In the recent off-topic discussion, Pekka 웃 suggested that other close reasons could be further broken out as well . We've got some more specific ideas along those lines, and we want your input and suggestions. Get comfy; this one's long.
Goals for "Not a Real Question" and "Not Constructive"
These goals will look familiar if you read the Off-Topic closing post, but the solution will likely differ. Here's what we want to achieve:
- make the problem clear — the close reason should make it as clear as possible to the OP exactly what is wrong with their post
- make them want to fix it — the language and workflow should encourage editing wherever possible (improving a post should seem more logical than arguing against closure.)
- make those things happen in-line — if we send them to another page, we'll lose some users
- minimize site-specific solutions — site by site differences should be limited to places it's truly necessary. "Off-topic" is literally defined differently on each site, so it needs customization, but we want the names and verbiage for the rest to be consistent.
Why are we doing this? Is there really a problem today?
Again, these reasons are working. If my choices were to keep em as is, or dump em entirely, I'd keep em, as they are doing a damn good job ensuring that our sites don't ever look like this site does. (Those all came from their front page.)
But, while we don't need to change what these reasons do, we can improve two things about them:
1. The problem they describe needs to be clear and specific
Consider this closed question from our apple site: What's special about Apple Airport Extreme?
Imagine you're the OP — since he's not spamming, trolling, etc., we can assume he thought he was doing the right thing when he posted his question. So, when his question is closed as "Not Constructive", he presumably won't think "oh, of course!" — he needs more information to figure out what's wrong. Let's see what we give him:
the question is "Not Constructive" I'll revisit that phrasing in the next section, but it's safe to say that it does little to identify the exact problem.
We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise. "Well, that's perfect! I'm actually looking for all those things in your answers, and I specifically highlighted a couple I thought might be relevant (Wifi range, transfer speeds, etc.)"
This question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. "Will it? It's about the specific specs that make An Apple router different from other, similar ones; it's not exactly 'who's right and wrong in the Middle East'"
If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened "Improved how? I still don't know what I did wrong. Re-opened? How can I prepare my case for some appellate court when I don't even know what I did wrong yet??"
see the FAQ for guidance:
Yup. That's the same definition, complete with a link to itself.
So, what's actually wrong with this question? For this discussion, it doesn't really matter. What's important is that whatever's wrong, the current close reason doesn't convey it to the OP, so he still can't improve or avoid it.
I used a "Not Constructive" example, but NARQ has a similar problem. It reads:
There are five possible things that might be wrong there, and while the closer may know exactly which one is the problem, the asker presumably doesn't start from the position that his post is any of those undesirable things, which makes guessing which one applies to him challenging.
2. The wording shouldn't make you defensive
"Not constructive" seems polite to us, because we feel like we're essentially using it instead of
"that has no answer; stop wasting our time"
"you're kind of ranting and being a jerk"
But that's not the context for the asker. The asker thinks they asked a perfectly reasonable question. As such, they're unlikely to respond by thinking, "I could be more constructive". From their perspective, it sounds like something a slightly detached guidance counselor might say to a child.
And even if they just got back from some meditation, and are just really, really open-minded, there's still no opening to say, "okay, I should try to fix that," because it isn't specific enough. So, their only logical response is defiance: "Why isn't it constructive?"
And the same is true of "Not a Real Question". Everyone thinks they've asked a real question. I imagine myself being told by a colleague at work, "I read your email. That isn't a real proposal". It's almost impossible to honestly convince myself that I'd think "Huh that's odd. I thought it was. I wonder how I can improve it to make it a real one".
Which is part of why NARQ closures tend to elicit arguments citing the prominent inclusion of question marks, rather than legitimate attempts to correct problems.
Okay, enough complaining. What can we do about it?
Well, we want to continue to close the questions these currently are used for, but we need to make the feedback clearer, and incentivize improvement (or at least learning). Here's what we came up with:
Eliminate "Not Constructive" and "Not a Real Question", and replace them with more specific reasons:
unclear what you’re asking — Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
too broad — There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.
primarily opinion-based — Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.
In all three cases, not only is it clear what the problem is, it should also be clear what you need to do (when possible) to make the question acceptable. It's slightly less explicit in the last reason, but that's because fewer of those are savable.
To see if these reasons seemed to cover us, we had both community team members and mods try to apply them to a largish sample of previously closed questions.
Based on that review, we believe that these reasons will cover almost all current NC and NARQ questions — our sample had 94% well-covered, with the remainder pretty easily addressed using site-specific Off-Topic reasons, as proposed here.
That was long. Did you want something?
Of course! We want your input. We got a lot of these ideas from meta posts, and we've done enough testing (both inside and outside our echo chamber) to feel good about the approach, but we want to know what you think and how you might tweak or improve it.
Part of the close reason rework project: