As a followup to this meta thread, I think it might be a good idea to have a timed closure method for 'very low quality' posts.

Currently, mods seem to handle low-quality posts by closing them as 'not a real question'. Sometimes there is, in fact, a question hiding in there; however, this 'close first, ask questions later' policy doesn't give anyone time to edit the post to improve it, and gives the original asker a bad impression ("Not a real question? But I did ask a question! This site sucks!").

Of course, it's possible to reopen the question after editing and improving it; however a new user may not be aware of this (and obviously can't vote for it themselves). Once the question is closed once, it's probable that the new poster may simply go away, not to come back to see the answer when (and if!) it is reopened. Moreover, this 'not a real question' closure makes no sense to a good-faith poster; they did post a question, after all, and they know it. So they have no idea what to do to fix it.

Therefore, I propose a new mechanism: When a moderator (or perhaps a certain number of high-rep users) sees a very low quality question, in addition to the usual close reasons, they have an additional 'low quality' close reason. When this close request goes through, instead of closing immediately, it adds a notice to the question itself ("This question has been flagged as very low quality; please edit it to conform to our formatting standards, or it will be closed in X minutes" or something), and starts a short timeout (say, 10 minutes) before the question is actually closed.

In the event that an answer is posted, or the question is edited (apart from tag edits), the closure is cancelled, and an automatic moderator flag placed (to remind the moderator to check whether the question has, in fact, been improved).

This, I think, would strike a good compromise between creating extra work for the moderators, and avoiding discouraging new users; the moderator only really needs to visit truly low quality (or abandoned) questions once, but valid questions that (due to cultural differences, or misunderstanding of SO rules, or poor English questions) are initially hard to read have a chance to be edited into something that conforms to policy before being closed.

Note that I'm not proposing any change to the existing close reason system - only a new close reason with this timeout.

Edit: To respond to some criticism of the idea:

  • "What if people just do dummy edits to clear the flag?" - It's unclear if this will be an actual problem. If it is, there are a number of things that can be done - for example, the question could be added to the community review list for re-examination, rather than going straight back to a moderator.
  • "Isn't this similar to the idea of asker purgatory?" - I'm not asking for a system to correct repeat offenders - just a bit of leniency for people who have their hearts in the right place, but are new, and possibly didn't read that wall of text that comes up when you first try to ask a question. It may be a good idea to have the delay only apply for the first question on a given account, for example - further closures would result in immediate closure (but with a note saying that you should edit the question then flag for reopening).
  • "But what's wrong with just reopening in the first place?" - New users to the site are likely to see closure as something permanent. Certainly the "Not a real question" close notice doesn't give any indication that it may be fixable. And even if the user edits their question and mod-flags for reopening, they'll have a low flag score, and it may be some time before a moderator gets around to reopening the question (by which time it'll have fallen off the main page). As such, having one's first question closed within minutes of opening is likely to be very discouraging to a new user. Having a notice tacked on asking for it to be edited with a deadline, however, is far more likely to push new users in the direction we want.
  • Downvoters: Any comments as to why this is being downvoted?
    – bdonlan
    Sep 11, 2011 at 20:46
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    What's wrong with a workflow of closing a question, the questioner editing the question into something good, and then having the question re-opened? Maybe the feature you should be requesting instead is to have the closed as box include some text about editing to fix and reopening?
    – freiheit
    Sep 11, 2011 at 20:51
  • @freiheit, I feel that it doesn't encourage the user to edit and fix their question as much - even if they edit, it's still closed, and might potentially take hours until a moderator sees their flag request and reopens. Why not, then, go the other way - tell the user their question will be closed unless they fix it?
    – bdonlan
    Sep 11, 2011 at 21:07
  • Also, I'm not sure this is a duplicate - I'm not proposing making all close reasons wait an hour, just adding it as an option for 'low quality' posts.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 11, 2011 at 21:08
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    @bdonlan consider the following scenario: moderator puts the timer on the question, saying the question needs to be improved or it will be automatically closed. User comes in, adds a period to the end of a sentence or moves some words around. Timer expires, question still sucks. It's not the "set it and forget it" moderator aide you're looking for.
    – user149432
    Sep 11, 2011 at 21:37
  • @Mark, perhaps, but I like to think that most users with 'low quality questions' do so out of ignorance, not malice... We won't know if this is a problem unless we try this system out, after all.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 11, 2011 at 21:45
  • Agreed that this is not really a duplicate (although the spirit of the proposal is the same). Please make it more explicit that you want to add a distinct close reason, which will be the only one with a timer, and I will vote to reopen.
    – jscs
    Sep 11, 2011 at 23:23
  • @Josh, I thought it was clear enough originally, but okay, I added a bit of clarification.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 11, 2011 at 23:44
  • Extremely similar in intent to: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/92939/…
    – Shog9
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:00
  • @Shog9, any reason for editing my post into having a sarcastic title like that? I really don't understand why people are being so defensive over this issue. If you don't like the idea, fine, but don't make it look like I'm being rude in my question title, please.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:01
  • @Shog9, also, purgatory sounds like it would be for users who are repeat offenders. I'm more interested in first-time offenders - they come in here, make their first post without really reading the guidelines, and bam - "Not a real question". This gives them a second chance, rather than just closing it outright. I agree that we don't need to coddle repeat offenders, and would have no problem with the close reason becoming instantaneous if it happens more than once for the same asker.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:05
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    @bdonlan: subtle hint that you should edit your title. Which you then did. Damn, I'm good...
    – Shog9
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:05
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    @bdonlan: there are differences, which is why I didn't immediately re-close as a duplicate of that... But both approach closing (which is already sort of a purgatory, wherein questions are given a chance to be redeemed before they are deleted) as sort of a final outcome, and seek to provide a new pre-closed closed state. The other primary difference between the suggestions is that you skew toward open (any edit or answer stops the close) while Will's skews toward closed (or hidden, or something, since edits must be approved before the question is released).
    – Shog9
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:08
  • I came up with a largish proposal detailing how a niche could be made in the system for questions like this. I got just about as much love as you have. +1, I agree there should be more clarity provided to users that they are expected to write good questions in order to get good answers!
    – user1228
    Sep 12, 2011 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


I don't worry about discouraging new users when closing poor-quality questions.

I also very much prefer editing to closing.

So if you're voting to close (or flagging for moderator attention) instead of editing, you either don't think the question is salvageable, or you also don't worry about discouraging new users.

Remember: anyone can suggest an edit now. Even people without thousands of scores of rep points. So if a question gets closed without someone editing it, it's probably because no one gives a crap.

I don't give a crap about features for folks that don't give a crap.

  • In the question that inspired this feature request, the question was closed a mere 107 seconds after opening. It was then edited to improve it 16 seconds later. There was no time to edit and improve it. I have no problem with a question that's been open for, say, an hour with no edits being closed instantly. But when a question is closed less than two minutes after opening, there's clearly no time for improvements.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:08
  • See: stackoverflow.com/posts/7379816/revisions
    – bdonlan
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:09
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    @bdonlan: that is actually a terrible example. THREE USERS flagged that post within two minutes of it being posted. Any one of them could have edited it, one of them without even needing approval for the edit, but all failed to see anything of value in it. So why would they pick a close reason that implied there was something to be salvaged? Since it was a dup, you would have done the asker more good by finding the original question than you did by cleaning up his question. This wasn't some amazing, intelligent question that was very nearly lost. Even the unique phrasing is gone now.
    – Shog9
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:15
  • I would argue that it is still a good example - yes, three users flagged it. They could have edited it, or searched for duplicates. They chose not to attempt to do so. This "shoot first, educate later" policy, I would argue, is a problem with the SO moderation culture (in which I include user flagging as well). This policy may, of course, be necessary to keep the moderator workload down - but this is why I propose an automated system to try to give the OP a second chance without adding extra work for moderators.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:20
  • Further, although it ended up being a duplicate, this is an orthogonal problem to that of the fast closure, unless one of the flags was asking for it to be closed as a duplicate. I have no problem with duplicate questions being shot on sight.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:21
  • @bdonlan: again, the non-lazy option is always to edit. Flagging creates work for moderators, who (at least on SO) already have plenty to do - so moderators are also unlikely to do a lot of editing in the case of poorly-asked questions. You may not know this, but the system automatically kicks out questions that fall below certain quality metrics - meaning they don't get posted at all, unless the author is able to fix the problems himself. I appreciate your concern for those asking questions for the first time, but... We can afford to - and indeed, cannot afford not to - exclude the worst.
    – Shog9
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:25
  • @bdonlan: my whole argument here is based on the idea that there are people willing to put effort into improving questions so that they can be answered. If the question is a duplicate, there's very little need for this... Assuming of course that someone can even recognize the question and find a duplicate. Four people (and a moderator) didn't recognize the question and opted to close. It wasn't until you edited it that the duplicate was found... By someone else, probably after you raised the question here on Meta. So your time would have been better spent finding the duplicate.
    – Shog9
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:35
  • people are fundamentally lazy. There will always be more people who are willing to flag questions than are willing to edit, because the former requires less effort. My proposal here helps give time to the people who are willing to edit, but more importantly, gives time for the OP to edit (and gives them explicit feedback that their question needs improvement!). While I appreciate that moderators are overloaded as is, I don't think this will result in too much additional work.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 12, 2011 at 0:44
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    Time to edit + Explicit feedback that their question needs improvement == exactly what the existing close feature provides. Closing prevents answering and postpones deletion (excluding moderator and 20K user deletion) while allowing edits and providing a blatant indicator that the question must be improved in order for it to continue. The only major change your proposal includes is allowing answers to be posted - which is actually sorta counter-productive, since if the question gets answered anyway, then where's the motivation to improve?
    – Shog9
    Sep 12, 2011 at 1:53
  • Hm. An excellent point. I suppose, on reflection, what we really need is a close reason that actually tells the new user what they need to do - rather than just being an inscrutable "not a real question"... I'll go and mark this answered and file a new request for that reason I suppose, then.
    – bdonlan
    Sep 12, 2011 at 2:05
  • If you have any suggestions for alternate wordings, feel free to suggest them here on MSO! They've been changed many times, and could well be changed again. Keep in mind though, there's at least some expectation that users (and not necessarily even those voting to close) will leave comments to provide specific suggestions for improvement (since any suggestions in the close description itself will need to be fairly broad).
    – Shog9
    Sep 12, 2011 at 4:00

The already existing closing reasons already imply that the question will be closed if the question is not edited to correct what is wrong in the question.

Suppose that the question is voted to be closed as off-topic question. If the question is not edited, then it will be probably voted by more users, until it gets closed; if the question is edited to make it on-topic, then it will not get closed. Not all the questions can be edited to make them on-topic; if I ask "What color is the sky?" on Stack Overflow, there is no way I can make it on-topic, even if I would edit the question to make it, "What color does my computer see when it looks at the sky?"

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