Consider biology. If someone asks what defines a hedgehog then people will have to list a set of characteristics, a long set actually. When defining a mammal the set of characteristics will be shorter and when defining a living being the set of characteristics will be just one, autopoiesis.

General questions require general answers and general answers are usually shorter and easier to give, for someone knowing the answer or with enough analysis and synthesis capabilities as to abstract from the details of the particular examples, analyse what is common between them and synthesise it in a short general answer.

If some specific person lacks these capabilities, there is nothing to be ashamed, no need to worry, simply let some other guy answer the question.

Why do people keep complaining about some questions being "too general"? Where does the fallacy of general questions being hard or impossible to answer come from? Can we get over it yet?

PD: What about foundations and fundamental questions? Specific questions are anecdotal. The Universal Law of gravitation defines how gravity should behave in the Universe, not for an specific apple falling from an specific tree. I understand that this can be shocking when most questions are asking for a specific data, but more general means more fertile, more useful in a wide range of situations and for more people.

  • Do you have specific Politics questions in mind? FYI, asking what defines a hedgehog would be off topic on Biology Stack Exchange. – yannis Oct 8 '13 at 2:30
  • @YannisRizos I do, but in my experience when specific examples are provided the answers focus on specific details of the examples and not on the general aspects of the topic. Please let me know if you still want examples, though. – Trylks Oct 8 '13 at 2:36
  • That's... true, unfortunately. That said, I'm not entirely sure what kind of questions you have in mind when you talk about "general questions". That may be all my fault though; it's 5:30 am here, and I haven't had my morning coffee year ;) – yannis Oct 8 '13 at 2:42

StackExchange exists to better the internet. Replicating Wikipedia, while useful, does not accomplish this. If a Wikipedia article is what you are looking for, I would suggest using WIkipedia.

Where Politics.SE shines is when there's something a step beyond that. If there are specific questions about general topics, then you've hit our sweet spot. As such, "How does the US Congress work?" really is too general for us. You would be much better off not to ask a question, but rather to read an introductory article. Those exist, and are done better elsewhere.

On the other hand, asking

What are the legal requirements to be Speaker of the US House of Representatives?


Why is the Speaker of the House able to stop a vote on a clean spending bill?

assumes that you have a general reference point, but are missing details. Combing through an entire book to find those would be hard. That's where SE makes the internet better. That's our sweet spot and our core competence - finding needles in haystacks and contextualizing information within a broader scope.

I don't pretend to be a college professor or a 4th grade Social Studies teacher, but I do know a thing or two about how government works. I am not alone in that on this site. Play to the strengths and everyone is better off.

  • If there exists an introductory article then it should not be a big trouble linking to it. If there is none then (by 2013) we are probably on the sweet spot. If that is not the case today, then the question can remain open for a while, until one of the two previous conditions is satisfied. – Trylks Oct 8 '13 at 3:43

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