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What the FAQ says ...

Okay, so let's imagine I'm completely new to the site, and I have a question closed. However, I think my question is perfectly valid, or I'm totally confused about why that even happened. Nobody cared to write a comment about why it was closed.

I start thinking about it, and I'll try to read the FAQ. Here's what I read:

Questions that are not a good fit for this site may be voted closed by experienced community members. Closed questions cannot be answered, but are eligible for improvement (and eventual re-opening) through editing, voting, and commenting.

Users with 3000 reputation can cast up to 50 close votes per day. When a question reaches 5 close votes, it is marked as closed, and will no longer accept answers. Closed questions may be opened by casting reopen votes in the same manner. However, you may only vote to close or reopen a question once.

To a new member of the site, this may seem

  • overly detailed: The reader might ask, "What do I care if members with reputation over 3k can cast 50 close votes a day?".

  • missing details: The FAQ says, "may be voted closed by experienced community members" and "when a question reaches 5 close votes". This is not always true. In some cases, the question can be closed by a moderator only. From my experience, some moderators are more likely to intervene, while others only step in if there are already some community votes. As the FAQ doesn't even mention that at all, it's confusing.

  • missing guidelines: My question has been closed. Now what? In some cases, the moderator who closed (or one of the five >3k users) might not have even left a comment. The message points to the FAQ, but the FAQ says only little about how one would go and get the question reopened.
    Should the user edit? What should they edit? "Voting"? How? "Commenting"? Should the user start pinging every user who voted to close?

Obviously, there are too many open questions here.


Example

Original question is closed by one binding moderator vote. User posts a new question and says:

the other one was closed because "this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion." So I rephrased it.

They didn't know they had to edit their old question and what to do exactly to have it reopened. The procedure of having a question reopened is clearly insufficiently addressed in the Stack Exchange network's FAQs.


Suggestion

This part of the FAQ should include more information. Here are a few ideas I came up with initially, but go ahead and suggest changes if you like!

As @YannisRizos mentions, it would also make perfect sense to create new page similar to the "How to Ask" and "How to Answer" pages that the "closed" message would then link to, instead of just extending the FAQ for this very special case.

Either way, this is what I think it should look like:

What can I do to get my question reopened?

Carefully read the message below your question. The text should explain why it was closed and point you to the FAQ. In order to have it reopened, you will have to edit your question to meet the standards outlined there. Take into account any constructive comments you received, and read the How to Ask guide.

Once you edited the question accordingly, you may use the "flag" link to inform a moderator about your changes.

They will judge if the question is worth reopening. Similarly, users with 3000 reputation can cast a "reopen" vote, which behave the same as close votes.

You can also visit Meta to post a "reopen request".

What should I not do?

Do not post the question again. Chances are it will be closed too, and also possibly deleted. You always need to fix your closed question first.

share|improve this question
    
This was adapted from a MSU post that did receive 15 upvotes, but nothing ever happened there. –  slhck Jan 26 '12 at 13:27
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Counter proposal: Instead of altering the FAQ, we could expand your suggestion to a full blown "how to get my question re-opened" guide, in similar vein to the "how to ask" and "how to answer" help pages, and link to it on each close notification (and on the FAQ, obviously). How to re-open a question doesn't really belong in the FAQ, as it's information that only becomes interesting & useful after a question is closed. Me thinks. –  Yannis Jan 26 '12 at 13:52
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@YannisRizos I really like that idea! If the close message was changed accordingly, this would totally make sense. Added it to the question. –  slhck Jan 26 '12 at 13:54
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No kind of phrasing is ever going to make everybody happy that their question got closed. Make it too broad and they'll complain it isn't detailed enough. Make it detailed and they'll complain that their question doesn't match any detail to the letter. What's there has worked for 3 years. –  Uphill Luge Jan 26 '12 at 14:16
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@UphillLuge I don't think it works. We've seen plenty of users who just re-post their question instead of editing, or go ahead and write comments under their question without ever addressing somebody, therefore never getting a response. This list can be continued. As a new user I wouldn't know what to do. –  slhck Jan 26 '12 at 14:22
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@UphillLuge Although I see your point, it would be extremely helpful to have a single point of reference to guide users to. The point is not so much to make everybody happy, but the apparent information gap. A guide would help us be a bit more efficient, as we won't have to waste any time re-iterating the basic re-open process to every newer user. Some will still complain, but hopefully some will take the advice and try to improve their questions on their own. –  Yannis Jan 26 '12 at 14:29
    
@UphillLuge As a sidenote: What's worked for SO for 3 years, won't necessarily work for every other site on the network, especially the ones where subjective questions are welcome. And vice versa. –  Yannis Jan 26 '12 at 14:31
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@yannis I am strongly opposed to such a page, as I believe it is a recipe for endless whining and a manifesto for "I done been wronged" attitudes. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 27 '12 at 8:48

3 Answers 3

Problem: People don't pay attention:

The problem is that users who post questions that end up being closed are likely not paying attention. They manage to get through every single barrier and/or guide-rail that the system puts in front of them, and they still post a bad question.

Let's postpone the debate for a moment about whether or not users should read. Let's just assume we want to fix the problem, and to do this, we have to think like a new user. ;)

The first thing these users see when their question is closed is this really big banner with big text that says the following:

closed as not constructive

Sure, there's text below it that says the question can still be reopened, and there's a link to the FAQ, but this really large text on the post notice drowns out the information that's more important. Remember, most new users aren't paying attention. In short, the large text "closed" implies a bit more permanence, whether or not this was intended or not.

In many forums, a post is closed after a certain amount of time, and closed forum posts rarely, if ever, get reopened. In the forum world, "closed" means "this is done; it's finished", whereas on Stack Exchange, we've redefined closed to mean something that is a bit more temporary.


Question "Review" Queue:

Someone said before that closing a question is analogous to the moderator review queues that some forums have before you can post. Google Groups is like this. Before I could post on the WebRTC group, my first post had to be approved. If what I wrote had something wrong with it, then it wasn't going to be posted. Most people get this, but on Stack Exchange, things are done differently, and people that haven't been exposed to it face a bit of a learning curve.

So, if a closed question is really analogous to being pushed into a review queue, so to speak, then let's change the language so that it makes more sense to someone who is new to Stack Exchange. Unless there's going to be a Stack Exchange school or course that users must go through, we're always going to face people who haven't fully understood the process before posting. Here is a proposed post notice for closed questions, one that highlights solutions:

Question Needs Improvement

This question is not constructive. Want to fix it? Learn more...

When the question is closed, only show the above in the post notice. Don't show any more information. Less is more. The "Want to fix it" link should work very similar to the "expand" links in the FAQ. If the user decides to fix the post, and he/she clicks "Want to fix it", then expand a small section with the remaining post notice:

This question can be edited and fixed, based on feedback from the community. Review the comments left by experienced users, and make sure you address those points via [edits] to your post.

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, and you need more guidance, see the FAQ.


Simpler Solution:

At the very least, if adding an expansion to the post notice isn't a good idea, then at least reword what's on the post notice so that the action items come first:

temporarily closed as not constructive

If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ. However, as it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

share|improve this answer
    
Good points. Note that my primary intention was to have a written explanation for those people who do want to read, who do improve their questions but never get them reopened because simply no one finds out about their improvements in the first place if they don't flag for moderator attention or post on Meta. At least that's how it was on Super User. Now that we have a reopen queue, my suggestions have become somewhat irrelevant, but we still need to find a better way to convey, "Hey, if you do improve your post, we'll consider reopening it!". –  slhck Oct 20 '12 at 8:22
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@slhck - Sure, and I think that adding more details is necessary, but not all at once. Keep the message simple at first. No more than a sentence or one line at first. If we overwhelm people with a wall of text without warning, their fight or flight response gets triggered. But if we first whet their curiosity with a short, brief action item, then we may mentally prepare them for a bit more information in bite-sized chunks, possibly even the page you've proposed in the question body. ;) The main ideas to take from this is to start off simple, and not start off with CLOSED! Muahahahaha! –  jmort253 Oct 20 '12 at 8:27

The help center article titled "What if I disagree with the closure of a question? How can I reopen it?" now goes into more detail than the old FAQ entry did. It does not explicitly instruct users to flag their revised posts for moderator attention, as that's not necessary a lot of times (especially now that any substantial edit places a closed question in a review queue to be considered for reopening), but there's more information about how and why a question might be closed, as well as some more specific guidance on what to do about it.


As I mentioned in an answer to a different question about closing, this is a problem that we're aware of and working on. We're exploring our options and trying to come up with a solution that will be clear, easy, and useful; the problem is not quite as simple as your question makes it seem. Sure, we could just add more text to the already long FAQ section...but honestly, very, very few people ever read the faq, even if they have a specific problem that could be solved by reading it.

This is a twofold problem:

  1. We need to find a better way to encourage users who vote to close to leave a helpful comment explaining exactly why the question is a bad fit for SE (which part of the scope does it violate, how is it too localized, etc.), and
  2. We need to motivate users whose questions are closed to come back and improve them when possible.

The latter is pretty difficult issue; if a question is closed, it's often because the asker isn't familiar with the scope of the site, or they mistake SE for a general forum (ask questions that don't fit our format). For those users, do we first try to teach them how to get their question reopened and then hope that they'll read another page about what questions are on- and off-topic, or do we try to get them to understand the scope of the site and the SE philosophy before telling them how to possibly get their question reopened? They're both really important goals, but most people will not care enough to get through two separate tutorials/walk-throughs.

Your proposed FAQ changes aren't bad, but you fall into your own complaint of it being "overly detailed". Jeff's points about the wall of text and encouraging whining remain valid. Additionally, the part about "do not post your question again" isn't really necessary; if someone posts a question that is identical to one that they previously posted and was closed, it should come as no surprise that the question is closed a second time. If the question is posted in a new, better form, though, that's totally fine - closed questions are supposed to be deleted eventually anyway, so this shouldn't cause too much clutter.

I appreciate you bringing this issue to our attention again; it is definitely a part of the user experience that needs improvement. Unfortunately, I cannot promise you an immediate, concrete solution, but I can tell you that it's being discussed and we hope to fix it soon.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for the input. In fact I think the "reopen" queue gives users a fair chance to have their questions reopened by just clicking the reopen link and waiting, but that came after I placed the bounty on this. Anyway, you're right of course. I just had a few cases in mind where a user really would like to have their question reopened and would be open to read any About/FAQ page given to him but couldn't even find a single word of how it'd actually work. For the other cases of people who can't bother to read, well … –  slhck Oct 18 '12 at 14:56
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@slhck Yup, the reopen queue should help with part of this problem, but you still have a valid point. We've been putting a lot of effort lately into reworking our instructional materials (like the new /about page on our Ask Patents site), but we can always do better. Having well-reasoned discussions on meta to inform our redesigns is always helpful. –  Laura Oct 18 '12 at 15:06

I appreciate what you're proposing here, but I feel this would make the problem worse, not better.

First, the existing text does cover this:

Questions that are not a good fit for this site may be voted closed by experienced community members. Closed questions cannot be answered, but are eligible for improvement (and eventual re-opening) through editing, voting, and commenting.

What you wrote isn't bad, but it has two problems.

  1. It is a "wall o' text". If the user can't read and comprehend the above simple sentence, the odds of them reading and comprehending 3+ paragraphs more, is slim to none.

  2. It enables whining. Because it starts with "my question is valid" and goes on to say "your question might have been unfairly closed! here's how you can complain about it to anyone who will listen!" it will cause no end of friction. The reality is that most questions are closed because they were NOT, in fact, valid. So getting users into this "I done been wronged!" mindset is a very bad idea.

I am open to some refinement of the text that is there, but

  1. No walls of text.

  2. No whining or enabling whining.

Here's my proposed change:

Questions that are not a good fit for this site may be voted closed by experienced community members. Closed questions cannot be answered, but are eligible for improvement (and eventual re-opening) through editing, voting, and commenting. See How to Ask for guidance on editing your question to improve it.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for the input. My primary concern always was that there's no definite guideline on how to even get something reopened. I can see where you're coming from – I removed the wall of text and included some pictures from the FAQ. –  slhck Jan 27 '12 at 8:18
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still not agreeing with this; it's like a "here's how to complain" recipe. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 27 '12 at 8:28
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How would you phrase it then? The whole point is that there must be a way to have a question reopened once it is fixed. I'm talking about users who are perfectly able to express themselves and just need a second chance. It's not about complaining before. Most of the people that would just complain wouldn't even care to 1) read the FAQ and 2) edit their question accordingly. They'd just insult, post again, or move on. –  slhck Jan 27 '12 at 8:31
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@slhck see my proposed change, above, in bold. Remember the typical clueless 1 rep user asking a closed Q won't have the ability to flag (requires 15 rep) or post on meta (requires 5 rep). –  Jeff Atwood Jan 27 '12 at 8:46
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That's concise, and pretty good. I think there's a huge difference though in the way reopening "just works" on SO, due to the large traffic and the number of users with the necessary privilege. They will probably "just see" a fixed question without needing the OP to intervene. On SU, however, very few questions are reopened once they're closed – even if they're bumped to the front page –, and in many cases, a moderator has to step in to review. In these cases, they'll just stick around closed forever. –  slhck Jan 27 '12 at 8:51
    
@slhck this added sentence is live on all sites now. superuser.com/faq#close –  Jeff Atwood Jan 28 '12 at 18:17
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So, with the newest podcast episode out (#33), your team seems to agree that questions being closed don't encourage much except for users to just walk away and never come back and fix them. It would be about time to give those who want to improve a real chance and at least tell them how they can have their questions reopened — especially (or at least) on lower traffic sites where no one really votes to reopen anyway. –  slhck Oct 15 '12 at 19:57

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