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I'm a pro-tem moderator at Writers.SE. I’ll start by saying that closing questions is one of the critical tools for an SE beta moderator. I’m sure this statement is widely agreed upon; I’ll only belabor the point a tad further: while on an established, healthy site, closing questions is “merely” crucial maintenance, for a fledgling beta whose direction and conventions are still being formed and tested, the importance of weeding out poor, misdirected content increases sevenfold.

As discussed previously, closing a question is often perceived as discouraging. On StackOverflow and other established sites, that’s been considered an acceptable consequence or an outright desirable one. This feature request is specifically for SE sites still in Beta, where I think the problem is far more acute.

Why Beta is different

Betas are trying to draw new members from outside the SE/programming community. For SO and other established sites, it's perfectly reasonable to expect (and require) that users read the FAQ, track comments, take the time to understand what's going on and how the system works. But Betas’ explicit goal is to attract new users from diverse fields. Naturally, we’re going to have lots of potential users who might be very interested in what an SE in their field might grow to be, but who might also take a while to understand how it works and what it’s all about. The concepts of a strict Q&A site, of a gamified resource, of the SE tools and conventions, of each site’s goals and guidelines, will be new and unfamiliar to them - and they deserve a bit of slack. On Betas, being less welcoming is significantly more harmful than on established sites.

Betas have low traffic and few questions. While they’re building up steam, many SE Betas just aren’t that active yet. They’re very eager for new questions and new members - perhaps overly eager - and able to put in effort to be encouraging. Under such circumstances, many will prefer being welcoming and helpful over being decisive and efficient. This creates a disconnect between the moderators and the community, with the community shying away from close-voting, and the mods needing to close on their own authority without community backup. My own romping grounds, Writers.SE, which still has very low active membership, certainly suffers from this. If closing questions did not come across as so discouraging, I think dedicated community members would be much more willing to vote to close, restoring community involvement to what it should be.

Betas are still resolving what constitutes a “good question”. Another reason dedicated members are often wary of closing is because Betas are not yet fully defined. When closing feels harsh and final, and a question feels “borderline” or “pretty close,” members hesitate to close since they’re not sure there’s cause. Since SE is so strict on what isn’t allowed, people are slow to go beyond that and close things that might be legitimate.

However, IMHO, these are precisely the questions that most need closing - they need reworking to bring them out of the borderline status, to make them actual worthwhile questions. But heroic edits take time and effort; they don’t happen right away. The result is that members are most uncomfortable with precisely the judgement calls and the constructive editing that are the most crucial to the site - they’re not encouraged to distinguish between kinda-acceptable and actually-good. So here too, the unready nature of Betas seem to demand a closing option that’s more encouraging and less harsh.

What I’d like to see

I want to see Beta SE’s get some form of friendlier close option - to be precise, something less discouraging. Every time I close a question, I need to explain that despite appearances, the question can be edited and improved, and we’d be happy if OP does so (+ specific comments). I want this to be part of the system, not to seem at odds with it. Examples of solutions:

A “Needs Work” Close Option that could be selected when casting a close vote. Text could be along the lines of:

This question in its current form is a poor fit for the Q&A format of StackExchange. You may be able to edit it; an improved, more appropriate question may be reopened. Please see individual comments posted to your question.

This tiny snippet is something every SE user knows - and something newcomers don’t. This makes a world of difference in the presentation of a closing, at least to the well-meaning enthusiasts who will be interested in learning about the site with just a little encouragement.

Other options I can think of include:

  • introductory text for every close, which would let us have this introduction in addition to existing (meaningful) close reasons (however, this kind of assumes all closes are “friendly” closes), and/or
  • changing the [closed] designation to [improvement] or [needs work], at least for an initial period, possibly only if a certain option was chosen when closing; this presents closing in a much friendlier light.

Again, I’m suggesting these changes only for sites in Beta.

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Isn't that just "Not a Real Question"? Agreed "Needs Work" is an improvement, but it would be conflicting with the current NARQ reason. You might be interested in this post I did earlier. I don't understand your first point about Beta being different from the programming community. Why don't the improvements you suggest apply to new SO users? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 20:13
    
@StevenJeuris; I understood resistance to softening close language (in previous proposals) to have been declined partially on the basis of "closed questions aren't a place to coddle newcomers; they're poor questions which we actively want to discourage. people worthwhile enough to participate will either avoid close-worthy questions to begin with, or read up on the system afterwards and understand his mistake. we don't need to Show the Light to every passerby here." And I agree - for established sites. There, quality is more important than being welcoming. On Betas, the balance is different. –  Ziv Mar 11 '12 at 22:18
    
Oh I see, so that mainly comes down to your second point then "low traffic". Agreed, a site which is still growing might benefit from being a bit 'nicer'. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 22:19

2 Answers 2

I'm open to making close reasons more friendly, but I don't think that it would be enough to achieve what you want. They're still very general and new users might be confused what exactly they did wrong.

What you should do (and are probably already doing) as a moderator on a beta site is to comment on every single question you close, there's even an automatic flag on beta sites nagging us mods to do that. In that comment I usually explicitly mention what the user needs to do to get the question reopened if I think it is salvageable. A tailored comment is IMHO more helpful than fiddling with the close reason, which has to be very general and cannot be as helpful as a manual comment.

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We're already doing that, rest assured. :) That's definitely necessary for what I'm aiming for. But, in the 'closed question' presentation, comments are the last thing you see - after the [closed] marker and the big yellow text box explaining that the question is unsuitable. It's only whatever the users write that's friendly - and that gives off a bad vibe about the system. Closing is a mechanism, so paying attention to the mechanism's tone and tenor is important - not just doing damage control afterwards. –  Ziv Mar 11 '12 at 19:54
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My impression is that nobody reads the close reason anyway, they only see a big [closed] on their question. There is certainly room for improvement in the text, but I doubt that it would help all that much –  Mad Scientist Mar 11 '12 at 19:55
    
@Fabian, you might have a point, perhaps the close reason should be written first, only followed by Closed. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 20:17
    
People read the close reason when they see something in it they can use as ammunition against the closer(s). –  Neil Fein May 18 '12 at 5:09

That is what the "not constructive" closing reason is about, as it is described using the following sentence:

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format.

The rest of the description for the proposed closing reason applies to any closed questions: If a question is closed as duplicate, and there are not answers, the OP could edit to make clear it's not a duplicate, or to make clear in which points the question is different from the previous question; the same is true for an off-topic question.

An introductory text is already given for the closed questions, which contains a link to the FAQ. (The images are links to the part of the FAQ linked from the closing text.)

screenshot

 

screenshot

 

screenshot

In beta sites, the off-topic questions are still being defined; the link given for the first closing reason could shown a page that is too generic to let the new users understand that off-topic questions are still going to be defined, and that they can ask on the meta site if their question suits the site. As it is now, the FAQ for a beta site that doesn't report which questions are on-topic/off-topic is like the following one:

screenshot

The FAQ suggests the users to look around to see which questions can be asked; the link takes to the search page.

I don't think there is anything else that would require a specific solution for beta sites.

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"Not constructive" is a very nonconstructive explanation for somebody who is new to the idea that content should be a constructive, practical question rather than the start of a discussion. You won't find a general text that's more apt - but you will find the specific comments in response to that question to be extremely useful. So labeling the question "not constructive" is much more off-putting than "This question isn't a good match, but it could be." –  Ziv Mar 11 '12 at 20:08
    
Furthermore, the FAQ gives bullet points. They're a great summary. They don't magically enable posters to understand a gestalt that SE's been developing for years. It's helpful; it's not sufficient, and it's not as friendly an introduction as "hey, we'd like to make your question work here!". –  Ziv Mar 11 '12 at 20:09
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In that case, the description given for the "not constructive" closing reason should be changed in all the SE sites, not just beta sites. There are still new users, even when the site graduated, and those users could get the wrong feeling even in graduated sites such as Drupal Answers. If the descriptions need improvements, those should be implemented for any SE sites. –  kiamlaluno Mar 11 '12 at 20:13
    
SO and others can afford to be strict; it's high-level and being strict keeps up the existing quality and prevents poor content from overwhelming member attention. They can say, 'you want to join, read up and figure it out' - they're not trying to cater to people new to the system; new folks have the responsibility to catch up. A new site that hasn't solidified its direction nor its membership yet - not so much. –  Ziv Mar 11 '12 at 22:10

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