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I have noticed a trend where users will vote to close a question asking "What is the etiquette for a particular situation?" as primarily opinion based or off topic because they feel there is no established etiquette or that OP is asking what they should do, commenting something along the lines of "we cannot decide what to do for you", "its too subjective" or "everyone can have wildly different expectations". (Examples 1, 2, 3) I think this raises a number of issues and could be handled far better.

(Examples are used to show that this trend exists, I am not arguing each one should be re-opened)

Primarily opinion based quote:

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

The main issue I see in closing an etiquette question for this reason is that it assumes people will be answering "badly". As in, it assumes answerers will write what they think OP should do even when OP is asking about the etiquette. But the problem is, answers like this have no place on any question tagged etiquette. Etiquette questions ask about written, or at least well established expectations by very definition. A good etiquette answer would provide backup for where the stated etiquette was written, or why the answerer thinks it is well established. Answers should be detailing what the etiquette is, not what the answerer thinks the right choice is because there is a significant difference between what a person chooses to do and what the etiquette actually is. More detail on good etiquette answers.

If a user is asking about a potential etiquette, they likely don't know anything about it including whether or not there even IS any etiquette in the first place. Finding information out is what this site is for, and the fact that there is no etiquette is useful information. Closing questions because there turned out not to be an established etiquette seems unhelpful and just the wrong way to go about it.

Admittedly the terminology used is very similar to some taboo terms on IPS and so new users in particular can accidentally have sub-optimal wording that leads to closure. The first (i think) cited etiquette question roughly uses the terminology "Would a woman be breaking a rule of etiquette if X" which is good, but a new user might write "can I do X" or "should I do X" for the same effect and be shoe-horned into the "What should I do?" category when really the question is about etiquette in the same way the cited wedding dress example is. Its a bit of a grey area, but a common mistake to watch out for since the vast majority of questions with this language may need to be closed. Try to pay attention to what the user is actually asking about and if they are very clearly trying to ask about the etiquette, a slight edit in wording might help a good question receive the attention it deserves. Closing as off topic if they truly are asking "What should I do?" or for any other number of issues the question might have is fine.

On the other hand, implying that a user is asking "what should I do?" or that the question is primarily opinion based when you feel that there IS NO well established etiquette is not so fine. To me, the correct response to an etiquette question when there is no etiquette is to write that as an answer! Much like a don't answer this acknowledges that OP wrote a valid question, but explains why OP shouldn't do something (or in this case why there is no etiquette). Knowing that there is no established etiquette is valuable and could make up some great answers. Especially if that user is able to back up their claim.

If you just can't think of the etiquette then clearly you should neither close the question nor write an answer. But for users that can back up their claims, can we please start writing "There is no established etiquette" answers instead of closing valid questions as primarily opinion based.

  • What qualifies as "established etiquette"? – apaul Nov 6 '18 at 4:15
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    @apaul that is for each individual answer to argue. Q:"What is the etiquette in this scenario?" -> A:"Doing X in your scenario is a clearly established etiquette because of this backup" Ideally users would upvote answers that have properly explained and backed up what they suggest the established etiquette is (or is not). – Jesse Nov 6 '18 at 7:26
  • @apaul a good indication that the etiquette is not properly established is if you think that it is primarily opinion based. If THE ETIQUETTE is something of debate then it is likely not well established. If an answer tried to explain their opinion of what they think OP should do then they clearly are not talking about an established etiquette either. – Jesse Nov 6 '18 at 7:37
  • Quick update: Question Example 1 is now deleted on OP's request. Apparently, the edits to turn it into an etiquette question didn't keep their intent, and they really wanted to ask whether not it made sense, whether it was reasonable, and for us to evaluate their tipping profile instead of asking for the etiquette that applied to fast casual restaurants and tipping. These are primarily opinion based, so I honoured their request to just delete it. – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 14:54
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TL;DR: I'd say we go on a case by case basis. Starting the writing of 'there is no established etiquette' may not be as much of a fix as you think. I'd recommend extreme caution when editing primarily opinion based or 'what should I do' questions into asking 'what is the correct etiquette in this situation', and to not be too easy in saying that 'there is no established etiquette' is an answer and thus a reason to leave questions open. This includes just adding an etiquette tag to questions that otherwise don't mention etiquette at all, the tag alone doesn't make a question an etiquette question.


The first (i think) cited etiquette question roughly uses the terminology "Would a woman be breaking a rule of etiquette if X" which is good, but a new user might write "can I do X" or "should I do X" for the same effect and be shoe-horned into the "What should I do?" category when really the question is about etiquette in the same way the cited wedding dress example is.

Here's the actual title of the question, which summarizes it a little better than your summary: 'Does the "never wear white to a wedding" rule of etiquette only apply to weddings attended in the United States?'. I agree that, if this were phrased something like 'Should I avoid wearing white to a wedding in the UK' and the question body still contained the reference to the US rule of etiquette, this is something an edit could easily fix. This is a clear cut case of someone basically asking Does this rule of etiquette apply in my situation. There's no real reason to put that on-hold as primarily opinion based, and indeed the answer to such a question may be a more elaborate version of what you're proposing in your own answer.

As for your Exhibit A (now deleted), I wouldn't see this as a great etiquette question. I feel the way it was phrased was still asking more about 'what should I do' than 'what is the etiquette in these situations'. It held the most potential of all three questions, but the whole question was edited a lot, excluding e.g. what their 'thoughts' are on tipping, whether or not tipping was sensible etc. as such phrasing invites 'bad answers'. (see more on this later in this answer). There also was no mention of etiquette, except for the tag you added. An attempt was made to fix this question. OP declined this, so I rolled back the edit and deleted the question at their request.

The same goes for Exhibit B and Exhibit C, they need editing and careful rephrasing to invite good answers. I see for example your answer to C, and your answer contains no references to etiquette, just one to a medical claim. They may be closed for entirely different reasons than just having an answer of 'there is no etiquette'. If you see a question that you think should be reopened, feel free to make a specific post arguing for it's reopening on meta.


Be careful with the editing part though: There's been a lot of questions asking 'what should I do'. Almost every one of them could be rephrased to 'what's the etiquette for dealing with this situation', or 'how do I communicate X'. Most of the time, this leaves a technically on-topic question that still lacks the necessary details for answering.

So just always editing a question to ask 'is this appropriate' or 'what is the etiquette for X' isn't a magical fix, and leaving them open just to allow answers to those types of questions saying 'there is no etiquette' ... Well, I'm not a fan.


This is a quote from a chat I had with HDE, from when I just started on IPS and was wondering about those questions asking 'Why do people do X':

My acid test for those is whether or not the behavior is widespread. If it is, then maybe there's a common reason. If not, it becomes a person-by-person case, and perhaps Too Broad. transcript

I'd like to apply that to etiquette and social conventions too. So, if you think there actually is enough social convention/etiquette, then perhaps you can edit a question to be about such. If you think it's not, it's likely to be opinion based or too broad/unclear and closing it will do no harm.


In response to your answer, I think the above needs clarifying a little more. Were you to ask a question like 'What colour dress can I wear to a wedding in the Netherlands', I would think it's not a secret that weddings are pretty formalized and ritualized in places, and that there is likely to be an etiquette for it.

Most people living in X country will be able to tell you whether or not A is an established etiquette or not.

That's true. But then there's still A. There's still some rule of etiquette, or some behaviour, that's being asked about. For me, this falls under the part where we can safely say 'Nope, A isn't an established etiquette over here, I know because I worked the bridal shops for years'.

The question asking about the wedding dress is already asking about a specific rule of etiquette we know exists somewhere. Questions asking about whether or not a rule of etiquette exists for a situation at all are a totally different kind of question though.

There have been a few 'etiquette' questions that have asked this, that have been left open, and where the answer was that there was no specific etiquette:

These have something in common though: They both, to an extent, carry a goal: The first one says it's important to keep a polite, friendly and professional relationship, and the second one is trying to keep good relations to the group moderator. In these cases they are still pretty black on white, in cases like Etiquette regarding borrowing of power tools the 'goal' is a lot more implicit, but the tone of the question still suggests 'keeping good relations with the neighbour' is a goal/premise.

In almost all our good etiquette questions (that aren't about 'does this rule apply under X circumstances), people are basically asking 'Is there a specific etiquette for this situation that I can follow to hopefully reach this goal'. I think that's a good intermediate solution. Answers that then say 'no, there's no etiquette' can be treated like any other answer, and still be held to answering the question as is, perhaps answering what can be done to reach the goal.

A question like 'What is the etiquette for dealing with evil neighbours' with a body of 'Here's all the evil things my neighbours do, what is the etiquette to deal with them' isn't likely to be helped by an answer saying 'I've lived with neighbours all my life, there is no etiquette for this'.

Instead, it's better to handle this like any other 'what should I do' type question: Ask about the goal the person has, what they'd like to achieve by 'dealing with their evil neighbours'. So, not all etiquette questions that have as their answer 'there is no etiquette' should be left open by default. It's perfectly fine to close an etiquette question as 'primarily opinion based' or for asking 'what should I do', if there's e.g. no real apparent reason as to why the question was asked.


The main issue I see in closing an etiquette question for this reason is that it assumes people will be answering "badly".

Well, questions need to be written in such a way that they invite good answers. Take a look at for example the Good subjective, Bad subjective blog post: Out of 6 guidelines for good subjective questions given at the end of it, 4! are related to the kinds of answers a good subjective post should invite, this includes inviting backed up answers. If people see a question that's not doing this, they're free to close or edit such a question.


Much like a don't answer this acknowledges that OP wrote a valid question, but explains why OP shouldn't do something (or in this case why there is no etiquette).

As for those 'Don't do it' answers, we've had a lot of discussions on what makes a 'good' don't do it answer since. This is the most recent post on writing such answers. Basically, a good 'don't to it' answer includes another way to reach the goals set out in the question, it for example answers a question about telling something with 'you better ask, here's why'.

I don't think we can really explain why there is no etiquette. Is it because we looked on Google and found nothing? For about as long as IPS has been existing, we've tried to get rid of answers saying 'There is no Interpersonal Skill for this':

I don't particularly like answers that say "There's no interpersonal solution here." Two points spring to mind:

  • It's very, very hard to show that there's no interpersonal solution to an interpersonal problem.
  • It's very, very easy to claim that there isn't and then write a non-IPS answer.

Have you considered what would be the back-up for saying 'There is no established etiquette for this'? Would a quick Google search suffice? A Google Scholar search? An exhaustive search through anthropological research materials dating back at least to the 1500's?

Allowing questions asking 'what is the etiquette for X' allows for answers saying 'As far as I'm aware there's none, but here's a way of doing X'. Out of the three answers that question got, this is the only one left standing. The other two were deleted, for saying things like 'offer a donut' or 'do X', without even referring to etiquette at all. Do we really want questions and answers inviting such answers? Now we're out of HNQ this may be manageable for a bit, but what are we going to do as the site grows and the quantities of such answers become higher and higher?

We already have quite a lot of expectations for answers on IPS. Do we really want to add more for etiquette questions, make exceptions to established rules like the above on writing answers saying 'there's no interpersonal solution here' just for etiquette questions? For me, it might make the site more confusing instead of easier to use, new users don't realize we treat etiquette and interpersonal skills differently and start applying the wrong 'standards' to both questions and answers. It will add another point to the already steep learning curve for participating on IPS.


Can we please start writing "There is no established etiquette" answers instead of closing valid questions as primarily opinion based.

I'd say we go on a case by case basis. If the 'what is the etiquette' question is no more than a thinly veiled 'what should I do' question, it should be closed. If it can be edited to be a proper normal IPS question, or a proper etiquette question, feel free to try and edit. If the question is already about whether or not a specific and proven rule of etiquette applies under specific circumstances, such a question is likely to remain open and otherwise it's editing and reopening can be discussed here on meta.

  • I will update the reference to the wedding dress question now, that was a mistake on my end. Later on I will try and respond properly to the rest, there are a few additional points I would like to make, is it the correct format to write another answer here responding to some of the points you brought up? – Jesse Nov 6 '18 at 13:52
  • @Jesse Feel free to use comments, they're a bit more relaxed on meta. I've just edited interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/19681/… to look a bit more like what I'd expect from an etiquette question (which is a lot more than just the tag). If OP clarifies the last point, we can reopen that one as far as I'm concerned. I'll update my answer tonight to link to the revision history of that post, you may want to do the same for your question as you are basically saying that the revision from before my edit was already good. – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 14:03
  • Thankyou :) I like the edit too, I will write an answer, but your link about don't answers is actually about frame-challenges. While they are related, and both require extra backing up, there are key differences between the two and saying there is no etiquette would not be challenging the frame... I don't really think the reference fits. – Jesse Nov 6 '18 at 14:27
  • @Jesse 'Don't do this' answers, when about Interpersonal Skills, are kind-of frame challenges by definition: They challenge the frame of 'want to do X'. They don't answer the question as it is asked, as they bypass 'I'd like to do X'. Though we've since banned most of those questions that can be answered with 'Don't do it', as they're basically asking 'Is what I'm planning to do a good idea' and that's primarily opinion based again. It's difficult, for me if an answer would say 'Don't do X' it should also say 'Do Y instead to reach your goal of Z'. – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 14:31
  • Etiquette questions don't have that, so they fall really easily under the types of questions that invite answers saying 'there is no etiquette, here's a 'what you should do' answer to your situation'. Like I said, we can't really explain why there's no etiquette, and in order to not turn stuff into a 'what should I do' Q&A, we should not allow answers to etiquette questions to allow making that 'what you should do' part. So you'd end up with the only possibility of answering being 'there is no etiquette for this'. In such cases, questions are better refactored to work towards a goal – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 14:32
  • So not 'What's the specific etiquette for handling cruel jokes' but 'I'd like these cruel jokes to stop, how can I handle that?' (I now realize I can do a much better job of explaining that in my answer, I promise I will edit it) Some etiquette questions may not be etiquette questions, some what should I do questions may be etiquette questions... – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 14:33
  • Q:"How can I do X?" A:"Don't do X" is in the frame of X. The answer did not challenge the frame. Arguing over the definition of a frame challenge is kind of besides the point though. The link helps fine enough so its not a big deal. – Jesse Nov 6 '18 at 14:34
  • @Jesse but 'can I do X' is the kind of primarily opinion based questions we discourage. Of course you can do X, but the results may be nasty. So perhaps do Y instead to reach your goal. Etiquette questions don't have a goal. It makes no sense to give them a goal either. So turning 'can I do X' into 'what is the etiquette for X' heavily depends on what X is on whether or not it will work as an etiquette question. – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 14:36
  • I am writing another answer that will give an example of what i mean by answering a question that has no established etiquette – Jesse Nov 6 '18 at 14:36
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Mostly a response to Tinkeringbell's answer.

I'd recommend against saying this is always a correct/allowed answer to etiquette questions, and against having questions asking 'what is the correct etiquette in this situation' for all sorts of situations. Editing a question to just add an etiquette tag or the word 'etiquette' doesn't make a good etiquette question either.

I think this is miss-interpreting what I am suggesting. I am not suggesting a solution for all etiquette questions. What I am suggesting, is that if the ONLY reason a user is closing an etiquette question is because they (a) don't know the etiquette. or (b) know that there is no etiquette. Then you should not close the question.

That, and the small extra suggestion to double check if the question is truly asking "what should I do?" (which is obviously off topic).

If you think there actually is enough social convention/etiquette, then perhaps you can edit a question to be about such. If you think it's not, it's likely to be opinion based or too broad/unclear and closing it will do no harm.

This quote is essentially the mentality I am trying to argue against. I think closing questions for purely this reason is missing out on a great opportunity to share helpful information. That is the harm it is doing. If we were to make just one edit and change the country from America to one where there is explicitly NO rules/etiquette for what colour a woman can wear then I think to close it simply because there is no social conventions or etiquette would be a waste. Surely OP would be interested to hear your insight and learn that there isn't any etiquette surrounding the colour of their dress. That is the value of allowing someone to answer with "There is no established etiquette".

Have you considered what would be the back-up for saying 'There is no established etiquette for this'? Would a quick Google search suffice? A Google Scholar search? An exhaustive search through anthropological research materials dating back at least to the 1500's?

Lets use this alternate wedding dress question as an example. A short version of such an answer might look something like:


There is no established etiquette in [country] for the colour a woman can wear to a wedding.

It is my job to host weddings here, I have advised on dresses bought by friends and family a couple times and am confident I understand the established etiquette and rules around weddings in this country. More often than not this is what happens. That can happen but colour clashes are not an issue because of X.


So my example is both exaggerated and leaves a lot to be desired, but you get the point. Most people living in X country will be able to tell you whether or not A is an established etiquette or not. Other more specific etiquette questions will be harder to answer, but that does not mean they are opinion based. If they are so specific that it is unrealistic for anyone to be able to answer it then I would say the question likely has some other issues instead.

Allowing questions asking 'what is the etiquette for X' allows for answers saying 'As far as I'm aware there's none, but here's a way of doing X'. Out of the three answers that question got, this is the only one left standing. The other two were deleted, for saying things like 'offer a donut' or 'do X', without even referring to etiquette at all. Do we really want questions and answers inviting such answers? Now we're out of HNQ this may be manageable for a bit, but what are we going to do as the site grows and the quantities of such answers become higher and higher?

+

We already have quite a lot of expectations for answers on IPS. Do we really want to add more for etiquette questions, make exceptions to established rules like the above on writing answers saying 'there's no interpersonal solution here' just for etiquette questions? For me, it might make the site more confusing instead of easier to use, new users don't realize we treat etiquette and interpersonal skills differently and start applying the wrong 'standards' to both questions and answers. It will add another point to the already steep learning curve for participating on IPS.

Honestly, I am not really knowledgeable about how to properly discourage sub-par answers or the limit to expectations and rules our users are likely to be able to cope with. I just saw questions being closed for a reason that did not seem to match the contents of the question when there could have been a potentially helpful answer.

  • Okay. We seem to have a certain misunderstanding here. The question asking about the wedding dress is already asking about a specific rule of etiquette we know exists somewhere. I got the impression from your question you were also aiming at questions that were simply asking whether or not a rule of etiquette exists. The latter is much more different than the wedding dress example. And I think an answer such as you proposed, if it were applicable to the wedding dress example, is a great way of someone using expertise to back an answer, and the short version here definitely shows potential. – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 16:19
  • So yeah, to summarize: I'm not opposed to having answers saying 'no it doesn't' to questions asking whether or not a specific rule of etiquette applies in their situation/country. I am still worried about not closing questions of the type 'is there any rule', especially if they are written in such a way that do make the question a 'what should I do' or 'primarily opinion based'. I think I'm going to update my own answer a little again tonight. – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 16:29
  • You are correct. I am trying to include questions asking whether or not a rule of etiquette exists. It may be fair to demand SOME basis for why OP thinks there might be some established etiquette (e.g. they know of the etiquette applying in their own county) but even in this case, OP would not actually know if the etiquette for their specific scenario exists or not. I don't think that a pre-existing/similar etiquette is the only way to indicate some grounds that there might be some rule of etiquette. – Jesse Nov 6 '18 at 17:10
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    No, surely not. That's what I tried to address by the chat quote from HDE, that we should really think about whether this is common enough to have some etiquette (my question on giving feedback on Facebook is still open for example, and has 'no' answers). If we think it's too broad/opinion based, the safest thing might be to close. If someone comes along that can say 'hey, this is common over here' reopening can always be discussed on meta. Handling such questions is never going to be failsafe. I'll update my answer when I get home, I think I now have a better idea of what to address. – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 17:21
  • Okay, updated my answer. I hope I was able to clarify some things, I don't think I've invalidated any of the quotes you used. If I did, feel free to call me out on it :) I think we're agreeing on a lot of stuff here, and if you ever see an etiquette question on hold that should be reopened, feel free to start a meta just for that question. – Tinkeringbell Nov 6 '18 at 21:06

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