When I've come across a question that either requires or makes certain assumptions, I generally request the OP to clarify their question so everyone is on the same page. For instance, a recent question about the history of human flight doesn't specify "powered flight" and so one answer discusses earlier successful glider flights.

Unfortunately others have censured me, indicating that we shouldn't be requesting clarification for "obvious" assumptions people should be making.

Where do we draw the line on a skeptical inquiry site between annoying pedantry/splitting hairs, and appropriately specific language?

  • 3
    If the assumptions are "obvious" than it shouldn't take too much effort or space to put them in the question.
    – MrHen
    Jun 17, 2011 at 19:52
  • sorry about that,I realize the importance of that specification with regard to the question.It was an unfortunate error which simply spanned from my only being able to make posts bit by bit during scarce free moments.I could have sworn it was in there,but when you edit something so many times you become sort of blind to it and can miss even obvious things like that.And by the time I had seen the call for the edit(after the post I was in distracted by a discussion with ChrisW about voting rationale),Fabian had already edited.Long story short,I made a mistake.Sorry. Jun 18, 2011 at 1:17
  • @monkey I didn't mean to call you out specifically. Your question is only one of a few I can think of in recent memory that lead to this discussion.
    – Adam Davis
    Jun 18, 2011 at 1:21
  • 1
    I don't take it personally, I just figured I'd apologize for the mistake. In fact, I think you chose the perfect example to raise your question about pedantry which may be one of the more vital questions asked here, and probably one of the hardest to answer, because it'll always come down to being case and user-specific. Jun 18, 2011 at 1:35

1 Answer 1


In this specific case the intent of the asker is pretty clear in my opinion. The direct comparison with the Wright brothers implies powered flight, and in two of the quotes powered flight is even directly mentioned. It is not mentioned in the title and the bolded question summary at the bottom, so people skimming the question might miss it.

In cases where the intent is obvious, but it is formulated in a way that readers might misunderstand, editing the question to make it more clear is the best way.

In many cases I favor that the answerers clear up any ambiguities, the user asking often does not have the necessary knowledge to use more precise terminology or define certain terms. Recent examples would include the questions about race, which is a very difficult and controversial concept.

A case I remember was the question about dying instantly, asking people to supply an arbitrary number to make the question more precise is counterproductive. There were similar cases with nutrition/diet questions where users then supplies arbitrary cutoffs for defining effectiveness of a diet. That does not improve a question, the user just supplies the first number that comes to his mind, which is pretty much useless or even actively harmful.

Asking for clarification is important when the unclear parts significantly affect the answers, if it can be interpreted in multiple ways that would result in different answers.

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