Many Qs and As in politics are highly subjective as it is, but one of the major reasons making them even more subjective is incredibly vague definitions of popularly used terms, which come with multiple competing definitions, connotations, and frequently, contexts (for example, "liberalism" - to use something that caused some confusion on a recent question).

As such, should we enforce a rigorous regime of requiring detailed definitions of any terms that leave anything to interpretation in the questions?

For example:

BAD: "What are the right's stated reasons to support position 'X'?"

GOOD: "What are the right's stated reasons to support position 'X'? Here by the "right", we mean these 3 influential right-wing political thinkers (or >50% of registered Republicans in USA, based on poll Y)"


BAD: "Do any socialist countries have freedom of the press?"

GOOD: "Do any socialist countries have freedom of the press?Here is a rule of how I define 'socialist countries': any country that was/is ruled by a single party officially labeling itself socialist or communist; with no other parties allowed; And freedom of the press is defined as lack of legal/economic mechanisms that can or have been used to punish a press member for holding opposing political views or criticism the government - in other words there are no pervasive examples of negative consequences of such criticism"

BEST: Same as GOOD, with an added: "An ideal 'yes' answer would include an explicit example of such a country fitting the definition, and an example of a member of several independent members of the press having sustained publications criticizing the government with no negative repercussions for a a period of at least 2 years".

NOTE: The specific wordings chosen by me for the examples may not be great, please respond and vote on the overarching idea and not any deficiencies in my specific examples.

  • Just to be clear, what I'm proposing is something that would be a community guideline which could be (if people agree it's a good idea) referrable to in comments, and hopefully taken into account when voting as one of the metrics of whether a question is good or bad. I am not proposing it as any sort of enforceable rule.
    – user4012
    Dec 13, 2012 at 17:30
  • If you disagree, I would appreciate a comment or an answer indicating WHY you are downvoting the proposal
    – user4012
    Dec 13, 2012 at 22:21
  • I am guessing they are saying that they disagree. An answer of "NO" is not terribly useful. Dec 14, 2012 at 4:55

3 Answers 3


One problem we have to be wary of is that there are people out there who'll use any community guideline we come up with to justify a counter-productive kneejerk reaction (see: thousands of unthinking "what have you tried?" comments on SO1), so anything that's going to end up in a FAQ or similar needs to be thought about carefully.

I can imagine a situation where politics.se becomes unbearable, due to every question from a new user getting jumped on by the kind of people who think that demanding a definition for every word that isn't a preposition is a productive use of their or anyone else's time.

That said, I think it is reasonable to expect an informal definition (or at least a Wikipedia link) for concepts which are likely to be particularly contentious (like "right" and "left") or not well-known (like, oh, I don't know, Subsidiarity).

My preference, when necessary, would be for that kind of problem to be resolved by jumping in, editing, and leaving a comment like the ones sometimes seen on SO, such as

Welcome to politics.stackexchange.com! To avoid confusion, we expect questions containing contentious or little-known words and phrases to define them (or to link to such definitions). I've edited your question to give an example of how you can do this in future.

... rather than an instant down/close vote and "Define your terms, moron!" style comment (where the "... moron!" part may be unsaid and even unmeant, but could easily be inferred by the hapless newcomer).

1 I've been guilty of this.

  • @DVK FWIW, I wasn't your downvoter.
    – user97
    Dec 14, 2012 at 1:58
  • ... also: sooo tempting to spell "moron" with an "a" ...
    – user97
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:04
  • 1
    Um... silently counting my "what have you tried" comments on SO...
    – user4012
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:40
  • I care a lot more about guidelines than about implementing them. I tend to range between "define your terms, moron" and "I've edited your question to give an example of how you can do this in future", strongly depending on the exhibited attitude and effort of the poster, at least on SO, where personally have very low tolerance for GimmeTehCodez questions, but very high tolerance for a question that sounds simple/bad/dumb but shows that the OP sincerely put an effort into it.
    – user4012
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:44
  • That said, it seems like you're in favor of the spirit of what I'm proposing, correct? (assuming the implementation doesn't turn the site into a definition police jackbooted thug state)
    – user4012
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:46
  • Yeah, on balance (and have voted accordingly). Although definitionpolicejackbootedthugstate.stackexchange.com does have a certain ring to it ...
    – user97
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:54
  • becomes unbearable, due to every question from a new user getting jumped on - That is exactly what happens too. You can see it at the workplace, skeptics, and other sites. These type of rules become reasons to pile on new users that do not know any better. Dec 14, 2012 at 4:57
  • It's a danger, yes - although to be fair to skeptics.se, piling onto naïve positions is to some extent its raison d'être.
    – user97
    Dec 14, 2012 at 5:04

I am all for having a high bar for question quality. The target of the question should be specific enough that the answerer will not have to make a subjective decision about inclusion.

When asking for reasons or positions the right or the left is too generic. Asking about The official position of a Party, or a specific member of the party is fine. Asking why a group of people feel a certain way is not constructive because in every group of people there is probably someone that does not agree.

Instead of asking about "Socialist countries" ask about specific countries or a block of countries IE, European, nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union, EU, or Members of NATO, Members of The UN, etc. Or you could ask about countries that claim to be socialist.


NO - The rule it self will not actually solve any problem it will create some problems though.

The first experience a new visitor to a site has is likely to be when they ask a question. How that is handled can often be the difference between a user that comes back and one that never returns.

Too often rules like this become the excuse used by existing users to pile on down votes and generally be less than polite and helpful to new users.

Politics is contentious enough with out adding this in. This rule could be used to demand definitions of obvious words by people not actually wanting to have the question discussed. And the lack of definitions in other questions used as justification for not following the rule them selves. Then when those users get down-voted they feel picked on and many times create more problems in retaliation. Lets look for constructive ways of solving our problems with out rules that can be used to quiet viewpoints we disagree with.

  • This is a completely separate reason from my original answer. Dec 14, 2012 at 5:08

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