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I understand that questions about accounting are explicitly called off topic for this site.

I don't necessarily see why that is the case, especially since it seems at odds with the fact that questions about sole proprietorships are on topic and general accounting questions may be very relevant to owners of those businesses.

Is there some overriding reason to keep those questions off-topic? Some historical reason that still carries weight? Why not update the rules to make them on-topic and answer them?

EDIT Thanks to those who answered. I started writing some additional comment on the answers, but then thought it might be more productive to make an edit here. I was not surprise that a lot those who responded wanted to keep this off-topic (otherwise it would already have changed). I was surprised by the negative reaction to asking the question, and to some extent by the answers.

Let me try to put my question in better context, because it was motivated in part by what appears to me to be inconsistency in the way accounting questions are addressed on the site. If you search for "double entry" (as in double entry accounting), you'll get 98 returns of questions and answers that apparently are considered on-topic. A quick skim suggests that about 50 of them are genuinely about double-entry accounting, whereas the rest maybe just mention the term in passing. Taking the top few as examples, the question has been couched in terms of some personal application of the technique, so I guess that's what keeps in on topic. The fact is though, most of these questions are just plain accounting questions. When a person comes on the sight and asks essentially the same question but doesn't say they are doing it for some "personal" account, they seem to get routinely shutdown. I can't see the closed questions anymore, but my impression is that this happens even when the OP doesn't say why they want to know, i.e. it could actually be for a "personal" reason.

Of course "double entry" is just one search term. We could try the experiment of choosing some other common accounting terms - I didn't do that, but I think that for a good variety of them it would be about the same story.

Add to that, the help explicitly says that "Sole Proprietorship" with the bullet under that heading "bookkeeping" are on topic. I'm not sure how you all understand that term, but my CPA uses it to cover a pretty wide range of basic accounting. Probably not all the way to GAAP and advanced topics, but definitely topics that fall squarely within accounting by any usual definition.

So, as I see it, you've got

  • A backlog of questions that are evidently considered on-topic and answered.
  • The help (for those who actually go read it) that suggests that some accounting questions are on topic.
  • An apparently arbitrary distinction that a question that is fundamentally the same can be on-topic or off-topic depending on why the poster wants to know the answer.
  • There are accounting tags - gnucash, for example, comes up frequently in the search that I did. I also see two tags for different versions of QuickBooks. It seems strange that you would allow a tag for software and then filter based on why the poster wants to know something. (Usually, in my experience on these stack exchange family site, questions are on or off topic based on what is asked not why the poster wants to have an answer.)
  • Considering the relatively low volume on this site, a seemingly large number of first-time posters getting turned away for questions that might more appropriately be marked "duplicate" than "off-topic."

This lead to my question of why not just take these questions and answer them all. (Or, I guess, alternatively, one might ask why not say they are all off-topic.) The "why do you want to know" approach feels wrong.

  • IMHO, we should remove the "Bookkeeping" reference from the help. – Chris W. Rea Dec 6 '15 at 3:16
  • +1. This is a great question. I've noticed the same inconsistency myself. Whether or not you think that accounting questions belong on money.SE, the downvotes on this question are uncalled for. – Ben Miller Jan 3 '16 at 20:27
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I question your premise of:

[...] that questions about sole proprietorships are on topic.

That's not completely right. Rather, small business and self-employment questions — including sole proprietorships — are on topic when they relate to the owner individual's personal income or compensation from the business, including how taxes (at any level) can impact what an owner individual would realize from his business. That focus on personal income helps keep a small business question on topic enough for here.

Whereas if a small business or self employment question is about general business operations (marketing, widget making, contract law, and yes, accounting) then it wouldn't be on topic. We could easily drown in questions about how to run one's own business that don't sufficiently relate to personal finances, and so we draw a line. There are other sites for more general questions about starting a business or freelancing. Similarly, even though most people earn employment income, more general questions about workplace issues belong elsewhere.

Allowing accounting questions for their own sake would lead to questions that are unrelated to personal finance. It would result in the current trickle of academic "do my accounting homework" type questions that we see turn into much more than a trickle ... or the "help me program (or understand the implementation of) accounting system software" type questions.

Besides, there is a perfectly fine accounting site proposal at Area 51 that people can support if they wish to see a Stack Exchange for accounting questions.

We have a similar prohibition against economics questions in general and for similar reasons, and there is an economics site (take 2) today that welcomes those questions. And we have discussed it before, and again, and again.

While I'm at it, there are also better places for quantitative finance and Bitcoin and cryptocurrency questions. Each one of these and other Stack Exchange sites I mentioned was established by a community interested in those subjects in particular, just like we are interested in keeping our focus on personal finance.

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    I added a link to the area 51 site in the help content next to the point about accounting being off-topic. money.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic – JohnFx Dec 4 '15 at 17:32
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    @JohnFx Great idea. Also, how about a link to Economics next to the corresponding line? – Chris W. Rea Dec 4 '15 at 18:34
  • I've added that one too now. – JohnFx Dec 4 '15 at 21:53
  • The accounting site is especially interesting - For the specific closed question that prompt my meta question, the OP asked where he could post his accounting question and the only response that I saw was "I don't know." Would be nice at minimum if people got pointed in that direction when closed. I added some detail to my question re: your comment about topicality of sole proprietorship. In context, I think my point was more correct than you're giving credit as you've excerpted it here. – user32479 Dec 5 '15 at 2:16
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    The Accounting site proposal has been removed. – a CVn Jul 13 '16 at 14:23
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Accounting is very broad topic.

While basic accounting can be on topic and quite a few of us who do not have explicit accounting background answer the questions. There would be a vast majority of accounting questions that would be advanced and this site does not have enough expertise in answering them.

There are also pure accounting questions and applied accounting questions that again are a topic by themselves

Then are there tons of accounting practises [GAAP] adopted and vary from region and industry.

Creating a distinction would again become superficial and we may not be able to get it right. This would lead to incorrect user experience, he is coming to the site to get specific question answered and tons of unanswered questions results in friction and loss of value to site.

The Sole Proprietorships were discussed in past.

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    I read some other meta posts here and saw this logic applied several times: "quite a few of us who do not have explicit XXX background answer the questions" (where XXX varies depending on the question at hand). That seems like a poor reason by itself: It assumes that people answering questions now do have expertise in what they are answering, which is highly variable. It assumes something about the knowledge of all of the (anonymous) users who are on the site. It assumes that the site's base stays the same over time. – user32479 Dec 4 '15 at 4:47
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    @Brick Valid point. There are 2 aspects. One if the existing community has skills. This can be checked by a quick vote. Two can we attract the required experts. Few SE sites were forced to close as the number of open questions kept increasing and inability to attract required experts. – Dheer Dec 4 '15 at 8:07
  • Your second point goes to the "historical" part of my question and was the sort of thing that I was looking for when I asked. Thanks. – user32479 Dec 5 '15 at 2:17
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Key point: the description of this area is interpreted as "personal (finance and money)", not "(personal finance) and (money)". I agree that the header and uri are misleading, but suggestions to change them to reduce misunderstanding have been shot down for reasons I don't understand well enough to argue with.

Under this intended interpretation, if it isn't specifically personal bookkeeping it really is offtopic; other kinds of bookkeeping questions belong elsewhere, such as the entrepreneurs discussion.

So the answer is that most of the business questions don't belong here either, but we're human and not perfect consistent. This should be fixed by finding somewhere to migrate those to as well. That ought to include most questions about leasing or flipping real estate, since those too are businesses rather than investments.

It's a clearly drawn line, and not an unreasonable one. Not everyone will like this partitioning, but it's what we've got. And until the labelling gets changed we will continue to have to re-explain it on a regular basis

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