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My question is simple - when should I cast delete votes?

I've recently reached enough rep on one of the sites to be able to cast delete votes. I am not sure when a question is supposed to be deleted as opposed to just remain closed. What criteria should I use when deciding whether or not to cast my delete vote?

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Early and often. – Adam Davis Jul 18 '11 at 4:27
In light of this debate I think this topic could use some further discussion. – Brad Mace Aug 18 '11 at 18:17
up vote 41 down vote accepted

You delete a question when the content no longer adds anything to the site. Questions are closed for a variety of reasons, so let's look at each close reason and whether they should likely be deleted:

Exact Duplicate:

It depends; Look at the context of how they are asked.

You'll want to keep the question if the wording provides another way for a search query to find the content. It's a bit like a "see also …" entry in an index.

Delete it if the duplicate does not add terminology or alternate phrasing to find the question. It may not be worth cluttering up the system with this exact duplicate. There are several poorly phrased questions that will not direct traffic to us.

Off Topic:

Almost always delete it.

Off topic usually says "This shouldn't have been posted here in the first place." So, for anything not about topic [x] or the off-topic reasons, just let it burn!

Too broad:

Delete it if it says "this is nothing but a 'broken window' and we should get rid of it." This includes list of question where the only information is about 2 lines of text per answer or wikipedia/internet dumps.


Always delete it.

Closing it before deletion provided ample time for the author (or community) to fix it up. If it wasn't re-opened by this time, it should probably go.

Primary opinion based:

See "Too broad".

share|improve this answer
What about general reference? – waiwai933 Jul 22 '11 at 20:28
@waiwai933: The "general reference" closure has only been rolled out on a few sites. Generally, I place "general reference" somewhere between "not constructive" and "not a real question", with a bias towards deletion. I don't see any reason to keep those around. – Robert Cartaino Jul 28 '11 at 17:19
@Robert, you need to reference the quality of the answer in the Duplicate posts, so if there are good ones, it should just be flagged to merge. – Lance Roberts Aug 25 '11 at 7:25
What about answers? For example, if an answer is obsolete, what ought to be done? – Manishearth Jan 15 '13 at 6:54
@Manishearth Wiki-style editing is designed to improve answers and keep them relevant. Comments can be used to point out changing conditions and request updates. Voting helps make sure the most relevant answers stay near the top. Failing all those mechanisms, an egregiously deteriorated post can be pointed out in meta or through moderator flags, but it should be exceedingly rare to use these mechanisms to point out technical inaccuracies. – Robert Cartaino Jan 15 '13 at 15:36
@RobertCartaino: Ah, thanks. The context was this post (as well as this). I wasn't really sure if the suggestions to delete were according to current policy. – Manishearth Jan 15 '13 at 15:41
@Manishearth I don't know the technical merits of the claims, but coordinating some sort of broad review or cleanup sounds like a reasonable use of meta. – Robert Cartaino Jan 15 '13 at 15:49
I think this should be updated since some (well, most) terminology is obsolete. – Braiam Mar 16 '14 at 15:02
At the top this says "You delete a post when the content no longer adds anything to the site." but what if off topic, opinion based, or too broad questions add to the site and are useful for some? Should those just remain closed but not deleted? – mason Mar 18 '15 at 18:37

It pretty much comes down to if you think the post is helpful on the site or not. I normally limit myself to deleting blatantly off-topic posts or actual spam; if I have any doubt as to whether a post is useful I'll leave it alone. When I first discovered I was limited to 3 delete votes/day I thought that was incredibly low (in my mind I compared them to 12 close votes/day) -- I've never run out. Generally moderators delete the incredibly off-topic stuff before the 2 day waiting period is over, and spam flags take care of the spam posts

One thing people seem tempted to delete that you shouldn't are duplicates; if a duplicate is posted it's because that asker phrased the question differently enough that SO couldn't find the matching post automatically, so there's a good chance future users will search for that same problem using that same phrasing, and it's nice to have the closed post there to direct them to the right place

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If it's closed, it's fair game: vote to delete unless you can see that it has some value for the site (in which case you should probably vote to re-open).

The exception to this (and it's a big one!) are questions closed as duplicates. These can act as "guideposts" to direct users to a question with answers. If the closed question itself has answers, then flag it for moderator attention and request that it be merged - merging migrates the answers to the original question and leaves the duplicate question, locked, to guide future readers.

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I was about to downvote until I read The exception – jjnguy Jul 28 '10 at 23:26
If all closed questions (bar the exception) are fair game to be deleted, why aren't they deleted by default? – Oak Jul 28 '10 at 23:35
@Oak: It's a fair question. Closing questions makes them candidates for deletion; it doesn't necessarily qualify them for deletion. There are many reasons to close, but only one reason to delete (the question does not add value to the site, or simply adds noise). For example, there are a number of very popular (but slightly off-topic) questions that are not deleted because they add value, but are closed/locked because they keep getting bumped to the front page when someone adds the three-hundredth answer. – Robert Harvey Jul 28 '10 at 23:38
@Oak: best reason I can think of is that it gives the rest of the community a chance to review the closing. If five people close it, and it doesn't get re-opened in two days, there's a fair chance it's just not that important. Of course, this falls apart when it comes to very obscure and very broad questions (that old bikeshed paint color thing again...) but ideally that's how it works. – Shog9 Jul 28 '10 at 23:53
Isn't another exception the historical lock? – bjb568 Oct 25 '14 at 3:20
Even at almost 50k reputation I had not seen (or at least, actually registered) the guidance to request migration when closing a duplicate with potentially useful answers. Upvote for that alone. Would appreciate a pointer to official documentation, if that exists. – tripleee Dec 15 '15 at 10:23

As per Jeff's post here, and answer here:

Questions which contain useful content contributed by your peers should generally be merged, not deleted.

I wish people wouldn't delete questions with good answers. You're destroying the useful contributions of your peers!

It's all about usefulness. Many questions get closed, but have useful answers that we want to preserve. Deletion votes should be based on usefulness, and that means usefulness to somebody, not just because it doesn't apply to your individual programming needs.

If a question is useful, but fits one of the close reasons, and has no potential for really useful answers, then it should be locked.

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I believe locking is for different purposes, mainly to stop ongoing edit wars and comment discussions, as this meta-thread suggests. – Oak Aug 18 '11 at 18:30
@Oak, that is definitely the main reason for locking, but it also serves the purpose I've stated. – Lance Roberts Aug 18 '11 at 18:31
Your first link is invalid and I couldn't find what you intended to link to – Brad Mace Aug 18 '11 at 21:55

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