From time to time, I see comments on questions that prompt the question asker to define terms that

  • Are not defined in the question
  • Are not well known to 100% of people, especially outside specific area of concentration (e.g. political terms local to Indian politics in 2016)
  • However, are well defined terms
  • And, moreover, fairly easy to figure out what they mean even for a non-expert.

Example Q (1 upvote only):

Q: "Modi's Demonetization move?"
What is the real advantage of Demonetization if it does not solve the problem of black money in India?

Comment (with 3 upvotes):

Please define your terms: Demonetizing, black money and how it relates to higher denomination notes


Both searcher return easily read articles explaining the subject area.

There seems to be a balance that is needed to achieve here between two competing goals:

  • Goal 1: Attract as wide user base as possible, by making every question potentially easily readable by every user, no matter how lay-person and uninformed.

  • Goal 2: Attract experts. And presumably, someone who is an expert would either already know those terms (this is kind of an important topic in world politics), or possess enough skills and expertise to learn about them as I just illustrated.

This seems to me to be the content equivalent of asking "can you please define what a lambda is" in a question about Java 8 lambdas. Yes, not every layperson would know what a lambda is. No, defining what it is isn't a need for an SO question to be perfectly fine - anyone of any appreciable level of expertise to be on SO should be able to google "lambdas java 8" even if they don't know anything about lambdas from their CS classes.

2 Answers 2


Yes. Having terminology explained appears to be an important factor for overall Q/A quality.

  1. Comments' very purpose is clarifying the poster's point.

  2. There are quite a few terms that may be understood differently by different people.

  3. Having terms explained may increase searchability of the posts. This is a pretty known SEO technique (white/legal one!) when you write several synonyms of a term so that search engines ranked the page higher on indexing.

  4. We should encourage self-sustainable questions and answers. It is much easier to answer the questions (and understand the answers) if they contain the required context.
    Side note: that's why, for example, link-only posts are discouraged.

  5. Knowing the context is crucial, as discussed in Should be try to get askers to include references in their questions?

The concern of attracting experts versus a wider user base also looks easy to resolve:

  1. A well-formatted post can have links formatted properly so it didn't clutter or distract he reader, even when the reader knows the definition;
    It's a pity SE engine still does not support the <abbr> tag.

  2. Experts arguably would not get distracted by a more chatty style of posts.
    Here's one argument (not intended a rant against the competitor):
    If you compare StackExchange and Quora, you will probably notice that SE has better signal/noise ratio. That's why, finally, we are here.
    Nevertheless, Barack Obama is a member of Quora, but not of Politics.StackExchange.

  3. We are behind the "healthy" status, so having a wider user base seems to be decisive for this site's audit, once it happens;


Yes. A question, and the following answer, should be able to stand on their own, without having to interpolate information. Definitions change over time. Considerations, intentions, and available information changes over time.

Further, some concepts may have multiple definitions, even though the adherents to any one definition may thing that theirs is the "well known" definition.

Providing definitions in the question establishes a common foundation for all comers, highlighting the asker's perspective.

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