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The problem

One of the recurring questions on Meta is "why was this question closed?" In nearly every case, the question is posed by a newcomer to Stack Exchange who doesn't understand what closing means. The new users get frustrated with the (apparently) inscrutable, hostile SE system while Meta regulars get frustrated with new users who (apparently) don't care about how the site works.

Experienced users know that closure isn't inherently a negative thing, but to new users, "closed" often looks like "this question is worthless and irredeemable, just like its author; i.e. you suck." Yes, everyone should just read the FAQ, but let's be honest, it's not going to happen. Even if they did, though, it'd be better to build a system that doesn't cause confusion in the first place.

Things new users don't know about closure:

  • On SE sites, "closed" is not a synonym for "deleted"
  • Closure just means "this question is not adding value right now," not necessarily "this question is irredeemable"
  • You can go back and edit your closed question to improve it
  • You should go back and edit your closed question to improve it
  • All closure does is prevent new answers from being added; commenting, editing and voting can all still happen

A solution

Therefore, I propose changing the term "closed" out for... something else. The new term should give a sense of transience rather than permanence, and encouragement rather than punishment. It's too bad "flagged" has a meaning on SE already; if it didn't, it would fit really well. "Suspended" or "needs improvement" might be suitable terms. "Abeyance" is close, but is probably too fancy a word to actually get used.

Better suggestions are welcome. The important thing is that we indicate that the question, while imperfect in its current form, can and should be improved.

Not up for such a drastic change? We could also add a "what does this mean?" or "how can I undo this?" link to all closed questions that point to the close FAQ or a similar page. Maybe the help link would appear only for the OP. Example:

mockup of closed question help text

share|improve this question
You need something better than MS Paint, one of these days. ♪ – Grace Note Nov 12 '10 at 14:27
@Grace they make something better? EDIT: Thanks to Yi Jiang for better mockup! – Pops Nov 12 '10 at 14:29
"...and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. " – badp Nov 12 '10 at 14:36
I'm very not a fan of adding a giant "what does this mean?" link in the middle of the close box – Michael Mrozek Nov 12 '10 at 14:37
@Michael, tweaked that suggestion a little to make it more palatable for those users who are for some reason looking at close reasons all day. – Pops Nov 12 '10 at 14:51
FYI, we had a long argument about this on the Cooking meta with almost identical points and suggestions. I'm not going to rehash it all and obviously the SA community is not the MSO community, but I think the prevailing sentiment was that we shouldn't change the wording itself because people who are sensitive enough to storm out the door in such an instance aren't going to help you build a stable community. I did advocate and still agree with providing a hyperlink to an explanation of "closed" - but I strongly disagree with wording changes. – Aarobot Nov 12 '10 at 15:51
To anyone that's ever used an internet forum or gone to school, "suspended" is terrible, fear-invoking word. Do not use that as a synonym for "closed." – Corey Nov 13 '10 at 0:07
@Corey - Suspended isn't that scary - english.stackexchange.com/questions/45209/… – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 14:50
Perhaps "closed for revision" like a store that's "closed for remodeling". Then you still have the clarity of "closed" but without the implication of permanency. – Igby Largeman Oct 18 '11 at 16:43
@Charles - excellent idea, yes that would be good. – Adel Oct 20 '11 at 4:59
declining the specific request, because we aren't renaming closed. However the badge request seems like a reasonable idea, of course. – Jeff Atwood Jan 3 '12 at 9:22
@JeffAtwood Hopefully you still come here from time to time. There's an abnormal amount of fuzz about your status-declined reason on this feature-request. You declined a discussion, not a feature-request. Did you decline the topic in it's entirety, or just renaming "closed"? – Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 6:24
@StevenJeuris I strongly oppose renaming closed, specifically. I'd veto that. Also, be careful about adding a lot of words to a page for the types of users who, to put it charitably, read virtually nothing on a page. – Jeff Atwood Mar 11 '12 at 8:46
@JeffAtwood Thank you. I'm not particularly fond of renaming "closed" either. However, consider reading this discussion to get an understanding of why closing a discussion as status-declined might not have been the best course of action. (Also indicated by the feature request I linked to earlier.) – Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 11:14
Regarding reading the FAQs, Ive always been of the opinion that if you write a piece of software that requires the end user to read the manual then you have failed. I see no reason why SO should be any different – Richard Tingle Jun 19 '13 at 9:27

11 Answers 11

up vote 66 down vote

Idea: add a badge for editing your closed question and getting it reopened. Then make the close message say:

closed as not a real question by David Fullerton ♦ 3 hours ago.

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.

You can earn the [resurrection]* badge by fixing your question and getting 5 people to vote to reopen it.

Now, instead of having the door slammed in your face, it's an opportunity to earn shiny badges while learning how to ask good questions.

* there's probably a better name for this badge than "resurrection".

share|improve this answer
I like it, but at least based on my experience on Programmers, I'd suggest a few changes: 1) make it available to anyone who edits the question: many people who complain about closures aren't the OP, 2) make it repeatable or have tiers: one time isn't enough to condition people, and 3) Allow moderator reopens to satisfy the criteria of the badge: nearly every reopen on P.SE is a moderator reopen. – user149432 Oct 15 '11 at 1:27
Nearly every closure on P.SE is a moderator closure (ducks) – Lorem Ipsum Oct 15 '11 at 1:45
+1 - so perhaps instead of [resurrection], something like [Revivalist] or [Reincarnation] ? – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 2:02
I disagree that there's a better name for the badge than [resurrection]. But if it does exist, it's probably parrot. – Shog9 Oct 15 '11 at 2:06
@Shog9 - You're right, I was thinking it meant 'rebellion'. But resurrection fits best. – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 2:09
@Adel I believe that's insurrection – Grace Note Oct 15 '11 at 2:11
@GraceNote - Thanks very much, yes insurrection. I'm relieved now, & I need a coffee :) – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 2:14
Wow, this is a great idea. – Lance Roberts Oct 15 '11 at 3:43
People who aren't yet a part of the community are not interested in badges and will probably not read passed the word "closed". They just want their question answered. It's not a bad idea, but it misses what I think the point of the suggestion was. – Jon Ericson Oct 15 '11 at 19:07
@Jon I disagree. I think it accomplishes the two most important parts of the suggestion: (1) make it obvious that closure is not permanent, and (2) offer encouragement / help on how to fix it. And it does it in a way that doesn't require renaming "closed" everywhere on the site, which honestly is extremely unlikely to happen. – David Fullerton Oct 15 '11 at 19:30
I can't get past the fact that "the question is closed" carries a large degree of finality in normal English usage. I just don't see naive users understanding that there is a path to reopen a "closed" question and that the responsibility is firmly on them to do so. (And none of this would matter except I keep hearing that it's ok to close quickly because the question can always be reopened later. Right.) – Jon Ericson Oct 15 '11 at 19:46
@Adel: I don't use SO much any more, so my perspective is more from sites that are still in the community building phase. We don't have a culture except what we inherit from SO and, maybe, the specific field that's on topic. Our experts are likely to experience culture shock and they aren't going to come back ever if they decide the site is not for them. SO can keep "close" as far as I'm concerned, but I'd really like to change the term for Biblical Hermeneutics and Philosophy. – Jon Ericson Oct 16 '11 at 10:16
I turned part of this answer into an actual badge request here. – Pops Oct 17 '11 at 16:45
@David What about the badge name [Good Samaritan]? – Adel Oct 22 '11 at 17:51
What about calling it Viagra? :) – Sune Rasmussen Mar 11 '12 at 22:11

closed as not a real question by common sense ♦ 3 hours ago.

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.

share|improve this answer
Nice formatting. – Pops Nov 12 '10 at 14:49
Linking to the privileges wiki instead of meta would be better, since that exists on every site. Other than that, I agree; I don't want to change the wording itself, these people do need a slight kick in the ass, and a hyperlink similar to the above is what we should offer if we're going to offer anything. – Aarobot Nov 12 '10 at 15:45
@aarobot While it may be a good idea, there are no privilege wiki equivalents for the other question statuses (locked and protected). – badp Nov 12 '10 at 15:47
No, there aren't - but those concepts seem to be outside the scope of this discussion. Protected questions already have an inline explanation and IMO don't require anything more, and locked questions are incredibly rare except on Stack Overflow. – Aarobot Nov 12 '10 at 15:55
@Aaro, fair enough, it just felt like an inconsistency. – badp Nov 12 '10 at 16:03
@Badp I don't know/remember why this question got bumped into my view, but for seeing the formatting you've applied, I wonder if it's sufficient enough for new users to grasp right away? – jcolebrand Mar 16 '11 at 17:45
@jcolebrand I added a tooltip to the closed link. – Robert Harvey Oct 18 '11 at 4:35

What this whole thing seems to be pointing to is the difference between "closed" and "needs revision". This is the difference between "this isn't wanted here" and "you need to fix this before we can answer". So, why not have that?

There are 5 reasons for a question to be closed (outside of actual maliciousness): Duplicate, off-topic, not constructive, not actually a question, and too localized.

If you mark something as a duplicate or off-topic, then it should be simply labeled "closed" (or migrated, of course). Otherwise, it should be labeled "needs revision".

Neither of these has any functional effect; "closed" and "needs revision" should behave exactly the same. But the user sees "[Needs Revision]" instead of "[Closed]" on their question. And the text blurb afterwards should explain what the revisions should entail.

For example:

Not Constructive: Your question invites opinion, debate, argument, polling, or extended discussion. Please rephrase your question to facts, references, and/or specific expertise.

Not A Question: Your question is too ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical. Please rephrase the question to clarify what you are asking for.

Too Localized: Your question is unlikely to ever help anyone in the future; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the world-wide audience of the Internet. Please broaden the subject matter of your question.

share|improve this answer
[Needs Work] is shorter... – Shog9 Oct 15 '11 at 15:11
This is a great idea really. Good insight – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 21:58
‘Neither of these has any functional effect; "closed" and "needs revision" should behave exactly the same.’ – What wording would you suggest in place of re-open for questions that "need revision"? I mean, would it make sense to leave the re-open text without change? Wouldn't that suggest the author of the question that their question was in fact closed, even though it read [needs revision] in the title? – Andriy M Jul 23 '12 at 5:47

I'm not a fan of revising or softening the definition of "close": it really does mean "closed for eternity," but with the qualifier "unless someone takes the time to improve it so that it's useful here."

I suggested it in another question, but I do like the idea of adding a link to help people who are willing to take the initiative to figure out what happened. Right now, the closed notice spends a lot of time explaining what the person did wrong, but nothing directly about how to fix it.

The last line in the current closed notice is:

See the FAQ.

I propose we replace this line with a link explaining how the user can get their question reopened:

See how you can get this question reopened.

Which would link to a new page that explained a few things:

  • Why questions are closed instead of left open (see English.SE and Programmers.SE for examples)
  • General tips on how to improve a question so it can be reopened (perhaps a link to or copy-paste of How to Ask)
  • What recourses users have to appeal a closure (link to meta, flagging FAQ)
share|improve this answer
Excellent idea, as it gives them hope and teaches them SO rules at same time. – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 0:44
Not a bad idea to change the wording of the message. But what harm does it do to soften the word we use to describe the action to newcomers assuming the function of the action remains the same? – Jon Ericson Oct 15 '11 at 19:14
@JonEricson It conditions people to expect every question will get reopened eventually: "It's been 2 weeks why hasn't this question been reopened? Closure is supposed to be temporary!" That's not the case: only questions that actually get improved enough to be on-topic get reopened. It's masking the problem to prevent hurt feelings instead of getting people to perform the correct action, which makes the close message less usable. – user149432 Oct 15 '11 at 22:32
That would depend on what alternative terminology is chosen, of course. "Needs work", "under construction" and "draft" all indicate to me that the question might not be reopened without effort and yet are each softer than "closed" to my ear. – Jon Ericson Oct 16 '11 at 10:03
Perhaps it would've been better to make this feature-request? +1 – Steven Jeuris Mar 11 '12 at 4:48
Of course this excellent suggestion was implemented, per my answer here. – Jeff Atwood Oct 16 '12 at 7:02

The problem was not the word "close". It's a simple description of state: is the door open, or is it closed? You'd have to more emo than My Chemical Romance to read much into that.

The real problem, as I see it, was that the explanatory text for "close" was probably not good enough. And that explanatory text was updated significantly since this was posted, quite a while ago -- based on the feedback implied by this question.*

Before (as in screenshot):

Closed as off topic by {user1} .. {user5} {time}

Questions on Stack Overflow are expected to generally relate to programming or software development in some way, within the scope defined in the faq.


Closed as off topic by {user1} .. {user5} {time}

Questions on Stack Overflow are expected to relate to programming or software development within the scope defined in the FAQ. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about closed questions here.

That solved 90% of the request in my view. The other 10% (close is a loaded word!) I just don't agree with at all.

* a good example of "cure the disease, don't merely treat the symptoms"

share|improve this answer
Bah. I propose "Your question has gone to sleep. It will wake up in question heaven where it can play with its friends all day long." – Pëkka Jul 22 '12 at 6:40
Hmm. I recalled the FAQ being less helpful than it currently is - or maybe I'm confusing SO with other SE sites. IIRC (this is still standard for other sites, e.g. MSO), the links used to go: Closure announcement --> Why are some questions closed? --> Which questions aren't a good fit? --> This is an on-topic list, but my question is totally on topic (it's just poorly written or plain bad and I don't realize it)! --> ::FRUSTRATED:: . On Writers.SE We also edited the standard FAQ there for similar reasons. – Ziv Jul 22 '12 at 10:16
(cont.) Current phrasing on SO indeed includes some clearer guidelines of what's a good question, beyond being on-topic. Anyway, long story short: I agree. Yay! – Ziv Jul 22 '12 at 10:16


Because that's what it is.

share|improve this answer
I can't decide if it's a feature or a bug that this word may be misread as "Daft". – Jon Ericson Oct 15 '11 at 19:55

I suggest "Closed" questions be renamed "Under Construction":

Under Construction

It ought to clearly convey to the asker that their question needs some work while simultaneously notifying answerers that they will need to hold off on tackling a response. And like all those Geocities pages, many of these questions will be forever Under Construction until the host deletes them altogether.

share|improve this answer
And if the wording is changed, a randomly selected example of the innumerable and whimsical men-at-work icons could replace the vote totals and arrows. Seriously, there are tons: google.com/… – Jon Ericson Oct 15 '11 at 0:19

If a word change is to be, there are many words (maybe... "on hold" or "suspended" ?).

Honestly, "closed" is probably an appropriate word (it's monosyllabic, intuitive, and accurate), and like a door being closed, it's not necessarily locked-shut. Sure - a few will be hurt a bit by the word "closed", but they will grow a thicker skin - this is the Internet. And as Mark mentioned, the question is closed - pretty much 90+% of the time. A lot of questions really are hopeless.

So I'm voting on David's neat idea. Please give more than "Read the FAQ" as a message. "See the FAQ" is somewhat patronizing/curt. What else can I do today? What about giving hope for fixing it?

share|improve this answer
Frozen doesn't carry enough of the connotation of needing work to revive. It might sound... arbitrary. – Jon Ericson Oct 15 '11 at 0:29
@Jon , I think it may actually. When a road freezes over, you throw salt on it. The part about reviving can be included in the message too. – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 0:32
@Adel: that sounds biased to Northerners ;) perhaps [Needs Work]? – user7116 Oct 15 '11 at 0:34
Yeah, 'Needs Work' would do. That would be like the "Under Construction" one. Which is fine really. But Hmm, maybe a picture of a frozen bridge for the clueless? – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 0:39
'On hold' sounds fine to me – GUI Junkie Oct 15 '11 at 22:52
@GUIJunkie - Thanks, however they'll argue against it because it sounds like a phone term, or sends the wrong message. – Adel Oct 15 '11 at 22:56
Who are 'they'? Are 'they' after me as well? – GUI Junkie Oct 15 '11 at 23:00

Far as I can see, most of the questions that get closed in short order are worthless, excreted onto the site by 1-rep wonders who can't be bothered to spell, think for five minutes, or respond to any comments. If you can show a statistically significant number of repairable questions that got (a) closed and (b) resulted in someone stomping off in a Huffman code, I'll retract this statement.

My belief is that redeemable questions are first challenged in comments, and when the questioner is clueful, repaired, before 5 close votes ever accumulate.

share|improve this answer
This is definitely true on our SE, anyway. Most members will quickly edit their questions if we explain that it's off-topic (or otherwise problematic) and provide a suggestion on how to change it. The questions that are truly irredeemable (and there have been several) are usually asked by people with no other participation, or with participation that's limited to other equally awful questions. Coincidentally, those people all seem to come from the Stack Overflow pool... – Aarobot Nov 12 '10 at 23:49


This has several complimentary connotations:

1) Functionally there are limited choices when addressing the question: flag, vote, reopen, and comment.

2) For the system, the impact the question can have is limited in the future.

3) It implies that the question is not complete and needs work for the restrictions to be lifted. (Other phrases "Draft", "Needs Work", etc. cover this better.)

4) It doesn't imply that anything else needs to be done to the question ever (unlike phrases that push the needing work angle).

Unlike "the question is closed", "the question is limited" isn't an idiomatic phrase that could mislead people. "Limited" carries no particular value judgment. A question can be good and limited or bad and limited. (Value judgments belong in the comments, where they are made by people, not in the mechanism of the system, which can seem mechanical and arbitrary.) What I like about the word is that its honest and straightforward and doesn't have the negative baggage of "Closed".

(This idea was inspired by, but completely orthogonal to another suggestion I made over yonder.)

share|improve this answer
+1 best answer. Sorry @David Fullerton I think giving out a badge, although nice, is not helpful when I see the big bolded closed word on the question. – JonH Oct 17 '12 at 13:59

I'm inclined to agree with Jeff. Closed is a word that simply describes a state. A question is either open to answers or ! open to answers. Or perhaps closed or ! closed. Since we have both words, we might as well make use of them.

The only problem I have with closures is the Not Constructive reason. It's vague, and often technically incorrect. Questions can contain a lot of useful (or 'constructive') information despite not being a good fit for a Q&A format.

Why not simply change Not Constructive to:

Not A Good Fit

This question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. Questions on Stack Overflow should encourage objective, technically verifiable answers, not invite protracted discussion, debate or simple recommendations.

The wording could be changed to suit the specifics of sites where a bit of discussion is expected, but the underlying reason (Not A Good Fit) basically remains the same.

It seems to me that Not Constructive was intended as an euphemism, but I think reality is better served by simply spelling it out. Just like closed or ! closed, a question is either a good fit or it's not. If we're going to tell people that there's something fundamentally wrong with their question, we should be a bit more specific.

share|improve this answer
Euphemisms march on. "not constructive" replaced "subjective and argumentative", which got people arguing about "and" vs. "or". And who remembers, on Meta, "noise or pointless"? – Michael Petrotta Oct 16 '12 at 1:54
@MichaelPetrotta I miss noise or pointless, and pointless noise. Meep Meep. – Tim Post Oct 16 '12 at 1:57
I've no great love of NC, but NaGF seems just as euphemistic. – Shog9 Oct 16 '12 at 2:20
@Shog9 What about NOA? Not objectively answerable (while keeping the 'is not a good fit' text in the reasoning)? I can't think of a less euphemistic term than that. – Tim Post Oct 16 '12 at 3:28
Actually @Shog9 I think nagf is quite a bit better than not constructive. At least it's softer, like saying "it's not you, baby, it's me" in a breakup. – Jeff Atwood Oct 16 '12 at 6:56
If we're going to call it "not a good fit", why not call a spade a spade and just get rid of it in favor of "off-topic"? – user149432 Oct 16 '12 at 7:35
This question is a bit old now, but I don't think it was ever about the wording of the individual close reasons. It's about the term "closed" itself. The problem with it is that it's overloaded, in the programming sense of the term. It's used extensively in other places in ways that don't match our way, which can be confusing to new users, to say the least. – Pops Oct 16 '12 at 14:23
@Jeff: yeah, exactly - which is a euphemism for "but no, really, it is you". – Shog9 Oct 16 '12 at 16:28
@popular all these bogus "don't use this word, use this other word" arguments boil down to the same thing. However, I do believe that NAGF is a softer and therefore maybe more socially acceptable way of saying Not Constructive. Whereas with "closed", I have yet to see any other proposed word that is remotely close to working. – Jeff Atwood Oct 16 '12 at 17:28
@JeffAtwood we can continue to disagree about that, but the immediate point is that Tim's (perfectly nice) post here largely doesn't answer the question I asked. – Pops Oct 16 '12 at 17:31
@popular I find that when people ask the wrong question, they get tend to get wrong answers. – Jeff Atwood Oct 16 '12 at 22:49
@PopularDemand This question is linked in comments on the latest podcast, where this was discussed a bit. I could open a new question saying "Let's change NC to NAGF" but it's essentially a duplicate of this. I did address your question, at least as far as I can tell in the first paragraph of my answer. If I didn't .. what did I miss? I'm the first to admit that I'm often dense :) – Tim Post Oct 18 '12 at 3:56
@TimPost ah, I didn't know about that podcast blog entry's comments section. On second look, I guess this is a valid "don't do that" answer followed up by a related topic. When I read it before, I thought that the related topic was your attempt at an answer, and it just felt a little mismatched, but it really doesn't seem like a big deal now. If anything, I'm the dense one here. I appreciate the reply, in any case. – Pops Oct 18 '12 at 8:29

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