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I recently came across a question in the review queue that had attracted a couple close votes as "primarily opinion based" (What is the best practice for aligning table content for text/number mix).

Sure, I can see how it could be answered with "it's just a matter of opinion" and just close it as such, but the answer that was provided was more useful than a silent close-vote. In this case, I believe it's beneficial to the OP to note that the reason for aligning table contents to the right is so the decimal point lines up and it's easier to compare numbers of different lengths, and thus, in this case it doesn't really matter either way.

To contrive another example, imagine a well-written question that asks "Should I use pattern X or pattern Y for this type of application?" Unless there's a clear-cut better design for this use case, this seems like a question that many users might reflexively flag as "primarily opinion based". In reality, however, the poster might greatly benefit from an analysis of the pros and cons of pattern X and pattern Y, even if the answers conclude that it's just a matter of opinion.

In some cases, even though the answer might ultimately be just a matter of opinion, is it fair to leave a question open when there's more to be said?

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Maybe this is obvious to everyone but me, but it used to be a bit unclear for me.

The litmus test I've been using to distinguish what action to take is whether there is actual UX commentary to be had or not.

For example:

Question 1: Should the tabs in my horizontal navigation bar all be the same width?

This question could easily be thought of as "it's up to you... It can work just fine both ways" and get punctuated with a close vote.

However, this question could evoke answers that discuss readability, Fitts's Law, user expectation, aesthetic balance, et cetera.

There are real UX topics to discuss.

Question 2: Should I use the phrase "Send Feedback" or "Share Feedback"?

This question has little-to-no impact on overall user experience, and will likely not attract responses much better than "'Send Feedback' is what I've seen most often."

There is not much UX substance behind this question, so all that remains is personal opinion/preference.


In short, if the question touches on real UX themes, I've been voting to keep it open.

If there is little-to-no UX substance, that's when I vote to close. Essentially, the "primarily opinion-based" means "it really doesn't matter from a UX perspective."

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    Nice recommendation. If there is valuable UX discussion to be had, the only way to capture that value is to allow the discussion to take place. Plus, opinion (often disguised as bias due to results observed in the course of personal experience) is a factor in UX decisions. There might be a single best way to sort an array of integers in a C program, but there can be many effective ways to handle more abstract concepts like application-wide search. UX is grounded in experimentation and statistics, which accept some level of uncertainty, as well as reuse of effective patterns. – Michael Hogan Jan 7 at 1:10
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Keep questions open when it is possible to respond with an evidence-based answer.

Background

The word opinion has multiple senses. The American Heritage Dictionary lists senses of a word ranked from most common usage to least common (see: Order of Senses). The first two senses of the word opinion are:

  1. A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof: "The world is not run by thought, nor by imagination, but by opinion" (Elizabeth Drew).

  2. A judgment based on special knowledge and given by an expert: a medical opinion.

The Stack Exchange tour guides users to “avoid questions that are primarily opinion based”. That statement is evidence that the Stack Exchange community discourages unsubstantiated beliefs (Opinion 1). However, the Stack Exchange main page says “experts like you can vote on posts, so the most helpful answers are easy to find.” The words expert and vote are evidence that expert judgement (Opinion 2) is encouraged and, in fact, a key element of the community.

Conclusion: A Question Test

When deciding whether to close a question as “primarily opinion-based” consider the following:

  1. Is a community member likely to research the question in articles, books, or publications recognized by the UX community and draw a meaningful conclusion with citations?

  2. Is a community member likely to answer the question through experimentation and report back findings?

  3. Is a community member likely to answer the question based upon professional experience gained handling analogous situations on the job?

If the answer to at least one of these questions is “yes”, then the question probably deserves an answer. If the answer to all three of these questions is “no”, then the question is a candidate for closure because it is unlikely an answer will meet the standard of “substantiated by positive knowledge or proof”.

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That question doesn't seem close-worthy to me. It's a 'I have situation X, what is the solution' which fits the scope of the site.

Now, with such questions there may not be a correct answer, but that is still an answer to the question - there is no defined standard. (Although being able to prove something doesn't exist is philosophically tricky!)

So really I don't think your question is exactly correct here. I don't think the linked question is one that's a matter of opinion, it's a specific situation. Things get a bit more subjective as the scope of the question grows. 'Should I align all my cells left or right' for example. In that case we don't have enough details to be able to give a correct answer, so it's broad and opinion-based. But tighter focussed questions are more likely to be answerable (at least theoretically).

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