According to our help page, only three things are on topic.

  • Theme and plugin development (unless it isn't, see exceptions list)
  • Development and management best practices (unless it is too generic)
  • Server configuration for WordPress (unless it is difficult or generic)

However, there is a huge list that is off-topic. In fact, the "what to ask" is pretty much defined only in terms of ill-defined negatives.

For example, we close all these questions:

  • Too specific questions
  • Not specific enough questions
  • Questions that could apply to another CMS
  • Most SQL questions
  • Most code questions
  • All blogging questions

What does that leave? I'm pretty sure I could make the case for almost all questions on this site as being off-topic under the first two off-topic rules - questions too specific and questions not specific enough.

These terms are too vague to be meaningful and just specific sounding enough that they can be wielded like a club. The (perhaps unintended) result is that what can and cannot be asked depends wholly on who might be online at the time the question is asked.

It is too easy to see a question, think (for any number of reasons) "I do not like this" and then close it.

The inconsistency with which I have seen questions answered or closed suggests that even those tasked with closing off-topic questions (aka the community) are not entirely sure what is on-topic either. I put it to you that questions are on-topic only if someone wants them to be.

It is often easier to ask a WordPress question that should be on-topic here on SO because it is easier than trying to figure out if it fits or not. I would not be surprised if the community is haemorrhaging experts and developers because of this lack of clarity. For that matter, I've identified enough topic areas that are now off-topic to consider proposing a second WordPress SE to group them into.

I can't be the only one picking up on the sense of frustration in this community. That frustration, I would suggest, has been created from the fact that every last one of us can have our own standards for on-topic and off-topic questions and new users have to guess what the current mood is. Long-time users are frustrated, I think, with "wrong questions" and new users are frustrated with baffling downvotes and question closures.

In conclusion, we have written ourselves into a corner and desperately need to clarify both what is and what is not on-topic. At the very least the entire "what to ask" needs to be re-written and many of the broad and sweeping terms in the "do not ask" need to be clarified extensively. In other words, I believe that our question guidance documentation is totally broken.

TL;DR: I'm flagging our own help text as too broad.

  • As an aside, I feel that the fact that so many questions and answers attract no votes must indicate a feeling that these are bad questions and bad answers too. Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 23:53
  • 2
    I think you are misreading/representing that page intentionally. What you write here is not what is on the help page.
    – fuxia Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 0:30
  • I disagree. That is the message a casual reader comes away with. I've sarcastically summarised but that is the gist. Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 0:32
  • 4
    I disagree on too specific, and would say that too localized is what you're referring to. I quite like nice clearcut specific questions, they make for good easy answers
    – Tom J Nowell Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


TL;DR | Most things off-topic are better answered by experts in their specific Stack. Propose and promote the change you want to see in the community.

I understand the frustration regarding what's considered to be on topic here. Most users don't read the FAQ and those that do could find it confusing at first. It took me a few questions to get the hang of how Q/A sites worked and what was expected in questions. Things like the tour, FAQ, help section are all supposed to be help new users but are usually overlooked. From my understanding of the StackExchange blog it's something they're actively looking into making better and overhauling the question page for new users which I'm certainly looking forward to.

The fact is that StackOverflow is a catch-all development stack. It's easily the most known and popular Stack in the Exchange Network. The views and active users absolutely dwarf ours and always will.

I personally think that the help documentation makes it pretty clear what is on topic. It all revolves around WordPress Core. You're right that it looks like a short list and could possibly use some more examples and maybe fleshed out a bit more.

The list of items that are off-topic is pretty big. The purpose of this Stack at the moment isn't necessarily meant to be a catch all of WordPress questions. We want users to get quality answers that will hopefully help readers other than the original poster. If that means pointing that user to another Stack (such as Webmaster or Server Fault) where their question will get that kind of attention from those users who specialize in that type of thing then so be it. If we feel that the question will require some back-and-forth discussion to resolve their issue, we'll point them to the WordPress Forums to get the help they're looking for.

Let's go through your points in which it's believed that posts get closed:

  • Too Specific Questions

    • The only questions I can think of that get closed for being too specific are questions regarding hacked websites or require specific knowledge of a 3rd party assets to answer. Maybe with an example of a question closed for being too specific we can look at why it was closed.
  • Not specific enough questions

    • I'm assuming you mean too broad. Questions that are too broad usually fall into a few categories: 1) Not enough initial information and would require back-and-forth to get the actual question | 2) Code dump using the title to explain | 3) Open-ended or many questions that entice opinions and may not necessary have a solid answer. Maybe they're low-effort or not a good fit in a development QA format.
  • Questions that could apply to another CMS

    • I'm not sure I understand this point. If a question is about another CMS then it certainly doesn't belong here. If a question is plain JavaScript that can be applied in any CMS or functioning website then it's likely better answered by JavaScipt experts on Stack Overflow who can give an expanded and informative answer.
  • Most SQL questions

    • This depends on context but I feel for the most part it would be on-topic. Complex queries and needing to know specific MySQL functions or explanation on how these MySQL functions work. Asking for database optimization suggestions or a database structure they're trying to build. These may again be better suited for a different Stack with experts on this type of thing such as Database Administrator Stackexchange.
  • Most code questions

    • I'm assuming you mean general PHP and JavaScript questions. These types of questions are better answered by the people who know best and can give educational answers on the topic. Developing with WordPress doesn't necessarily mean you have a deep understanding of PHP. Building a Gutenberg block doesn't make you an expert in JavaScript.
  • All blogging questions

    • This is a development Stack. It depends on context but "blogging questions" seem to me as non-development questions and more management, marketing, or writing questions all of which may garner opinions and no direct answers. This seems like a point that fits better in a discussion Forum format than a Q/A format.

In any of the above a question can always be edited to add clarification or additional information to fight the close vote. Context I think is important and directing the user to the right Stack or Forum to get the help they're looking for is also important.

A moderator may close a question because it's clearly off topic or clearly has a better place for it to be asked. For the community to close questions it takes 5 people to agree that the question is off-topic or better asked elsewhere. Because of that 5 person limit some questions that should be closed stay open for longer while the community sifts through the number of questions we get per day. It's all volunteer work; from moderators to question askers to question answers to going through the review queue to submitting edits; everything. It takes time and effort from people willing to give both. If 5 people agree to close a question then odds are good that question can be better answered somewhere else. With so many cooks in the kitchen inconsistency (or the illusion of while a question is in review queue) is bound to happen as review queues build and process.

Let's talk about what can be done to try and improve the Stack or sway it's users to be more open and accepting to specific question types. While discussion here is healthy it can feel one-sided when it appears that moderators are the only ones to respond in Meta. It may be more helpful to propose ideas on how we can rephrase or rewrite some of the help docs to better accommodate users and make rules clear. Promoting the discussion via social media or other outlets to get a other views and opinions isn't a bad idea either. The more voices we hear and the more eyes on a proposed change the more we can iron out details, discuss, and solve any unforeseen pitfalls.

  • If a developer finds that six or seven questions they have about something they are doing with WordPress are off-topic and thus ask them on SO, what's to get them to come back here for that one that is just WP core? Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 23:36

Regarding the 3rd party section of the on-topic guide.

The problem, or how it seems to me, is that the on-topic questions get flooded by (non-coder) site owners posting their support (and "customize-my-site-for-me-for-free") questions here. As these questions then get closed and/or down-voted the front page may end up looking rather negative and uninviting.

Could it be, that people don't understand what "third party" means in the context of WordPress? Perhaps the the wording on the on-topic help page could be improved to make even more explicit on what is considered on- or off-topic. Maybe by adding some examples,

  • "third party themes are for example Divi, Astra.."
  • "(any) theme you've downloaded from the Theme repository or purchased from some theme marketplace"
  • "third party plugins are for example Elementor, WooCommerce.."
  • "(any) plugin you've downloaded from the plugin repository or purchased from some plugin marketplace".

At least based on my real life experiences for most site owners there's no difference between wp.org and wp.com, or themes, plugins, and core. They are just using WordPress. When these people search for answers to their WordPress troubles, they find their way here and might think "this is a WordPress forum, I'll just post my question here".

If we have any control over the "Ask a question" view's sidebar (see screenshot), then perhaps the wording on the "How to Ask" box could also be improved. People who are "just using WordPress" will most likely always answer yes to "Is your question about WordPress?" without thinking, if their question is on- or off-topic here.

enter image description here

  • You make a good point that's often overlooked. Allowing 3rd party plugins or non-code questions would flood the front-page and push off WordPress core questions to only be found via search or answer volunteers. I don't know if we can manage the "How to Ask" text on the question page but it's certainly something for us to look into. Thanks for your input!
    – Howdy_McGee Mod
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 22:28

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