Ideas re: what makes for an acceptable vs unacceptable "processing" Ask? February 5, 2014 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Hey all, this is my first Meta post and I hope this is an okay subject to ask for clarifications on. Could I get some ideas/feedback about what constitutes an acceptable AskMe in terms of helping the asker to process their particular situation?

I tried to post a question recently that got deleted shortly after posting it. It was upsetting, but in hindsight, I think I have a good handle on why it was removed.

AskMe gets a lot of questions that are essentially, "Here's this knotty/complicated/awful/etc. situation; help me process it?" Sometimes the resultant thread is full of amazing, fantastic responses where I want to mega-favorite every single one; sometimes the poster comes back to argue with responders multiple times; sometimes crucial information is left out until far down the thread, etc.

Is there, say, a generally preferred method or framework for these sorts of questions? Sometimes I want to ask such a question, but I get stuck on how to frame it, or I end up over-explaining, etc.

posted by cardinality to Etiquette/Policy at 4:27 PM (32 comments total)

The main thing we look for as mods is "Is there a concrete question and are the parts of the post leading towards helping the asker get an answer to that question?" Sometimes people tell a long story about something messy they've been through lately (not saying your post did that, I didn't go back to read it) and at the end they just sort of say "Advice?" which is less of a problem to be solved than "What should I say to my niece about this?" which is a concrete question. You're more than welcome to contact us and run something by us to see if it's okay as well as take advice from the other folks here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:31 PM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

At its core, every askme should have a question that has an answer. So an askme that is basically just "Everything is horrible!" will get deleted. So will one that just says "This person is terrible, amirite?" as will "Reassure me that I am awesome and that everyone around me is wrong."

so usually, what you need to do is to turn the situation over and over in your mind until you come to the sticking point. What is the particular piece of information you need in order to move forward? Sometimes this process reveals that there IS no sticking point, you're just mad and hurt. Sometimes the sticking point is "how do I do what I know I need to do, despite the fact that I'm so mad and hurt?" Sometimes it's "Is it better to choose path A or path B," sometimes it's "What is the exact method by which I can make C happen," whatever. But the more obvious your question is, the better your answers will be.

A side effect of this turning over is that sometimes, when you realize what your question is, you also realize that you already know the answer. That is the best thing about askme.
posted by KathrynT at 4:34 PM on February 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

I don't think there's anything wrong with starting this MeTa but as jessamyn mentioned, if you ever have questions about a potential post (blue or green) you can always drop the mods a line via the contact form. They're super helpful.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:56 PM on February 5, 2014

I worked on an advice line and often people would ring and pour out a lot of pain and anguish, and the whole story they were wrestling with, without saying what advice they needed. It's hard to see the forest for the trees when you're in a lot of pain. Something we were trained to ask was "How would you like me to help you?" which is really helpful when you're feeling overwhelmed by where to start with someone's stuff, as it gives it back to them to identify the core issues.

So I guess I'd say when you're writing the post to imagine us asking you that, and it might help focus it on the specific thing you need. How do you want us to help you? Is it advice on how to deal with anger? Guilt? Bereavement? Depression? How to get back into work or extend your social networks? These are the individual threads you can pull out of your story and ask us to help you with. I hope that makes sense and I hope you find a way to ask your question again.
posted by billiebee at 5:16 PM on February 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

As much as these can annoy me sometimes, i like to think(with some evidence to support this, of deletions/questions left up and previous metas) that "What steps should i take to move myself forward and away from this situation?" both as an ending, and as a general feel of "This happened, this happened, this happened, and now i'm at a really murky crossroads and i don't even know how many ways it splits" is OK.

Do i often get the feeling that a lot of questions would easily be deleted if they were worded a bit differently with the same content, or stay up because they were worded politically and deftly enough to pass the bar? yes. But i don't know if i have a problem with that.

The really murky, scraping along the lines of chatfilter ones just often turn in to lots of projection-y replies of back-and-forth with the original poster anyways.
posted by emptythought at 8:51 PM on February 5, 2014

I'm not the most prolific poster but I've been here a while and I've gotten in the habit of sending any potential post that I have doubts about, whether the post is to the blue or the green, to the mods via the contact form before I submit the post. I haven't been chastised yet for asking for help and they are always absurdly quick - never more than a few minutes - to respond.
posted by vapidave at 10:26 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I tried to post a question recently that got deleted shortly after posting it.

What "question"? You mean this. But look back at it, from the point of view of someone who doesn't know you and is just on this website to answer questions from strangers. Where is the "question"? There are only two question marks, near the end out of several long paragraphs. And the question marks seem to indicate only an uncertain or speculative quality to your statements; they aren't literal question marks in the sense of marking questions.

You ended with: "I know that this is a.) long, and b.) quite a bit to wade through, so thanks in advance if you made it to the end." The fact that you ended up thanking anyone who even read the whole post should be a sign that you might want to edit it down to the essentials. For instance, the long paragraph about "class theory" ... what is that doing in your "question"? How can we "answer" that? Not everything you'd bring up in a face-to-face, one-on-one conversation belongs in an AskMe post.

I sympathize with everything you've gone through. But if every Mefite's most intensely personal diary entries were accepted as AskMetafilter questions, AskMe would be pretty different. When 98% of the post consists of describing a relationship, leaving only 2% of the post that's asking for anything, that raises a red flag. When the thing you're "asking" for is so vague as to seem like an afterthought (how can I wrap my mind around everything I've just described; tell me about when you've gone through a similar situation), that's another red flag.

So try this: start with the question. Make it the first thing you write, and put it at the top of the post. Give clear guidance about what kind of answers your looking for. After you've done that, then go on to write additional paragraphs — but keep them limited to context that will help the reader with the goal of answering the question. If you find yourself impatient with this process, wanting to skip step 1 (the question) and just focus on the more interesting stuff (the diary entry), that's when you might want to reconsider whether this is really an AskMe post or just an opportunity to share what's been going on in your life. It's totally understandable that you'd want to share all that, but that doesn't make AskMe the best forum.
posted by John Cohen at 11:03 PM on February 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

In an earlier thread on Metatalk, this one in fact, there is a discussion about questions that people wrote out for Ask Meafilter but never posted because, often, the act of writing out the question helped clarify what the asker needed to know. Kind of a 'what would metafilter say' sort of cognitive approach.

I sympathise with the situation that caused you to ask the question but if you apply the 'what would metafilter say' template over your question the answer you would most like get is "what is the question?". Ask metafilter can only help if you are asking an actual question that can have an answer. An answer is not quite the same thing as a response. I've had a one or two questions deleted when what I was doing was processing a situation, and seeking responses, rather than asking an actual, answerable question. Processing is good. It is necessary, especially after a heart-f*ck like yours, but Ask Metafilter can't really help you with it.

What Ask Metafilter can help with, in this situation, is the questions that come up after you have done some processing. For example, say you processed a situation and realised you partly stimulated or enabled that situation to occur, perhaps to your detriment. Ask Metafilter can help with questions like: 'how can I avoid doing this again?' or 'is this person special or just a jerk'.

John Cohen is right. Start with a question. You'd be surprised how little back story is required. But before you do that, write out all the issues and ponder and process to get to the right questions. If you ask astute questions you are very likely to receive astute answers.
posted by Kerasia at 1:00 AM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Cardinality, can you or mods link to your deleted question? It would help a lot because people could give you concrete suggestions for how it could have been redone to stay up.
posted by cairdeas at 2:35 AM on February 6, 2014

Cardinality, I'd say that what you wrote was a summary of a very complex, painful and difficult situation that, as Kerasia mentions, invites responses more than specific answers or suggestions. The FAQ has a concise explanation about formulating Ask Metafilter questions that doesn't address everything, but which is helpful as a starting point, and you can always contact us to run a post by us first if you are unsure at all.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:56 AM on February 6, 2014

Thanks for that, EndsOfInvention.

I think your question might have stayed up if your questions were more specific and the backstory was more concise and focused. (I personally appreciate having that amount of detail if someone is asking a question, but obviously, I ain't the one who makes the rules.)

Here's my best shot at rearranging it in the way I think would stay up. But I could be wrong!
"I am looking for advice on recovering from a relationship with a fundamentally good, but mentally and physically damaged veteran who was verbally and emotionally abusive, and ultimately committed suicide.

More inside...

The background of our relationship is as follows: I believe he was a truly good person whose life circumstances, poor decisions, and resulting cynicism broke him and skewed his ability to be a functional human being. He had extensive mental and physical health issues as both an adult with Aspergers Syndrome and due to his veteran status, having seen active duty in Iraq & Afghanistan.

He was emotionally abusive and tended to be violent when drunk. He had constant suicidal ideation and asked me to commit suicide with him. He had unresolved stuff with the women of his life...his mother, his sister, previous girlfriends, friends, his ex-wife. He gaslighted me constantly, criticized me constantly, played hot and cold, etc. He blamed me for everything that he could possibly blame me for, yet never took responsibility for anything. All of our emotional problems in the relationship were my fault.

I have been in weekly therapy for the past year, am currently participating in a partial hospital program. So, I've been able to work through a lot of the "whys" surrounding why I was in this kind of relationship, with this particular person, how we affected each other, etc. I have a good handle on all of that. I know what I did wrong, where I failed and made bad decisions, etc.

Specifically, I am looking for advice on recovering from the following issues:

-Guilt (I cannot get over the guilt that my own fallibility and unresolved personal baggage influenced the path that he was on, and that I contributed to the problems in his life that led to him committing suicide.)

-Re-experiencing memories (The things he said and did that hurt.)

-Fear of feeling emotion (If I allow myself to feel anything it might all hit me like a tsunami.)

-Distress at my inability to explain what happened, why he did what he did. (I engage in distanced-outsider versions of psychological reasoning: he was in pain, he hated himself, he hated his life, he resented what people had that he didn't, he had unprocessed relationship traumas, etc. I am working hard on practicing mindfulness, detachment, tell myself it doesn't matter anymore, that he made his choice and he's gone and I can't change the past, etc.)

-Recovering from PTSD-like symptoms; e.g., sleep disturbance, racing thoughts, hypervigilance, anhedonia, emotional eating, apathy, nightmares.

I would appreciate it if anyone has concrete advice for recovery for those issues, or insight from their own experience.
posted by cairdeas at 3:17 AM on February 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd go with the advice here to keep it framed as a question first and foremost. However, for me, your post was very nearly there, perhaps not direct enough. I got a feeling of what you wanted to ask but also felt the weight of your task in trying to get it all down. Personally, I think there is a place for the more circuitous questions alongside the technical one-liners. I don't feel there should be anything close to a prescriptive template. Some things are just more difficult to boil-down and extra details can bring colour, enabling the answers to be more specific, especially in the human relations department. Just wanted to add that opinion whilst saying that I agree with the gist of the comments so far.
posted by 0 answers at 3:23 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cardinality, can you or mods link to your deleted question?

You must have missed my comment.
posted by John Cohen at 5:23 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

the last sentence of the deleted post frames the question:

If anyone can speak to how they dealt with bad relationship trauma in their own life, or has advice on how I might be able to wrap my mind around all of this, I would greatly appreciate the input.

it's interesting that this post and this other post are also specifically about "processing" a difficult situation. so, what seems to make your question unacceptable is that it was related to a romantic relationship and suicide. they can't say that though, because they have to maintain the appearance that they're not just doing-whatever-the-fuck-they-want.

i don't think the term "[emotionally] processing" is useful at all, and should probably be retired. i also think most/all askme's about them should be deleted.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:26 AM on February 6, 2014

i don't think the term "[emotionally] processing" is useful at all, and should probably be retired. i also think most/all askme's about them should be deleted.

As a result of an absolutely incredible coincidence, we all seem to have our own opinions on deletions.

I wonder what mine might possibly be?
posted by Wolof at 5:38 AM on February 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

cupcake1337, this MeTa was posed by a member of a community that you are willingly a member of. They are asking the community (which includes you) for help about a specific thing - how to frame an AskMe - and if you are coming into this thread I would assume it's because you would like to offer that help to them. Continuing your long-running beef with the mods about deletion reasons does not seem a particularly constructive way of doing that. Saying that all questions about emotional processing should be deleted is your personal opinion, and that's fine. But in the spirit of AskMe, can you add to your comment how you think those questions may be framed instead? That might be useful to the OP. I have seen you give some insightful answers, such as this one, which is kind of what I'm trying to say to you now, and you actually said it better.
posted by billiebee at 6:40 AM on February 6, 2014 [13 favorites]

i also think most/all askme's about them should be deleted.

You have many ideas about how the site should work that are very different from how it does work. Reconciling this, at this point, is sort of your problem to solve.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:07 AM on February 6, 2014 [20 favorites]

it's interesting that this post and this other post are also specifically about "processing" a difficult situation.

They both have the word "processing" in them, to be sure. That's roughly the full extent to which they are similar.
posted by ook at 8:11 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is there, say, a generally preferred method or framework for these sorts of questions?

I don't know about framework, but that was a long question.

If the act of writing the question takes so long that it is, perhaps, itself an act of therapy then it probably isn't a great question for AskMe.

The issue isn't so much the emotional processing, of which there are many non-problematic examples on the Green, but the amount of emotional processing in the body of the AskMe itself.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:21 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hi everyone, thanks for the reponses.

Basically, what I was struggling with was whittling down the extraneous stuff and getting to the essence of the question(s), so to speak.

Cairdeas, I would mark yours as best answer, if I could! That is basically exactly what I was looking for, in terms of a framework for how to structure the question. I needed to review the post after writing it all out, and re-work it to be more structured and less descriptive. I could have added more information in follow-up comments, as needed.

I appreciate everyone who replied with kindness and sensitivity, considering the subject matter. It's really hard to just ask for help, period, and then to ask for critique on how you're asking for help...well, let's just say I've already gotten a bit emotional today.

I don't feel any further comments are necessary, at this time. I understand that I wrote too long of a post, that I included too much personal/emotional detail, and I understand how to better frame this or a similar question in the future.

Thanks again!
posted by cardinality at 8:33 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mods, just to make sure, would cardinality's question stand like how I rearranged it? (Link) It was just my best guess but I wouldn't want lead cardinality in the wrong direction if, actually, my version wouldn't stand either.
posted by cairdeas at 9:43 AM on February 6, 2014

Generally speaking it's really good for AskMe questions to have a question and not just "Any advice for me" Like a real question with a question mark. I think the question as rephrased is okay but not great. Asking for advice is an open door to getting answers that are not helpful and is exactly the sort of thing that tends to make AskMe questions go sideways. Additionally, "insight from your own experience" is also leaving open a door to be like "Get over it, is my insight" which really does not seem like what the OP is looking for.

So, in short, we never pre-approve things but that question as rephrased would probably be okay but could be considerably better.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:49 AM on February 6, 2014

Okay, I'm back for a minute...Cairdeas, I am planning to rewrite my question using your template as a guide, and then submit it for mod review. I can see how I need to revise it to make the most sense. (Thank you for the follow-up.)

Seriously, thank you all for being willing to read my messy first attempt and help me to revise it. I will work with the mods to get it to where it needs to be. (Note to self: I could have saved myself this trouble if I'd asked for their help in the first place!) I thought this question might help other posters in the future, though, so that's why I decided it might be worthwhile to post this.
posted by cardinality at 10:06 AM on February 6, 2014

It's helping me too, cardinality! :)
posted by cairdeas at 10:15 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, that went well.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:27 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

this MeTa was posed by a member of a community that you are willingly a member of. They are asking the community (which includes you) for help

Now I remember. This is an example of why I don't want to turn off favourites. Or compassion.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:58 AM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

He puts it more bluntly than I would've, but John Cohen's comment is right on the money. AskMe is not really a space for thinking out loud about a situation and getting perspectives about it; it's a space for getting answers to questions. If you want a question to work well ok AskMe, you need to lead above the fold with a clear interrogative stating your problem and asking for people to solve it. Generally more-specific questions are better than less-specific ones, though many relationship-related Asks are necessarily a bit fuzzy. That's all the more reason to try to boil them down, though.

Something that might have worked in your situation would have been a question along the lines of "I was in a difficult and painful relationship, and even though it ended a long time ago I feel like it's still negatively affecting my life. If you've been through a situation like tuat, how did you get over it and find the ability to heal and move on?" followed by a couple of short paragraphs giving details about why the relationship was so painful, how it's affecting you now, why you think you're having a hard time moving past it, what you've tried so far, and what a successful outcome would look like to you.

Your question was really just a long speech about how bad your relationship was and how it's causing you pain. You have my sympathies, but it doesn't give me any sense of how I can help you, other than by commiserating, which isn't really part of AskMe's mission. I get that sometimes all we really want is to vent about how sucky something is and have people sympathize and comfort us, and that's OK, but it's not what AskMe is for. Without a problem in search of a solution, a post on AskMe doesn't really fit.
posted by Scientist at 4:52 PM on February 6, 2014

They both have the word "processing" in them, to be sure. That's roughly the full extent to which they are similar.

i'd agree it's the full extent if you also mean they're about "processing" difficult situations. fortunately, that's the only basis they need to be similar for me to compare them for my purposes. yes, they are different in many ways, but they are the same in the way that's important for my argument.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:10 PM on February 6, 2014

He puts it more bluntly than I would've, but John Cohen's comment is right on the money....

Your question was really just a long speech about how bad your relationship was and how it's causing you pain. You have my sympathies, but it doesn't give me any sense of how I can help you

Scientist puts it more bluntly than I would've...
posted by John Cohen at 6:24 PM on February 6, 2014

At this point, I don't think any further critiques of my deleted post are going to be helpful or add anything to this discussion.

I promise that I fully understand my error in writing this particular deleted post, and the excellent feedback that I've gotten has been very helpful.

I have hit my ability-to-take-criticism-without-crying limit for today, so I'm out.

I think my etiquette/policy question has been answered pretty thoroughly, so I'd appreciate it if we could all just consider this thread "resolved."
posted by cardinality at 6:32 PM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

That sounds fine to me - I'll close this up.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:57 PM on February 6, 2014

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