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I know that it's tempting to pile on what looks like an ugly question, but people really should at least take the time to know what we're commenting on or closing before we actually do it.

I'm posting this mostly because of this question(it's been deleted now)

10k Only.

This was one of the downvote/close-vote pile-on questions.

Now, this question definitely did have its problems.

  • The name was not very descriptive.
  • The post was overall poorly formatted.
  • The whole reason the OP needed to ask it was because of a single typo.
  • It was a question about homework.

but in many ways, the post was an above-average Stack Overflow post.

  • The asker posted all of the relevant code.
  • The asker posted both the expected output and the actual output.
  • Once the sample output was formatted, It was very clear what the problem was.
  • The ask was not an unreasonable one for potential answerers. The solution ended up being a change of exactly 1 character.

This person actually posted a lot of the stuff that we constantly ask new users to post.

What ended up happening was in the span of a few minutes a bunch of users came through and downvoted/voted to close/ and made rude comments on it, and the person ended up getting demoralized enough that he gave up on it and deleted the question.


I don't have any problem with the downvotes themselves. If you don't proof-read your post to make it pretty, than you should expect downvotes.

The close-votes are a bit harder to justify. It looks like most people just voted to close because it smelled like a "do my homework for me" question, but as it is, I can't find a close reason that matches the problem with this post ("bad formatting"). The old Too Localized close reason would have fit, but that's not one of the given reasons anymore. The only justification I can come up with is that there are so many bad questions on this site, that if you don't close questions based on smell, then they'll just never get closed.

But the thing that really worked me up was the comments.

The first 3 comments accused the poster of asking us to do his homework for him, and one of them even said that he didn't include expected output (which he did).

Seriously guys, this is where we inform users of how they can improve their posts. If you're going to write a comment, at least check the post you're commenting on to make sure that it's a fitting one.

I suppose that I'm saying that if you intend to comment on a post or to close a question, then you should at least take the time to read the question over and pretend that you're going to take it seriously.

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If the issue was a typo, it doesn't seem like the question would be useful to future visitors. Perhaps it should have been closed with the "minimal understanding reason?" That still doesn't address the other issues you bring up, but that's my first thought. –  ThisSuitIsBlackNot Dec 9 '13 at 19:15
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I actually thought about opening a meta thread along the lines of this. Would it be a good idea to have an optional feedback/reason submission when a user downvotes a question or answer? That way the original poster directly knows what was wrong with the question? Or perhaps require a comment on the post so that everyone can see what changes should be made. –  paulkon Dec 9 '13 at 19:16
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FWIW, that question was closed as "Unclear what you're asking" one minute after your formatting changes. Prior to that, it was rather unclear, and most of the CVs could have easily come before anybody saw your changes. –  Geobits Dec 9 '13 at 19:18
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Related, if you're more concerned about the closing than the downvoting: Now that "too localized" is gone should we embrace the typo questions? Which close reason should I use to close typo questions now? –  Josh Caswell Dec 9 '13 at 19:23
    
For the commenting part, what issue are you raising here that hasn't been discussed to death before? –  Josh Caswell Dec 9 '13 at 19:25
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This gives more support to the idea of Question Templates -- meta.stackexchange.com/questions/208311/…. A good question template could be a requirement for first-time posters... or maybe give newer posters incentives, like more points for the question. –  Doug_Ivison Dec 9 '13 at 20:13
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Since I was the one that commented his question didn't contain the expected output: look at the first revision. I'm not going to dig trough 20 lines of unformatted text to check for clues. I'll be the first to clean up a post all the way, but there was no effort in the question to describe the problem, nor distinguish his output. I would close a question like that every time, it's too low quality. Once he fixes it, I would have voted to reopen. The close reason was "unclear": all you have to do is make it clear. –  Jeroen Vannevel Dec 9 '13 at 20:15
    
@JeroenVannevel So you tell the OP that that he doesn't have the expected output? even though you didn't look for it? –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 20:23
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@SamIam: fair enough, I should have clarified that it wasn't clear where his expected output was detailed. I looked at the output which said "When i run this code, its not running the way i expected it to. heres what happened when i ran the code:" with 20 lines of similar-looking text after that. It was his responsibility to distinguish the actual and the expected output, so at the very max you could say that my comment wasn't 100% clear, but I still consider it warranted. –  Jeroen Vannevel Dec 9 '13 at 20:27
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@SamIam He's saying he didn't see it, because of how the question was formatted. If, as a question author, I see a comment like that, then it is clear to me my question is not being understood properly and that I should edit it to make it clearer what the expected output is. Thus, the comment helps the OP (or, as was the case here, some 3rd party) edit the question to improve the formatting. –  Servy Dec 9 '13 at 20:27
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possible duplicate of Do you wait for edits before voting to close a question? –  gnat Dec 9 '13 at 20:47
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@gnat nobody had to wait for edits on this question. Everyone able to submit a close vote, also had the capability to edit it themselves. –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 21:57
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Should all questions that have a possible answer be answered? I see questions every day that the answer is simply a copy paste from the documentation, or a fixxed typo. In what way are these questions/answers useful? They may solve the immediate problem, but long-term they're nothing more than one more search result, one that is more likely to become out of date once the documentation updates. –  Kevin B Dec 10 '13 at 19:08
    
@KevinB The fact that the solution ended up being a typo is beside the point. This might be presumptuous of me, but I really doubt that anyone who voted to close the question even had the first clue what the question was about let alone the fact that it was a typo. –  Sam I am Dec 10 '13 at 19:48
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I do disagree with the close reason that was used, but i still think it should have been closed, and i agree with the downvotes. The downvote title literally contains: "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful" the question is unclear, not useful, and doesn't show any research effort. Yes, it's a question that can be improved and answered, but even then it still is not useful. –  Kevin B Dec 10 '13 at 19:55

3 Answers 3

but in many ways, the post was an above-average StackOverflow post.

That's kinda sad.

Not to dump on this question - I'm sure the asker was trying his best - but as it stood when it was closed, this was not a good question.

Let's start with the title:

Can someone figure this thing out for me?

That is a title that does not describe the problem. It's a question in the same sense that "can you help me?" or "can I ask you a question?" is a question - it's something to say when talking to a specific person that gives them an opportunity to politely decline before too much time is wasted.

But that makes no sense on Stack Overflow, where you're not talking to a specific person and the best way to avoid wasting someone's time is to summarize your problem up-front so that they can skip past it if they aren't interested.

Speaking of which, the introductory paragraph:

Heres my code

...Is still not a problem statement - and it fails to explain why we might want to read the code before dumping it in our laps. Not only does this provide a useless excerpt for display on the questions lists, but on my laptop screen it means I have to scroll a page and a half before I finally get to the problem statement!

When i run this code, its not running the way i expected it to. heres what happened when i ran the code

Two lengthy output dumps follow, presenting the reader with a fun game of Spot the Difference.

Finally, the question ends with... A link to a PDF containing the full assignment. I haven't clicked through to that; perhaps there is (finally) a useful problem statement there, but frankly even if there is, that's entirely too little too late.


But hey, you know what? You're right: it is possible for a patient reader to divine the intent of this question and come up with a useful answer. I have no doubt that you did just that. Kudos...

...It's a shame you didn't take a minute to save the rest of us the trouble.

As an answerer with full editing privileges, you could have easily salvaged this question. You could've:

  • Written a descriptive title
  • Provided a short summary of the purpose of the code prior to its listing
  • Summarized the differences between the output and the desired output

These three changes alone - utilizing information that you must have had in front of you already in order to answer - would've turned a fairly terrible question into something respectable. And given the time you must've already invested in answering, I suspect the additional effort would've been trivial.

Keep this in mind next time...

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I did edit the question. I didn't re-compose it to the extend that you've suggested, but I did highlight the actual and expected outputs. Once I had done that, It took me about 10 seconds to figure out what the problem was, and about 15 seconds to post an initial answer. The question was closed at that point and had 10 downvotes. The second draft of the answer took about a minute to write. and around 5 minutes later, the OP had gotten demoralized, and deleted his question. –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 19:42
    
If I had edited his question to the standard I use for my own question, that would have taken at lest 5 minutes, and could have potentially gone to as high as 20 minutes. By that time, it was too late –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 19:44
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@SamIam: This answer is good advice, but in practice code-dump, how-fix questions are hard to save, and ultimately it is the responsibility of the OP to write something that demonstrates that they've made even a half-hearted effort to, at the very least, narrow the problem down to the specific part of the code that they're having difficulty with. It's not necessarily fair to ask the community to patiently wait to see if someone is going to make a heroic effort to rehabilitiate the question. –  Robert Harvey Dec 9 '13 at 19:46
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I can't say whether that question - or any question - is worth your time and effort to edit, @Sam. That's something you need to decide for yourself. I can say though, that if you're not willing to salvage mediocre questions you're gonna have to be willing to accept that the time spent answering them may be wasted to a certain extent. Again, it's your call - but hopefully now you can make an informed decision. –  Shog9 Dec 9 '13 at 19:57
    
and this is another topic, but, If the question had been edited and fixed, and I had nominated it for re-open, What do you imagine that the future of this -9 question would have been? –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 19:58
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It would still be a highly-localized troubleshooting question that is only of interest to the OP. –  Robert Harvey Dec 9 '13 at 19:58
    
@Shog9 but I did edit the question, if not only a little bit, and my small edit did make the question much much clearer, at least for me. –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 19:58
    
@TheGrinch But suppose it was an abstract question that's not necessary this one. Do people come back to answer the -9 question? does it appear on the front page? –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 19:59
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I'm guessing that, had it been generalized to be of broader interest of others, it would already have contained the elements that Shog9 described here; a relevant title, a short summary, and some demonstration of effort that would have prevented a score of -9. –  Robert Harvey Dec 9 '13 at 20:02
    
What The Grinch says... it is true though, that at -9 anything you do to help the question is likely to be too late. With that number of downvotes, it is unlikely to ever rise from the dead. –  Pëkka Dec 9 '13 at 20:04
    
Questions have been known to "come back", @Sam - although as Robert points out, this one probably wouldn't have been particularly interesting even if it had been well-written, so it's doubtful it would've attracted enough attention to make much of a difference in its final score. That said, this is all just speculation - the question was closed and down-voted for what it was, not for what it might've been. If you want others to see the same potential that you do, sometimes you just need to show them. –  Shog9 Dec 9 '13 at 20:11
    
@Shog9 I understand that, in fact I DID make an edit, and if anything, if the edit was more timely, it would have probably made more of a difference than if it was more complete –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 20:15
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@Doug_Ivison when I vote to close I MUST choose a reason, and this reason is displayed below the question when it goes on hold. The issue of requiring comments on downvotes has been discussed here so often: meta.stackoverflow.com/search?q=downvote+comment should get you started –  Kate Gregory Dec 9 '13 at 20:24
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Here's how I look at it, @Sam: I came to Stack Overflow after realizing that I was answering questions like this every day and... Nothing ever came of it. It was a treadmill to oblivion, an endless parade of answers that would maybe benefit one person and then disappear forever into the chaos. At some point, without even realizing it, I lost the motivation to do my best - after all, what was the point when no one would ever see it again? I didn't want to keep doing that, I didn't want good folks like you to end up like that... Focus the best of your efforts on posts that'll LIVE and LAST. –  Shog9 Dec 16 '13 at 16:35
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@sam do not be afraid to hold your fellow internet users to STANDARDS. That's what SE is about, the discipline and strictness necessary to get great results. If they do not do their part, it is deeply unfair of them to ask us to contribute so much effort. This sort of institutionalized unfairness what makes people eventually resent the world and everyone in it. Be brave -- demand that fellow users do their homework, and we will do ours too. –  Jeff Atwood Dec 16 '13 at 23:26

The real issue here was that the question needed to be closed for repairs, and then re-opened, but the user didn't know what that meant and got upset.

It's a secondary issue that the upset manifested as deleting the question - it can always be undeleted - the primary issue is that even after renaming closing to On Hold users still see it as a hostile act. As a result there is a steady stream of meta questions saying "instead of stabbing users in the heart by putting their questions on hold, isn't there some way we can call a pause while the question gets improved?" There sure is, it's called putting the question on hold.

Closing (on-holding) because "I can't understand this" is perfectly correct and right. In fact it's our obligation. It prevents answers pouring in that are answers to a different interpretation of the question. Then someone (doesn't have to be the OP, could be you) can edit it and presto! It's reopen time. I vote Reopen in the Reopen Queue all the time when things have been improved. This system has only one flaw - the perception of closing as hostile. Maybe a comment that "hey OP I'm going to clean this up a bit and see if we can get it reopened" would work - I've tried that on some other sites with some success.

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You also had a number of rude "we don't do your homework for you" style comments. Which I think are rather inappropriate. If you want to tell the asker of a question what the problems are with it, than you really should take the time to actually understand what the problems are with the question. –  Sam I am Dec 9 '13 at 19:54
    
No argument there. Good idea to flag those comments as rude, since enough rude flags will auto dismiss a comment. And adding a polite one (that homework is actually welcome, and that the question just needs an edit to get reopened) might outweigh those. –  Kate Gregory Dec 9 '13 at 19:55
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@KateGregory homework is not acceptable if the asker has made no effort whatsoever –  Jan Dvorak Dec 9 '13 at 20:01
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@JanDvorak Whether or not it is homework is irrelevant. Asking someone to solve an entire problem for you is inappropriate regardless of whether it's homework or not; asking for specific help with a problem with sufficient research/effort applied is appropriate, again, regardless of whether it's homework or not. –  Servy Dec 9 '13 at 20:06
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@Servy This much is true. It is, however, the case that zero-effort do-it-for-meh are very often homework assignments (or regexes), and that homework problems are very often under-efforted. –  Jan Dvorak Dec 9 '13 at 20:10
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@JanDvorak And they're very often not homework too. Equating such questions with homework is not beneficial, and is often harmful. –  Servy Dec 9 '13 at 20:14
    
I don't think the closevotes are the problem, but rather the downvotes. Downvotes are very rarely retracted so even if the question gets improved the result lingers. I see this a lot less with closevotes (at least: I stay around with questions that I have closevoted for future improvements). –  Jeroen Vannevel Dec 9 '13 at 20:18
    
@Jan, I'd appreciate your input here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/210840/… –  Shog9 Dec 9 '13 at 20:57
    
@Shog9 I've voted on the answers. I don't think I have a comment to add - sorry for that. –  Jan Dvorak Dec 9 '13 at 21:15
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@JeroenVannevel: the persistent downvotes (or the closevotes, for that matter) wouldn't be so much of a problem if you received notifications when whatever you downvoted gets updated. –  Denis Dec 10 '13 at 13:29
    
Maybe a comment that "hey OP I'm going to clean this up a bit and see if we can get it reopened" would work - I've tried that on some other sites with some success. I like this—explain briefly to the new user what's going on, what closing really means, and link them to the help center. –  Blacklight Shining Jan 27 at 19:35

Close votes don't mean, "This question is beyond hope, we should burn it with fire." That's what deletion means. Closing simply means, "This question is not suitable as it stands, if it can be improved over time into something that is appropriate, great, and if it isn't edited, then it will eventually become eligible for deletion (both manual and automatic).

The question, especially before your edit (but honestly, even after), is a fairly low quality question, for reasons Shog has described in great detail. While you are correct that there may be potential there for it to be edited into a question that is appropriate for the site, it's not there yet, so closing it is entirely appropriate. If/when the question is edited into something that meets the site's standards, then it can be reopened.

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