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Over the years one thing has become very clear here on RPG.SE: we expect at least some amount of research done by the querent before they ask a question here; Our Help Centre page on "How do I ask a good question?" states that you should "search, and research", the up and down vote button tooltips state that "this question does or does not show research effort".

The problem is that there's no clear guidance on what research we actually expect users to do and, in my opinion, the aforementioned Help Centre page is worded more toward suggesting that just searching the site is sufficient.

And thus this question arises: What are the research expectations of questions on RPG Stack Exchange?

Note: this question is intended to hopefully be a quick-link resource to provide guidance on best-practises when asking questions. It is not intended to establish a "law hammer" policy, be about how to deal with poorly researched questions, or how we should judge whether a question shows sufficient research effort.


Related, mostly on how to handle lack-of-research-shown questions:

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    \$\begingroup\$ I deeply appreciate your comment about not intending this to be a "law hammer" policy discussion, although I'm cynical enough to worry that it might be despite your intent. Aside from that, I'm curious-- is there some recent incident or incidents driving this? \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 13 at 2:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I ask, because none of your reference links is less than a year old, and three are substantially older than that. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 13 at 2:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak oddly enough it was kind of this question and the discussion surrounding it but mostly there wasn't really a prompt to ask this question, I just thought it might be useful. And regarding the "law hammer" policy concern, I share that cynicism to some degree but I am hopeful that people have the sense to not use it in that manner (even though I know I'm partially guilty of such things on other topics). Maybe a change of title would be beneficial to mitigate that concern but I can't think of one at this stage. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey May 13 at 2:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Okay, thanks. I hadn't seen that question, somehow. Maybe I glossed over it. Not truly important either way, I was just curious. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 13 at 3:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this answer your question? How do I ask 'good' questions? \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu May 13 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ As per Dale's answer, I thought you were asking for something meaningfully distinct from "how to ask a good question," but as Medix2 answer showcases, it seems to be that question instead. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu May 13 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Before you asked this question, did you look at SE and SO overarching question philosophy? I know you've been around a while. You certainly predate me on this site. I think it would be quite useful to add a summary of the SO/SE overarching 'how to ask a question' philosophy and concept. There were some old blog posts that were quite detailed on "asking for help from experts (for free) and expecting them to spend their time for you without first doing due diligence" being a violation of an SO/SE core value. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 18 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast No, I hadn't actually thought of that. I'll see what I can dig up over the next few days when I get a chance. Thank you for the suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey May 19 at 9:00
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I Hope For A Good Faith Effort, For Which There Is No Acid Test

The headline really sums it up for me: I hope the querents are making good faith efforts to answer their own questions before coming here, but there is nothing other than a personal gut check on my part to estimate if that good faith effort has been met.

Why? At the very least, we have a very high variation in expertise among our querents. Some folks have been playing RPGs for a decade or more, have a problem that vexes them, and they might stumble across us as part of their own good faith research (which in that case might be "a Google search.") Others might be extremely new to the hobby and trying to figure out a complicated game like D&D 5e or Pathfinder 2e. We also have wide variations in language skills, and wide variations in age and maturity. So just on those bases the level of "good faith" is going to vary widely with the askers.

I also prefer strongly to err on the side of caution. I don't post questions on this stack, but I do on others, and I know my level of "research effort" varies from question to question, depending on how urgently I need an answer, and what my own level of knowledge is. In retrospect, I've asked some howlingly stupid questions in my time, but always in good faith-- sometimes when you're flailing, you know you're flailing. But from outside my head, there's no real evidence of research because I was just that confused.

So I have sympathy for people asking questions that are right there in the rulebook because they lack the expertise to get to the right section, or they gave up just five minutes too soon.

(And as a side note, I've asked some really broad and stupid questions because of my ignorance, and I've asked some really technically astute details-digging questions because I was a frustrated expert or advanced amateur. I can't say I've noticed much of difference, as to which get more enthusiastic answers.)

If anything, I might even state my position just a little more weakly: Don't ask questions in bad faith. Again, that's a subjective gut check, and they tend to reveal themselves after multiple questions: Don't ask a string of questions trying to guide me to the answer you want. Don't ask repeated questions about (say) how some spell works when they can all be answered by the rule book. Don't ask repeated questions asking me to find some rule for you. Don't ask me to read the book for you, etc.

I firmly believe this cannot be articulated in a policy, or boiled down to a checklist, or distilled into pithy wisdom. This is a matter of individual judgment, conscience, up/downvotes, and if necessary close-votes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Someone want to share the reason for the downvote? It's obviously not required, but I am honestly curious. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 14 at 16:37
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I have no expectation

As per How do I ask a good question?, research "improve[s] your chances of getting an answer", "helps everyone", "saves us from reiterating obvious answers", and "helps you get a more specific and relevant answer". I do agree, that the description of research should cast its net wider than just RPG SE.

A well-researched question is a "good" question - one likely to attract "good" answers, upvotes and all the joy and happiness that brings to the world. However, a poorly or non-researched question is not (necessarily) a "bad" question. Similarly, a "bad" question may or may not be the result of poor research - the research might be exemplary but the OP may just have drawn the wrong conclusion from it.

I firmly believe that each of us with the power to vote and VTC has to draw their own conclusions on what the right level of research is. The "right" level of research is, to my mind, like "reasonable doubt" - a matter of individual judgement.

I'm concerned that if there are stated criteria, even without the "law hammer" problems, then that will lead to questions with needless verbiage explaining the research they have done and why that didn't answer that question and how they looked again and I'm falling asleep just thinking about how boring that's going to make things and then I'll vote it down for wasting my time irrespective of the exemplary research because I'm not interested in reviewing an academic thesis and I think this sentence has now made its point.

We have meta posts (thankyou for the links) that illustrate specific problem areas and I think it should be left to those rather than trying to construct a one size fits nobody solution.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We do have expectations though. It's the whole reason this meta question exists. Yes, law hammering is a problem, but so is failing to articulate guidance for new people to understand our process. At the very least we shouldn't be telling people there are no expectations, since that's patently untrue. Surely there's a way to provide guidance without providing encouragement for law hammering, if we're concerned about that, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 14 at 10:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener all due respect - don’t speak for me. If you have expectations, that’s fine. ... and I’ll edit my answer to change we to I. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M May 14 at 11:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Your comment contradicts the question itself, as far as I can tell—“expectations” implies to me that failure to meet them is supposed to result in closure of the question. There is a gap between “minimum requirements” and “best practices” here. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 14 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think there is no better answer to this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu May 16 at 23:14
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What I, a unique individual, generally look for

These lists are incomplete, they are not a checklist, they are not necessary nor sufficient for me to call a question "well researched". They are just things I tend to leave comments asking for further clarification or leave a downvote for lack of demonstrated research.

Like Novak said, we have a wide range of expertise from users and a wide range across numerous other variables like age and language mastery. Every question is a unique case.


If it's a social question, about table dynamics or problematic players or GMs or something similar:

  • Have you asked other people how they feel about the situation?
  • What has been tried and discussed already regarding the situation?
  • How did that go?
  • Did you provide links to related questions?

If it's a rules interaction or interpretation or confusion question:

  • Did you quote the part of the rules that are confusing you?
  • Did you explain why they are confusing you?
  • Did you explain where/that you have already looked for more rules?
  • Did you provide links to related questions?

If it's a history question:

  • What have you already found out and researched?
  • Did you provide links to related questions?

If it's a list-answered question:

  • What have you already found so far?
  • Did you provide links to related questions?
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    \$\begingroup\$ tl;dr: did you provide links to related questions? \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov May 13 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas They really are just an excellent demonstration of research effort \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 May 13 at 12:47
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Just enough

Just enough to know what the real problem is.

Some questions are like "How does X work?" where X is described in detail in its own chapter of basic source book. We need to know what the OP processed on his own to know where he got stuck, or where he did mistakes.

Just enough to know it is a real question, not a noise or set up for easy Rep.

For example, D&D 5e question "How can my ranger learn to cast spells?" The answer is literally in every place that describes this class. Player's Guide, Basic Rules, D&D Beyond. It's just "Level up!". Stack Exchange always took pride in being a place for gems, not sand.

Just enough to know you aren't just offloading tedious task on strangers

Some questions literally requesting someone to go through all source books and compile a list, summary, conclusions. It's a huge task, sometimes in order of dozens hours. The least OP should do is to go thorough all the easily accessible sources themselves, leaving only hard and interesting parts to specialists.

Just enough to avoid "I already knew that, but..."

Not many things here are as infuriating as OP who sees your answer and comments that he already knows what you just posted, and it is an answer but, for one reason or another, it is not the answer he wanted. Waste of time for OP, for person who answered, for people reading answer and comments. Showing research conducted so far can prevent this, leading to getting useful answers faster.

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We should be tolerant of askers who lack research.

When asking questions on some other Stack Exchange sites, I've been criticized for not doing enough original research, or not providing that research in my question. I dislike this approach, and I think some tolerance should be given, especially to new users.

  1. New users usually aren't aware of the exact community expectations. It's unreasonable to expect that all users will know the specific standard of research expected of them. The new user experience has to be calibrated to account for that, to avoid providing an unwelcoming experience or raising a barrier to entry.
  2. We might say "just Google it", but answers on RPG.SE are often what people are Googling for. We are the Google results.
  3. Google results may include incorrect information: earlier editions of the game, homebrew content, and so on. Players also often do not have access to all the relevant sourcebooks. RPG.SE has experts who can better answer questions.
  4. The purpose of RPG.SE is to answer questions, and to build a repository of answers to commonly asked questions. By answering simple questions, we provide an answer appearing in Google results for that search term, and thus be useful to more people.
  5. As a roleplaying gamer, easily-answered questions are easy XP.
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