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What are the advantages of closing a question for a specific reason versus just deleting it?

One benefit I can think of, if the question is closed as exact duplicate, is that it provides some referencing value: someone can find the closed question in google, and then go to the original one. This person might not have found the question is the duplicate didn't exist. Is closing instead of deleting, in that case, considered a good practice?

Side question: in what cases should I simply delete my question instead of voting to close it?

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Are you asking only about your own questions, or in general? – Yannis Nov 20 '12 at 11:19
@Yannis I cannot delete questions of other people, by simply voting for close (given my reputation). But I think I still want general guidelines... – pinouchon Nov 20 '12 at 11:21
The thing is that you can't delete your own questions either if they have at least one positively scored answered. If someone took the time to post a valuable answer, it wouldn't be fair for their effort to go to waste. But if the question has no answers, and you can't think of any way to improve it, by all means delete it. – Yannis Nov 20 '12 at 11:23
These are two different questions, and should probably be posted as such if you want to get well-thought-out responses to both of them. – Nightfirecat Nov 20 '12 at 11:27

Closed questions are still findable by search engines. They provide additional keywords for people to the linked questions (they are automatically redirected, IIRC), or indications as to what a bad question looks like.

Note that closed question with a negative score are automatically deleted after a while to maintain site quality, see How does deleting work? What can cause a post to be deleted, and what does that actually mean? What are the criteria for deletion?

As for why you should delete a post, see Do closed questions ever get deleted? and When should I vote to delete?

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And sometimes they have awesome answers. – Yannis Nov 20 '12 at 11:20
@Yannis: the closed posts with awesome answers are usually also locked to prevent deletion (and other mucking about). :-) – Martijn Pieters Nov 20 '12 at 11:25
There's a lot of closed, upvoted questions still out there that is utter crap, unfortunately (at least in the case of Stack Overflow); I can't tell you how many times I've searched for something and the top results are all closed, upvoted questions from Stack Overflow (of course, it pales in comparison to the times that I get exactly what I'm looking for). It's a double-edged sword. – casperOne Nov 20 '12 at 13:32

In following cases you can not delete even your own question:

  • You can't delete answers that have been accepted.
  • You can't delete any question that:
    • has an upvoted answer, or
    • has multiple answers (even if there are no upvotes), or
    • has been closed less than 48 hours ago (to allow for possible reopening)

However, you may choose to vote on your question for closure.

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