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I'm looking for a word or phrase for a task which can't be neatly defined by a process. By process I mean a series of steps to be followed exactly.

Writing a good stack exchange request would be an example: there are guidelines/principles and a sense of what 'good' looks like (clear, concise, etc) but it's down to the writer to implement those guidelines with respect to the specific question they want to ask.

By contrast, baking a cake could be a defined by a process (recipe).

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  • Are you referring to the art of writing good questions?
    – Peter
    Feb 4 at 13:59
  • Yes, some tasks are not linear, cookbook, or procedural at all, like gardening, songwriting, or poetry. Painting: keep painting until it's done. Feb 4 at 17:01
  • The task is not clearly delineatable.
    – Lambie
    Feb 4 at 17:24

2 Answers 2

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A task which doesn't follow a strict procedure or doesn't require a well-defined result can be called open-ended

Open-ended (adj.)

Not rigorously fixed: such as

a: Adaptable to the developing needs of a situation

b: Permitting or designed to permit spontaneous and unguided responses
M-W

An open-ended activity or situation does not have a planned ending, so it may develop in several ways
Cambridge

  1. Not restrained by definite limits, restrictions, or structure.
  2. Allowing for or adaptable to change.
  3. Inconclusive or indefinite: "faintly bemused and uneasily open-ended about the whole horrible business" (Charles Michener).
  4. Allowing for a spontaneous, unstructured response: an open-ended question.
    ahd

Open-ended tasks allow students to select information and make decisions about how to use this information to answer a question or solve a problem that has multiple processes or possible answers
Jennifer Fredricks; Eight Myths of Student Disengagement (2014)

In an open-ended task there may be more than one solution path.
Patrick Jenlink; Mathematics as the Science of Patterns (2022)

Open-ended tasks can also be more challenging and less effective than restricted tasks. Open-ended tasks can include broad discussions; for example the L2 teacher asking the entire class, "What do you think is better owning a dog or a cat?" This open-ended task has no specific solution and no right or wrong answer.
Florin Mihai and Kerry Purmensky; Course Design for TESOL (2016)

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You could refer to such a task as an undertaking or an endeavor. Not that they couldn't be used of tasks that are simple step-by-step affairs, but they're normally used of something more complicated that requires qualitative judgment and discernment.

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