This is one of the few things that always annoyed me on StackOverflow: people use CW as a kind of catch-all options under which everything is allowed.

If there's any kind of controversy about a question, it's marked CW and then it's supposed to be ok, even if the question is entirely worthless. If there's the slightest hint of subjectivity or open-endedness to a question, people will post comments DEMANDING it be CW'ed. And then we all pretend that doing so actually solved a real problem.

But those policies/traditions don't have to apply here.

So the question: What are we going to use CW for? How widely should it be used? For example, should subjective questions be CW'ed, closed or left alone?

If I ask "what is the best package to use if I want to do [X]", or "which editor do you use to write your LaTeX documents", should those be CW'ed? Closed?

What if I ask "how do you structure a large (150+ pages) document so it's easy to work with?", or "what is the most popular documentclass"?

What (if anything) should be CW'ed? Which kinds of questions should be closed outright? And why?


5 Answers 5


On SO, I've always tried to follow the policy that:

  1. the main effect of CW is that contributors gain no rep
  2. rep is supposed to indicate a users' level of knowledge and helpfulness in the community

therefore, a question should be CW'ed if and only if answering it says nothing about your skill level or contribution to the community. Poll questions are obvious candidates for CW. Regardless of what you answer, your rep shouldn't be affected. You haven't contributed anything of distinct value, you just answered a poll. But to be honest, I can't think of many other kinds of question that deserve to be CW'ed, which makes me wonder if the CW option is useful at all.

In particular, I don't think subjective or open-ended questions are grounds for CW. Subjective questions and answers can still indicate valuable knowledge and contributions, and if an answer contains useful information, its author deserves the rep when it is upvoted.

People also say that CW posts are supposedly "owned by the community", which is misleading, because everything on the site is owned by the community. It's made available under a Creative Commons license and everything. I believe this notion to be a leftover from the old days before the Meta sites were created. Back then, CW was useful for "off-topic" or "meta" content, like policy discussions or guides on how to use the site.

But today, when a meta site exists to carry the "off-topic" content, I really can't see much purpose for CW, and it wouldn't bother me at all if the CW checkbox on a question was removed entirely.

  • 1
    I'm glad you raised these issues. I do, however, think your claim of a misleading analogy isn't charitable. Yes, the contributions are under CC license. But, I interpret "owned by the community" here in the same way that an open source developer can be said to own a feature. Even though I am free to use the code as I like (subject to license, of course), she does have ownership/primary responsibility for that features code within the community. (Much less importantly, and more legalistically, CC license notwithstanding, I still own copyright on all my contribution here.)
    – vanden
    Jul 31, 2010 at 0:06
  • @vanden: yes, I know I'm oversimplifying a bit. :) the point I was trying to make is that once upon a time, we really had "community-owned content". There was a StackOverflow question describing all sorts of etiquette and convention for the site. Every answer there was obviously owned by the community. But today, those threads are migrated to the Meta site. So in which cases does the notion of "owned by the community" still make sense?
    – jalf
    Jul 31, 2010 at 0:21

I'd add an additional situation in which CW can be useful: sometimes questions essentially ask for a brainstorming session (I'm thinking of this one as an example). In that case, I would make it CW to encourage people to come up with wacky ideas. The point being that someone shouldn't be penalised for trying to help.

In my experience from MO, people are quite happy to answer CW questions. Indeed, most people on MO seem to regard the reputation system as just a silly game until they get voted down for something that they think is a reasonable attempt at answering the question. Then the cry of "Hey! Why the down vote?" echoes down the halls (I've done it myself!).

I agree with the sentiment that just because a question is subjective, doesn't mean that it's a bad question or an automatic CW question, and that we ought to think of how to make CW work best for us. I'd make the entry in the FAQ (or wherever) highlight the positive aspects of a CW question and hope that that way, we could avoid the situation whereby CW is a last-ditch attempt to rescue a question that really shouldn't be here. Indeed, on this site (rather than MO), I think that there's quite some potential for beneficial CW questions.

I'll make a separate answer as a draft FAQ section on CW. It's separate because I want to make it CW itself, but as this answer is my personal opinion, that wouldn't fit.


Draft section on Community Wiki for FAQ:

Community Wiki Posts

A question or an answer can be designated "Community Wiki" (CW). In practice, this means:

  1. Almost everyone on the site can edit it,
  2. No-one gains (or loses) reputation from it,
  3. If a question is made CW then all answers to it are automatically made CW.

Thus you should make a post CW if you think that for that post, the advantages of the above outweigh the disadvantages. For example,

  1. You post an answer that you suspect is only partially right and that others will be able to improve upon.
  2. You post a question where you think that that no-one should gain or lose reputation by answering; for example, a poll question, or a question trying to get a broad range of ideas.
  3. You post an answer whereby you feel that you should not gain or lose reputation from it; for example, an answer summarising some of the other answers, or an answer that essentially copies something written by someone else found by an easy search.

I think that big-list questions are an example of reasonable for CW as long as they have a well defined topic. As I've said before, asking for packages or tools to do graphics/letters/slides/cv's etc, a question for each such topic is fine. But open-ended topic-less questions should, in my opinion, be closed. Examples of this are the question we once had about "external tools" and now the question about document classes. I think big-list's by topic are useful because people search by topic. If I want to write my thesis I will probably search for something like "LaTeX packages for thesis". I find it hard to think that someone will be searching for "list of latex document classes" There are far too many! And for many different purposes!


Everybody who thinks a question should be CW might say this in a comment to this question. The questioner himself may be convinced and could change his question to CW.

If this comment gets a reasonable amount of upvotes this would show the desire of the community, so the moderators could act accordingly.

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