This question (Why do some nations not allow renunciation of citizenship?) has recently put on hold as too broad. Why?

Ordinarily under these circumstances I wouldn't create a Meta post, but I suspect there are some different opinions here and the community might be benefited if we hash out what exactly makes this "too broad".

For my money, it's appropriately broad. Fittingly, I both upvoted and posted an answer to the question. However, one of the comments suggested that it would be more appropriate to pick a single country to explain. I hope this isn't the reason it was closed: cross-national comparisons are the point of much of political science. By summarizing and comparing countries we develop insight into a the deeper mechanisms of how politics works.

If we reject these kinds of questions as being too broad, I'm concerned that as a community we will have severely limited our ability to attract interesting questions and suitable experts to answer them.

  • I wonder whether some users believe that the site is for discussing specific political questions in specific systems, like the question of Scotland's independence from the UK. If that were true, then a general question about nationality would be too broad.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 17:16
  • 1
    I can't really answer this question as posted because I don't think the subject question is too broad. Also I'm a relative newcomer to the politics site, so I may be insufficiently aware of the site's practices. Anyway, I've voted to reopen the question.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 17:29
  • You should self-answer. FYI, it's since been reopened
    – user4012
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 18:54

3 Answers 3


I was reluctant to post an answer to this question, because I outlined my position in the question. However, the question was re-opened by the community and I felt that an answer here properly documented that action.

To re-state my position: questions are not too broad just because they ask for a comparison of several, perhaps very different, countries. Our "too broad" prompt says:

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer.

Too broad does not mean "too broad to you". Adequate answers to cross-national comparison or broad generalization can be done through the social sciences.

Broad According to Who?

As a community, I can understand the difficulty. We have many people with different backgrounds answering questions here. Because of our different backgrounds, we may have different ideas of what is "broad":

  • Political Science: Some of us here are social scientists. Cross-national comparison is likely a part of our training. Depending on the subject matter we may already be familiar with the theories or conclusions relevant to the question. We likely know where to find academic literature generalizing the process in question. Cross-national generalization is not too broad from this perspective.
  • Professionals: Some people here have a background in law or other professional subjects. In my experience, these backgrounds have a specialized knowledge in a certain subject making them easily able to answer specific questions (for example, "how do I renounce Canadian citizenship?"). However, because of their specialization the general question ("Why do some nations allow renunciation of citizenship and others don't?") is intractable.
  • Regional Experts: Some people here are experts (either by training or life experience) in certain regions of the world. These people can provide a first-hand account of certain topics in their region. In some cases, these could constitute Good Subjective answers. Questions within their region may not be too broad.
  • Amateurs: Some people have no knowledge or experience that is applicable to a question. They likely don't have the background or ability to successful answer these questions. To these people, it may seem difficult or impossible to successful answer a question like this.

Remember that a broad question doesn't mean "it's too broad for me to answer". If someone with a different background (either academic, professional, or life experience) could adequately answer a question, do not flag it as "too broad".

  • 1
    Fair enough, I will be man enough to admit that I did not think it was answerable, but that has to do with my individual focus rather than the science focus. I admit I failed to consider this approach. Your answer is great. I think if we had a citiations required policy for the site we would be able to give more slack to these types of questions, and attract more high quality answers like the one you provided. Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 17:56

I share indigochild's concerns and agree that this is an appropriate question and is not too broad.


Too Broad means that the question is Too Broad to be answered with a single answer. In this case, someone could realistically answer differently for each country that does not allow renunciation of citizenship.

This is really two questions:

  1. Which countries don't allow renunciation of citizenship?
  2. Why?

For any particular country, the second question is appropriately scoped. But the first question is a list question, which is often Too Broad in and of itself.

Note that even limited to a single country, the second question could have multiple answers, e.g.

  1. Historical reasons. Individual to each country.
  2. Legal quirks. Individual to each country.
  3. Possessiveness. Taxes, mine!

It also leaves the question open to theoretical answers. For example, someone could speculate that a country wants to recover the funds spent on education for its citizens.

A country could want to use that issue as part of a larger negotiation, again specific to a single country.

Some legal avenues may not have been tested. For example, in the United States, it is not necessarily possible for a citizen to renounce citizenship. Under the fourteenth amendment, everyone born in the US is a citizen. But the US currently allows people to act as if they renounced their citizenship. What happens if someone renounces their citizenship and then later reclaims it? There is a fourteenth amendment argument that they're still a citizen. There's no renunciation exception in the text. That's on-topic to the original question, even though it has no current real world application.

Note that the last has important ramifications for visa overstays. To get around the constitutional requirement for birthright citizenship, the US could have female visitors sign a preemptive renunciation for potential unborn children. And could have deportees agree to renunciation to keep their kids with them and out of the foster system. So the courts may be reluctant to go with the simple solution of allowing voluntary renunciation.

And that's about a country that at least nominally does allow renunciation. I could easily write a full length answer just on that basis.

Too Broad does not mean too difficult to answer. It means that it is too easy to answer. There are too many possible answers. Switching to a different kind of subject expert doesn't fix that. You need to make the question more focused, perhaps such that only that kind of subject expert could answer it.

  • 2
    Your answer convinces me that this question was not too broad. The job of political science is to generalize all those specific contextual factors into a general theory. If you tried to provide all those specific contextual details here, you would never be able to synthesize an appropriate answer. So only a specific subject-matter expert could provide an answer. In practice, this is exactly what happened. Several answers provided a few case studies but were unable to build a comprehensive, general answer. Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 2:36
  • "Too many possible answers", a satire: OP: "what's 2 + 2 equal?" C: "Please be more specific, that's too broad." OP: "I dunno, coins, bagels, apples..." C: "You can't expect an answer if you don't even know what you're counting." OP: "I don't care about what's counted." C: "Don't bother us til you do."
    – agc
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 15:13
  • A better analogy is to someone asking "How many pounds of fruit will I have if I add the two in my shopping bag to the two in my refrigerator?" Obviously the question can't be answered without knowing whether we're talking about grapes or watermelons. Notice how in this case, the "subject expert" answer is contradicted by the "case study" answers, which it can't explain.
    – Brythan
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 15:57

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