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The most recent question on Woodworking beta asks for the "best" surface to use on a large desk/workbench. It was put on hold as being to general.

A couple of days ago someone asked about a good wood for making blocks. It sailed through and got several good answers.

I have seen other questions that have been put on hold when they asked for the best answer rather than an appropriate answer. Stated reason - best is a matter of opinion.

Good grief folks! Virtually every questioner is hoping that the writers of answers will use their best judgment in an attempt to provide the best answer. A request for best is implied in every question, not just those that explicitly ask for it. So let us think twice before we downgrade a question for explicitly asking "what is best?"

  • As a side note: I giggle over the use of the work naughty – Matt Jun 30 '15 at 0:45
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Best can certainly have a negative connotation when used in question on this site but I think we can cut people some slack in certain cases. Many off topic question have snuck by at first and we do go back and close then ones that are off topic.

In the case of "best" and the toy blocks the title alone could be vague sure. That question could have been borderline and would be better if some of the more obvious criteria would put in the question like kids but I think that was implied. We got multiple answers basically leaning towards maple and birch. It would seem though that they were obvious choices for the answers. Not opinionated per sei but the choices were backed by facts like local and availability. I don't think that would have been closed if best was present.

On the flip side there was the question Best surface for a workbench / desk?. I thought that would be purely subjective. I like mahogany stains and woods. So I might have suggested that for appearance sake. It does not mean the OP does. That is one of the reasons you could have considered that question closed. But that question was not asking about the finish or even wood choice. Also did not even narrow down the usage. Almost anything could have sufficed. Questions with multiple venues for answer are great but that one was too much. If you change just the title to _Ideal surface for a workbench / desk" I would like to it would still have been closed. Would you have answered this question with certainty?

I would like to think the community does the right thing. Best should not be a death sentence for a question. I think you can still use it as long as the rest of the question is narrowed down.

Title: What is the best ______?

Partial Body: Given the following criteria 1. 2. 3. What would be the best ____ under those circumstances .......?

When in doubt, bring it up in Meta or chat.

  • When criteria get too specific they are likely to be overlooked or ignored by answers. In addition, questions that are too specific produce answers that are of little use to anyone but the OP, which, as I understand it, is something to be avoided. – Ast Pace Jun 29 '15 at 17:23
  • @ASTPace Questions looking for only one answer are of little use yes but could be of use nonetheless as long as they are properly formed. Not every question has to help everybody. There was a question about someones plane which had answers that could apply to other people. Point being that you need to narrow down in some cases. – Matt Jun 29 '15 at 17:41
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Yes, best is unfortunately considered a naughty word because it is a single word that turns any question into an opinion question. It suggests that there is only one solution worth considering, and people may be less likely to post multiple valid solutions in a single answer. It essentially asks, "What is your favorite ____?"

I actually have the opposite opinion from you and think there have been many questions which should have been put on hold for clarification, but instead many people answered them. If I can catch them before there are very many answers, I usually do put them on hold, but sometimes an answer has some insight into the question that I missed. Other times, I have to pick my battles. If there are already several answers from high-rep members on a somewhat vague question, I realize I would be fighting an uphill battle and I should probably save my time and energy for something else.

I was actually disappointed when the "best surface" question was put on hold because I was in the process of writing an answer, but I didn't have time to argue the question's merits at the time and at the very least it would have been nice to know the relative budget of the project.

An easy way to change a "What is the best ____?" question into an objective question is to ask instead, "Is there a best ____, and if so, what is it?

Another way to reframe these questions in many cases is to instead ask, "How would I determine the best ____?"

However, as Matt pointed out, "best" in the question title can be acceptable as long as you can adequately clarify your criteria in the question body.

  • Hmm I though the surface answer might have too many options. I say you bring that one up in a meta question. – Matt Jun 29 '15 at 16:38
  • In addition to the budget (which is not necessary but would be nice), I agree with objections to the "stylish" requirement, which I had missed when I first started writing my answer. I added a comment on the question in hopes that the author will clarify those two issues. – rob Jun 29 '15 at 16:44
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I don't see it so much in this community yet, but in other larger StackExchange communities, asking about the "best" anything tends to generate heated argument. People seem to get hung up on their own personal criteria for what constitutes "best," when of course the answer is almost always, "It depends, what are you trying to do?" Which leads into what Rob said, that many of the questions are salvageable with some more detail on what the OP is asking for. (As an aside, one of the things I've really liked about the WW.SE community is how often questions are salvaged.)

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