What does a good Skeptics.SE question look like? What are the qualities that a perfect Skeptics.SE question would have?

Ground rules for answering this meta-question:

  • One quality per answer
  • Provide a brief explanation of why it is important.
  • Use the comments for discussion.
  • If you don't agree, downvote the attribute. If you agree, upvote.

Related Question: What are the attributes of a good answer?


7 Answers 7


Write for an international audience.

This is not the key point of a good question, but after fulfilling the main requirements, a question should be international.

Citing US television series, discussing laws of the USA, US-centric politics or naming locally-known celebrities is not very inviting for everybody else. At least, introduce them, explain in short words what it is about (Snopes) - and maybe link to online sources.

I don't know how well known the metric system is in the US. In the 70s, I heard it was internationally accepted standard, but it seems, it isn't.

  • 1
    The last paragraph (about the metric system) seems completely disrelated to the rest of this answer. Am I missing something?
    – Wildcard
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 2:39

Questions should have references to show that they are notable.

References also help clarify the theory that is being investigated.

Answer inspired by:


Ensure your question is open to answers from both sides - even if you think you know what the right answer should be.

Leading words and other forms of bias should be removed.

Answer inspired by:


Questions must be answerable.

There are various kinds of question which are not unanswerable: they cannot create the high quality answers which we require on this site.

Kinds of questions which are NOT answerable include:

  • What individuals believe or are motivated by

    For example, we cannot know whether Hitler was really a Christian. We can quote passages where he claimed to be a Christian, but we can never know what he truly believed.

  • Imprecise questions

    For example, "Is public transport better than private vehicles?" It may be that one is better than the other in some ways but not in others. To be complete an answer would need to analyse all the different ways. Questions must be precise, so that answers too can be precise.

  • Questions which call for personal experiences

    For example, "What are your favourite sceptical questions?" and "Do you find that being sceptical helps you?"

  • Questions about science

    For example "How do magnets work?" This forum is not for asking question about "how" and "why". Instead, Sceptics is for questioning whether claims are even true. Other questions about science belong on other StackExchange forums, for example the Physics and the Fitness and Nutrition forums.

  • Questions about scepticism

    For example, "What is scepticism?" and "What's the best way to teach my child to be sceptical about advertising?"

  • Political questions, about values

    For example, "Should marijuana be legalised? (or euthanasia)", or "Should taxes be lowered?" These questions are not precise (there are too many different arguments, for and against) and subjective (the answer depends on what value you personally attach to each argument).

    You can however question a specific claim which has political significance (for example, "Would legalising drugs reduce crime?").

  • 1
    "Would legalising drugs reduce crime?" is not objectively answerable. We can only objectively look at correlations for situations where drugs were legalised and what happened to crime rates after that (causation is more difficult to establish, of course).
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 12:16

Any unclear terms and assumptions are explained.

If you don't know how to define a term, ask the answerer to provide the definition they are using.

Answer inspired by:

  • I have something to add, but can't decide if this should be an edit or a new answer. Terminology should be as clear and precise as possible. Consider if there is an alternative interpretation for any terms. If a term could be interpreted more broadly than you intend, then add a qualifier to make it more specific.
    – adam.r
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 21:24

The question should be phrased using respectful language.

While there are no taboo topics here, all claims (and especially potentially offensive claims such as claims about race or porn) must be asked about in respectful manners. It is hard to know what people find offensive, but it's a lot easier for a reader to understand if the language of the question is respectful.

Profanities in answers and questions will be removed. They are not allowed here.

Some current examples:


Questions should not be about what individuals believed or were motivated by.

Simply put, such questions cannot be meaningfully answered.

For example, we cannot know whether Hitler was really a Christian. We can quote passages where he claimed to be a Christian, but we can never know what he truly believed.

  • So, questions like "Did JFK want to put nuclear weapons on the moon?" would be off-topic, but "Were there plans under JFK to put nuclear weapons on the moon?" would be okay? Commented Jun 18, 2011 at 16:54
  • Under this rule, yes. You could produce signed copies of the plans to answer the second question, but the first question would still be unknown - JFK may have had the plans produced but not wanted to follow them.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 18, 2011 at 22:35
  • 1
    Your example isn't good. If Hitler was baptised can be investigated, did he pay church taxes, did he marry in front of a priest? If 'Christian' is a meaningful word, there must be some attributes, describing, what a Christian is, and what he is not. Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 15:24
  • 2
    @user unknown, I think the definition of Christian that is intended here is approximately "a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings" - i.e. focussed on his belief, not his actions.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 15:31
  • Afaik, muslims believe in Jesus Christ too, so it can't be a useful distinction. Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 17:48
  • I included the word "approximately" to cover that; I considered adding something about acknowledging as a messiah, but I decided not to get too off-topic. I think the original answer's meaning is still clear to the "person-in-the-street".
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 18:05
  • I think this should be merged into a more general-but-concrete category which lists all the negatives/prohibitions in one place.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 16:20
  • I'm am unsure: I like that this is individually linkable, and votable to show some consensus. I am also trying to understand how this "multiple answer" entry will look when we get to appointing it with official FAQ-tag status. Happy to discuss in chat, if you like.
    – Oddthinking Mod
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 16:28
  • See in chat then.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 16:42

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