do we refer to all charges as positive irrespective of their sign?

According to the PhysicsClassroom.com lesson on “Neutral vs Charged objects”:
Physics Tutorial: Neutral vs. Charged Objects

There are two facts to know of charged objects:

  • An object with excess electrons would have a charge of < 0 coulombs, as an electron has a negative charge.
  • An object with excess protons would have a charge of > 0 coulombs, as a proton has a positive charge.

However, question 8 asks the reader the following:
The amount of charge carried by a lightning bolt is estimated at 10 Coulombs. What quantity of excess electrons is carried by the lightning bolt?

This implies that a lightning bolt has a positive charge of 10 coulombs, so could not have an excess number of electrons. Is this an error in the question, or do we refer to charges as positive irrespective of the sign?

The question is poorly phrased, but I suspect that you are expected to divide 10 Coulombs by the charge in Coulombs per electron to get the number of electrons.

The sign is not important in this case, because for every excess electron, there is an excess positive charge somewhere else. The current flows to reduce both quantities.

Yes, I'm aware of how to complete the question, although what I'm attempting to find out is if the terminology of charge ignores the sign. For example, correctly put the question may say:

... bolt is estimated at MINUS 10 Coulombs....

But in common language, would you expect to to just specify "estimated at 10 Coulombs"?

It says "carried by". The lightning bolt doesn't "hold" a charge. The ionized air conducts electricity something like a wire.

P.S. In case you haven't discovered this yet - When you study physics you'll learn that electrons flow from negative to positive. But, when you study electronics you learn that "conventional current" flows from positive to negative. So... Remember where you are... in "science land" or "engineering land" and try not to confuse electron-flow with the concept of current-flow. ;) (Both disciplines DO agree on which end of a battery is positive!)

I'm aware that the lightning bolt doesn't hold a charge.

If an object holds a negative charge, is it acceptable as this question does, to say it has a charge of 10 coulombs - i.e. omitting the MINUS.

Or

Should a negative charge always specify it is a MINUS 10 coulomb charge for instance, in which case the question should be saying "... bolt is estimated at MINUS 10 Coulombs...."

If an object holds a negative charge, is it acceptable as this question does, to say it has a charge of 10 coulombs - i.e. omitting the MINUS.

No you shouldn't omit the minus sign, especially in a physics class!

in which case the question should be saying "... bolt is estimated at MINUS 10 Coulombs...."

No, as you said, the bolt doesn't have a positive or negative charge. It has a direction of electron-flow and an amount of electrons transferred.

But that direction isn't defined as "positive" or "negative". Of course, if flows from negative to positive.

So because it is talking about flow of charge rather than holding a charge, then we don't say "there is a flow of -10 coulombs", correct?

It seems to me that a coulomb is a unit of measure. Like a liter. You could carry 10 liters of water or you could carry 10 coulombs of protons. You could be carrying 10 mol of protons, which would require a much larger bucket as a mol is 1023 and a coulomb is 1018

I’ve only ever seen electrons counted by the coulomb, but I suppose you could have 10 coulombs of bananas or anything.

Two atoms are walking down the street together. Suddenly one of them stops and starts searching through his pockets. The other one asks “Are you okay?”

“No, I’ve lost an electron!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m positive!”

The number of charges in a Coulomb was determined in order to make the units work out in the SI system of measurement.

1 Volt Coulomb is 1 Joule of energy, 1 Watt is 1 Volt Ampere is 1 Volt Coulomb/second is 1 Joule/second of power, etc.

ILickWindows: However, question 8 asks the reader the following: The amount of charge carried by a lightning bolt is estimated at 10 Coulombs.

Its a great point, yes technically the charge is -10C.

The amount of charge is implicitly unsigned in this question - sometimes we are interested in the sign, sometimes we are not, only the magnitude. By convention magnitudes are usually assumed unless sign or direction is explicitly mentioned.

This question is about a flow of charge, ie a current, and its common to talk of current without caring about the sign. The interesting point is how large the effect is, the direction is a detail that you can figure out if you need to.

Consider another typical style of physics question, in mechanics, talking about momentum transfer. Actually momentum is a vector, so the amount of momentum depends on the direction you specify, but its very common to only care about the magnitude, in which case the direction is not given at all.

Current is a vector, so this is very similar. We often only care about the direction of a current with respect to the direction of a wire, so it becomes a signed quantity (a one-dimensional vector).

Nicola Tesla, Charles P Steinments, and Eric P Dollard along with a few more great electrical engineers all deny the existence of an electron anyway. The person who "discovered" the electron didn't even want to call it that or even call it a particle until he was swayed by fame.