I admire some users that ask a very general question but get excellent answers. Such as this question: What is meant by a “random variable”? I am talking about the long answer for this question by @whuber.

I personally think this is not a good question, because too general. If I am asking it, probability will be close by too broad or get some answer like go to read a book.

But why such question exist and can get good answers? How can I do that? I am assuming this is not repeatable because it is randomly selected by some high reputation users?

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    $\begingroup$ That's an excellent question. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jul 14, 2016 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ Part of the reason might be that this particular question is from 2010... The customs have changed a bit since then. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jul 14, 2016 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ I personally wonder if we have moved a little too far in ruling out general / high level questions (cf, Are we closing questions too fast?). There are undoubtedly questions that are too broad, but there can be questions that are broad but nonetheless valuable. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2016 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ To motivate the discussion here, it might help to give an example or two of general questions you would like to ask. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2016 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ It seems to me that questions concerning basic concepts in statistics have to be considered on topic. What's "too broad" about asking for a definition, explanation, or examples of a random variable (or a PDF, or a statistic, or a probability space, or expectation, ... etc.)? $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Jul 14, 2016 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ @whuber Well, What do they mean when they say "random variable"? (being the entire question) might not be too broad, but exhibits some glaring lack of research, which is one of the officially recommended reasons for downvoting. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Jul 14, 2016 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes it's luck - a less inspiring question will happen to get a good answer. Sometimes the question is better than it might first seem, especially if it asks something fundamental in a way that gives an opening for a good exposition on the matter. $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Jul 15, 2016 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ @gung I made another attempt here, see if I can get good answer. stats.stackexchange.com/questions/224005/… $\endgroup$
    – Haitao Du
    Jul 15, 2016 at 19:14

1 Answer 1


By explaining what more you're looking for than you'd get from reading the relevant Wikipedia article, a textbook, or whatever a couple of minutes' Googling turns up. Bringing up some point of confusion or a difficulty in application presents people with a fun challenge (whether that's to explain something, or to work it out for themselves & then explain it) rather than a boring request for information readily available elsewhere.

Of course questions that come down to "explain $X$ to me" sometimes get very good, original, answers—like @Glen_b I think that's just luck.


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