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I have a question about my Medical Sciences Stack Exchange post: Why does an infectious disease move into an area, and then out of it?

A moderator instructed me to provide proof that I researched the topic. When I declined to do so, I was told that it is a rule. I'm surprised by this rule (and truth be told I dislike it), but if that is the rule here, I understand I have no grounds for objection.

What really struck me about this though is that the links I was given (the tour, the help center, a meta question, a specific help center page, and guidelines on good references) do not anywhere describe this as a rule. Consistently, the language is of a strong suggestion: "tip", "to improve your chances of getting an answer", "should" (rather than, e.g., "must").

I understand, of course, from all the above links, that my question is unlikely to get an answer if proof of research is not provided. I understand that, as advice, it is sound. What I am asking is for clarification on the background of the decision to close my question as "off-topic". In particular:

  • If there is a rule which makes this advice into a requirement for an "on-topic" question, where can I find it documented as a rule?
  • If it is generally understood to be a rule but is not explicitly documented as such, what can I do to help improve that documentation?
  • And lastly, if it is in fact not a rule, can another moderator review this decision?

Further background

The question of whether this should be made into a rule was raised five years ago. No consensus was reached at the time.

The question of what kind of research is expected was raised six years ago. Both answers suggest, again, that demonstrating research is simply a good practice for attracting answers, and not a firm rule.

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  • I'm not sure how to fit this into the above without substantially rewriting it, but as a personal appeal to Carey: I found your post asking the community to step up in quality assurance, and referring to the introduction of this rule. I would posit that lack of clarity in documentation may be one factor in the difficulties you've experienced. I do regret that I contributed to those difficulties, and I hope you take this as earnest feedback on where the disconnect may have been. – Colin P. Hill Jun 15 at 18:04
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    I appreciate your understanding. I wish it were so simple as improving the documentation, but as Bryan Krause pointed out, it's not that easy. Your question can be easily reopened by simply adding a link to almost anything you've searched for and found on the question. Really, the bar is set that low, so you could save yourself a lot of time by just doing that. If you add a single link to your question that's relevant, I will reopen it. – Carey Gregory Jun 16 at 4:02
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Please make clearer the requirement to include research when asking a question is a previous meta question asking for the research rules to be more prominently displayed. As I mentioned in a comment there, it's quite limited what can be done about this. There are only a few things moderators can do unilaterally to help out, and this site is way down the priority list for SE staff.

This site has a bit of a weak meta community, it's a super small site and few people even participate in meta. However, it's clear through use of the "prior research" close reason that the community does support this policy.

I think the wording as a guideline rather than a rule is meant to be more friendly, but to be clear: questions that don't show prior research are highly likely to be closed here. It's not a rule in that you are very unlikely to be suspended for failing to provide prior research, but your questions are still likely to be closed. And like all of StackExchange, the downvote tooltip explicitly calls out lack of research as a reason for downvoting. When the "guidelines" say "this is what you need to make a good question", keep in mind that the StackExchange model is to only answer good-quality questions. There isn't supposed to be an alternative option to post poor/mediocre questions and still get answers.

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  • I suspected there probably wasn't much that could be done to make the rules visible prior to answering the question, and the confirmation is helpful. My experience here is that that wording it as a guideline, when it is enforced as a rule, results in a friendly read but an unfriendly experience. It gives an impression of arbitrariness on the part of the moderator who enforces a firm rule that is, at the end of the day, undocumented – particularly when they proactively provide extensive documentation which nowhere validates the assertion that it's a rule. – Colin P. Hill Jun 16 at 12:18
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    @Colin Yeah, I can see that. I think one other thing that new users to StackExchange miss is that a closed question isn't the end; the idea is that you are to edit to improve. It's ideal if you get the message before posting the original question, but if clarification needs to be added that's fine to come later. There's a difficult balance in comments between direct information and condescension - different users perceive the exact same words differently. – Bryan Krause Jun 16 at 13:59

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