Recently, someone pointed out that the Help Center wasn't precise enough regarding what is and what isn't on-topic.

It was about the first version of this question and here is what the comments said:

I have been active on other StackExchange sites but I'm new to this one. From my POV the page "what type of questions ..." page does not clearly discourage these types of questions. On other SE sites I would not have answered, but here I read "using or understanding interpersonal interactions to resolve specific problems or prevent problems from occurring with a specific goal in mind." This is exactly, what the OP is doing here, isn't it?

"You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face" - isn't that what is being done here? https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask

Stating that we are not "mind-readers" and voting to close: Not a friendly way to greet new contributors. Just my opinion. I don't mind people doing that on StackOverflow or other SE sites. But here, where the description clearly invites this and someone talks about a personal experience, it comes across as harsh to me.

The third paragraph/comment isn't really relevant to this meta question (but feel free to open another meta about it) but, after looking at the linked pages, I believe this person has a point.

Every experienced user here knows that "What should I do" and "What does it means" type of questions are off-topic here. However, this isn't clearly stated in our help center (or else, I didn't see it).

So, what should we do about it?

Also, what do you think of the idea of clearly stating that "What should I do" question are off-topic but that people are welcome to ask "How to... without..." instead?


1 Answer 1


It could be clearer, but it's not as bad as it seems.

The first thing to note is the link that the commenter supplied:


This is a link to the Help Center article about what types of questions one should not ask. However, that article is not about the type of Interpersonal Skills questions one should not ask; it is about the type of Stack Exchange questions one should not ask. That article is actually just a standard article on all Stack Exchange sites that merely explains the types of questions that are not a good fit for the general Stack Exchange model.

Each individual site has a separate article that explains what types of questions are on or off topic for that specific site. Those articles are different for each site, and the one for Interpersonal Skills discusses specific guidelines for Interpersonal Skills questions. That article can be found in the Help Center under the title What topics can I ask about here?

It is possible for a question to pass the criteria for Stack Exchange questions in general, while still being entirely off topic for the specific site it was asked on. As a simple illustration, you can go to any other site on the network (with the possible exception of a few that might have a somewhat overlapping scope with this one) and choose a question and mentally transpose it here. If the question was left open on any other site than it presumably passed the general Stack Exchange criteria; however, we know that a question about programming, astronomy, home improvement, mathematics, or any of the other topics covered on the network are not on topic on Interpersonal Skills.

So now we have to look at the specific article for topicality for this site and see if it sufficiently explains the scope. I would suggest that the second section of that article is the most relevant here. It reads (in part) as follows:

While this site allows questions that meet the Good Subjective requirements, some questions are too subjective for us. This includes questions that:

  • lack a clear goal we can address. We can provide solutions to achieve goals but we can not tell you what your goal should be. Questions should state the preferred outcome of the situation clearly.

  • ask us to adjudicate “right” and “wrong” in a situation or whether something is rude/racist/sexist/[insert other discriminatory terms]. If you are having a dispute with your spouse or coworker, we are not going to settle the dispute for you or give you points to argue. Focus your question on resolving your issue, rather than whether there is an issue or not.

I think the first bullet is particularly relevant to the question under discussion. The question simply provided certain bits of information, and asked what those bits of information mean. Specifically, it asked whether the information means that someone doesn't like someone. This could fall under the category of not having a goal or not having an outcome. The question doesn't say that any particular result is desired; it simply asks us to determine whether someone likes someone.

The second bullet may also be slightly relevant here. Even though it only mentions discriminatory things, it perhaps implies that we don't generally answer questions that ask us to classify someone's actions. Just like we can't really determine whether someone's actions are indicative of racism, we also can't really determine whether someone's actions are indicative of dislike.

In this Meta question you also mention the category of "what should I do?" questions. The question under discussion did not originally ask for advice about what to do. It only asked to interpret the situation. It was later edited to make it into a "what should I do" question. The person posting the comments mentioned here had already posted an answer before the question was edited. Though the comments were posted after the edit, it seems like the user was asking about the initial version of the question.

In any case, the policy that "what should I do" questions are off topic is not as clear from the Help Center article. This policy is actually (currently) the only specific off topic close reason available. The close reason itself links to a Meta post establishing this policy, but that Meta post is not mentioned in the Help Center article. Considering that the close reason is only displayed after a question is closed, it doesn't really help users figure out that such questions are off topic before posting them. Therefore, I would think that the Help Center article should be edited to explicitly include this. If the article will be edited anyway then perhaps other points should be made even more explicit as well.

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