Politics SE was a tough nut to crack for me because I mostly participate in Math and Science related sites.

So far I have been able to ask "explain the news" and "did this happen" type questions, but in order to learn more and understand more about politics I'd like to branch out into more theoretical questions.

Some, like Are "keep your power dry" or "Stand down and standby" arguably examples of "dog whistles"? might be about but others might be of the form "How do politicians decide if they should X or Y?" or "What metrics have been proposed to determine if a politician is doing their job well?" just for example.

Are there guidelines for this, or recommendations?

What snags or insta-close scenarios are possible, and how can I form or phrase the question to avoid them?

Are there some good examples of well received beginner-level questions on political theory or science that I could refer to?

Potentially related:

  • 2
    Have you considered the [political-theory] tag? Sorting by number of votes, the top ranking questions seem to be captured using a simple title, more simple than the average title I would say. Are those the kind of questions you are asking about here?
    – JJJ Mod
    Oct 2, 2020 at 3:08
  • @JJJ I'll have a look thanks, though there doesn't seem to be a beginner-level tag. Sometimes long-time users will recall particularly helpful examples, and I'd like to draw upon their experience with the site and the community's evolving response to beginners.
    – uhoh
    Oct 2, 2020 at 3:11
  • 1
    We do have a [summary-request] tag. The idea is that it asks a general explanation in simple terms about a concept, an organization or an event. I think it's as close to a beginner-level you're going to get, but it's also useful for someone who's been around here for a long time who wants to know about a subject they have little experience with.
    – JJJ Mod
    Oct 2, 2020 at 3:16
  • @JJJ that's really helpful, thank you! I think you can capture these in an answer if you like.
    – uhoh
    Oct 2, 2020 at 3:19

2 Answers 2


It's always a good idea to look at highly up voted questions. Two tags come to mind here:


Questions explaining concepts (e.g. sovereignty), organisations (e.g. the EU) or events (e.g. Brexit) in simple terms without assuming much prior knowledge of the subject

These summary requests are meant as introductions to a subject. It's hard to summarize these questions because it's a bit of a meta tag. When you scroll through the list though, you will probably come across a few subjects you haven't heard about before: a specific report, a bill passing through the legislature, but also more common subjects like Brexit.

And :

Political theory is the study of the concepts in politics. Use this tag for questions regarding political philosophy or scientific theories.

I am less familiar with this tag, but I noticed most of the high ranking questions are more concise. Those questions seem to be about political systems and ideology, so it's probably safe to say that it's a good tag for more academic questions.

others might be of the form "How do politicians decide if they should X or Y?" or "What metrics have been proposed to determine if a politician is doing their job well?" just for example.

Are there guidelines for this, or recommendations?

It's hard to give such advice without knowing what you want to know specifically. I recommend keeping in mind the close reasons. With these philosophical questions, I think you run the risk of asking opinion-based or overly broad questions.

In your first question, the term politician may be very general. One politician may focus on one thing, while another is motivated by something else. You could limit yourself to a specific politician, or you could consider a well-scoped subject. In the latter case, the question might actually be more about the trade offs that come with that subject, rather than the politician making the decision. So instead you could rephrase it as: "what is the trade off between policy X and policy Y?".

As for the second question, you could limit the scope of answers by asking if there is a standard way. Perhaps, "Is there a universally accepted metric to determine if a politician is doing their job well?" is more interesting.

Of course, these are just two examples, and my improvements may not have been necessary (or helpful) in practice. This is just to show how a seemingly broad question can be narrowed down. In the first place, it's up to the asker to consider how to phrase their question. As you can see, there's often some wiggle room for emphasis or even for ruling out an irrelevant concept entirely.


Generally speaking, political theory is meta-politics. If a question is about a specific political outcome, institution, or event (or even classes of such), that's political science proper; if a question is about political systems or abstract ideologies, you've gotten into political theory. We can divide both these up into subcategories:

  • political science
    • policy analysis (questions about the acts of political leaders)
    • institutional structures (questions about the systems that underly political processes)
    • demographics and opinion formation (questions about particular political outcomes)
  • political theory
    • political philosophy (questions about abstract, idealized systems of governance)
    • critical theory (questions about philosophical critiques of the norms, institutions, or behaviors or political entities)

...but I'm not sure we need a fine-toothed comb on a site like this.

A question is a 'science' or 'theory' uestion less because of the questioner's intent than because of the way an answerer has to approach it. For instance, I could interpret your dog whistle question either as:

  1. "Do these particular politicians use these phrases as dog whistle?": a question which feels more subject to an analytical political science approach, or...
  2. "Can phrases like these generally be thought of as dog whistles?", which is clearly more of a 'theory' question.

If you want to reach in one direction or the other, be clear about whether you're more interested in the (limited scope) specific cases or the (broad scope) general question.


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