Can we expand the first section of the FAQ to something like this:

What kind of questions can I ask here?

History - Stack Exchange is for historians and history buffs. If you have a question about...

  • topic 1
  • topic 2
  • topic 3
  • topic 4

and it is not about...

  • topic 5
  • topic 6
  • topic 7
  • topic 8

... then you're in the right place to ask your question!

Please look around to see if your question has been asked before. It’s also OK to ask and answer your own question.

I was thinking something like that format. If you can fill in the topics, that'll be great. This will help solve many problems of off-topic, low-quality questions. Right now this FAQ section is rather vague.

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All of the Beta sites follow the same format and have the same guidelines. Once we have moved beyond Beta we can begin to look at developing our own formats for the FAQs and start to develop our own procedures and guideleines. Right now our primary focus needs to be on improving our metrics so that we can get out of the Beta phase. –  Steven Drennon Aug 21 '12 at 13:37
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I stand corrected! If someone wants to spearhead this initiative and give us some suggestions on what you'd like to see there, we can get it created. It looks like the moderators have permission to edit the FAQ, but we need the community to help us decide what we should put there. –  Steven Drennon Aug 21 '12 at 20:21
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This is one of the reasons I started my Why did I downvote? question. Those are my personal candidates for the "please don't ask" section. –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 25 '13 at 18:22
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2 Answers

To me, the FORM of the question is at least as important as the topic. That said, we should encourage topics that draw questions with good form and discourage questions in bad form (as defined below).

In school, we had two types of questions, identification (ID) and essay. (I am treating true-false and multiple choice questions as special cases of ID.) Good questions for the site are ID questions that draw factual answers. Essay questions are bad for the site because they lead to opinions, discussion, and debate, all the "bad stuff" we don't want here.

"What were the causes of the decline and fall of Rome?" is a bad question, because it is an essay question. Change it slightly to "What was Edward Gibbon's theory about the decline and fall of Rome?" and it becomes a good question because it is now an ID question.

As for answers, "Rome fell because most of her soldiers at the end were mercentaries rather than citizens," is a bad answer, because it is (yours truly's) uninformed opinion, and the first question i bad because it provokes such an answer. A better, factual assertion is "Edward Gibbons believed that Rome fell because most of her soldiers at the end were mercentaries rather than citizens," because the veracity of this can be checked by comparing it to what Gibbons actually wrote. Ths makes the second question "good." Or you could ask: True or false: "Edward Gibbons believed that Rome fell because most of her soldiers at the end were mercentaries rather than citizens." Another decent answer is "in year XXX, Y% of the Roman army was composed of citizens, and Z% of mercenaries."

Basically, this site was developed by computer programmers who want answers that have the property of "Turing completeness" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_completeness (have a definite stopping point), and questions that generate such answers, rather than questions that generate an" infinite loop" of answers. On this site, "not a real question" means likely answers will not be "Turing complete." And "not constructive" suggests the possibility for an "infinite loop" in the answers generated.

To sum up, good topics are those that generate "good" ("Turing complete," identification) answers, and bad topics are those that generate "bad," (an infinite loop of essay-type) answers.

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"Good questions for the site are ID questions that draw factual answers." The site should then be closed. History's "facts" are "good subjective" opinions, historiography is rife with "yes, but still" answers to the problem of empirical knowledge. Even in interpreting Gibbon you need to conduct a "good subjective" reading. –  Samuel Russell May 26 '13 at 22:54
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@SamuelRussell: In my answer above, I stated what I believe to be the "party line." I consider you an "intelligent dissenter" who is capable of (reasonably) "bending the rules." Coming from you, "good subjective" questions and answers aren't such a bad thing. The problem is, not everyone is capable of handling such responsibility and some need to be kept on a tighter leash. –  Tom Au May 26 '13 at 23:01
    
my dissent is entirely focused on the "good subjective" reading of "good subjective" itself. Questions that don't exist within the practice of disciplinary or respectable popular history (quality "non-fiction" publications) don't really belong. The standard comment on "bad subjective" should be something along the lines of "Question lies outside of history" or "requires fundamental research, ie: a new book" with a close vote. And of course, what some consider "fact" I consider "readily answered "good subjective"". I think in terms of question management, we would act the same. –  Samuel Russell May 27 '13 at 2:29
    
I'm upvoting this for the sentiment, which is dead on. However, as a proud holder of a Master's degree in Computer Science, I have to say this seems a horrible misuse and abuse of the concept of Turing Completeness. (Either that, or I'm just not smart enough to see the connection) I think you probably meant to refer to the Halting Problem and decidability, but it would still be far simpler to just leave CS out of this altogether. –  T.E.D. Jan 7 at 15:49
    
@T.E.D.: It's quite possible that I've "misidentified" Turing completeness. And maybe I should have referred to the halting problem (please feel free to correct). What I have done is to use CS as it has been used elsewhere on SE (e.g. Meta stack overflow), to tie the answer to the sentiments of others (mostly computer scientists) on SE. The post's "value" (such as it is) applies only in the context of SE. That's why the sentiment is "dead on" even if the details are wrong. –  Tom Au Jan 7 at 15:56
    
Interesting. If you ever come across one of the meta posts you got that from, shoot me a link (here would be OK). I can probably do an edit to make this match that and still make sense (assuming it made sense at your source, of course). –  T.E.D. Jan 7 at 16:07
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I'm marking this community wiki so we can change the topics per consensus. This is sort of a rough draft, so it's not final. If you think there are too many topics here, please let me know and we can clean them up as necessary.

What kind of questions can I ask here?

History - Stack Exchange is for historians and history buffs. If you have a question about...

  • Historical events

  • Cultures and historical practices

  • Famous people

  • Languages

  • Factual current political history questions

and it is not about...

  • Genealogy

  • Asking for reference material

  • Questions answered by a simple Google search

  • Predicting the future based on historical trends

  • Mythology

  • Conspiracy theories

  • Questions copied verbatim from a history test.

... then you're in the right place to ask your question!

Please look around to see if your question has been asked before. It’s also OK to ask and answer your own question.

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Thanks, I have taken these as a guideline and updated the FAQ –  MichaelF Oct 1 '12 at 12:06
    
Can't remember what I was thinking when I wrote the fourth point. It seems those questions should belong on linguistics SE or the specific ones, e.g. ELU, Spanish, etc. Maybe I was thinking of historical languages or something. –  American Luke Oct 1 '12 at 13:42
    
How about Ancient Languages? Although we can debate that point more...at this level I think its just good to have some guidelines considering recent events and postings –  MichaelF Oct 1 '12 at 17:03
    
The Genealogy proposal just reached beta. When it receives it's site, we'll need to change the link here. –  American Luke Oct 8 '12 at 14:51
    
Cool, if you don't have the permissions to edit the link let me know. –  MichaelF Oct 9 '12 at 12:50
    
I don't think I can edit the FAQ quite yet. I'll edit this answer when Genealogy gets it's site. –  American Luke Oct 9 '12 at 17:31
    
@MichaelF Can you update the link to the genealogy site in the FAQ? The new address is genealogy.stackexchange.com Thanks. –  American Luke Oct 23 '12 at 12:37
    
I think that is the link there already...at least they are looking the same –  MichaelF Oct 23 '12 at 13:05
    
The current link goes to Area51. The site is now in public beta. –  American Luke Oct 23 '12 at 13:07
    
Stupid cache gets me every time, got it cleared out and fixed now. –  MichaelF Oct 24 '12 at 9:43
    
In honor of history.stackexchange.com/users/1484/user2645 I've added a line item about history test questions. –  T.E.D. Nov 9 '12 at 20:10
    
I wouldn't phrase it that way. In fact, there's nothing wrong with homework questions in themselves. The problem with that particular user's questions were that they were waaaaaaaay too broad. Answering them completely in one book would have been difficult. This more falls under the "If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much" point from the next section. Besides that new point is not going to give a good impression to new users. If it were up to me, I'd leave it out. –  American Luke Nov 9 '12 at 20:16
    
@Luke - That's why I put the word "verbatim" in there. Any self-respecting essay question for a history test will have exactly the property you describe. The goal of an essay question is to be open-ended enough that a reasonably knowledgeable student could prove that knowledge by discoursing at length on the topic. That's exactly the kind of thing you'd want out of an essay question, and exactly the kind of thing we don't want here. –  T.E.D. Nov 12 '12 at 19:52
    
Although I agree, I don't think that's the best way to put it. If you can think of something better, let me know. However, I think the "entire book" point covers this situation quite nicely. –  American Luke Nov 12 '12 at 19:54
    
@Luke - I changed the "your" to "a". Perhaps that makes the point a wee bit less confrontational. Does that help? I agree that the other points should cover this case too, but I'm a believer in being explicit about instructions when multiple people have missed the implied instruction in the past. –  T.E.D. Nov 12 '12 at 19:55
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