achieve the same goal.

If it's not possible to do something else to achieve the same goal, tell the OP what they should do to minimize the problem exposed in the "why don't do it" part (so that OP still have a solution to his problem if they aren't convinced by your "don't do it").

Note: I'm basing my post on this answer by Catija


It is fine to present a frame challenge if the OP seems to have missed an aspect of the scenario they're asking about.

For example, the risk of making an employee at a store feel harassed by what may be unwanted romantic advances, as indicated in the answers you linked for examples of frame challenges that seem to be supported by the community (however, note that one of those two answers has attracted more downvotes, comments, and flags than the answer to the question about revealing cheating that you linked). The OP clearly did not consider that a possibility, and their acceptance of one of the answers suggests that they appreciated the alternate perspective.

However, it's an entirely different thing to respond to a question that clearly indicates that they have considered a point, and then dismiss it as irrelevant.

The question states:

I feel like no matter what I do I'm choosing a side and "betraying" one of them even though they're both close to me. That being said, I think that honesty is the best policy, so I've decided, as his friend, that this is something Bobby should know about.

The answer you linked basically says the OP would be betraying Sarah, and that lying is the best policy.

That's not challenging the frame. That's dismissing an individual's moral decision.

The point about Sarah feeling betrayed is already one the OP has considered, and was mentioned explicitly in the question.

While a couple of comments were made suggesting it wasn't a proper frame challenge, I suspect that the majority of the downvotes were for a much simpler reason: it is an answer that is not so much an application of interpersonal skills (a requirement for answers on this site), but rather a suggestion of avoiding interpersonal skills. The edit makes it even worse: hiding behind anonymity not only is unfair to "Bobby", but it will also likely make Bobby less likely to trust the information. Again, this is not about applying interpersonal skills.

I downvoted the answer, not only because it avoids an interpersonal solution, but because I feel it is morally wrong. Others may have voted for different reasons, but I wanted to point this out as another reason people may have downvoted besides the arguable frame challenge.

The answer is focused on maintaining the OP's relationship with Sarah, without actually suggesting an application of interpersonal skills relevant to the request. It doesn't challenge the OP's frame. It ignores it.


"Don't" is not a frame challenge and is completely respecting the question because simply not doing something is a way to do it.

It is not a frame challenge because it is not an alternative action.

I just had a perfectly valid "Don't" Answer wrongly deleted (still waiting on an explanation).

Often, the asker's goal is to spare bad feelings and this is stated clearly. Well, not telling someone something will spare their feelings, provided there are no downstream consequences. So, the "how" is with silence.

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    One of the answers I linked is to a question asking explicitly "How do I tell someone this in a way that minimizes fallout with another friend?" I'm not sure your "the 'how' is with silence" applies there...
    – scohe001
    Oct 9 '18 at 21:06
  • @scohe001 I know, but I wasn't addressing specific questions so... I'm merely saying the not communicating is actually a way of communicating while sparing someone feelings.
    – Johns-305
    Oct 9 '18 at 21:08
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    I'm only pointing out that you say rather boldly "'Don't is [...] completely respecting the question..." but the argument you give doesn't seem to apply to all cases. Maybe you can specify which case you're talking about? Or explain which cases you're not talking about?
    – scohe001
    Oct 9 '18 at 21:17
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    @scohe001 Well, of course it can't apply in all cases, especially in people interactions. You're putting up too high a bar. In cases where feeling are a consideration, don't is very often a valid answer. "How do I tell my wife she looks fat in that dress?" DON'T!
    – Johns-305
    Oct 9 '18 at 21:21
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    I think that may be a bad example, since that could probably be a frame challenge. "I don't think it's a good idea to directly tell your wife she looks fat in the dress because [reasons]. But maybe you could tell her you think she looks better in this other dress and tell her how thin the other dress makes her look in comparison." My point is, you make this bold statement and when I point out cases it fails you tell me you're not addressing specific questions. So which questions are you addressing? Can you edit your answer to include this?
    – scohe001
    Oct 9 '18 at 21:24
  • @scohe001 But you're presenting the frame challenge by offering an alternative course of action by suggesting a different dress. Granted, that likely solves the problem but isn't respecting the question.
    – Johns-305
    Oct 9 '18 at 21:27

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