Please advise or enlighten me if such guidance already exists.

For example, for this question, I sought to record my thoughts and opinions on how to gloss that sentence. Yet it was still closed as `too broad'?

Also, for this, I did cite Etymonline but user Avner Shahr-Kashtan's comment explains my outstanding problem: "I believe etymonline's definition is extremely unclear in this specific case, and shouldn't be used as a general reference close reason.

Per contra, questions (from https://english.stackexchange.com/search?tab=votes&q=created%3a2014) like What does "vanilla" mean in the context of gaming? and Why do people say "to be honest"? don't explicitly contain references and are thus shorter.

Do my posts contain overly much detail or information? What are the situations in which one's own words suffice? I'd like to aim to abridge and shorten length like the last two.

original body of question

With so many rules and slightly different interpretations of them in thousands of cases, it is not always easy to see which interpretation of the law a court will give in your case. This uncertainty is increased by the ability of the judiciary to select from what is often a wide range of precedents, and to distinguish earlier cases on their facts where this would otherwise lead to an unjust result in the view of the judge.

I'm contending with where, this and otherwise. Would you please explain the thought processes behind how to determine the answers here and resolve the ambiguity ?

  1. What's the antecedent of where here? Is this use correct? Why not a relative pronoun of the form "preposition + which" ?

  2. What's the antecedent of this ? The 'distingish[ing]'?

  3. What's otherwise opposing, "distinguish earlier cases on their facts"? I don't apprehend the final subordinate clause (and to distingish ... view of the judge).

  • 2
    The example given in 'this question' link is no longer valid, making the guidance in the answers harder to follow.
    – neontapir
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 19:32

1 Answer 1


It's perfectly reasonable for reviewers to assume that a common expression can be explained by consulting ordinary reference works. They shouldn't have to do that search. If it can't be, it's up to the asker to demonstrate that it can't be. Something like "I researched but maybe I missed it" isn't particularly helpful in this case: if you researched and didn't find anything, at least show where you looked.

Doing the research may find something relevant, but it might be unintelligible or not completely helpful. In that case, show what you found. This means that others don't repeat the search you've done, and they can focus any answer on expanding on those findings. Don't just link to it: if it doesn't explain what you want to know, quote the relevant bits and explain why they don't. Doing this also helps the asker to sort out in his own mind what the problem actually is in order to express it clearly.

In common with other Stack Exchange sites, ELU should not simply be asked gimme the codez — we expect an amount of independent research, and understanding of what the problem is, to be evident in the question.

The answer to "how much research is needed?" is "Enough to show:— that you have done some; that you understand what you are asking about; and you can explain all of that to people who have no prior knowledge of the problem at all." Every question needs at least one of those criteria to be satisfied; most need more than one and many need all three.

By way of example, I'll make a start on reworking this question:

This quote was revealed to exemplify Definition 1, but working backwards, how would you determine the meaning of contingent? Even after seeing the context, I'm still vacillating between definitions 1 (not 1.1, the one above 1.1) and 3. Don't they both look right?

But, while personal biographies and group histories are mutually immanent, they are relationally irreducible. The same context may produce several different collective 'histories', differentiating as well as linking biographies through contingent specificities. In turn, articulating cultural practices of the subjects so constituted mark contingent collective 'histories' with variable new meanings.

Source: PP 177, Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities, by Avtar Brah

Rule 1. State what you're asking about first

Here, the quotation is relegated to a very much lower status than it actually needs. The question is built upon the quotation: mention it early.

Rule 2. Never just link. Always quote with attribution.

"Definition 1" is from ODO. The question mentions 1.0 (I'll call it 1.0 for ease of reference) and 3. Don't expect readers to click through and swap back and forward to compare your question with your dictionary link. Quote the dictionary definition you're referring to. Using the citation, people can click through to check or see if something else is relevant, but you are basing your question on your prior research: including that research in the question itself is crucial.

Always, always, refer to more than one dictionary.

Rule 3. Use simple language. Assume all your readers are from Missouri

You need to demonstrate what you don't understand. Don't dress it up in fancy language; just say what you don't understand.

This quotation uses the word contingent:

But, while personal biographies and group histories are mutually immanent, they are relationally irreducible. The same context may produce several different collective 'histories', differentiating as well as linking biographies through contingent specificities. In turn, articulating cultural practices of the subjects so constituted mark contingent collective 'histories' with variable new meanings.

Source: Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities, by Avtar Brah, page 177

Looking up the word contingent in ODO, I think these definitions may be valid

1. Subject to chance:
the contingent nature of the job

3. Philosophy True by virtue of the way things in fact are and not by logical necessity:
that men are living creatures is a contingent fact

Merriam-Webster has a number of uses all related to the main definition

depending on something else that might or might not happen

...but if I attempt to replace the word contingent with something derived from the definitions, it just doesn't make sense. Is the author using contingent in one of these ways here?

By doing this, you are showing that the use of contingent isn't easily answered by referring to standard works. You have already done that search and you have shown what you found. You state how you have attempted to deal with what you found, and you explain what the problem is: you can't actually find a definition which appears to fit contingent as it's used here.

[As an aside, I would say that in this particular quotation, contingent is the least of the problems! Mutually immanent, relationally irreducible, and specificities provide for a particularly impenetrable passage. Its opacity may well be why it doesn't make sense when you try to expand the dense text with simpler words.]

What is very, very important is not to treat ELU as a personal comprehension-exercise service; nor to be seen to be doing that. Putting a lot of effort into questions (and almost certainly more than I have here) is absolutely vital. This suggested question is an improvement, but it's by no means finished.

Asking good questions takes time. Questions should not simply be thrown together, and it's very unlikely that they can be templated and simply adapted from one to the next. All the research is unique to each question. Even writing this answer, which is heavily based on something already written, has taken a surprising amount of time. Invest in asking to realise a useful return in a comprehensive answer. I would certainly expect someone producing questions for ELU not to manage more than two per day before becoming worn out with the effort.

  • 6
    "Putting a lot of effort into questions (and almost certainly more than I have here) is absolutely vital." Suppose I came up with a very interesting question. Since I didn't want it to be downvoted, let alone closed by members who have the same opinion as yours on this matter, I made thorough research on it. I used Google, but could not find the answer. So I went to a university library and spent a whole day there. I finally got the answer. Of course, I did not ask the question here. Is that what the site wants? Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 20:21
  • 6
    @ivan - I've thought of many questions that might make good ELU questions. I've only asked five. The rest I was able to figure out on my own, because they had already been asked on ELU, or else I was able to find a satisfactory answer and felt no need for a second opinion. If a question is interesting enough, it can be asked, even if you do start to find some semblance of an answer. It's your whole hypothetical trip to the library that's "beside the point." Put some effort into your questions is all Mr. Leach is asking. That's sound advice; if more people did it, ELU would be a better place.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 21:24
  • 6
    Moreover, sharing the research that you've already performed is sometimes what makes an interesting question interesting. Strip that away, and that same question often becomes banal.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 21:26
  • 4
    @J.R. Let me state my point again because you don't seem to understand it. My point is that under Mr. Leach's rule, many interesting questions whose answers can be found by, for example, a day's research in a library should not be posted in this site and if they are posted, they should be immediately closed. Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 1:25
  • 8
    @ivanhoescott - Let me state my point again, because you don't seem to get it. Under Mr. Leach's guidance, many interesting questions could be posted, and would likely receive several upvotes, provided that the O.P.s took a little time to first research the question on their own (an entire day at the library would probably be overkill; I think 30 to 40 minutes on the internet would probably suffice), and then carefully rather than hastily post it.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 9:03
  • 7
    Moreover, every SE help page says that you are allowed to answer your own question, so, if the question is really that interesting, and it took you a full day of research to answer it, then nothing stops you from asking and answering your own question. If both the question and the answer were indeed interesting, and each were written up in accordance with Mr. Leach's answer here, the community would appreciate the effort and the insight. Nothing in Mr. Leach's guidance contradicts those help pages, except in your stubborn imagination.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 9:03
  • 1
    I don't understand...what's wrong with people from Missouri?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 0:04
  • @Mitch, you're not familiar with the "Show me" state? :-)
    – Hellion
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 2:58
  • So, people who are concerned about how much effort they need to demonstrate are supposed to know the nicknames of U.S. states? Missouri is, however, one of the "flyover" states, which makes "assume all your readers are from Missouri" insulting.
    – Xanne
    Commented Oct 22, 2017 at 4:40
  • 1
    @Xanne No: that's why the text is a link to the state government's own website. I would suggest that "flyover state" is far more insulting than using the state's own slogan.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 7:30
  • 1
    Today I saw this YouTube clip on SO meta, and I think it's brilliantly funny. The video was posted in 2011, and we're saying the same things here, on EL&U, eight years later! Ha! You are a Noob on XDA-Developers If you have already seen this video, apologies, but maybe it will raise a smile on someone else's face.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 20:35
  • @Mari-LouA Well, this question was only three years later. But perhaps it should be linked in the How to Ask box or the Tour. (No, I hadn't seen it before. But I can totally relate to the frustration.)
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 20:46

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