There are constant off-topic posts because a question is about art in general, art history, or art theory, and not limited to applied technique or not solving one certain practical problem.

Maybe the issue is in calling this SE "Arts & Crafts" since that suggests we are dealing with a much broader subject than what the on-topic rules allow. Would a more specific title for this SE be helpful? Something like "Crafting Techniques" or "Applied Arts & Crafts"? Or could we consider a broader range of topics than currently allowed.

Yes, the latter would require contributors with specific art history or art theory chops, but that is the purpose of SE isn't it, providing expertise not otherwise accessible? If not it needs to be made clearer sooner to new questioners the limits to what we can address, else meta will be dealing with adding more "off-topic" tags and such forever.

Should we consider updating the scope to more appropriately match the name? Should we consider changing the name of the site to something more appropriately descriptive?
Should we do both?

Let's figure out if we should take any action, rather than get lost in the details of the exact changes. If a change is necessary, we can focus on how to enact it in a follow-up meta discussion.

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    I've thought about this problem plenty, myself. We've tried to make it clear in all the help areas that we can, but fundamentally the name is what most people will see and make assumptions about, unless all new users get some kind of custom post notice. I'm quite interested in hearing what everyone thinks about this. – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 19:09
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    I took the liberty of editing the title so that when the question shows up as [featured] from the tag I added, it will be immediately obvious to users what the question is about. – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 19:10
  • @WebHead - no problem. I wondered that it was a little obscure originally. Thanks. – rebusB Nov 8 '19 at 19:14
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    Great question. Maybe before working on a more refined site name, it would be worth better defining the site scope in the help section, or at least in Meta discussion. For example, The term for drawing someone pointing at an object to attract attention to the object would be less controversial if the site scope was clearer. I'm a relative newcomer to the site and don't feel qualified to have an opinion. – fixer1234 Nov 8 '19 at 19:18
  • I can see how we could wind up in the weeds on some topics, or (in terms of identifying works) becoming a front end for Google, but there are many interesting questions that get a lot of off topic heat that still seem very useful as an artist. – rebusB Nov 8 '19 at 19:19
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    @fixer1234 Although I'm relatively new too, I think hearing from newcomers is also very insightful, because they tend to have a concept of a website undiluted by the bureaucratic side. – Joachim Nov 8 '19 at 19:43
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    @fixer1234 I think based on the answers and discussions, that the scope is also what's being considered, not just the name, so I've updated the title to reflect that. As for the help center section, the problem is that it's one of the least-viewed parts of any stack. I've talked with SE Staff about it before, and the page view rates are abysmally low on every stack. I have 0 confidence that making it more comprehensive or clearer would affect the patterns we see with new askers. – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 20:10
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    @WebHead, yeah, tag wiki excerpts and help page info are the last things users read. I was thinking of it more as a guide for curating posts. When a "controversial" question is asked, people refer to the help info as guidance for whether to VTC, or it gets quoted to answer the issue. – fixer1234 Nov 8 '19 at 20:15
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    @fixer1234 Yeah. We've had a few questions about scope and on-topicness, but we don't really have anything all in one spot anymore. We need something to populate the faq tag, absolutely. – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 20:20

After reading the discussion in Joachim's answer, it sorta seems like "Arts & Crafts" actually does a good job of capturing the site scope. The other ideas there (and some additional ones that came to my mind), aren't as good of a site name; most of them because they are too "weighted" toward a subtopic area. It's better to attract a broader audience and then restrict some of their questions, if needed, than to attract a narrower audience.

I think the confusion stems from the apparent inconsistencies in the detailed descriptions in the Help section. Each topic there is focused on a standalone point (what's on-topic, what to avoid, etc.), and there is no discussion of one in relation to the other, or where the limits are. It is intentionally as generic as possible so the site can evolve organically.

Let me suggest that the best way to handle the problem might be a good canonical discussion here on Meta that people can refer to for interpretation, rather than changing the site name or help guidance at this point.

It isn't possible to anticipate every curation question, so it wouldn't hurt to also encourage Meta posts to discuss specific "controversial" questions as they come up. That provides reference material for when similar issues appear again. As the collection of curation threads grows, it becomes a body of guidance.

Now if we can only encourage site users to participate on Meta...

  • If the discussion of structural or titular changes isn't fruitful, this is indeed the best way to handle things, but I would like to continue in that direction and see if we can expand our scope, especially if it brings in more traffic. And regarding the title, you make a good point, but we might find something more appealing as well as inclusive. – Joachim Nov 8 '19 at 22:40
  • @Joachim, as I was reading through the discussion, I got the impression that the existing site definitions don't necessarily exclude a lot of this stuff. Like the question that led to this discussion: art appreciation is specifically off-topic, but Laurent R. made a good argument for why that question was covered by the site scope. If the OP had explicitly included the connection to the practical side, it would have been easier to see. A lot of times, questions can seem off-topic until somebody see the on-topic angle and makes it clearer. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Nov 8 '19 at 23:07
  • The guidelines are purposely vague; it comes down to how do we interpret them. There's a gray area that can be defined by the community (and might even evolve over time). The expanded scope sounds like a good thing. I'm wondering if it really requires changes to the site definitions, or it could be accomplished by simply agreeing on how to interpret the existing ones. – fixer1234 Nov 8 '19 at 23:07
  • But seeing the question you refer to in the light of "you should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face", it simply is off-topic. I would like to give users the benefit of the doubt - which I think it then boils down to - but it's also up to them to write a proper question: VTC-ing is not necessarily saying 'this is a bad question', it is a reminder for the OP to consider rewriting it. Regardless, if the guidelines are vague, it's better to clarify them. – Joachim Nov 8 '19 at 23:16
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    @Joachim, it kinda depends on how literally you interpret "actual problems". It's a bit related to a recent question on Meta SE (Proving that questions are based on actual problems). Good point on question quality and topicality. Often, people are too close to their own problem to see the bigger picture, and new users have no concept of site scope and how to frame the question well. It sometimes takes a person with more experience on the site to recognize how to frame the question better (and then it's important to do that). – fixer1234 Nov 8 '19 at 23:28
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    There's a fair amount of stuff that's excluded, but it's spread across a number of meta posts, not in an obvious way, and much of it was decided early, early on, some even before public beta. Now that we have a couple years of experience based on what people ask and what they WANT to ask, reconsidering scope seems logical. We can still keep things inclusively vague, but I think we're in a good spot to be clear about what is NOT on topic, and tentatively accept everything else unless some specific problem questions arise. – user24 Nov 9 '19 at 1:57
  • @WebHead "The guidelines are purposely vague" ... Then you cannot fault (new) users for asking questions that some of us find off topic. I posted this question because the exclusions often seem arbitrary, where the same kind of question is rejected in one place and accepted in another. – rebusB Nov 18 '19 at 15:06

I think it would be useful to first consider appropriate alternative words that would fit within a brief description of the site and its scope. That way, we have valid points of comparison between what we have now and what could be.

Here are some, by categories:

  • Intended audience:
    • Artists
    • Artisans
    • Craftpeople
    • Makers
    • Designers
  • Intended (broad) subjects:
    • Visual Arts (Excluding video, photography and digital arts)
    • Crafts
    • Handmade goods
  • Related communities:
  • Allowed (specific) subjects (based on existing questions):
    • Drawing (many mediums)
    • Painting (many mediums)
    • Sculpting (many mediums)
    • Carving
    • Costuming
    • Cosplay
    • Propmaking
    • Metallurgy & smithing
    • Design
    • Color theory
    • Composition
    • Art & craft terminology
    • Tool selection
    • Tool maintenance
    • Upkeep & archiving
    • Textile and fiber crafts (many mediums)
    • Mold-making and casting
    • Paper folding
    • Paper cutting
    • Book binding
    • Leatherworking
    • Pottery
    • Safety/health/allergies
    • Gemcraft

fwiw - I think we should expand the mission to match the name, not change the name.

Already we are getting the attention of broader answer seekers, thus all the off topic-posts, so if we can address their questions that would be better for traffic as well as providing a broader base of information.

We could still avoid bad posts with the opinion based or too general flags. Art identification questions can sometimes be naive, and will likely fall into one of those two categories but when appropriate can lead to good information.

Material sourcing posts, and "how do I do art" posts can be problematic... but it would still be good to help in more general terms.

  • Yes, but those questions all seem to fall under the general SE umbrella of bad questions, so will be less disputed, I think. – Joachim Nov 8 '19 at 19:39
  • I've kept this to myself for a long time, but I personally feel that "sourcing" should be a specific, allowed subject on this platform. While narrowing certain scopes can be a challenge in some cases, in general it is very helpful for an artist that needs something like wire in bulk to know what types of places would have it. – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 19:56
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    To address the main point, though, I think that simply broadening the scope is not the solution. I feel that in order to continue to grow the site and begin to establish a community, that we should increase the scope, and make it clear. But even if we do that, I'm not sold that the name "Arts & Crafts" is still sufficient. So, from my perspective, this is less of a "This or that" type of scenario, and more a "This and that" – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 19:58
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    @WebHead - Sourcing can be a problem because sources change, and links to them go dead. Perhaps finding the right material to source (material selection) is good, but providing actual suppliers, beyond general advice, not so much. – rebusB Nov 8 '19 at 20:07
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    Oh, I agree, specific suppliers is the same problem as any product recommendation question. But if you had no idea that, say, an electrician's or florists supply store might also carry wire, and were only looking at a hardware or art store, then finding out more options would be helpful. – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 20:12
  • @WebHead - I think changing the name is not a good idea. Its nice and simple, and more important its long established. Changing it may lose existing users. The problem is Art is a HUGE topic, and focusing on only on answering specific "practical" crafting solutions makes using it as part of the site name a bit of a misdirection. – rebusB Nov 18 '19 at 15:27

I have been thinking of a similar thread.

VTCs are constantly in dispute, mostly because there is a lot of grey area - or, at least, a lot of space for interpretation.

The 'Don't Ask' page states the following:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

In my opinion, this seems to be the most compact and lucid phrasing of the purpose of A&C. That's why, in my opinion, a question like this should be closed (until a practical side has been revealed by the OP).

That's why I wholeheartedly agree that a title change will be extremely useful: Arts & Crafts invites people to ask those kinds of questions.

The alternative would indeed be to allow (again) for currently strictly off-topic questions, which I think wouldn't be bad regarding the low traffic of this SE. This would be my preference, personally, since it will allow for a more concentrated reference page of all things arts and crafts: for finding inspiration and theoretical information, as well as techniques and practices.

Nevertheless, if a change of title is the favored option, we'll have to dig deeper:

  • Applied arts is an existing term referring to a sub-domain of art. So using the name 'Applied Arts & Crafts' will only worsen things, I assume.
  • 'Crafting Techniques' sounds too limiting and, well, technical (or like the title of a book on new perspectives on management styles).

Other options:

  • Perhaps simply 'Crafting' would work, emphasizing the practical side, but it might not attract visitors interested in the artistic side of things.
  • Or we could do something similar to Arqade, where the name is a symbol rather than a description. Like 'Brush & Hammer', 'The Workshop', or '(StackExchange) Studio'.
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    The question you linked about terminology is an example of a type of question that I would sorely miss if they were not allowed. Terminology and theory of certain aspects of the "fine arts" is to me a core part of the "Arts" in the mission of the site. The practicality is knowledge, and you'll find many "what do you call...?" questions across the entire network. – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 20:00
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    If I'm reading correctly, you're saying you'd prefer to allow more types of questions, and changing the name only if we decide not to? What if we did both ? – user24 Nov 8 '19 at 20:04
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    @WebHead I would really like that too. My expertise mainly is in fine arts anyway, and that's what made me join in the first place. And yes, we can change both as well - let's aim for overall improvement! – Joachim Nov 8 '19 at 22:22
  • @WebHead - I totally agree with "Terminology and theory" is a core part of the Arts... but I see questions about them flagged. Art history is also a core part of the Arts, so how do we include that? I want to reiterate that I am against changing the name, if we expand what we cover but if we keep flagging the more general topics because they are not practical enough, the name needs to change (+1 for "Crafting" in that case.) – rebusB Nov 18 '19 at 15:11
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    @rebusB Well, specifically, I said that core part of the Art in the mission of the site, not art in general. I don't think practical questions are limited to crafting, though. We have plenty Qs about painting and drawing, for example, that are more fine art related, so I think Art makes sense. But there are a lot of categories where we have no questions, and are heavily theory-based (like sequential storytelling) that I think have a lot of value to an artist/crafter community. – user24 Nov 18 '19 at 18:19

Perhaps as a relatively new participant, what I am finding confusing here on SE could help inform the problem, so I will chime in. (Issues 1-3 that I describe below are not particular to A&C - all of the Stacks I participate in struggle with these same questions. A&C for me has been less confusing and intimidating than other Stacks, where I am still too intimidated to ask or answer questions after my initial experiences...)

  1. People who find their way to SE for the first time are not reviewing the guidelines on what questions to ask and how to ask well, before posting their question, because the links to that information, as far as I can see, are only found after one makes the decision to ask a question. (The only path that I have found to “Visit the Help Center” and “Asking Help” is through the “Ask a Question” button. Please correct me if there is another way!)

    By the time someone has worked up the nerve to decide to click “Ask a Question”, they already have a head of steam, are mentally busy formulating their words, and are not in a frame of mind to slow down and study the landscape of the “Ask a Question” form. They probably won't even regard the “How to Ask” box with much interest, if they even notice it.

    The singular and buried placement of this information is very perplexing - there is plenty of real estate for a link about question appropriateness and quality at the left margin of every page of SE. Information this important to the functioning of a forum should be highly visible and accessible everywhere. I asked about this when I first joined, and was told that changing page layouts / adding links is not an option, that the powers controlling the design of SE have not honored requests to improve visibility of and accessibility to this link. What the fluff?

  2. The wording of the “How Do I Ask a Good Question?” page is friendly and clear. However I think the general tone of the wording does not align with the actual high level of expectation regarding the quality of questions being asked. We want people to take the outlined process of asking an appropriate question well more seriously, as if going through the list of considerations is less of a suggestion, and more of a prerequisite.

    I would suggest a bit of word smithing to help newbies really understand the level of expectation up front, rather than after their question has been put on hold or closed, by which time they feel so intimidated and discouraged that they slump quietly out the door, never to be heard from again... (I almost did just that when my first couple of questions on another stack were shot down in flames.) Maybe we should step back and open our minds to the possibility that the way things are structured means that SE in actuality has an unofficial, unacknowledged Sink or Swim Initiation Ritual in place...

  3. Consider the possibility that some of the cited distinctions between an appropriate question and an off-topic one can be a bit too nuanced for the average newcomer to grasp. For example, if someone comes along with a question on terminology, and they are in effect chided for presenting their request from the terminology angle, rather than from the perspective of practical application, they may find members’ hesitation to answer because the question isn’t worded just right too confusing and discouraging to be motivated (e.g. they will be de-motivated) to enter into the process of re-writing their question. Sometimes it seems to me that forcing them to work on their wording in order to get an answer is too punitive, when we really do understand what they are asking, and can easily clarify it in the comments with a reflective question such as “Do I understand correctly that you want help with xyz concept...?” If they confirm, then the question can be edited.

    OK, I totally am bracing myself for a barrage of being told I am wrong here, that newbies must be held to the high standard of the the forum. I don’t disagree, but that first slap-down can be really harsh and disheartening; might we just kindly help people along instead of hitting the “wrong, you suck” buzzer?

  4. Reading and re-reading through the last weeks’ worth of conversation on this excellent question, it strikes me that the discussion is all over the road because Step One has not been resolved: the group does not have clear and unanimous concensus on what the reason for existence of the A&C SE is. Is it really ”Arts and Crafts?

    The controversy over the fine art terminology question and several points made in the above discussion make me wonder if fine art questions are really welcome here. Perhaps the esoteric nature of fine art (versus illustrative and graphic art) including its history, principles, and process, means that it ought to exist within its own separate bubble?

OK, bring it on... I can take it... I think?...

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    1. Excellent points; this is all pretty much spot on. 2. As you noted, most of what you describe is a network-wide problem. What can be done on a specific site is pretty limited. 3. SE has been experimenting with a question wizard to help new users compose better questions. They started just on Stack Overflow and are still working on it before trying to roll it out to other sites. The idea is brilliant. The initial results were surprisingly ineffective. As you describe, people formulate in their head what they want to ask, and any process or wizard just gets in the way. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Nov 16 '19 at 3:25
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    4. It's always been a learning process. It can take a few (or many) posts, and getting feedback, to understand the culture and posting guidelines. SE efforts like the "be nice" policy and "welcome wagon" were intended to remind experienced users to treat newcomers gently. But you're dealing with people and personalities. Especially on the technical sites, there are a lot of users who don't have patience, and encouraging newcomers isn't their strong suit. A&C is a breath of fresh air; probably the friendliest and most encouraging site I've encountered. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Nov 16 '19 at 3:25
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    5. I'm also a relative newcomer to A&C. My understanding is that the site was originally designed with a focus on making things with your hands. Much of what you refer to in your last (full) paragraph is either specifically off-topic, or a gray area that benefits from someone reframing questions to be more clearly on-topic. The impetus for this question was to suggest expanding the official definition to include more of that subject matter. – fixer1234 Nov 16 '19 at 3:25
  • @fixer1234, I would definitely vote in favor of expanding the official definition to include Fine Art. Maybe I could get my Fine Artist Husband to join, he would be a veritable font of (opinionated) information! – Laurent R. Nov 16 '19 at 7:43
  • 1/2. I agree with you, Laurent, but always assume that people, having created an account on a website they're not familiar with, will have the courtesy of looking around for any and all clues that would lead them to a better understanding of it (like behaving appropriately when visiting someone else's house). In any case, once users realize their question is not up to par, they have the chance to edit and improve it. ▶ – Joachim Nov 16 '19 at 12:09
  • If that doesn't happen - either because they got their answer already (from users freely interpreting an unfocused or off-topic question); they don't care anymore; or they don't return to A&C for whatever reason - having the question closed is the best option, as this will show others it is lacking in some regard, and they shouldn't bother writing (i.e. can't post) an answer. – Joachim Nov 16 '19 at 12:10
  • 3. I mostly agree with your point here. Like others, I think it's easy to forget (especially after having dealt with several similar low-quality cases in a row) that some users are completely new, and should be helped getting to know the site (a Question Wizard sounds very promising indeed!). But I don't think it's asking a lot to prompt users to actually explain why they need certain information - what the practical application is, and how they end up asking it - enforced by VTCs. ▶ – Joachim Nov 16 '19 at 12:10
  • The more frequent users shouldn't be the ones having to edit questions, but can be the ones inciting the OP to do so. Naturally, a VTC (or downvote) can be explained in a friendly manner, and I will try to start emphasizing that it's less harsh than it sounds. – Joachim Nov 16 '19 at 12:10
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    4. You're right, but that is somewhat the point of this thread (as I see it): to establish a baseline for the purpose and territory of the A&C website, and improve the quality of content and conduct in the process. – Joachim Nov 16 '19 at 12:10
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    @Joachim, Agreed, the point here is to improve content and conduct quality. Your 4 paragraphs above explain the problematic status quo in which new users are expected to seek out the standard, learn from prior VTCs they read, and learn from failing and having their own question VTCed. My points above are meant to challenge what we “always assume” in hopes that we can reduce initial sloppiness which frustrates and gums up the feed... From my perspective as a newb, it appears that what we have always assumed is the stated heart of the matter, constant off-topic posts. – Laurent R. Nov 17 '19 at 2:11
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    Yes, point well made. So, apart from a clearer scope, we need clearer guidelines, and a more helpful support, especially for newcomers. – Joachim Nov 17 '19 at 7:44
  • I agree with your initial idea, but this is a different topic, no? (and not to be rude, but a little editing would help... three paragraphs that state one idea? Maybe a tl;dr?) – rebusB Nov 18 '19 at 15:14
  • @rebusB, I will strive for brevity. – Laurent R. Nov 19 '19 at 4:57




This topic seems very important and I am a bit concerned about it losing momentum.

In that spirit, may I propose some action in the name of decisiveness: just one small tweak toward the goal, that might get us out of inertia mode: Despite past failures with this idea, what does the group think about us putting up a Feature Request to have links to our “Help Center” and “Asking Help” pages placed in additional strategically high profile locales all over A&C. As my Mom has always told me, in situations like this, “It can’t hurt to ask, right?”

This goes to Pt 1 of my first answer above:

People who find their way to SE for the first time are not reviewing the guidelines on what questions to ask and how to ask well, before posting their question, because the links to that information, as far as I can see, are only found after one makes the decision to ask a question. (The only path that I have found to “Visit the Help Center” and “Asking Help” is through the “Ask a Question” button. Please correct me if there is another way!) By the time someone has worked up the nerve to decide to click “Ask a Question”, they already have a head of steam, are mentally busy formulating their words, and are not in a frame of mind to slow down and study the landscape of the “Ask a Question” form. They probably won't even regard the “How to Ask” box with much interest, if they even notice it.

The singular and buried placement of this information is very perplexing - there is plenty of real estate for a link about question appropriateness and quality at the left margin of every page of SE. Information this important to the functioning of a forum should be highly visible and accessible everywhere.

While we are at it we could make the verbiage on the links more enticing than “Help Center” and “Asking Help”. (“Asking Help” is a bit vague grammatically anyway, if you think about it - what goes through people’s minds when they see this link, and the words “Asking Help” sift to the surface? Do they wonder, “Is this a link for asking for help?” Not feeling in need of help, they are on to the next thing before any chance at realizing how important that page is to what they are about to do...)

Furthermore it might be a good time to take a look at the wording of both pages, to see if any changes could be made that might improve the consistency of expectations between newcomers and established members on question appropriateness and quality. (Pt. 2 of my other answer.) Or at least, having new links sprinkled about could be a motivator toward considering thinking about deciding to contemplate doing so, which are the proper steps to take after all, if you are, or even remotely resemble, a committee.

I have thought about making this a new question here on Meta, but I don’t know how the machine works: if I did that, with a “feature request” tag, would the question automatically be escalated before we had a chance to discuss it as a group decision?

Thanks for considering.

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    I think you should post it as a new thread, but with a title that makes obvious that this is part of the entire 'reconsideration' matter (e.g. 'Scope reconsideration: improve access to guidelines'). That way, things don't get lost in an highly broadly thread, separate aspects will stay clearer, and it will be easier to communicate ideas and thoughts about them. – Joachim Nov 18 '19 at 13:39
  • The question here is not about how visible the guidelines are, though they should be prominent. It is about what those guidelines should be. – rebusB Nov 18 '19 at 15:13
  • You can get there via the question mark icon at the top, but maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to add direct links, or the information itself, inside the Ask Question window. Unfortunately, all of that is standardized in the network-wide user interface. The company generally isn't receptive to changing that, but the place to request it would be on Meta Stack Exchange rather than an individual site Meta. Here it's buried where nobody who might be able to do something about it will ever find it. If you want community review first, I would make it a separate question to support discussion. – fixer1234 Nov 18 '19 at 16:18
  • I don't disagree that it's not easy to show this information to new users in a way they're likely to even see, but I don't know that we have a lot of influence over some of the things mentioned here because it's part of the platform, and not something we can customize. Like the name or placement of the links. We'd have to position on Meta.StackExchange for changes like this. :( – user24 Nov 18 '19 at 18:23
  • @fixer1234, The direct links are in the Ask Question window now, in a box off to the right. – Laurent R. Nov 19 '19 at 4:56

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