This was inspired from a question I had asked awhile ago. I will be using it as reference.


Within the question it asks how one would be able to compliment their friend’s makeup without a negative connotation or response.

It did not include information specifically related to the OP themself (ie. gender or age), which was requested in the comments. Having this information definitely could have been useful; allowing for a more felicitous response to the OP’s situation.

Although, the omittance was for specific reason; to serve as an abstraction layer for those who answer, encouraging a more ubiquitous response. It was meant to omit these details in favor of providing an answer that would fit a larger demographic —hopefully helping more people.

Further, it was also brought to attention that asking for a degree of generalization would make the question seeking a “reference answer”; meaning it would be too broad for IPS. This is the main idea I would like to discuss.


My take on this has been that by encouraging a degree of ubiquity in an answer by abstracting a question, it allows for a more diverse set of people able to apply a solution to their scenario.

For example, say I ask: “How can a woman compliment another woman’s makeup?” That would specifically tie the question down to women asking other women. Of course, people (men, maybe), could resort to delving into the answers and deriving a solution themselves. But the scenario could be completely different for men, because it might be considered flirting rather than a standard compliment.

This could create many derivations of the same question:

  1. How can a man compliment a woman’s makeup? ... without making her feel you’re flirting.
  2. How can a lesbian compliment a woman’s makeup? ... without making her feel you’re attempting to make a move.
  3. How can an employer compliment a woman’s makeup? ... without making her feel uncomfortable.

Those may not be the best examples, but it shows that by asking a specific question it might open potential for more of the same types to be asked again, because people are unsure about their own situation; which raises the concern of potential site cluttering.

Discussion / Question

Would a question requesting reasonable abstraction in an answer be welcomed on this site? Does this really constitute a “reference question” (being too broad and open-ended)?

If it is welcomed, what would reasonable abstraction look like?

  • 1
    Hey Anilla, sorry for abusing comments, but I wanted to say I really appreciate your recent community activity on this stack. I was wondering: Are you aware of the chat room chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/61165/the-awkward-silence ? Don't feel pushed to join please. I just had the impression, you might want to hear about it if you weren't aware already. :)
    – dhein
    Feb 13, 2019 at 12:55

2 Answers 2


I believe you're focussing on the wrong thing here. To me this was most obvious in the following sentence:

For example, say I ask: “How can a woman compliment another woman’s makeup?” That would specifically tie the question down to women asking other women.

You are entirely correct that this ties the question to a very specific situation. But this doesn't mean that the answer can't be written more generally.

The best answers are those that explain how to generally handle that situation, preferable with an example of a similar one so that it becomes obvious when and when not to apply the relevant skills in said answer.

The tricky part is figuring out which details are needed to make the situation clear enough to allow for an answer to work for your situation while not distracting with it with clutter.

For example, let's say you would have asked the question something like this:

I'm a 24 year old woman, born on the first of januari with a cute cat and an obsession with the color blue. My colleague is a 31 year old woman, born the second of februari. She too likes blue but has a preference for the color green. On a warm summer day we go out to get lunch together and chat about anything. The other day I somehow got focussed on her makeup. It was this special style that is makes it look really natural and it was so well done that I wanted to compliment her about it but I didn't know how to do it without coming over either not serious enough or too enthusiastic about something she might consider trivial.

So my question is "How do you compliment another woman's makeup?"

There's both not enough and too much details in this question.

Some are obvious, like your favorite colors (especially since it doesn't say she's wearing makeup of any of those colors), or the exact birth days. Those details probably wont change the answer at all.

An obvious missing one is a hint of the culture you're in. If it's a culture where makeup is expected it's a lot different than a culture where makeup is rarely used.

To come back to your actual question: I'd say it's acceptable but I advise against it.

You're far better of describing an actual specific situation and if you want state that you prefer an answer that is applicable more broadly.

That way the answers can start from either your specific case or their own somewhat similar experience and explain why the solution they tried could also work more generally.

Then if someone else has a somewhat similar situation they can either decide that the answer given could apply to them as well (maybe with a few changes) or if it's different enough to create a new post about it (preferably with a link to the other one).

I was in a similar situation to this(link to your question) situation. The main difference is that I'm a 32 year old male wanting to compliment a female colleague on her special makeup but I don't think it'll go well if I approached her the same way described in the answers there. So my question: How can I go about complimenting her? And what pitfalls should I be aware of?


It's not because you ask a question about a specific situation that a good answer only handles that really specific situation.
It's also not because the question and answer handle a specific situation that other's can't figure out themselves how to handle their other but somewhat similar situation themselves.


I was the one who first marked that question as "reference question (being too broad and open-ended)", and I'll try and explain my POV on this. I'll use an analogy (a library, a book and a dictionary) and a technic described by Justin Bariso in his article about Jeff Bezos running a meeting.

I'll just plagiarize, parody and pastiche a great part of the article and its ideas (1)

Bad meetings: We've all experienced them. Whether it's poor planning, too much talking, or lack of preparation, bad meetings waste precious time and money.

Translated and adapted to:

Bad questions and bad answers. We've all experienced them. Whether it's poor writing, [ too broad / straight to the point / unclear / harsh ] answering, or lack of explanation, bad questions/answers waste precious time and energy.

There we go, now, I'll give it a 1st try as my draft about this "parody"...

"It all comes down to following three simple rules".

Too many persons = too many different opinions = too many problems.

#1. "Two pizza" teams now becomes "two options" answers.

If you've ever read a question or answer with too many ideas behind them, you can understand the wisdom in this. The broader the question, the greater number of options and ramifications -- and the more difficult it becomes to reach conclusions and make decisions. But with the "two options" answer rule, you get the balance of obtaining diverse viewpoints and ideas, while remaining agile and manageable.

Too many ideas = too many different options/offshoots = too many problems.

RULE N°1 : Have a "SIMPLE" DIRECT QUESTION, that can be answered WITH NO MORE than 2 options, and you'll have a GREAT QUESTION.

#2. No PowerPoint - it's not just bullet points now becomes "No-switch answer"

Somebody for the answer has prepared a narratively structured memo. It has real sentences, and topic sentences, and verbs, and nouns. The great answers are written and rewritten, shared with other members who are asked to improve the work. They simply can't be done in a minute or two.

Answers like these are a great idea because our brains process good storytelling much better than hard data. Such narrative answers give members the chance to fully communicate the thoughts behind their ideas, and give readers the chance to better understand full concepts.

No ON/OFF answer - it's NOT just a TL;DR then some bullet points.

RULE N°2 : Have a "SIMPLE DIRECT" ANSWER, that can be read/understood WITH NO MORE than 2 options, and you'll have a GREAT ANSWER.

#3 "Start with silence" now becomes "Start with silence" :)

We read those questions. And then we discuss it. And then everyone has actually read the question, they're not just pretending to have read the question. You can imagine why this is so beneficial. "Full sentences are harder to write". They're even harder if you haven't properly read and understood what OP means.

InterPersonal Problems need time for listening, understanding, and answering.

RULE N°3 : write a NICE ANSWER, that take into account the HUMAN PART of it, the questioner or reader's feelings, and you'll have a GREAT ANSWER.

... Long darn thing, isn't it?... :D

Summary: simple question => simple answer. Be as precise as possible when asking AND answering. Any abstraction doesn't seem reasonable, for the same reason that...

But, wait!... Where's that part about "a library, a book and a dictionary"? ;)

In a library, you have separated areas related to a topic. Each area has shelves. Each shelf has books. Each book has chapters. Each chapter has (part of) an idea. Each line of the chapter unrolls and explains the idea. You can't put a library in a chapter, it works the other way around. Any broad question is like looking for a book in the Library of Congress with no plan to help and many guides, each one of them with its own idea about where you should be looking for your book. Seems too broad and opinion based to me, you may be treading the hallways for hours, days, years... :)

In a dictionary, it's even more easy to find what you're looking for, because of the classification system for data, that you know and learn early.

IPS (based on the SE model) is intended, by its creators, to be a library, but with a dictionary style of filing. Make it too broad, and you'll have to search for a very long time for a hypothetically result.

Last but not least...

Be Nice (as per our policy, but not only). At IPS, we don't deal with technical problems. We deal with real human beings and their problems. We don't superficially read, say "hey, I can fix this", don't take time to think about it, then open a folder/drawer and a jack-in-the-box answer pops up, take it, put it here, light on/off, and there you go! I, unfortunately, too often, read some kind of harsh wording that, well, you know... might be suited for a "technical answer" about a "technical problem". But we don't write a book, only lines of it, and we don't write documentation neither. Too broad or too long a question will lead to either a straight-to-the-point answer, or to a looooong looooooong indigestible half-baked mess (who just said this one is? ^^)

The community has decided that it would be great, and therefore, it became mandatory, that every answer is backed-up by data, be it book, personal knowledge/experience, anything that shows why and how it (should) work.

It's not what you intended to say, or the proud own-understanding of yourself, that really matters. It's what the OP and the future users will read and understand.

Conclusion - La Anilla : to me, your question (this one, not the one referenced) is very clear, well written, and has one goal. It took me that long (in time and words) to try to answer. I don't even know if I succeeded. Imagine for a moment if your question had been too broad, unclear, or opinion-based... ;)

(1) if I can't do that for any [ legal / intellectual / ethical ] reason, please let me know ASAP so that I can delete it, thanks.

  • Thanks for the answer! This definitely makes a lot of sense. Even with specifics, an answer can have a lot to work with and too many abstractions would make it even more difficult to narrow down a conclusion. The remaining concern is having derivations of an archetype question. Would we refer them as duplicates? Or allow them to be answered just as any other question?
    – Anilla
    Jan 30, 2019 at 21:41
  • Glad it helped :) about derivations or duplicates, I'd say: "case by case", and depending on the goal and wording. Community would decide. My first thought at this moment.
    – OldPadawan
    Jan 30, 2019 at 22:16

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