Monica asked me to write up a 'what's on topic' text for a future help page, based on the SE on topic page. Below is what I have. Note that I have condensed the guidelines to follow and show more what I feel are the guiding principles. Note also that while I've included examples of what is off-topic, I have also included examples of how to ask the same questions in a format which is on-topic. This is exactly what I have always done at Writing SE, and I feel it is more helpful to writers with a specific question than just saying, 'no, you can't ask that.'
This text is open to revision and criticism. Please keep comments concise.
This website is intended for use by professional or aspiring writers of fiction, nonfiction, technical writing, and other types of professional writing, such as bloggers and reviewers. This is not a comprehensive list, but is meant as a guideline to suggest who will find this website useful. Below are some guidelines to using this website.
This is not a chat room or discussion-type forum. This is a Q&A website, intended for clear and concise questions, followed by equally clear and concise answers. Please keep that in mind when asking and answering. Also, please note that all questions must be answerable. Do not post a question which is a rant/discussion in disguise.
These questions are on topic:
- Questions about nonfiction, technical, or any kind of professional writing, including the presentation of charts or diagrams
- Questions about fiction, including poetry, scripts, or song lyrics
- Questions about copywriting, general writing style, or organization
- Processes related to writing (publishing/editing), where the focus is on the relation to writing (more below)
The focus of this website is to help other writers. As a general rule, if your question is going to help no one but yourself, it is probably off-topic (details on that below). If, however, your question can be applied to other writers, it is most likely on topic. Please refrain from asking questions which apply only to yourself, as these will not help anyone else.
As follows from the above paragraph, be aware that these types of questions will be off-topic:
- Requests to proofread, edit, analyze, or critique any length of writing. This will help only you. This also applies to works not written by you. That is out of the scope of this website.
- Questions asking what to write, or how to write something. Remember, this is not a discussion-type forum, where people bounce ideas off of each other. Such questions will almost always only benefit yourself.
- Grammar, English, and syntax questions. While these might conceivably help other writers with similar questions, they are beyond the scope for this site. (English is mentioned here because this is not - currently - a multilingual site. SE was built that way, but then SE also had sites devoted to other languages. This will be something we might want to discuss further down the road.)
- Questions seeking professional writers, agents, publishers, or similar professional persons, or referrals to such persons. Again, these questions will only benefit you, and do not relate to the writing process. Publishing and the like is a completely different field.
However, you will often find that you can reword questions so that they are on topic. This usually comes down to rephrasing your question to ask something general which will benefit others, and then using your specific problem as an example. These questions would be on topic:
- Don't ask for criticism. Instead, identify what you think the problem is, and ask how to handle it. You may include the passage in question as an example.
- Don't ask a question looking for ideas. Ask a question about how to generate or find ideas. This will help other writers in a similar situation. If applicable, you may supply guidelines for the general idea you are looking for, but only as an example of what methods will and will not work.
- Don't ask questions about proper grammar or English. Instead, ask questions about how to improve your own grammar or English. This will benefit other writers in similar situations. Please keep these questions focused on writing, meaning don't start asking for referrals to grammar textbooks. Instead, ask how you can improve your grammar or English in your writing. You may include brief examples, to show where you are having problems.
- Don't ask for professionals. Ask questions about how to find professionals, contact them, etc. Please keep these questions focused on writing. So asking about what you should know about the publishing process as a writer is a good question, while asking how publishers advertise your work is not.
Two final notes: questions asking about how to express an idea are on topic, as long as they focus on how to do the expression (helpful to others), and not the idea you are trying to express (helpful only to you).
Also, answering your own question is perfectly fine, and even recommended if you have an answer which has solved your problem, and has the potential to solve other writers' similar problems. Sharing knowledge is what this website is built on.
If you are unsure if a question would be on topic, please ask in Meta or the official Discord channel first before posting your question.