Someone asks a question, and it's a valid question that has answers that we can provide. And then someone else comments that they think it's an XY Problem, asking what their real problem is, and votes to close it.

But the question is valid, we can answer it, and the answer will be useful to future readers. Why shouldn't it be left open so it can be answered? After all, shouldn't we respect that someone knows what they want better than we do, instead of closing it on suspicion that they don't really want what they're asking for?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Any examples you could include? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 10 '15 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman I'd rather not see this get into a disputes over whether a specific example is in fact an XY Problem and how it should (have) be(en) handled. This is a common enough issue over which there is disagreement that I think we can easily discuss the principles directly without needing explanatory examples. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 17:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Without examples, the only sane answer is "of course you are right". Which means that either the site rules are insane (they often are) or that the specific example in this case does matter. Please notice that usually I agree very much with your "no examples, they would derail the topic" policy. Just not this time. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Apr 14 '15 at 12:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've noticed what seems to be a lot of not entirely bad questions on hold or closed recently. It seems that 'the community' is getting a bit meaner than it should be in my opinion and I've been meaning to ask a question like this one on meta for a while. \$\endgroup\$ – user4075 Apr 15 '15 at 9:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ClaraOnager This is pretty tightly focused on community friction over one specific issue that is only sometimes related to holding/closing. If you have a question about a general trend around holds or closes, this won't address that question you have in mind and you should probably go ahead and post it separately. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 15 '15 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Closed as unclear at OP's request. From the mod perspective, this is a lot of arguing over each others' shoulders anyway, and I'm not sure anyone in this discussion understands what the others are saying, given the lack of real examples on anyone's part. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 21 '15 at 3:03

This is not site policy; this is Stack Exchange rules – Be nice.

Each and every one of us is required, by the tenets of the Stack Exchange network, to be nice. Being nice means, among other things:

Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions.

It is not welcoming to assume we know better than the user him-or-herself what they want. It does not assume anything good about them to presume that what they have asked, isn’t really what they meant to ask, and that we know what is.

Yes, the very line continues:

Don't expect new users to know all the rules

But those are the rules – our stuff. Yes, new users may not be familiar with the site; as the members here, we are experts on that. And indeed, any given user may not be an expert on the material they’re asking about – that’s why they are asking, and they’re asking us because we are (as a group) subject-matter experts in that topic.

But no one is a subject-matter expert on the anyone’s thoughts and feelings but that person. In short,

We do not know better than the asker themselves what they want

Even new users generally know what they want, and even if they don’t, assuming that we do is a lot. It is very rare that we can be sure that an XY problem even exists, much less be able to tell what it is.

We have good intention, but intention isn’t everything

Yes, we do this because we want to help. We do this because we have a suspicion that there is a deeper question that we could answer, or could answer better, than the question actually asked. And it is very, very tempting to assume that they really meant that question, because we think our answer to that question is so good and helpful.

Moreover, new users, while they do generally know their own wants, don’t know this site. They don’t know its users. They don’t know that the numerous comments that seem to be accusing them of not giving all the information, seem to be demanding they justify their question, are really just ham-handed attempts to help more.

And sometimes we get that way, because we sometimes think a little too highly of answers, and forget that ultimately,

We are here to answer the questions people ask

That is the purpose of this site. Doing anything else is logistics, bureaucracy, or troubleshooting – to allow more and better questions to get more and better answers. The only reason we care about the XY problem at all is because fixing it sometimes allows us to help someone, whose question at face value couldn’t have been answered, or could only be answered with something that wouldn’t actually help.

But no one is a subject-matter expert on the anyone’s thoughts and feelings but that person. In short,

The default must be that the question asked is the question meant to be asked

Remember, we are required, by the definition of the network, the Stack Exchange model, to assume that users have good intent. Mistakes are possible; XY problems are a real thing. But you need substantial evidence to the contrary to question someone’s intent to ask the question they asked: after all, the fact that they asked it is massive evidence that they meant to.

No one on the site is required to justify their interest in a particular question

Comments asking about suspected or possible XY problems therefore should be extremely courteous and careful. Particularly from experienced, established users, or even more so diamond moderators, even a simple question can seem to be a simple sugar-coating on a demand, with the implied threat of closing a question for violation of some policy (remember, new users don’t know those!).

So it doesn’t matter if a question seems stupid to you, if the answer seems useless to you: if the question is answerable, by the definitions of our site, it should be answered, and why it was asked isn’t really relevant.

Now, if a question isn’t answerable, it becomes much more important to ask what related questions that we can answer are also of interest to the user. This is a great time to ask about suspected XY problems. Not necessarily the only time, but we should be very hesitant to do so when a valid question is asked.

XY problems are not, themselves, a reason to close a question

A valid, answerable question can still be an XY problem. In such cases, a good and accurate answer may not actually help the person who asked! Or it could even be a bad idea, an answer that is only good because of the constraints of the question.

In these cases, there are generally two options, depending on whether or not the answer to the question is just not useful to the asker, versus actively harmful.

  • If the answer is fine, just not useful to the asker – say, the user indicates in comments that it isn’t what they were looking for, and further comments clarify that there’s actually an XY problem going on – then the question should be left alone, the answer upvoted appropriately for being a good answer. The question too, if it’s a good question for someone else, even if it turns out to not really be useful to the original asker.

    Then the asker should ask a new question, the one they meant to ask, based on the insights gained from the first. There is no limit on the number of questions one can ask, after all.

  • If the only way to answer the question is to offer something that is really a bad idea, or is just useless to everyone, not just the person asking, then that is an excellent opportunity for challenging the frame of a question – the advice in that Meta is quite useful for this purpose.

    The question should also, perhaps, be edited to allow for better answers without challenging the frame, but whether or not to do this can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. Personally, I strongly feel that it is better to err on the side of not editing a question to change its meaning. Challenging the frame is the better approach: it allows you greater room to detail why, exactly, the sort of solution assumed in the question is not a good idea. That makes the answer more useful than simply eliminating the assumption unaddressed.

Note that the question isn’t closed in either case. That’s because we are dealing with a valid question. The question may not be what the asker meant to ask – but the answer can still be useful. Either because the answer is useful, just not to the asker, or because the answer challenges the frame, which is an excellent way for both the asker and future readers to learn about potential flaws in their assumptions.

There is little cause to worry much about XY problems behind valid questions

If someone finds that the good answers to their valid question, are still leaving them with question, with problems to solve, it is trivial for them to simply recognize that and ask another question. And if they have difficulty determining what they want to ask, they can easily ask that too. There is no real reason to pre-emptively assume there is a problem; generally speaking, users will realize the problem when they see the answers aren’t what they are looking for.

Thus, even when we can courteously and correctly ask about XY problems behind valid questions, there isn’t much to be gained by doing so. Doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t – if it’s courteous, that’s fine – but it’s worth keeping in mind, if you have any doubts about whether or not there’s actually an XY problem, or that you are asking about it courteously, it harms no one to just wait and see.

The FAQ about XY problems is addressed to askers

The “What is an XY problem?” FAQ entry exists as guidance to asking better questions. It’s great advice – for asking good questions. Nowhere in the FAQ is it suggested that the community is expected to respond in any particular way to a suspected XY problem. That is not a part of Stack Exchange policy, or even guidance – Be Nice is.

People asking questions should avoid XY problems. They should read that FAQ entry, should understand what it means to ask about Y rather than X, and they should consider their situation fully and ask about X. There is no argument there.

But we have to act in good faith ourselves, as well as assuming it in others. That means, unless we are given evidence to the contrary, we have to assume that users have done what they should, and are asking their question in the best possible way to get the answers they need. To assume otherwise is disrespectful in the extreme, and flies flagrantly in the face of Be Nice policy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer There are people in my life that I know very well. I still maintain that it would be the height of condescension and disrespect for me to tell them that “no, that’s not what you want at all, you actually want this.” I might say something like that to a child, maybe, but not to anyone I was treating as an equal. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 10 '15 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Assuming that "Be Nice" is relevant — that the only reason to ask someone to clarify an apparent XY Problem is that the asker thinks they're stupid — is itself assuming bad faith. You never seem to see XY Problems, so I'll assume that you simply don't grasp the motive is asking, and that's why you believe "they're stupid" is the only possible motive. In actual practice, speaking as someone who asks these questions, the motive is knowing that people are human, and the XY Problem happens because human psychology involves mental blocks. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 18:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie ...No, that still just sounds like you're assuming the asker is too incompetent to handle their own question responsibly. If anything, your explanation as to why it's not condescending only made it sound more insufferably condescending. \$\endgroup\$ – Lord_Gareth Apr 10 '15 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I have stated what I consider to be the best practices: be cautious of what we wish the question was, be courteous in the extreme for any questioning we do make, and err on the side of assuming that people do, in fact, know what they want to learn. Moreover, when users have gone after me demanding justification for the questions that I asked, since they couldn’t answer that question and really wanted me to change my question to something they could answer, I feel that we could do worse than throwing out what we’ve currently got. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 10 '15 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie That is... somewhat close to the mark for some of the times it’s been directed at me, but it’s not char-op. It’s that I’m in the middle of building a character, and think “hey, I wonder if there are any options for X. Hey Stack, anyone know any options for X?” and I get a ton of comments and answers ineptly attempting to root out the XY problem or challenge the frame. It comes across as people far more interested in getting the opportunity to talk (give the answer they want to give) rather than being interested in actually helping me. But that’s hardly the only time I see it \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 10 '15 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not the hero you need, but the hero you deserve. \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Apr 14 '15 at 12:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ You say "we have to assume that users have done what they should, and are asking their question in the best possible way to get the answers they need". This very-broad statement seems to be trivially contradicted by the existence of any (not just XY-related) never-clarified question closed as "unclear". The reductio ad absurdum that disproves that statement is that it would require VTC as unclear be abolished. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '15 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand why assuming good intentions is conflated with assuming such elevated levels of competence that the asker can avoid a well-known problem that even some experts fall into from time to time. Just being nice to someone does not (at all!) mean you mustn't think they might have glitches in their thinking, nor that you should always refrain from pointing those out. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Apr 20 '15 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan: I'm sorry to hear that this discussion has gone from ideas to personalities (and that my commenting this question has perhaps revived it before things cooled down). \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Apr 20 '15 at 18:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Mind your behaviour; you are undermining yourself through overstatements and through making this overly personal. (1) needs citation or it may be slander; I have not seen any explicit statement of this in chats or comments here - he has said he could have handled this better. (3) there is not "overwhelming" community consensus here. There is significant disagreement with your answer, and the next two highest-scored answers do not seem to agree or disagree with either you or SSD. You've referred to this being "overwhelming" elsewhere too, please quit it. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 20 '15 at 23:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan That isn't an explicit statement he asked the question in bad faith. (Not even an implicit statement, unless you consider that a bad reason to start a meta question. Sounds like an acceptable reason.) Also, certainly there is not overwhelming disagreement with his answer, but we do not have a clear consensus here at the moment. They are indeed compatible with yours! They are suggesting not to bother people with this too much but still leaving the door open. Thus they are also compatible with SSD's response. But they don't appear to agree completely with either of you. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 21 '15 at 0:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan "What definition are we using? “d7 approves”?" What the hell, man? This is getting out of line. This has little to do with d7. I'm asking you to keep your behaviour in check. It is not good behaviour at the moment. I am also asking you not to assert that the entire community overwhelmingly agrees with you. Certainly, suggest it has not agreed with SSD, that much is clear. Dice the other answer show you want, though, they don't represent agreement with you. (I am saying that as someone who does not agree wholly with your answer, but agrees with one of the next two.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 21 '15 at 1:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Consensus is just majority opinion; that's it. Now to whether this is consensus, if we assume everyone who's read this thread has also voted on your answer, you probably have consensus by votes and by a slim margin over another answer, but also heavy disagreement (one third of your answer's voters disagree). Note that I've been asking you to not call it overwhelming consensus; that's hyperbole misrepresenting the truth: this is far from a clean break, considering you are by a narrow margin over another answer with a different stance, and that one-third disagreement. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 21 '15 at 1:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Thank you for noticing that. Absolutely I agree there are common threads of thought that seem heavily in favour among the community here, but it's oversimplifying things to assume there are two sides, and it's glossing over details to lump anything together -- such as me having downvoted this answer but upvoted one of the two you're lumping it together with, which means you're misrepresenting my voting. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 21 '15 at 2:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan asserting there's overwhelming consensus about an issue is quite different from asserting that one stance in it has a lack of support. Also, what we have re: SSD's answer is exactly that - a strong indication of lack of support - I would not interpret lack of voting to constitute deliberate agreement. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 21 '15 at 3:01

In reality, I think this question is much simpler than the answers (as informative as they are) have made it out to be.

The real issue with the XY problem is that we have absolutely no way of knowing which questions are XY and which are not. We can attempt to heuristically identify which questions are and are not, but as far as I've seen this has a high chance of failure.

Even on the off chance that it succeeds, it's not reasonable to tell someone "no, that's not what you're asking." It's either going to be rude or ineffective, and very likely both.

Instead, if you're not sure, just ask clarifying questions. If they ask a question that is clear, but isn't what they really want, it's not unclear what they're asking. They just mean something else. You can ask something like:

How do you see an answer helping you run games better?

Further advice can be given solely based on what the asker really needs.

Separating questions and people is important. If someone asks an answerable XY-question, the OP should be discouraged from editing it into something else, and instead encouraged to post a new question.


It is important to be respectful of the asker, but it is also important to do your best to help the person, and this may mean helping them to realize their faulty assumptions.

I find that some of the best answers address apparent XY-problems by doing the following: First they answer the question literally without making assumptions, then they explain why the solution could lead to problems in practice, and show how to approach the underlying problem differently.

Some may find tacking advise on the end of an answer to be patronizing, but some people really appreciate it; and you won't know until you actually do it.

Here's an example of one of my questions where the poster did this: https://rpg.stackexchange.com/a/47800/15866. He managed to answer the question and give me some new ideas.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is usually an uncontroversial circumstance, though. What's controversial is when someone says there is an XY problem but they don't know what the underlying problem might, just that they think there's one. How should we handle that? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 20:35

Questiosn with XY problems should generally not be closed. An XY problem usually has nothing to do with the validity of the question, just the helpfulness of a question.

A question should probably not be closed for being an XY question per se - although there are various good close reasons that could be described as an XY question if you squint hard.

  • Real problem - "I can't be arsed to read the rulebook"
  • Real problem - "My thought processes are terminally disordered"
  • Real problem - "I am randomly curious about a hypothetical"

Remember, good questions are about actual problems that you face. I'll call this a "meta" X-Y problem - it's not that they are asking about Monkey Grip when they really want to know about maximizing DPS, it's that they are cosmically troubled in some other way.

In general more routine non-meta-scoped XY problems can be comment-clarified and downvoted, and answered with a frame-challenge (subject to voting if people think it's valid or not) if it's merited within the narrow guidelines already expressed here on meta.

There's nothing wrong with encouraging people to give context as to why they're trying to do what they do, because they may not be sure how to reach their goal (they are asking, after all) and need to either edit their question or ask another - a good example is "I want to ask a question about how to use monkey grip because I want the best dps ever" - you can go ahead and answer how to use monkey grip, and that's a legitimate question and a legitimate answer, but they may not be a good question and a good answer because they don't solve the problem. I would consider a frame-challenge an appropriate possible answer to that question. Close votes on the question would not be appropriate, however.


  • Valid close reason - "unclear what you're asking"
  • Invalid close reason - "I don't like what you're asking"
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does absolutely nothing to address the rude behavior our well-intentioned users are sometimes displaying. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 10 '15 at 18:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you point out some actual examples of this rudeness instead of just speaking abstractly? I think this entire question sounds like some meta-argument between you and SSD, this is a fine answer to the actual question posed but clearly you both have several page-breaks of baggage built up around this. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 11 '15 at 1:34

There are two orthogonal issues here: whether to point out potential XY problems and whether to close potential XY problems. Question validity/answerability is relevant to the latter and a complete red herring for the former.

  1. The "What is the XY problem?" is part of the FAQ for Stack Exchange sites, and pointing out that it might be happening in a question is fine. Valid, answerable questions are not magically safe from falling into this common problem-solving trap, so it remains kosher to suggest the possibility with a pointer to the FAQ (the purpose for which it was written).

    If that's contentious, that's something to take up at the appropriate level: on the Meta.SE question about it or in a fresh question on Meta.SE.

    There's a conversation to be had about how to diplomatically mention it, but that is apparently a conversation we're not ready to have yet.

  2. Closing potential XY problems is a separate issue. Not all potential XY problems are unclear. Ultimately, casting a close vote or not is an individual judgement, just like casting a reopen vote is should you disagree with the result.

    Advising caution in casting close votes is legit, but we don't have a problem with lots of questions going through a contentious close-reopen cycle over this, so that's not a real issue that needs solving.

These are orthogonal issues: the first can be an issue with a question when the second isn't, and vice versa. Keeping the two clear and separate should help reduce confusion and conflict over comments about the XY Problem.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A second answer, aka "shorter me". \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '15 at 3:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, this is the conversation about how to diplomatically mention it, because we are not currently doing that. Until we can do that, the overwhelming community response is that we should not mention it at all. This is a loud-and-clear message from the community that the way XY is being handled on this site is disrespectful and rude, and that it would be better to not mention it at all, then to continue handling it as we have been. So if you want to fight for what you perceive as your right to tell people that you know them better than they know themselves, demonstrate how. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 12:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, the FAQ entry is addressed to question askers. It is not addressed to the community, it does not suggest that any steps be taken to “handle” XY problems, and it most definitely does not supersede Be Nice as far as policy goes. Pretending we are bound by Stack Exchange as a whole to respond to XY problems as we have been, and that any disagreement on that point has to be handled on Meta.SE, is incorrect and disingenuous. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ The only loud I see is right here. If we are having that conversation, point me to your suggestion of how to diplomatically address askers. I see only an urge toward a blanket ban right now, based on a false dilemma between the FAQ and Be Nice, which is incoherent with being part of the SE network. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '15 at 14:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bringing up XY is only appropriate in response to a problem – if there is no problem, there is no reason to bring it up. A question, just posted, that is clear, valid, and answerable, has no problems. There is no evidence, at that point, that any problems exist. Why the user wants to know the answer to that question is at that point none of our business. We must assume that the user has their reasons, and that they are good enough for the user – after all, this is precisely what the decision to ask the question suggests. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Asking for clarification – including potential XY issues – is only appropriate when it is in response to a problem that is already evident. Comments indicating that answers are not what the asker was looking for, perhaps, or a second related question that seems to indicate the problematic pattern you described in your now-deleted answer. But just after a valid question has been posed? Act in good faith – assume they ask what they meant to. To do otherwise is to assume a fairly deep level of incompetence, and cannot be done respectfully (because an assumption like that simply isn’t) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is what my answer suggests, and my answer is overwhelmingly the most popular here. If the dilemma is false, demonstrate that by describing how you’d change how we handle XY – because right now, the dilemma is not false at all, at least in the community’s perception. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Banning mentioning a site FAQ is a non-starter. It's laughable on its face. I allow that it's possible we may need to adjust "how", but only someone who can see the problem can suggest a better "how." If that falls to you, refusing to discuss better ways to mention the FAQ isn't going to result in a ban for lack of discussion—no matter how popular the filibuster is—it will result in status quo. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '15 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Didn’t say mention of the FAQ was banned – I said that we should be hesitant to assume it’s necessary in any case, and only do so when there is distinct evidence that an actual problem is present and that it is the FAQ that can help solve it. Throwing an FAQ in someone’s face when there is no problem to be had except in your mind is disrespectful and rude. Even if elected moderator, you do not get to set policy on this site. It is community-run, and for good reason. I have suggested better ways to mention it – specifically by modulating when we do so. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 15:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Context is everything. The context in which you suggest that someone reads a particular FAQ influences how they feel about that suggestion. In particular, in the case of the XY, it is useful if you are correct in your suspicions, but it is insulting if you are not – it implies that there is something wrong with the question, or with the asker for wanting to know its answer. Since we have already established that we are talking about the situation where there is nothing wrong with the question itself, that is the wrong message to send. It is neither polite nor welcoming, nor appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 19:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ “the question is valid, we can answer it, and the answer will be useful to future readers.” There is nothing wrong with the question. Yes, if we cannot answer the question – it’s unclear, it’s too broad, or whatever else, those are problems that can be politely and respectfully approached, and suggesting the XY FAQ as an insight into why a question might be unclear can be a useful choice. But that is not the topic here. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 20:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ The first sentence of this answer points out that there are two issues, one of closing and one of pointing things out. I am not discussing closing valid questions because of XY suspicions at all, because that is absurd. I am discussing whether or not to point out things which you imagine might be an XY problem. Nearly every instance in which I have seen this attempted, it’s strongly read as if the user was being required to justify their question, or being asked to change it for the benefit of someone who wanted to answer a different question. Neither is appropriate or polite. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Real examples please. That's the second request, if you're counting. Especially since your mind-reading of the motives of the commenters you're alluding to is insulting and assumes bad faith. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '15 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments cannot be searched, and are deleted frequently anyway. I agree it would be better to have them, but I do not. It seems that a substantial majority of the users on this site have seen the same, and agree with my perception. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 16 '15 at 20:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie You could really afford to back down your self-righteous, passive-aggressive sarcasm. There's not a universe in which LMGTFY isn't an insult. This answer isn't any better than the previous one, because you're still arguing from a stance that you know better than the questioner - and the votes are telling, just as they did before. \$\endgroup\$ – Lord_Gareth Apr 21 '15 at 0:47

We should ask for context

Based on the description you have provided, this is a useful question which is simply missing context. It may be in fact an XY Problem, but the solution to an XY Problem is not always to replace it with a new question focused on the root problem. Sometimes there are enough facets to the root problem that the querent has by themselves been able to narrow to a mostly-reasonable solution, and just needs implementation advice. Sometimes the querent does understand the situation better than we do.

We should only close questions that are not useful

If the question is answerable and otherwise valid, closing it because it is not this other question we would rather have someone ask is unhelpful to the community at large and rather rude to the querent. In this case it is appropriate to ask for clarification in the comments as to the context for the question, but that need not be accompanied by a close vote.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have to disagree with the principles this is based on. Closing is not for questions that are not useful — in fact, we are not supposed to ever close based on that reason, as that's what downvotes are for. This conclusion might be right or wrong, but the way it gets there is invalid. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 17:28

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