I asked a question Anagrams: From Cheese to Sneeze a while ago, which got closed with the reason

  • "This question may invite speculative answers, as the question is not fully defined. The validity of some answers may be based upon opinion. Good questions for this site have a limited number of objectively correct answers. See also: Why are questions off-topic if they invite answers which are not demonstrably correct, or are otherwise speculative?" – Deusovi

I realised before asking that I would have to give strict rules to avoid this, so I tried to make sure that answers could only be right or wrong, with no middle ground. I did this with rules such as answers must be common nouns.

I thought that my efforts had taken care of this problem, but it seems that they did not.

So how can I make my question fully defined?

I tried to define the question fully before asking, but it seem I have not done enough. What more can I do to make the question on-topic?

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There are two major problems that caused your question to be closed:

Problem 1: What is a "common noun"? What is a word?

There are lots of different things that may or may not be words. Various dictionaries disagree, and words change from proper nouns to common nouns all the time (see "band-aid", "xerox" - even "taser" and "thermos" were once proper nouns.) And what about hyphenated words, too? Hell, what about phrases like "ice cream"? You say "alternate spelling" is disallowed - what about American vs British spellings? Which one is "alternate"?

There's no clear way of telling exactly what counts, so answers' validity can be subject to opinion. This is a Bad Thing.

Problem 2: No best answer

There are many, many answers to this question. As of this post, there are 35 different anagrams found, spread across 6 answers. Puzzles here should have one clear best solution. Here, there's no way of telling which answer is "better". The answer with more anagrams? The answer with the longest anagram? Every answer is made up of several, smaller answers.

You can fix the first problem by giving an authoritative source on what counts as a word. This makes it clear, but it may also be unsatisfying: whatever dictionary you choose will likely leave out words that are "obviously" words to you, or include words that are "obviously" not.

The second problem is not really fixable. This site is not meant to be a forum, but an archive of high-quality puzzles with single clearly explained solutions. Generating excessive amounts of answers is a mark of a bad question.

(And yes, this means that the question you based yours off of should also be closed. I've gone ahead and done so now.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. If a future similar question asked for the longest anagram, with a view that that would be the "correct" answer (ignoring problem 1 for now), would that also be off-topic? $\endgroup$ – hat Nov 29 '18 at 10:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Jǝssǝ Then, you run into a problem if there are two or more equally long anagrams. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Nov 29 '18 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ We've had "contest" questions like this before ("find the longest word sastifying these criteria"), and they often run into subjectivity problems, no matter how much the asker tries to fix that. Plus, they don't fit the format of the site: answers can retroactively invalidate other answers, and that's a huge problem. Normally, 'wrong' answers are downvoted and/or deleted, but what do you do with a good answer that is now completely incorrect because someone posted a slightly better answer? $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Nov 29 '18 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ Our quality control mechanism (downvotes and deleting) doesn't work for answers to these types of questions. Either the question is "name as many cheese anagrams as you can think of, check goes to the longest" (in which case it's too broad), or "what is the longest cheese anagram that members of PSE can think of" (in which case answers can be wrong simply by virtue of other answers existing). $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Nov 29 '18 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose the point is "Don't walk too close to the line". I realise that this type of question can always turn out poor, so it is just a better policy to avoid it. $\endgroup$ – hat Nov 29 '18 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, probably. I don't mean to discourage you from contributing! But I'm not sure I've seen any of these types of questions work out well in the past - it's always been either "okay for now" or "major ambiguity / too many answers problem". $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Nov 29 '18 at 10:23

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