Arthur summarized most of the problem very well in chat:

We give people plaintext area to speak about their problems, so they just fill with what matters to them and not what's a good question.

I can confirm this. Recently, it seems, IPS has seen more bad and mediocre questions than good ones. I think most of them have the same problem in common, as I left comments on quite a few of them: These questions include little or lots of contextual information, but none or nothing about 'the interpersonal interaction'. They're really filled with what matters to the OP and not with a good question.

Coming from the definition that Interpersonal Skills are the behaviors people use to interact well with others, we've made our scope such that we require questions to include what you've tried when interacting. To quote our help/on-topic:

Interactions between people happen in relation to just about any subject. On IPS, our focus is the interpersonal interaction, not the subject of the interaction. While the context is important to the situation, it is secondary to the interpersonal interaction. As such, questions (and answers and comments) should focus on the interpersonal concerns rather than the contextual ones..

A good recent example of a question that lacks any information on what was tried or happening at all is this recent question, where the OP gives us a load of information on their relatives behavior, but there is no interaction between OP and the subject of the question at all!

Even if a question does include examples of "things that were tried", they often miss the mark: Instead of writing about interactions that took place, the 'things tried' include things like 'turned off my phone', 'locked the door'... and nothing else. Those aren't really interactions people take in an attempt to solve a problem, they are attempts to avoid any interaction at all. In such cases, our good question guidelines ask people to include an explanation of why they haven't tried interacting yet.

We have our good question guidelines and help/on-topic page, and one option to attempt to 'fix' this problem would be to try and rewrite those. But I'm open to any other ideas as well:

What do you think is needed for questions on IPS to focus better on the 'interacting' part of 'behaviors used to interact with people'?

  • Do mods have the power to edit this page? (it's linked on the right when someone is writing a question)
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 16:29
  • @Ael sadly, no. As far as I know, we can edit very little, and the list is in this MSE post
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 16:53
  • I am not sure about the example like "lock the door" is not something on topic here. For instance on a matter like "I'am working from home, how do i make understand my roomate that i'am busy". Having the door actually locked is a form of communication of that. Also sometimes, decreasing the number of interactions instead of consistently arguing is also part of interactions.
    – Walfrat
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 14:59
  • @Walfrat 'lock the door' as an answer to a question of 'make someone understand I'm busy' would probably fall in the category of answers talked about here: It doesn't assume any interaction with the other person, while interpersonal skills are behaviors used to interact. And yes, as such we've declared such answers to be a bad fit for our site, if you were to answer your example question with 'lock the door', it would be deleted as not an answer, like the answer to that post describes. 1/2
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 15:13
  • Also, note that the answer to that meta posts says that if answers include 'lock the door', it's probably time to review both the Q and A's! Imagine the question is now "Besides locking the door, what else can I do to convince X I can't be disturbed": That's the type of question I'm hinting at in my post here. In which case, the question is still missing the part that focuses on interacting, and the question should be made to include: Why hasn't this asker talked to their roommate yet? And if they have, how did that conversation go, what didn't went as expected? 2/2
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 15:18
  • Arthur wrote an answer suggesting we make a list of example question that we could link new users to. There's now a post over here accepting submissions for that! If you read this question and have examples of question/answer pairs that you'd like to think represent the site well to new users, drop them there!
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 11:22

5 Answers 5


My idea might take quite a bit of effort with regards to editing, but I propose we edit the help/on-topic page, our good question guidelines, and our custom close reasons.

For the help center, I'd be in favour of simplifying the section titled 'Questions must be specific enough to be answered', and make it just a bulleted list that links to our good questions guidelines faq post for more explanation.

Right now, it says questions should include:

What you've already tried, if anything, and what effect that approach had.

I propose we split that up into two bullet points to keep it short and sweet. If anything, I'd love it if the bullet points would match the good question guidelines faq post. I would also propose replacing the aforementioned bullet point with two new ones that hopefully clarify it is important to include things tried/considered trying during the interaction.

  • What you've already tried or considered trying during the interaction you're asking about.
  • What effects you've noticed or think might occur as a consequence of your behavior during the interaction you're asking about.

Also, I propose we move that section to come after the section that says questions must focus on the interpersonal interaction, to hopefully make it clear that this means the 'what you've tried' should be something related to interpersonal interactions and not things like 'locked the door' or 'wore headphones'. We need to know why you've been avoiding tackling your problem until now more than how you've been avoiding it.

I'm hoping that editing the good question guidelines to match the new bullet points in help/on-topic will go a long way too.

That way we can let each bullet point in the help centre link to its respective answer in the good quality guidelines, where we can explain a bit more in detail why we need to know the things we're asking for, and link users to good example questions with their explanation so they can see how it's supposed to be done when needed.

Last, I'm wondering about adding a specific close-reason for these types of questions. Right now, we've been using the 'needs details or clarity', but since it's a very specific kind of details we're after, I wonder if it's not better to have a custom close reason that links to more relevant guidance. Something like:

This question lacks details on behavior during the interpersonal interaction. Questions need to include what you've (considered) trying, and the effects you've observed or think might occur during the interaction you're asking about. Please edit your question to include this."

Hopefully, such a close reason with some private guidance for the post owner will be more useful to them than the generic 'needs more details/clarity'.

  • 1
    I think the custom close reason is a good idea (the rest too, but I like custom close reason even more).
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 20:11

To me, the problem with question quality is explained by the fact the seemingly 'soft' nature of this Q/A make it falsely appear we are doing advice. This is in my view a misconception that is easy to do but skew both questions and answers toward low reusablility and low browsing quality.

Requests for advice or requests for opinions are in my mind the biggest reason askers do not put the necessary effort to document the problem (they are asking for advice, not solutions) and the reason people answering do not back up their answer; because in an exchange of opinion on a given subject, no one is making an effort to be precise or true, which unfortunately is the only thing that could be valuable to readers.

I don't really know how to reach them, but of course the problem is especially true for first-time posters here. I often advise browsing to newcomers as a way to grasp a little bit better what are good questions and what aren't.

By contrast, if a problem is specific, the nature is interpersonal, and someone is actually focusing on requesting a communication skill and not an advice about what to say, I'm usually confident the question is if not directly answerable is at least improvable to get to that state.

As requested I think highlighting particularly good question (and answers) could help people identifying the scope, the style what would include a good question.

Work in progress, but I found these to be fairly concise, on topic and well written.

Refusing free goods as a blind person

  • Hmm. Do you advise them to browse specific example questions, or just the site in general? Because... the site in general has quite some stuff from older days that might have disproportionate scores due to HNQ and changed scope/guidelines. Having a few good questions ready to link to might be an option, though... How about a meta post with a few questions and a few lines that point out the very good parts of those questions as examples? Would that be more or less useful as browsing the entire site, you think?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 17:28
  • 1
    I think highlighting good examples is really good yes, better than browsing everything (including things that are off guidelines). The way I see it, it could be a great tutorial.
    – Diane M
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 17:57
  • @ArthurHv Also if youmake a sample of good questions, try to have them in the differents popular tags used on the site for more coverage.
    – Walfrat
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 15:00
  • @Arthur not to blow your party but... for the first one the OP doesn't really include how they usually decline, which is exactly what I posted this question for, the second one is kinda subjective with the way it's phrased and can be interpreted wrong by others ("would she keep arguing?" could lead to a bunch of questions on what would other person do)... I think 3 works though! Perhaps a different meta in a few days where people can post their favorites, post out what is great about them, and others can point out possible weaknesses is a better way to go than a list in your answer here?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 15:27

This probably won't do much, but just notice that we don't have a link to the sandbox in https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic Maybe we should add one at the end? (in the part where we suggest users to pop in chat if they don't know if there question is on topic or not)

  • 1
    Good suggestion, I just updated the last paragraph to include that :)
    – Em C
    Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 0:17
  • @EmC just a small remark, but are you considering to lower the rep threshold for meta participation to 1 so that everyone can use the sandbox? (though currently it's bugged)
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 4:30

I know this isn't a perfect solution, but I think we should take advantage of the Tour page. Currently, it is displaying a fack question about a unicorn. In the past, we tried to find a good question to replace the unicorn one, but we failed mostly because good IPS questions are long, not short and it's even truer for good IPS answers.

So, I don't think finding a real IPS question to replace the unicorn one would do. However, what I believe we could do is write a clearly "template question" that would show what we expect of questions and answers on IPS.

Something like:

How to communicate Y to person X?

Situation A happened. I tried to solve it by telling <this> to person X and their reaction was <that>. Given all this, how can I communicate Y to person X? I don't want situation Z to happen.

To be very clear, I am not suggesting that we should replace all the "X", "Y", etc.. by something "real". Instead, we should let this question in the tour page be a template.

  • I like the thinking here, but we can only put questions in the tour page that already exist... I don't think it's feasible to keep the question template around on main...
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 11:11
  • @Tink can't we create a fake one and then put an "historic lock" on it?
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 11:51
  • I still don't think that'll work. The criteria for being eligible for the tour page are rather 'harsh'. A historical lock would lock voting (and you need a score of 5 for the question), and I have no clue how to get it two answers and 1 comment... etc. I really think this isn't feasible :(
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 11:53
  • @Tink You just need six people coordinating. You prepare everything in advance (the question, the two answers who would also follow a "template" rule), the comment, who will post what, etc.. Then you tell everyone "OK, we will do it at 4pm London time on Friday". Then everyone do their part and a mod lock it afterward.
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 13:00

Warning: This alternative solution would involve some dev by SE and is thus less likely to happen.

Some time ago, I asked a question on the forum gitlab and I noticed that they are guiding users in how to write a good question in a very effective way.

Basically, when you start writing a question, there is already a template in place that guides you in what to include in your question. Here is a screenshot of it:

asking a question on the forum gitlab

The template boils down to: what do you see? What were you expecting to see? What have you tried to fix it so far?

I believe that having something similar on our "write a question" page could greatly increase the quality of questions we receive.

To be more effective such a template would need to be personalizable for each SE site but I think a general one for the whole of SE could still do the trick.


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