I've seen it over and over again: A poor guy asks a question, makes a mistake in the formulation, another small typo and the result is less-than-perfect (not to say: stupid). What usually happens next is that within minutes such a question is down-voted, closed or even deleted.

I'm not against down-voting, closing or deleting of unconstructive/stupid content. Housekeeping is necessary.

But Gentlemen - Please! - Leave that poor guy the time it takes to reformulate, extend or rewrite his question. Most of the time I see plain down-votes without a comment within 20 minutes of the original post. And - that's the sad part - the down voters are usually members with >15k reputation.

Please consider the following:

  • Not all persons have English as their mother-tongue. Asking technical questions in a foreign language is quite challenging. Is it really so simple to estimate the effort that went into a badly formulated question?
  • Often the right question is the key to the correct answer. To find that "golden question" is time consuming, but usually a steep learning curve. You cut that off if you close the question.
  • Rewriting a question needs time. Especially if the proper research was not done in the first place.
  • Posts on SO are not real-time communication. (There's the chat for this) People tend to follow that fact and expect answers by the next day (or even by the next week).

If your answer is: "If I see the question being improved, I'll take the down-vote back." then I'd have to reply: Nay! This is not going to happen, I know you're too lazy to come back to a bad question.

My question is: How long do you allow someone to react on "improvement requests"?

What is the consensus on SO about this? Is there a consensus? One hour? One day? One week?

  • 3
    You know, closed questions that are fixed do get reopened. Maybe not quite as much as we'd like, but it does happen. Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 19:56
  • 7
    You misunderstand closing. A closed question can, and indeed often should, be edited. It can then be re-opened. See Shouldn't there be some sort of grace period before questions can be closed? and the various Meta questions linked from there, especially Let questions stay open for a minimum amount of time before being closed
    – jscs
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 19:58
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    @user177818 Don't rage-quit. As I've told you and the others have as well, closing is not permanent. And I personally work on the simple principle that, if the OP wants us to put our best efforts into the answers, we can expect them to put some efforts into the question. I think that's only fair to ask.
    – Bart
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 20:08
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    @user voting works differently on Meta. See meta.stackoverflow.com/faq#vote-differences
    – Pekka
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 20:12
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    @user177818 - Leaving SO? Think this through, Reread your question.. ALOUD please. "Less-than-perfect"..?? Huh? Nobody asked for perfect, just quickly fix it up. If you fix it fast enough, you probably won't get 5 close votes. But even if it does get closed, try again later. Not sure what you're exactly asking . Remember that DVs on Meta are different to... I've been hammered before too. tis ok move along ............ Uhh sigh. Here ya go have a sympathy-Upvote Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 20:42
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    @JoshCaswell - Sure, done. I do need to ease up on the sarcasm part( then temper) ! Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 20:46
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    @user what "problem" is that exactly - that we can't hold every newbie's hand on a site with 4k+ new questions a day? That we can't wait for everyone to do their research after posting their question, while we're answering them, sometimes even competently, and always free of charge? There's a limit to what you can ask from people, you know.
    – Pekka
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 20:51
  • btw last thing - you do have potentially nice ideas in your post, user177818. The way it works tho, from my brief experience, is that you make a very specific improvement-request. See how I got clobbered here and here -, but here I fared better Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 21:12
  • 5
    Remember, you have an infinite amount of time before posting the question to format and edit it. Why should we give you an additional grace period before downvoting? As others have pointed out, downvotes (and close votes) just send a message that the question is in need of improvement. If you take that message to heart and improve the question, all of those things are reversible. Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 8:07
  • possible duplicate of Why are questions closed immediately?; in addition to Josh Caswell's excellent suggestions Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 4:13

3 Answers 3


I used to see things exactly the same way as you; for example, this feature request was made in that spirit. However, the sheer number of posts and the relative unlikeliness of people fixing their posts has moved me into the "questions need to be okay from the start" camp over time.

Jeff Atwood put it nicely once in this feature request of mine where I requested a "my past downvotes cast" view so we can review our voting. His view even on taking downvotes back:

By the time I downvote something -- and I am referring to a downvote on a main site, not on a meta where downvote can mean "I strongly disagree with this" -- I have:

  • read and processed the post as written
  • thought about the content of the post; for bad posts, this takes longer as they are typically badly formatted, badly written, and badly researched
  • evaluated it and decided to vote it down

That is a lot of my time wasted on a post because someone phoned it in and couldn't be bothered to do basic research, or form coherent sentences, before writing.

The last thing I am going to do is come back and spend even more of my time changing my vote. Posts should be evaluated as written, not as some idealized best possible future version of themselves.

(within the 5 minute editing window, of course, and I might be willing to cut someone slack if they fix a post within up to 30 minutes after posting.)

While I still don't fully agree with Jeff's view - I think taking back a downvote if an OP has improved their question is a good and noble thing to do - what I tool away from this is that "posts should be evaluated as written" is the only guideline that can work in as big a city as Stack Overflow. If you post something the community regards as low quality, you will get drive-by downvoted. If you run into nice people, they will explain to you what went wrong, and upvote you once you fix it, but it's not something that's guaranteed to happen. I try to be one of those people: whenever I see a newbie contribution that I think has potential of fixing, I will usually let a comment accompany my downvote. With OPs who really care, fix the post and add a comment saying so, I will always revisit and take my vote back if it's the right thing to do. However, this is nothing that is guaranteed to happen, and in the majority of cases, it's a waste of time, so I don't think any kind of grace period is warranted.

  • @ Pekka's Reputation Retirement Home: Nice -- +90 here, and +2 at least on the feature request, and -500 bounty on the feature request, for -408 on the idea in general. That's making the most of the points. :)
    – sarnold
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 8:08

I've seen it over and over again: A poor guy asks a question, makes a mistake in the formulation,...

Please post examples. Concrete examples to extrapolate from help discussion enormously.

Leave that poor guy the time it takes to reformulate, extend or rewrite his question.

You cut that off if you close the question.

Rewriting a question needs time.

This time is still available after closure. The only thing that closure prevents is answers; in other words, more noise/garbage being added. A further point is that, when the question is edited, any early answers may very well need to be changed to address that. If they aren't, they become worse than useless. Better to have answers that reply to the question in its final form than a smattering of forum-like posts which are only loosely related to the topic at hand.

the down voters are usually members with >15k reputation.

It's impossible for you to know who downvoted a question. Don't make unwarranted assumptions.

Is it really so simple to estimate the effort that went into a bad formulated question?

The intent of a question, and effort that went into the content (as opposed to the expression, i.e., the language) generally come across clearly enough. There are many, many SO users who delight in helping out by cleaning up grammar, word choice, and formatting -- indeed, it's possible to earn rep by doing so (indicating that this is an important part of the system). The language itself is not important unless the post is literally unintelligible, in which case it should be closed.

Especially if the proper research was not done in the first place.

I'm sorry? Why should we not expect that the proper research has been done? That's one of the criteria of a good question.

Posts on os SO are not real-time communication.

If you hang out on one of the busier tagged question lists, you will see questions being answered, correctly and completely, literally within minutes of posting. Also, comment notifications appear the next time the user reloads a page, anywhere on the SE network. It's not real-time, sure, but it's awfully close. A question asker has a small obligation to not just drop a question and run away. Sometimes, even a really good question needs a little interaction between answerers and asker. Sometimes the asker even needs answerers to clarify their posts.

What is the consensus on SO about this?

Close early, close often. Re-open as soon as warranted.


If it's a bad question, downvote.

If it's a question that needs work, close, and ask for improvements.

There is no grace period. Partially because nobody would agree on what it is, making the "grace period" pointless. But mostly because whatever response a poor question elicits, it's not going to be a valuable contribution to the site. It'll be bad answers to a bad question, or good answers to a bad question (which is even worse...), or attempts to guess what the question is, which makes it nearly impossible to fix later.

The only valuable contribution you can make to a poor question is a suggestion how to make the question better. And you can do that right along with a downvote or a close.

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