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For some over the last few weeks I've commented on/answered several posts where the OP immediately replied "Oops, I just found my problem and it was a simple typo (or something similar)". In fact this seems to be happening with increasing frequency.

These posts serve no useful purpose and the OP should delete them, but this often doesn't happen even with gentle hints as comments.

Does anybody think there's a need for an "OP Retracted" moderator flag available to high-rep (say, 10K+) users? Maybe I've been unlucky but I seem to be wishing for this more and more often.

EDIT: The problem is not just syntax errors. I'd characterize it as more of the OP posting the question before really thinking about it and realizing they know the answer a minute after committing the post. I.e. "post first, think later, d'oh!".

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This was the perfect usage case for Too localized... too bad it's gone. –  Danny Beckett Jul 2 '13 at 3:58
    
Bring back "too localized" in a different, understandable firm ... "Too Specific"? –  tripleee Jul 2 '13 at 6:04
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Yes, they are horrible and too common. That's five minutes of your life you'll never get back. Helplessly looking for a valid close reason does not exactly enhance the experience, having to type a custom one just makes it more grating. A downvote is all I've been able to come up with. Grr. –  Uphill Luge Jul 2 '13 at 15:58

2 Answers 2

It's not terribly uncommon for someone to basically answer their own question just by writing it, and then it's just a matter of them actually realizing that they've done so prior to posting the question. Common d'oh moments would include:

  • "Why was I trying to cast a string as a float in the first place?"
  • "It would have helped if I had permissions to ACTUALLY WRITE TO THE %@^%#^@ FILE!"
  • "I forgot how to math (after asserting that 3 == 4)"

... and so on. Note, these aren't questions where it's obvious that a user had a fundamental misunderstanding of types, syntax or other concepts - it really was a Homer Simpsonesque moment that is extremely unlikely to repeat and provide no real use to anyone in the future.

Questions that boil down to missing a semicolon (or something else) can be useful if someone uses a compiler or parser error to search in an attempt to figure out what exactly the error is trying to tell them. Even the examples I gave above might be useful to someone learning a language by a basic understanding of the structure coupled with trial and error, even the bogus assertion. Some versions of GCC thought that negative ten was indistinguishable from 10.

I found these types of questions to be particularly useful when I was learning Javascript - I didn't know what certain errors even meant, much less what I should be looking for to fix my code, so use me - an ape that learned how to read and later developed an interest in Javascript as your target audience. If that question couldn't possibly help me fix my LISP and it really is a case where the entire premise of the question never really existed in the first place, then you can do as jmort suggests and use a custom close reason. Try, however, to tailor the reason to be specific to the question, not just for the benefit of the question author but also anyone that finds it through a related search.

If that's not the case, then consider, well, answering the question with something that would be immensely helpful to literate apes.

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This is well written. I'm glad you managed to avoid being downvoted into oblivion for saying this (unlike me). –  George Stocker Jul 2 '13 at 15:45
    
You call that oblivion, @George? -1: HYPERBOLE! –  Shog9 Jul 2 '13 at 17:32

I would suggest voting to close these posts as off-topic, with a comment letting the user know that the problem was caused by a syntax error and will not be helpful to future visitors.

Danny Beckett is right, "too localized" did indeed cover these cases, but too many people misunderstand that "too localized" doesn't have anything to do with location. However, that doesn't make these syntax error questions on-topic or useful.

It may even be a good idea to try and add another custom off-topic close reason specifically for syntax errors, as I can't really see a case where those types of questions would be useful, and this particular close reason would be less likely to be misunderstood as having to do with a place.

As for cases where someone posted a question and then had that moment of realization that the answer is fully within their grasp, we must step back and take a look at the question on its own merits. Is the question well-written? Does the question clearly describe the problem and include information that would help others with the same problem relate to it? If there are answers, are they high quality? In short, would a person with the same or similar problem benefit from the material if he or she found the site from a Google search?

If the question is valuable, it shouldn't be closed. The point of Stack Overflow is not just to help the asker but to also help the thousands of future visitors out there who have the same or a similar problem.

With that said, the asker may benefit from what Jeff Atwood calls Rubber Duck Problem Solving. Sometimes, the act of actually writing out your question, with all of the details, what you've tried, what errors you're getting, and any other relevant information, oftentimes helps a person find the answer to the problem.

Arguably, as long as a question is good for Stack Overflow, this isn't a bad way to work through your problems, assuming one writes very good questions that "give back" to the community and that, if there are no answers, the asker returns to post a nice, well-written, detailed self-answer.

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It's not just syntax errors. Maybe I wasn't clear; see my edit. –  Ex Umbris Jul 2 '13 at 5:50
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And again we're using off-topic for something that is entirely unrelated to the topic. :/ –  user98085 Jul 2 '13 at 9:23
    
What do you mean, @FEichinger? On Project Management SE, for instance, Project Management tool recommendation questions are deemed off-topic, even though it still falls within the topic of Project Management. Certain questions that still fall into "programming" can also be deemed off-topic, assuming they're not helpful to future visitors. Remember, the site scope should clearly define not just what is on topic but also what isn't on topic, based on how helpful those posts are. Hope this helps. But... with that said, what close reason would you suggest instead? –  jmort253 Jul 2 '13 at 13:47
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What I'm saying is that the question is perfectly on-topic, even within the scope defined. It is to be closed because it is a unique instance of user error. That's not off-topic, it is simply too narrow to be helpful for future visitors. Stretching the definition of what is part of the topic definition just to accomodate the removal of TL is quite pointless. We have replaced misuse of one close reason with misuse of another, congratulations. –  user98085 Jul 2 '13 at 13:54
    
@FEichinger - The point I was making is that the solution just simply involves slightly redefining the scope, which actually eliminates a lot of confusion since the close reason can be more tailored and less confusing. Too localized was abused. Off-topic could be abused as well, but that's not been my experience since off-topic is defined by the community. Too localized was this mystical concept that makes everyone focus on location or certain keywords instead of evaluating the question on its own merits. –  jmort253 Jul 2 '13 at 13:57

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