The concept of a frame challenge is fairly ubiquitous in our community, at least for meta users or those who've been around long enough to have seen it a few times.

There's an issue here though: I'm pretty sure nobody else uses that terminology but us. All the results on Google or DuckDuckGo for "frame challenge" or "challenge the frame" (both DuckDuckGo links) bring up photo/art design challenges, and Google NGrams barely even recognises the existence of one formulation of the phrase and has no records of the other formulation. That makes it internal technical jargon that's primarily only meaningful to us.

This would be a non-issue except we use this technical jargon in answers written primarily not for us, but for the broad internet community arriving here from links on Reddit, forums, or Google. We up-front announce we're challenging the frame or making a frame challenge, and only a few hundred people inside our own community would understand what on earth that means. We're not writing these answers just for our insular community — others should be able to understand what they mean without having to ask us about our own jargon.

Is there a more ordinary colloquial English phrase we could use to describe this stuff we call frame challenges? If there isn't just one phrase — maybe what we call "frame challenges" is more a bucket of lots of different things — are there a few such phrases or expressions we could use to describe these things we currently call frame challenges?

I ask this because I'd like us to migrate away from calling these frame challenges, and instead start calling them ... whatever it is people usually call these things in English.

(This isn't a diamond moderator thing, just an invested citizen thing.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: how do we handle the desire to challenge the frame of a question? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Nov 6, 2017 at 23:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Serious question: is this meta an effort to reduce/lower barriers to entry and participation? Part of the thought behind this question is the latent hostility to new users that crops up now and again in questions and feedback to the community on meta. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 4:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Korvin Yes, if we count the barrier to entry/participation as including a barrier to reading and understanding our site's material. This barrier in particular was one we put up ourselves several years into the site's growth by (as far as I can tell) creating some new terminology internally, then beginning to use it in posts written for the public. It's a barrier we can lower again by finding more everyday terminology instead. We can also lower it by not using this jargon on main site in the first place, hence changes I've requested from time to time, yesterday or even years ago. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 8:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ With that in mind, I can see some merit it arriving at something, but I wonder if we run the risk of subbing in a different bit of jargon. A quick link to your answer here seems to me to serve to clarify what's going on when someone doesn't understand the term. Maybe a way ahead is to call on those using that jargon, frame challenge, to link to that meta so that when someone is puzzled that clarification is one click away. I'll think on this some more. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 12:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Bear in mind 99% of our traffic is anonymous visitors from elsewhere (primarily Google). The site is written for them. Much like Wikipedia is not written primarily for its editors and contributors, RPG Stack Exchange is not written primarily for those people with an account and the comment privileges necessary to ask "what does that mean?". \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 12:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, hence using the built in link. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 12:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does "frame challenge" show up often for casual users, or does it only show up if you hang out in Meta/chat? \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Nov 18, 2017 at 4:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin People namedrop the concept of a frame challenge somewhat regularly in their main site answers. Only people who visit meta actually are likely to come across an explanation of what that means here. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 24, 2017 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I just tripped over a usage that I'd not seen before "break the frame" in this answer and I also find that waxeagle's "questions by experts" to be at odds with your point on 99%. Not sure if this needs a different meta, or a discussion in chat, but tripping over that usage reminded me of this meta. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15, 2018 at 19:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast So, a few things are going on there, including context. That's a question about a problem pattern where anyone asking about Fate mechanics was treated like an idiot who doesn't even understand the fundamentals of how the game worked. Wax Eagle is saying treat them like they understand stuff about the game and have played it, but need help on something specific. Second: the fact we're writing our answers for googlers is how this site works at all. 90-something% of our traffic is for Google. Questions are asked by knowledgeable people and read by the same. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15, 2018 at 19:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, "questions asked by experts" isn't at odds with the 99% figure at all. Second... being knowledgeable about a game still doesn't mean that they have any idea what our internal jargon terminology is. You've suggested resolve that bar by teaching them what our terminology is... I'd prefer to resolve that bar by just using equivalent terminology they'd already be familiar with and saving them the effort. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15, 2018 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ On your second point, I'd rather we not guess what people know and teach them something. Let's agree to disagree on that. I guess that "break the frame" never grew legs. Read that entire meta, thanks, I got a feel for what that issue was. Tripping over mxy's usage got my attention diverted to this. Four years on, the "expert question" assumptions / presumption looks to have broken down ... but overall the level of expertise in questions (as demonstrated by the asking of) is all over the map. Which IMO is fine. My takeaway from wax's point is 'clarify using comments = best practice.' \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15, 2018 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whatever floats your boat dude. Yeah, the network messaging emphasis on "we're all experts for experts" has reduced somewhat. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 15, 2018 at 19:48

4 Answers 4


Yeah, much as it's useful jargon to discuss how the site operates, I've noticed it being used in answer content lately and I don't think that's a helpful trend. I think it actually makes frame challenges less effective, because they're not really fully explaining and supporting the choice to challenge!

Although some phrases to use instead might be useful, I think it might just encourage the same shortcut-taking, just using different words.

So I don't think a replacement or ban on the words would be useful or even effective. The problem with saying “frame challenge” on mainsite isn't the words, but because it's too-often used (often unintentionally, but always ineffectively) as a replacement for actually making their case against the frame, and because as jargon it's often meaninglessly opaque to a reader. (The former seems like the bigger problem to me, since doing it right would fix the latter as a bonus.) A ban won't fix unintentional shortcut-taking.

I think instead that we should encourage people to just do it instead of saying they're doing it. We shouldn't necessarily edit it out, because that still just leaves their challenge unexplained, leaving a hole in the answer. We should encourage people to unpack their statement of “frame challenge” so they explain exactly their thoughts on how the frame is part of the problem, and why their replacement frame is the right way to frame it.

As part of encouraging “just do it” challenges, I think we should amend our frame challenge meta to say so, and to point out that “I'm challenging the frame” won't be understood by 99% of readers and usually actively worsens their attempted challenge.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the problem with issuing a frame challenge without explicitly calling it out as such is that sometimes such answers can come off as argumentative or simply not answering the question. After all, the OP asked "how do I do X?" Answering with "X is a bad idea." or whatever is not technically answering the question. This is particularly true if the OP preemptively says that they don't want to do it in the way the answer says it should be done. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 0:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm a fan of skipping saying it's a frame challenge and just doing it. (@NicolBolas We get frame challenges all the time that never refer to themselves as such, including in those circumstance, and they have often done OK — when they're any good in their own right as solutions, thus the risk of these challenges. "X is a bad idea, do this instead" is the model of my best scored post on the network, because it gave itself legs to stand on.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 0:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelspooker I'd be a fan of that approach, too, except that, in my experience, it's led to confusion and negativity when I didn't mention the answer is a challenge! Certainly, in a perfect word, a question or answer would stand (or fall) on its own merits without need of qualification or editorializing, but that's not where we're at. ("Yet," he says optimistically albeit parenthetically.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 2:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I'd rather our internal community not be trained to expect someone to use internal jargon though to signal a type of answer. Back in my day [waves a cane around] we got by just fine without ever explicitly announcing our answer being such. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelspooker I'm totally on board with changing the jargon but I do think there should be a way to signal to readers beforehand This answer addresses an issue with the question itself rather than or in addition to answering the question; please take the answer in that light. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm still of the position that gracefully signalling that fact is part of crafting the answer well, and encouraging shortcuts will just degrade the quality of answers. There will be exceptions where a shortcut is used well and isn't a net negative of course, but people can come up with their own bespoke signals that they're challenging the frame without us giving an Official Magic Password. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 17:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Respectfully, I disagree. Enshrining that challenging the question's premise — whether that's in via a link to a meta question or through the use of jargon — is an acceptable practice means not having to defend oneself every time one does. I'd rather a link to Meta send folks to where they can read that such answers are okay than have every such answer spend a few hundred words justifying why such answers in general are acceptable. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think we are talking about different things. I am saying that an answer that has to explicitly defend its decision to be a frame challenge has already failed — by wasting space and influence justifying the wrong thing. Frame challenges should justify why they're right, not that they're permitted. More to that point: we don't have a policy protecting frame challenges as acceptable; what we have is guidance to improve one's chances of being acceptable to voters. They must stand on their own merits. A poor frame challenge gains no official support by saying "this is a frame challenge". \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thing is, I expect without acknowledgement in some capacity that such answers are, in fact, okay and actually answers—with a link or through jargon or however—, such answers will be flagged as Not an answer by helpful community members no matter how objectively good such an answer is. Eliminating from the site's vocabulary frame challenge without offering a replacement and making it incumbent on the answer to—directly or indirectly—prove that it's still an answer mutes potentially good answers from new users who don't know that challenging the question is a reasonable way to respond. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 7, 2017 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ A poor frame challenge gains no official support by saying "this is a frame challenge ... That's one of the few things I can agree with in this discourse.... I think HeyICanChan is on the right track. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 0:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan We reject those flags as a rule. We shouldn't complicate the site with new policy ornaments to solve a problem that's already solved by existing structures. We also don't need to tell people that they're allowed to challenge the frame either — the term developed to describe something people already naturally did before we named it. We regularly get frame challenges from novices who've never visited meta; I doubt we could chill that if we wanted to. (At best, we can provide advice on doing it well, which is what our meta about it does.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 2:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie RE: "We reject those flags as a rule." I didn't know that it was policy for moderators to reject flags claiming that challenges to a question's premise are not answers. Is that enshrined anywhere but here? I'm comfortable instead pointing to that if or when claims arise that an answer that challenges a question's premise is off-topic. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan It's built into the flagging interface for mods. "Not An Answer" is for gibberish and blatantly off-topic posts that don't try to answer. It's the "try" that is critical — if someone is trying to write an answer, its fate is up to up/down votes and we'll let it face the voters. Conversely, an on-topic post that isn't even trying to answer (e.g., just chatting about the topic) fails the "try" test and a NAA flag will be validated. Unfortunately, there isn't a public-facing guide to the mod-side flag guidance that I'm aware of. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Otherwise, "low quality" flags might be validly cast, but those we nearly always let the review queue they trigger handle it instead of intervening. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 20:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a tiny set of special cases we handle for not an answer flags beyond what SevenSidedDie described, such as answers based on a ruleset mismatch. (Like, "how do swords work in 5e?" "Here's the sword rules from 2e." Or, "how do I handle this Dungeon World situation?" "Here's how D&D says you should handle it." These answers are functionally useless.) These cases are ones where the community would delete the answer themselves even if we didn't. Frame challenges aren't among the special cases, those are fine. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2017 at 9:39

Is there a more ordinary colloquial English phrase we could use to describe this stuff we call frame challenges?


I would most naturally say one would question the premise of something. However, since the subject is itself a question, the construct "question the premise of the question" is a bit awkward. I'd instead use challenge the premise of the question.

Another phrase that comes to mind is challenge assumptions.

This google n-gram courtesy @doppelgreener shows "challenge/question assumption(s)" as the clear winner. It is more than five times as popular as "question the premise(s)", ten times "challenge the premise(s)", and over 100 times "challenge the frame". That said, I still prefer "question the premise" as the most neutral and natural for the context of this site.

("frame challenge" is not recognised at all by ngrams)

These phrases do suffer from the minor drawback that they become less searchable when modified for the surrounding grammar. You end up splitting it with modifiers like your, their, and the (as in "question your assumptions"). I still think any of these suggestions are self-evident to a native or non-native speaker.

  • \$\begingroup\$ But do they come off as more argumentative or even hostile, in tone, as Hey I Can Chan points out in some of the other comments? That's a worthy consideration to address. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2017 at 1:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I think the tone of these phrases can depend a lot on the context surrounding it. However, two things come to mind. First, 'frame challenge' can sound equally disparaging. Whatever phrasing you use, the site requires you to Be Nice, so politeness and tone already have a standard. Second, I chimed in to answer the question as asked. The other three answers so far challenge the assumption that we should be using some other phrase, rather than answering the question by listing phrases. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2017 at 2:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've just now come across this sort of terminology being used in programmers.se. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2017 at 11:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelspooker Thanks for the link! I think that answer is a good example of the way that this style of phrase can be a polite way of introducing a challenge kind of answer. Since the querent is a member here, I'd be curious to know what he thought of being on the receiving end of the phrasing. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2017 at 12:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wait, didn't they challenge the frame? 8^D Anyway, thanks for your further explanation. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2017 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've used this answer structure at times. It does take a bit more care to not be unnecessarily belligerent in wording, but with that bit of care it's a nicely direct way of pointing to a misconception you want to help solve. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2017 at 3:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ NGrams recognises far more usage for these phrases, compare here: books.google.com/ngrams/… The top phrase is 175x more likely to be used than the bottom one. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2017 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelspooker Yoink! Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 22, 2017 at 1:11

Don't worry about it

"Frame challenge" is not jargon because the meaning of the phrase flows naturally from the meaning of the simple words that make it up. In context, anyone with a basic grasp of English should be able to divine that the poster means to "challenge" the "framing" of the OP's question.

Putting words together in novel ways is how language works.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You beat me to it. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 0:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does it though? I'm happy to say I can understand what the words mean, but I can say that because I already know what they are. We do get people asking what it means because it didn't flow naturally from the individual words' meaning from them ("what's the frame, and what are they challenging about it?"). If it's understandable, I'm sure we can find something that's flatly more understandable and that actually gets used outside our site. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 9:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelspooker I, too, am interested in the term's etymology. Personally, I tend to associate a frame most readily with film and literature as a device used to tell the actual story (e.g. institutionalized Holden telling Catcher, slightly older Scout telling Mockingbird). I've never been precisely clear as to how that definition squared with the way frame is used here. I mean, I can see using it that way, but it's always struck me as a stretch. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 17:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I always thought of it in terms of the 2nd definition linked - structuring a plan or a problem \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Nov 8, 2017 at 18:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan The thing about framing questions is that there are all kinds of traps and built in errors in how a question is asked, such as the infamous "have you stopped beating your wife" as a gotcha question. (It's an infamous example for good reason). How a question is framed, or put together, matters if it is to attract the kind and quality of answers we wish to compile. (I think we mostly agree on this ...) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 18:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast O, and agree we do! You should be asking this different question to which I will supply an answer is a totally legit response, but I think we're (well, I am, anyway) struggling also (that is, along with a lot of other stuff in this Meta) with the term frame as synonym for premise or basis because using frame in that way seems to some… problematic? Inadequate? Unclear? Unattractive? But I dunno. I could be totally off-base. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 18:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan In the past ten years or so (in the US at least) there has been a lot of public discourse (in the political realm) of how people try to frame the debate (on issue X, Y, or Z) which is the same kind of usage of the word frame as is used in this phrase here. It may be that those who use English but are not inundated with US public discourse may not be as familiar with that usage as those of us subjected to it. :p \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 18:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Yeah, frame the debate does show up much more frequently on the ol' NGram viewer. Fair enough. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2017 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan be careful with drawing conclusions from n-gram - it only references books and underrepresents spoken or casual English, it also has no data past 2008 \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Nov 8, 2017 at 19:55

Rather than seeking a new term, or new jargon, use available tools

Consider instead proposing guidance about the use of the frame challenges in an answer to include the link to the very helpful definition that you provided in this answer, and which you include in your question.

While you feel that the issue is that the term is the problem, I disagree and tend to see it as Dale M does. We already have a means to mitigate it: the use of a link.


  1. I challenge the frame of your question

  2. This (answer) is a frame challenge.

Since the casual user is coming to us from Google, as you say, they'll have a link to mouse over. If they don't know what a frame challenge is, one click on the link and Bob's your Uncle!

Recommended course of action

Add this answer by @doppelgreener to the FAQ listing for RPG.SE.

An example of how to make a clear frame challenge, in terms of dealing with the defects within the body of the question, is here (from a different SE).

Full disclosure, I was mightily tempted to entitle this response "I challenge the frame of this question" for purely humorous purposes, but maybe I'd be the only one who'd appreciate that jest.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd have appreciated it, but only if you didn't link in the target meta while doing so =D \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Nov 10, 2017 at 1:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Heh, I was sooo tempted ... and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us ... good thing I say that every weekend as a reminder ... \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2017 at 1:23

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