I started out by commenting on the answers that came before me about the on/off topic guidelines -- I've put that part of the answer below the line, so I can focus on answering the question.
I think this part of the question is spot-on:
But the fact that there's an answer (that has been accepted or
upvoted) leaves us with a question that:
- might lead others to assume the subject is on-topic (difficult to say otherwise if they can point to an answered question -- maybe
easier if the question has been closed, but I'm not certain if people
are comfortable closing an answered question with an accepted answer
as I believe the person who answers will lose the rep they gained?
- might lead others to misjudge the quality of questions we work towards here.
- doesn't help the OP learn to ask on-topic and/or better questions.
We wouldn't be here if we weren't willing to help others, but we have to look out for our own self-interest, too. I'm not as concerned about the effect on reputation points as I am about the overall quality of the site. If Genealogy.SE looks to be the same quality as any junky Ancestry message board or ordinary dump-and-run query site, there's no incentive for people to spend time writing quality answers here.
Since I participate in a chat on Twitter every week, and am always on the lookout for something to tweet about to promote the site, the idea of having questions which are worth sharing is always on my mind. I would love to see more self-answered questions from the more experienced users here, so we can have them as examples to show new users the potential of the site.
One thing that bugs me especially is seeing poor questions upvoted in an attempt to "encourage new users to participate." Upvoted questions get auto-tweeted, so they get broadcast outside the site. Maybe this is no big deal now, since the Twitter account only has around 100 followers, but all of the tweets are searchable. Once the question is upvoted, the tweets go out, bad form or no, and whatever shows up in the preview is (as far as I know) preserved in the ugly form for all time. One example: For the question How to confirm my research of Charles P. Cantrell? the author started out in by chatting instead of getting down to the question and the talky part didn't get edited out (I've just edited it now).
I'd rather the OP did the improving so that they start to understand what's expected rather than maybe feel railroaded, but recognise that isn't always going to happen.
I'd rather see us act quickly to clean up questions for several reasons. I think cosmetic edits (making the question more readable by breaking out facts into timelines, reducing chatty clutter) should be done as soon as possible, to increase the chance that others will read the question and answer it.
If we don't clean up the questions when we see them, they get shoved off the front page / top of the newest & active lists, and then we forget about fixing them.
I'd like to see the OP improve their own question, too, but what I'm usually asking them in the comments is to add more about their research effort. Asking them to do formatting cleanup as well is a bit much, especially for newbies who are unfamiliar with Markdown.
Right now I am trying to sell people on the idea that you get more out of your research if you can write a summary of your prior research and formulate a focus(s)ed research question. It's hard to show them how this site can work for that when it is cluttered with the same dump-and-run "I want to know anything" queries they can find on any other site.
I don't have an answer, although I have a favoured position (comments
not answers, plus vote to close or edit to improve as appropriate when
you comment) but I might be an outlier, which is why I'm asking for
I think this sums up my own position pretty well, although there have been cases where a question has been criticized for being "too broad" where I've come along afterwards and said, "Oh, no, I can answer this" like Determining what records are available in a particular locale?.
But that's the point -- if the question is closed on the grounds of being too broad, we have to stop and think about how to write a good answer that might genuinely help someone instead of just firing off an answer which is not well thought-out.
Re: Harry's comment "it is far from clear what is on-topic vs off-topic".
Here's the list from on-topic --
If your question is about:
- Starting your research or improving your methodology
- Finding a source or understanding how to use it
- Documenting or presenting what you’ve learned
- Breaking down brick-walls in your family tree
- Using technology to support your research
On one of the FHISO mailing lists, Elizabeth Shown Mills said that genealogy involves two basic tasks.
- Identifying a person
- Establishing their relationship to others
Our main goals as genealogists are to identify that the people named in a historical document or record are indeed the persons we are looking for, and not other with the same or similar names, and to establish the relationships between those people. We don't state this explicitly in the site guidelines -- they are implied in the 'breaking down brick walls" bullet point. Brick walls / roadblocks occur when we can't identify someone sufficiently, or can't find enough information about them to determine their relationships to parents. However, all of the bullet points are about doing research better in support of these goals.
This is from don't-ask --
You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual
problems that you face.
So my question is -- what part of this is not clear? How can it be improved?
Using ESM's two tasks as a guide, I would say that all of the 'what do I call this person?' questions are off-topic because the relationship of the two people involved is already defined -- the person writing the question has already stated it when asking the question. (I reserve the right to change my mind after viewing Judy G. Russell's webinar on Kinship Determination.)
Similarly, all the "what ethnicity am I" questions are problematic. I don't see how any of the ethnicity questions of the "who am I" variety -- as opposed to the "how do I interpret this historical document?" kind -- can be used to help solve a problem -- not when we have an industry that can produce different ethnicity estimates for full-blood siblings as described in Judy G. Russell's "not soup yet" post .
Re: PolyGeo's guess about what question was the inspiration for this question --
If Blaine Bettinger and other DNA experts were here answering questions about the finer points of the reference populations used to generate ethnicity profiles, that might be sufficiently technical to warrant inclusion on a Stack Exchange site, but that's not likely to happen. Most experts have their own sites and make questions submitted to them the basis of posts on their own blogs.
So -- given that the real experts are likely to answer most questions on their own blogs and forums -- what is our purpose here?
It's no surprise that I favor the "help I'm stuck" kind of question where community members post a summary of their prior research -- the genealogy equivalent of "my code doesn't work, where did I go wrong?" kind of question -- the kind of question where it can help someone to have a friendly eye look over their work, which can be made into a case study for others to learn from.