It irks me every time I vote to close a bad question as "Not a real question" when it is in fact a properly formed interrogative statement, just one not appropriate to the site in question.

Could we please eliminate the confusion around what is a "real" question by instead talking about what is a question appropriate to the SOFU site?

I think at the end of the day, "Not a real question" really means the asker did not put enough effort into their question.

Some other possibilities:

  • Not enough effort.
  • Not a worthwhile question.
  • Not an answerable question.
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"Not a worthwhile question" seems to be a bit of a slap in the face. And also not true. It's not that the question isn't worthwhile, it's that we couldn't answer it even if we wanted to as it's lacking required info. –  Servy Dec 6 '12 at 3:42
"not enough effort" doesn't cover everything that NARQ covers, just one of several aspects of it. Also, questions usually shouldn't be closed just for lack of effort, the lack of effort results in the question lacking sufficient information which makes it not answerable, the lack of effort is only an indirect cause of the closing of the question. –  Servy Dec 6 '12 at 3:43
@Servy: Au contra, "Not enough effort" quite nicely sums up a question which " ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form." –  Lawrence Dol Dec 6 '12 at 3:44
I'm sure there are some people that can spend very little time or effort to come up with a question, but still have it be unambigous, specific, complete, narrow, not rhetorical, and having reasonable answers, simply because they're very good at asking questions, they got lucky, etc. Likewise, someone can spend considerable effort formulating a question meeting the textbook definition of NARQ, due to poor question asking skills. –  Servy Dec 6 '12 at 3:48
I've been annoyed by the wording of "Not a real question" for years +1. It's silly to have to read the NARQ description to actually have a reasonable understanding of this close reason. –  Adam Rackis Dec 6 '12 at 5:22
quite hard to imagine a definition to cover all of: "1) the post is literally not a question (perhaps it's just an angry rant) 2) the meaning of the question cannot be determined 3) the asker has not provided enough information to make answering the question possible 4) the question is so broad that potential answers wouldn't fit well in StackExchange's question-and-answer format" (tag wiki) Maybe, Mu-question? –  gnat Dec 6 '12 at 7:47
Duplicate: –  Monica Cellio Dec 6 '12 at 17:42
@Monica: Actually, while that request was ultimately changed to ask for rewording, if you read the question carefully it's the poster-child example for why NARQ is wrong, despite the description to the contrary. The poster is asking that we somehow restrict NARQ to things which are not "real" questions. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 6 '12 at 18:49
@Servy: Even though someone might spend all day writing a question, if the end result first the NARQ description, they have not exerted enough effort. If someone can write a good question in 30 seconds, then for them that's enough effort. So the amount of time spent is not a measure of "enough effort"; rather it's when the result meets the site's standard for questions. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 6 '12 at 18:53
@SoftwareMonkey, the title and the body of that question don't completely line up, but the possible action from it is to change NARQ to something else (since we can't wave a magic wand and fix the users :-) ). It seems like the answers there and here belong together. Maybe we should merge? –  Monica Cellio Dec 6 '12 at 19:00
@SoftwareMonkey If the amount of effort required can be anything, and what matters is that you put in enough effort to meet some other separate requirement, then you're saying effort doesn't matter. You should just list what all of those other requirements are, and as long as they are met (regardless of effort spent) the question isn't NARQ. Notice the NARQ long description doesn't mention effort at all. –  Servy Dec 6 '12 at 19:19
The mathematical term I would use to describe " ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form" is UNDERDETERMINED. –  Tom Au May 5 '13 at 22:09
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2 Answers

I think "Not a Real Question" is a better short phrase than "Not an appropriate question." NARQ is a better fit to the longer description:

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.

On the one hand, "How do I fix my server after it crashed?" is a real question, but it's not one that can really be answered, and most of the questions I see that are NARQ are similar to that.

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So "Not an answerable question"? –  Servy Dec 6 '12 at 2:29
@Servy ...or perhaps even "This question cannot be answered definitively". –  dasblinkenlight Dec 6 '12 at 2:54
That's really my point: "most of the questions I see that are NARQ are similar to" "How do I fix my server after it crashed?"... which is a "real" question, but not an appropriate one. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 6 '12 at 3:34
@dasblinkenlight: But the category is much broader than questions with no definitive answer. –  Lawrence Dol Dec 6 '12 at 3:35
@Servy That suffers from the same core problem as "not a real question". "But it has a question mark! It's a question!"... "But it has an answer. Look somebody posted one!" –  Anna Lear Dec 6 '12 at 4:49
@AnnaLear Yeah, it is the same problem, but it seems like it would be to a lesser degree. For starters, many NARQ don't actually get answers, and most that do tend to not actually solve the OP's problem. If it gets answers that actually solve the problem it's usually not NARQ. –  Servy Dec 6 '12 at 4:57
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If the post is "in fact a properly formed interrogative statement, just one not appropriate to the site in question", shouldn't you be voting it as off-topic rather than NARQ? If you make it "Not an appropriate question" you'll create too much confusion with the "off-topic" label. I've never liked the "Not a real question" phraseology either, but it's clearer than what you're proposing.

If the issue is that the question is too poorly formed or provides too few details, how about a label like Vague/unanswerable question. Either way, it's pretty clear what's meant, as the definition is displayed right next to the label.

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But the problem with NARQ questions isn't that they're off topic, it's that they don't contain enough details or other information within the question to allow it to be answered. I think it would be highly confusing for a "why doesn't my code compile" to be closed as "off topic". It's perfectly on topic, it's just missing a lot of important information. –  Servy Dec 6 '12 at 3:19
@Servy - I completely agree with you, I'm just responding to the OP's sited gripe. I suspect he really meant "a properly formed interrogative statement, [but a format or quality that meets the standards of SO]", but it just goes to show how tricky this particular label is. –  Ben D Dec 6 '12 at 3:36
I'm liking my earlier thought of "not an answerable question" more and more as I think it over. –  Servy Dec 6 '12 at 3:39
@ServY: The term I would use for this type of question is "imcomplete." But "not an answerable question" would be a "close second" in my view. –  Tom Au May 7 '13 at 17:28
@TomAu "Incomplete" is one aspect of NARQ, but not the only aspect. There are other problems, besides being incomplete, that could prevent it from being answerable. –  Servy May 7 '13 at 17:30
@Servy: Instead of "NARQ," I would use "incomplete" as a "subheading" for certain problems. Then have other subheadings for the other problems. Or just NARQ--ambiguous, NARQ--vague, NARQ--incomplete, NARQ--overly broad. –  Tom Au May 7 '13 at 17:44
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