Let's take two very similar questions. Overly simple but just to drive the example; in reality these usually happen to be much more obscure.

  • What is the execution by electric chair called?

  • What is the execution by guillotine called?

One of them is non-constructive. Which one? The asker has no way of determining that without knowing the complete answers first.

The first one has precisely one answer outside of slang ones: Electrocution.

The second can be answered correctly by: Beheading, Decapitation and Guillotining. This means three different equally valid answers, making the question non-constructive.

I don't think it's very good to have a rule which you need to violate in order to know you have violated it.

  • You seem upset about the closing activity on ELU.
    – Mitch
    Dec 7, 2012 at 21:28
  • @Mitch: Yes. It seems it happens way more often nowadays than when I came here first, and due to that the usefulness of the site has seriously diminished for me, many questions I'd like to see answered closed before they get any answers. I hope ELL will remedy that but for now all I can do is salvage what I can here.
    – SF.
    Dec 7, 2012 at 21:47
  • 2
    I don't find either of these questions any more constructive or less constructive than the other. The fact that three words can answer the question doesn't make a question non-constructive.
    – J.R.
    Dec 8, 2012 at 2:11
  • What @J.R. said. Actually, I might be slightly more inclined to see the second one as Not Constructive on the grounds that Guillotining is precisely the answer. Once that's been posted, there's nothing useful to add apart from a few trivial metaphoric extensions of the term. Electrocution, on the other hand, has a more extensive spread of "literal" meanings. Dec 8, 2012 at 3:39

4 Answers 4


I don't see either one as non-constructive. The best answer to the guillotine one would list all reasonable possibilities, with connotations and usage notes. Just because there's more than one word that fits doesn't make the question non-constructive.

Not constructive would be something like "I have this context where either beheading or decapitation would fit. Neither word is more appropriate than the other, because [blah blah blah]. I'd like to poll the ELU crowd: which word do you like better?" Not constructive is also "I want a word to fit [definition]. I have a very specific context in mind, but I'm not telling you about it, because that would ruin my fun; instead, I'm going to go and shoot down each possibility as it's offered in the answers." (Of course, nobody actually writes their question that way; but this is why we tend to knee-jerk ask for context, even if the question is perfectly answerable without it.)

  • english.stackexchange.com/questions/93056/… Closed as non-constructive.
    – SF.
    Dec 7, 2012 at 21:19
  • @SF., actually, it looks like that was closed as "not a real question", and it's just about to be reopened, anyway. Did you accidentally post the wrong link?
    – Marthaª
    Dec 7, 2012 at 21:24
  • Oh well, my mistake. I cast the 4th reopen vote when it was less than one day old, so the reopen happened only thanks to me linking it from here. Anyway, see RegDwighт's comment to the question. It's the essence of "non-constructive" ire.
    – SF.
    Dec 7, 2012 at 21:44
  • @SF: You can't say for sure that the question was reopened "only thanks" to the link from here. I had voted to reopen that question long before I found this meta discussion – who knows about the other reopen votes? Moreover, I'll bet that question would have warded off many of its initial downvotes had the OP taken care to better explain why he was looking for that word – something lacking in the question. Lastly, that question got many good answers before it was closed, so, even if it hadn't been reopened, it's not like the community as a whole hadn't given the O.P. some significant help.
    – J.R.
    Dec 8, 2012 at 11:35

One of them is non-constructive. Which one?

Neither of them is not constructive because:

  • They are not asking for opinions
  • They are not asking for a list of words
  • The possible answers are very restricted

If there is a closing reason that could be used for those questions, that is general reference, as the questions could be easily answered looking at a dictionary.

  • Huh it is just me or what? I can't seem to understand 1) "Neither of them are"; 2) "If there is a reason to close them is because" -- if either of them is correct, I'd like to know how I can enlighten myself.
    – Kris
    Dec 12, 2012 at 9:07
  • If the questions were asking for opinions, they would be not constructive. They are not asking for opinions, or a list of words, and the possible answers are not that much. Still, the questions could be easily answered looking at a dictionary.
    – apaderno
    Dec 12, 2012 at 9:17
  • I was marveling at the phrases, not the semantics. neither ... are, if ... is because in the sentences.
    – Kris
    Dec 12, 2012 at 9:20

Aren't they both non-constructive?

There are various answers for both, and can be best found by looking in a dictionary


First off, I wouldn't vote to close either of these questions as Non-Constructive, but I might be tempted to cast a close vote as General Reference.

When I see such a yet-to-be-answered question posted on ELU, there are three ways I might handle it:

1) I might answer the question
2) I might leave an answer to the question as a comment
3) I might vote to close the question

In cases where I feel like the question ought to be closed, I'll often try to provide an answer before casting a vote, either as an answer or in a comment. After all, I don't begrudge someone for asking a question when they don't know the answer. For example, consider the O.P.'s beheading question. If I saw that question with no comments and no answers, I might opt to answer it before casting a close vote. But if the question already had two answers, like:

That's called beheading; from NOAD:

behead (verb) cut off the head of (someone), typically as a form of execution


That might depend on the device used to chop off the head. If the person is being executed on a guillotine, then there's the verb guillotine. There's also the word decapitate, which is more general, but it could also be used in your context, as in, The king was decapitated on the guillotine.

then I wouldn't have a problem casting a close vote, seeing that the question has been satisfactorily answered. Moreover, I might leave a comment to a reverse dictionary, if I think that might be a helpful tool for the O.P. with similar questions in the future.

In other words, I don't consider it an affront to answer a qusetion when it is General Reference, but I don't think it's necessarily a bad practice answer a General Reference question, either. The question has been answered; there's really nothing to add. That's why, on occasion, I've even cast close votes right after I've answered the question!

A close vote doesn't necessarily mean, "We don't like your question, go away." It means, "This question doesn't need to remain open." That could be because it was a crappy question (in which case I'd probably also vote to delete, after it was closed), or it could mean that a basic question has been satisfactorily answered, so there is no need for it to remain open.

  • The problem is, if three different users reply with these three answers, one answer each, any single one is correct and it's up to the asker to pick which to choose as the "correct" depending on personal likes and not on merit. The author posted that in the evening and went to sleep. And a moderator gets annoyed seeing it open for another 8 hours as people start discussing which one is better... and as discussion grows, close votes are being cast... And note there is no "answer has been posted" close reason. Each available reason indicates to the asker the question was wrong somehow!
    – SF.
    Dec 8, 2012 at 12:30
  • ...in other words, while each close-reason says "We don't like your question" (no matter what voter intentions), and meanwhile delaying choice of correct answer feels to many as "the asker is not satisfied with any of the answers" when in fact the asker simply doesn't watch the question like a hawk, and will pick one at their leisure.
    – SF.
    Dec 8, 2012 at 12:34
  • (1) As for the "problem" of selecting which answer is best, one courtesy I've seen before is to select one answer as best, and then leave a comment on the others, saying, "This was helpful, too; thanks." (2) I'd rather OPs wait at least 24 hours before picking a best answer (I've seen some pick one within an hour, before most of the community has even seen the question).
    – J.R.
    Dec 8, 2012 at 12:38
  • As for each close reason saying "We don't like your question," I disagree. The reasons are very explicit: not in scope, not a good fit, vague & ambiguous, unlikely to help others, and too basic. This is a community with high standards. Ask your question and take your chances. If your question gets closed, put on your big-boy pants and deal with it. Stop sulking; aim higher, improve your work. And what about those answers that are given? They took time and effort to compose. We are busy people here, I don't think we get enough credit for all the effort that's put into giving helpful answers.
    – J.R.
    Dec 8, 2012 at 12:47
  • (1) I agree with you completely on that, but it seems not all (incl. moderators) do. As for (2), you seem to contradict your clause of "or it could mean that a basic question has been satisfactorily answered," unless you mean it was too basic too.
    – SF.
    Dec 8, 2012 at 13:17
  • I strongly recommend that you delete this "answer" -- it can mislead a new-comer. No office meant, it's purely a technical issue.
    – Kris
    Dec 12, 2012 at 9:08
  • @Kris: I've given the answer a major overhaul; see if that doesn't alleviate your concerns, or if you still think I'm dishing out bad information. (If the latter, though, please elaborate on what I'm saying that would mislead a newcomer).
    – J.R.
    Dec 12, 2012 at 11:06

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