So, I ran into a comment today with +6 score:

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

This is on a question about Modi's demonetizing policy in India.

On one hand, admittedly not everyone knows these things (I know I didn't till I googled some resources on the topic).

On the other hand, anyone who's even remotely familiar with this specific topic, should know them - they are basics at 101 level.

This seems like asking "Please defined Integer, Big-O algorithm complexity and merge sort" in a question asking about speed of merge sort on StackOverflow. This is basic knowledge of a specific topic, why would it be required to be explained in a question asking the experts to address the topic?

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    I more or less agree with your sentiment. A question first should be catered toward people who might know the answer. If a person who might know the answer can reasonably be expected to already know the terminology and/or background of the question, the the question need not define that terminology. Jul 20, 2017 at 16:08
  • Find it's quite helpful to add a quick link (such as Wikipedia) to terms some may not understand, whether in the question or the answer. It aids less knowledgeable readers who wish to learn something. Obviously it's hard to be certain what terms will cause trouble (and some terms will take too much defining to be useful, or may not have a good link).... but just taking a quick consideration of what others may not know makes every question as broadly useful as possible. Certainly can't see reason to make it a requirement, but it's a nice act to help encourage understanding and benefit of all! Aug 1, 2017 at 11:42
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    @JeopardyTempest - totally agree with you, but my question isn't whether it improves the question, but rather whether it is required :)
    – user4012
    Aug 1, 2017 at 13:04

4 Answers 4


No. If a term is well-known to people with expertise in the area and is unambiguous then no clarification is required.

That doesn't mean that a brief line of context wouldn't make the question better. There are a lot of "curious bystanders" on this site who read questions and answers to learn more about the topic, and adding some context to the question would be beneficial to those people.

That being said, asking for clarification of "demonetizing" and "black money" in the context of India shows a complete lack of even the most basic familiarity with India's politics. It's the major political topic of the moment in India. It's like asking to define terms such as "Watergate scandal", "Clinton's emails", or "illegal immigration".

I have added a link to the Wikipedia page on the subject and flagged the comment in question as obsolete.


Most of the readers of this site are not in India. As such, a basic understanding of Indian politics should not be required to read a question. As is, the largely European and American readership is going to see demonetization and go "Huh?"

By contrast, readers of Stack Overflow will mostly be computer science majors (current or past), who should know what an integer, complexity analysis, and sorting methods are. Those are basic to many questions on the site. The analogy would only work if this site were about Current Events in India (which demonetization definitely was).

The kind of terms that would be that important on this site are things like first-past-the-post, IRV, and proportional representation. If someone asked what those were, then we could reasonably tell them to click the tags. Perhaps even Brexit, Trump, and such, as those are single country terms that are internationally known. But we have exactly one question on Modi's demonetization.

This site has experts in politics and political science. Expecting people to know what black money is? Not a big deal. Expecting people to know that India is currently trying to fight black money by replacing large denomination bills in a process that it calls demonetization? That's a much bigger leap. That question is the first time that I heard about it. And it's difficult to search since it's not really clear what they're discussing.

If the terms are really that obvious to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of world affairs, then the obvious thing is for people to edit the explanation into the question.

I would also point out that this particular question might be best answered by an expert on currency rather than an expert on India. Because demonetization is an Indian term rather than an economics term, as stands, the question is unclear about its main topic to the type of experts who could answer it.

It's also unclear:

  1. Why they think that demonetization did not work.
  2. What a Modi is.
  3. How this relates to black money.
  4. How this relates to higher denomination notes.

It's certainly possible to explain those things. For example, this answer does so. But what it does not do is explain why demonetization would help if it does not address black money. It's not even sure that demonetization did not counter problems with black money.

And that's the real problem with the question. Even if it had been clearly written, it's not evident that the question is itself sensible at this time. It's quite possible that this question should have been closed. Yet how could someone tell this since it's only intelligible to people who knew about that particular event in Indian politics.


Pretty clearly if you need to look up what X is you aren't yet in a good position to explain it, and if you are going research a question finding definitions yourself is very little added work.

However, I would suggest an answer could be improved if it didn't explain terms I didn't understand. And if it would help the answer it might be reasonable to put it in the question so that future readers don't bother searching elsewhere for information lower on the same page.

It's also possible to know about things using different words. "black money" was a new phrase to me, though the concept certainly was not. If there is doubt a comment for clarification seems entirely reasonable.

That comment doesn't seem to merit upvotes, but I don't think it's wrong to have made it.

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    This site has an international user base. I'd gather there is no shortage of users who are unfamiliar with "basic" English terms all while knowing and understanding them in their native language. Jul 21, 2017 at 9:37
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    That's sorta the inverse of what happened here, someone asked about Indian policy using standard Indian-English terms, and some presumably Am or Br English speakers got lost.
    – user9389
    Jul 21, 2017 at 13:21
  • Just because someone isn't in a position to explain something doesn't mean they are not in a position where they want to learn more about something.
    – Joe W
    Sep 20, 2021 at 15:36

While I don't think it should be a specific requirement, it's one of those things that makes your question more likely to be answered.

If someone can learn everything they need to just from looking at it, without doing loads more reading, they're far more likely to take time to respond to it.

In this specific instance, from reading the term "Modi's demonetizing policy in India" from this OP gave me an impression of what he meant, but I wasn't entirely sure. (it was only when I read answers/comments did I realize my first guess was correct)

I don't think this is a big enough problem to compel people to do it when asking questions. Unless it's ambiguous enough to require OP's clarification, I think other users editing the question works a lot better.

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