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When closing a question as Not a Real Question (NARQ) it looks as follows:

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. See the FAQ.

Closing questions is often badly received by the OP, which isn't that surprising really. Let's try to analyze how they could possibly (mis)interpret it.

At least help me, what am I doing wrong?


Don't know they can still edit



Everybody who has spent a considerable amount of time on the SE network knows a question closed as NARQ can be reopened after the OP improves it. Let's see which indications somebody unfamiliar with the SE network has.

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. See the FAQ.

This starts out negative, confronting the user with a list of terrible things they could have done wrong. At this point the user might already be losing interest to continue reading, let alone read the FAQ. Only at the very end, there is any indication of hope. After users read the FAQ they are presented with the following:

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.

I believe a minor change of the close reason text could do wonders. Start out positive, then state what went wrong.

Unfortunately in its current form it's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is either ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical. Unless it is edited it cannot be reasonably answered. See the FAQ for guidance on how to improve it.

Sure, it is a bit longer. But from my own experience stating it like that goes a long way in setting the mood prior to discussing on how to improve the question.

share|improve this question
@MarkTrapp a feature-request which is a duplicate of a discussion? You might be confusing the two. Thanks for the link though, I seemingly up voted that one already. However, it was declined because "declining the specific request, because we aren't renaming closed." I don't intend to rename 'closed'. Before you reply, consider rereading your comment here. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 4:23
At least help me, what am I doing wrong? -- Read the FAQ. Attacked/Insulted -- Read the FAQ. Don't know they can still edit -- Read the FAQ. Injustice -- Read the FAQ. Ignorant -- Read the FAQ, and How to Ask. Look at other people's questions, listen and learn. This isn't rocket science. –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 5:05
@RobertHarvey No it isn't, it's called politeness. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 5:08
Thanks for those links, I had quite a few downvotes left to give out today on SO. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 5:09
You know what's really rude? People who come here to Meta asking why they can't ask questions anymore, and they didn't even bother clicking the link we provide that explains why. Or worse, asking their question here on meta because they are blocked and cannot ask their question on Stack Overflow. That's not being victimized; its being lazy. You can't fix that, no matter how you change the words. –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 5:10
[sigh] This just screams political correctness. The problem with "being positive" is it's patently dishonest. If someone's full of shit, I'm going to tell them. I'm going to be polite about it, but I'm still going to tell them. That's being negative, no matter how you spin it. –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 5:36
What is wrong about Mark's retagging? I was about to do the same. That question was originally mistagged. The fact that it was marked status-declined is the evidence of it. You don't decline "discussions". –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 5:44
@StevenJeuris Perhaps you could consider that—in your short stay on Stack Exchange so far—you haven't quite become the master of Stack Exchange you make yourself out to be and that, instead of freaking out when people disagree, you could learn from others with more experience than you. These repeated "requests" and "discussions" of yours are as frivolous as they are tedious. This request has already been made. Numerous times. Please search before attempting to reinvent the wheel. –  user149432 Mar 11 '12 at 5:48
I don't understand what Mark's comment has to do with your point. Are you sure you linked to the right one? Yes, that request was considered and rejected. No one is arguing about that. Mark doesn't say that you should consider the request addressed and post a new feature request. Yeah, he probably did leave it out because it wasn't a concrete feature request and rather he was attempting to invite discussion about what should be done. But the devs considered it and decided that nothing should be done, hence denying all possible feature requests. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 5:50
No, they just recognized that it was mistagged and added the status-declined tag anyway, since only moderators can add that tag. Anyone can retag the question to feature-request. Not everything is a conspiracy here... People who are willing to exert a little bit of effort actually do understand what is going on. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 6:06
One simple reason to agree to this request is consistency. Why would you first list 5 possible reasons for closing it, then follow it with "Read the FAQ." If you really want to be so efficient and minimalist why not say "Bad question - see FAQ!" If you can draw out the whole "ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical " then it follows that you can explain why we should bother with any FAQ. But of course, I must give credit here for my ideas - All my ideas were given to me by my great Elder-spokesman - J-Skeet. Thank You Very Much, goodday –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 7:49
I disagree with starting out positive - the reason why the question is closed is because is there is something wrong with it, and people need to know that. Agree with the rest though –  Pëkka Mar 11 '12 at 12:17
@Pekka Thank you for your comment. So you feel it's less obvious something is wrong with the question the way I formulate it? Is it that it sounds apolegetic as Cody Gray pointed out? What part could people interpret wrongly? Are you afraid they won't continue reading and not have been told something is wrong with it at all? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 13:47
I'm all for being polite in comments, but I don't see the point in starting out positive in a system message when what happened is clearly negative. I realize the close message is different from, say, a command line "permission denied": it's a mixture between a social interaction, and a system message. Still - if they are offended by the way the message is put currently, SO will not be the site for them anyway. I do agree the message can be improved though: the part about "you can edit and then you have a chance to get it reopened" does not come across clearly enough. –  Pëkka Mar 11 '12 at 15:46
+1 solely for See the FAQ for guidance on how to improve it.. There's no need for unfortunately or similar weasel words. –  sarnold Mar 12 '12 at 1:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 20 down vote accepted

The next deploy will add "See the FAQ for guidance on how to improve it" to the close text.

share|improve this answer
How about prefixing the message with "You need to edit this into shape."? Or something equivalent. –  Benjol Mar 12 '12 at 11:04
As the reply to Pekka's comment: "I appreciate the common ground we found, there is indeed no way I know of currently to prove my point that the end result would be any better. It's just an assumption that less frustration would lead to more understanding." Thank you for implementing the part that we do agree on! –  Steven Jeuris Mar 12 '12 at 11:27
@Benjol: into shape What shape? Hence, the deployed sentence will work better. –  Tom Wijsman Mar 12 '12 at 16:16
@Tom, I'm not saying replace everything with that, but I suggest prefixing immediately with the solution. You only need to read 4 small words into my proposition to know what you need to do. Then if you want to know why or how you read further. Or you give up, but at least you give up knowing what you gave up on :) –  Benjol Mar 12 '12 at 20:46
The updated message is a great improvement! Unfortunately 'either' didn't make it in there. :-( –  Steven Jeuris Mar 12 '12 at 22:29
@StevenJeuris either isn't necessary, it's already "or". Either implies that it's only one of those things, and it's often the case that it's many of those things –  Ben Brocka Jul 21 '12 at 16:16

It seems like the real problem you're trying to solve is that people don't know that a closed question can be re-opened. In my experience, I suppose I'd have to agree that this is a problem.

But I think the fix is a lot simpler than what you propose. We don't need to double the length of the message or invert the order of its sentences. Yes, it starts out negative; that's because it is in response to a negative condition. For clarity, you always lead with the problem(s). The solutions come second.

If the person isn't interested in reading on (as you suggest), then they're probably beyond help. They're not going to take the time to read the FAQ, improve their question, and get it re-opened. And I'm not even sure that I want to invest time in making it easier and less painful for these people. You have to at least try to help yourself.

The only issue I have with it is that "See the FAQ" sounds like "RTFM". I suppose that's kind of the point, but we could make that a little bit nicer while simultaneously conveying the message that a closed question can be edited and re-opened once improved. All we'd have to do is add the following ending:

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. See the FAQ for guidance on how to improve it.

Your formulations, including words like "unfortunately" and "unless", make it sound like we're apologizing for closing a badly written or inappropriate question. I oppose that. It's not our fault that their question was closed, it's their fault for asking a bad question. Neither the close voters nor the SE network has anything to apologize for, and the message shouldn't be written in such a way that it sounds regretful.

share|improve this answer
It's not clear from that wording that you can edit a closed question as opposed to reasking it, which creates a duplicate. Meh, most users who have difficulty formulating a clear question are (for whatever reason) not capable of editing it into shape so that it's a good question anyway. –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 5:20
They might be beyond help, but that doesn't prevent them from leaving behind a comment and stating dissatisfaction. It's not making anything easier, it's just ensuring that a higher percentage of people end up on the FAQ. What particularly is the problem against the other part of my suggestion? It's not twice the length, and even if, as you state "If the person isn't interested in reading on (as you suggest), then they're probably beyond help.". I see no arguments against stating it nicer. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 5:22
@Steven: Maybe we should block them from leaving comments until they've made an edit, then? Also, see the last paragraph; I probably added it since you refreshed. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 5:23
@CodyGray Definitely a nice idea! When they do attempt to comment, they could be linked to the FAQ first. Also better only do this for users < certain rep. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 5:24
@StevenJeuris: Can you review this question, and comment on my approach? –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 5:25
@RobertHarvey I'm discussing NARQ here, not too localized. I don't see how that is on topic in general to this discussion either, if you would have closed it as NARQ. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 5:27
Really? So you think the "Too Localized" close reason is clear enough, but the NaRQ close reason isn't. My point is, I left a comment directing him to a more detailed resource. I'm quite certain there's a similar one on Meta for NaRQ. –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 5:29
@CodyGray Oh ... I wouldn't have down voted prior to reading that last paragraph. :/ I don't find 'Unfortunately' apologetic. Any more suitable suggestions? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 5:31
@RobertHarvey No, I believe discussing topics with a small enough scope reduces ambiguity. The entire Q&A system revolves around that fact. NARQ revolves around that fact. I'd appreciate it if you stayed on topic, thank you. A question which is too localized also has lower chance of being reopened, that's why NARQ deserves separate treatment. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 5:34
adding "for guidance on how to improve it." to the end seems quite sensible to me. But bear in mind as @robert has noted, the more words you put on the page, the less likely it is anyone will read them, particularly the less clueful users who tend to run into this. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 11 '12 at 8:40
@JeffAtwood It's the same reasoning I use to start out with friendly/encouraging words. I've been in enough heated discussions to know a difference in wording can do wonders. If they enter the FAQ with positive thoughts, chances are they'll read it more thoroughly as well. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 11:24
I'm thinking adding something along the lines "you can edit your question, and the community can vote for it to be re-opened." might do good, just to make it perfectly clear how to proceed. –  Pëkka Mar 11 '12 at 12:24
@StevenJeuris: Follow up to stackoverflow.com/questions/9652648. Not only do people not read, they don't appear to listen either. –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 15:50
@RobertHarvey Yes, I'm certain there is no way that user might come to meta now asking why his question got deleted. Brilliantly solved. As to why that comment wasn't relevant at all, Read this. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 16:02
@steven you're just obfuscating the meaning at that point. I strongly oppose adding vague words at the beginning. The best policy is to be clear and direct starting from... the start. People who are somehow turned away or offended by clear and direct words -- well, that's [status-by-design]. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 11 '12 at 21:23

Negative instructions are paralyzing. Somebody new to SE will hear 'NO'. Period. Some will leave and never come back.

The alternative wording of Steven Jeuris is pretty good IMO.

Unfortunately (for you)

Unless you make a change (you're question will stay closed.)

That's not apologizing, it's politely guiding. Let's assume that most of the new SE users are interested in asking great questions.

Here's an alternative:

Currently, this question is either ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical. It can be reopened after editing. See the FAQ for guidance on how to improve it.

Edit: Let me propose something 'novel'. Instead of arguing against or in favor, let's do an experiment. The current wording has been around for some time now. Let's put Steven's wording up for trial during one month, and my wording for another month an compare statistics.

share|improve this answer
Can you show me even one or two people who have left never to come back as a response to their questions being closed? Because I've never actually seen that happen. In fact, my experience has always been the complete opposite. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 8:50
@CodyGray, there is a query for 'closed users that stayed'. But there is no query for 'closed users that left'. Would be interesting to compare the numbers. At any rate, removing obstacles will increase the user base. At least, according to Joel Spolsky. –  GUI Junkie Mar 11 '12 at 9:12
@CodyGray Here's one from a couple of weeks ago. In my experience on Programmers, I'd say once a month or so someone mostly accepted the closure of their question but left a comment to the effect of "sorry I won't waste any more of your time". –  user149432 Mar 11 '12 at 9:13
Some people are so used to seeing bad questions that they are being 'rude for brevity'. –  GUI Junkie Mar 11 '12 at 9:28
I think Programmers.SE is an entirely different case, but I've had that discussion elsewhere and it isn't a constructive one, so I don't want to have it again. I was hoping to discuss Stack Overflow. And I tried those queries you linked, but all of them time out for me. Not sure what I'm doing wrong... :-( I think you're misinterpreting Joel's essay; it doesn't apply here. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 9:40
I think the query is not very good and the number of users/questions is very big. I think Joel's words apply for all software for the general public. Look at Trello. Let's look at it from a different point of view. The current wording is like a slap in the face, not too hard to knock you down, but it hurts. Some people will show the other cheek, others won't even feel the pain, and others will cry and hide in their rooms. Changing the wording can motivate people. –  GUI Junkie Mar 11 '12 at 9:51
@CodyGray Obviously it's hard to measure users 'who have left never to come back'. I hope you realize because you can't 'see' them, it doesn't mean they might not exist. How would you be able to tell? Let those users who do leave a comment behind be an indication. E.g. Mark's referenced post. Let's also try to extrapolate from enraged comments, e.g. some of the ones I link to in my question, that it is possible for them not to come back. To search for these users before, I wanted to do a query on 'question closed, last post of user, no comments left behind'. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 11:30
@CodyGray Why doesn't Joel's essay apply here? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 11:32
@GUIJunkie - excellent idea to "beta-test" these messages, and see the results. –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 15:08
@Adel but how would you find out the results? How do you measure the number of people who turn away from SO and never return because of the close message? –  Pëkka Mar 11 '12 at 15:41
@Pekka - I was thinking along the lines of the overall "closed- question - to - active-question" ratio. Or perhaps there are some advanced SQL queries that can show the proportion of a newbie's closed-to-successful ratio(i.e, maybe user123, in his first 6 months, had 2 questions closed and 4 were left open) . If we get these statistics, then I believe we can safely conclude that we are reducing the number of full-on quitters (at least we will feel reasonably confident that we are improving overall performance). Thanks for the question Pekka ! –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 15:52
@Pekka Those are the right questions to ask. ;p Thank you. Unfortunately there is no way to know whether or not those metrics would convince anyone. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 16:10
+1 solely for your proposed replacement text; the unfortunately is just too far for me. (It might be very fortunate for us that the question is closed and/or deleted.) But your replacement text seems fair enough. –  sarnold Mar 12 '12 at 1:01
Guys, would you mind doing your Cody vs Steven somewhere else. Thanks. –  GUI Junkie Mar 12 '12 at 11:50
Stop it, you just made me cry! –  GUI Junkie Mar 12 '12 at 18:18

We did tweak the language of the close reasons again about 6-8 weeks ago to try to be more helpful - more specifically, we tried to call attention to the fact that editing the question is encouraged and could help get the question reopened. The close reasons now look like this:

exact duplicate

This question covers exactly the same content as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question.

off topic

Questions on Stack Overflow are expected to relate to programming or software development within the scope defined in the FAQ. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about closed questions here.

not constructive

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, see the FAQ for guidance.

not a real question

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, see the FAQ.

too localized

This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. For help making this question more broadly applicable, see the FAQ.

share|improve this answer

When I read the Close message aloud, the juxtaposition of that long sentence - "This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form" with "SEETHEFAQ" sounds almost like this mean bully that started yelling at me a whole laundry list of insults, then finished it with "And F&*# YOU!" ..

It's more rough than needed(Even the vague "not a real question" is rough, but nevermind that). And I know we're not the Miss Manners or nursery-rhyme club, but the closing message certainly can be... more diplomatic and clear(and without being politically correct or hand-holding). I do like Cody's suggestion in another answer, to explain the purpose of seeing our faq.

One other note: Having a question "Closed" hurts regardless. It really can be the last-straw if someone is desperately trying to seek help. We may be tough and strong, but let's remember we are human too(and we're a bit too male-dominated btw ). It seems logical to explain the benefit of seeing our FAQ. Especially since the rejected-user just spent five minutes debating whether his question was shut because it was vague or ambiguous.

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...except that the message doesn't yell, and it's entirely correct. I don't see any problem with the first part. That "laundry list" of issues accurately describes your question if it has been closed as "not a real question". Whether you choose to take things you read on the Internet as personally insulting, well that's up to you. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 6:36
That close reason has been here in it's present form for literally years, and now it's too rough? –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 6:39
Sure we know the Internet is harsh & all, but assume for a moment that an old grandma majoring in computer science just started asking here. Does it cost us too much to be a little more diplomatic, and accurate too? –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 6:42
@RobertHarvey - If you just Read it aloud - you'll see what I mean. You have a 36-syllable sentence followed by a 4-syllable one. It's definitely a bit jarring, how the curt "SEE THE FAQ" sounds. –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 6:43
If "See the FAQ" is the only problem, I favor Cody Gray's change: "See the FAQ for suggestions on how to improve it." I don't favor any other change for the sake of politeness, though, largely because I don't believe the close reason is impolite. It's a simple statement of fact, nothing more. –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 6:48
I think it's even more insulting and insensitive to imply that an elderly woman with a computer science degree would be overly-sensitive and have her feelings hurt easily by something that she read online, or even more so that we should structure the site differently so as to uniquely accommodate her. –  Cody Gray Mar 11 '12 at 6:49
@CodyGray - Point taken... however, you already agree that "See the FAQ" is , by itself, somewhat lacking. Then we agree on the whole, I think. In any case , Thank You Very Much gentlemen. I have a wrist to rest. g'night –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 6:52
@RobertHarvey If you find that argument valid, the following one is as well: Forums have been there for decades, and now we need Stack Exchange? (Just in case, of course that isn't valid ...) Yes, the close reason states a fact. A fact which often goes entirely against what the OP feels. Bringing this message across in a polite way helps in getting it across at all. Image I replied you here with "Your argument is a fallacy. Read this and this." –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 14:03
@CodyGray - Let's remember that many people don't even recognize FAQ the acronym –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 14:56
@Adel I did not know that. :) I'm guessing they will argue those aren't the people we want to welcome here. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 15:54
@StevenJeuris - Sigh... I know, it's quite the uphill battle; but it is a noble cause, to pad the fall of the newbies. –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 16:00
@StevenJeuris: That's a nice straw man you have there. My point is that people seems to have been doing fine with the close reason in its present form for quite some time. –  Robert Harvey Mar 11 '12 at 16:09
Excuse my ignorance - what is a straw man ? –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 16:41
@Adel An argument that addresses a weaker, less cogent version of someone else's position, leaving the original, stronger, more cogent version unaddressed. –  user149432 Mar 11 '12 at 22:22
@MarkTrapp - thanks for this useful information! If it's a straw man argument, though, it's subtle . Because ... Just curious - Wasn't this website started in August 2008 ? Four years doesn't seem very long to me. The other point is - why not try it out, and see how it goes? It's quite a tiny addition(suffixing the FAQ part), all-in-all. It certainly doesn't hurt anyone. Thank You So Much –  Adel Mar 11 '12 at 22:49

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