In the recent off-topic discussion, Pekka 웃 suggested that other close reasons could be further broken out as well . We've got some more specific ideas along those lines, and we want your input and suggestions. Get comfy; this one's long.

Goals for "Not a Real Question" and "Not Constructive"

These goals will look familiar if you read the Off-Topic closing post, but the solution will likely differ. Here's what we want to achieve:

  • make the problem clear — the close reason should make it as clear as possible to the OP exactly what is wrong with their post
  • make them want to fix it — the language and workflow should encourage editing wherever possible (improving a post should seem more logical than arguing against closure.)
  • make those things happen in-line — if we send them to another page, we'll lose some users
  • minimize site-specific solutions — site by site differences should be limited to places it's truly necessary. "Off-topic" is literally defined differently on each site, so it needs customization, but we want the names and verbiage for the rest to be consistent.

Why are we doing this? Is there really a problem today?

Again, these reasons are working. If my choices were to keep em as is, or dump em entirely, I'd keep em, as they are doing a damn good job ensuring that our sites don't ever look like this site does. (Those all came from their front page.)

But, while we don't need to change what these reasons do, we can improve two things about them:

1. The problem they describe needs to be clear and specific

Consider this closed question from our apple site: What's special about Apple Airport Extreme?

Imagine you're the OP — since he's not spamming, trolling, etc., we can assume he thought he was doing the right thing when he posted his question. So, when his question is closed as "Not Constructive", he presumably won't think "oh, of course!" — he needs more information to figure out what's wrong. Let's see what we give him:

enter image description here

the question is "Not Constructive" I'll revisit that phrasing in the next section, but it's safe to say that it does little to identify the exact problem.

We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise. "Well, that's perfect! I'm actually looking for all those things in your answers, and I specifically highlighted a couple I thought might be relevant (Wifi range, transfer speeds, etc.)"

This question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. "Will it? It's about the specific specs that make An Apple router different from other, similar ones; it's not exactly 'who's right and wrong in the Middle East'"

If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened "Improved how? I still don't know what I did wrong. Re-opened? How can I prepare my case for some appellate court when I don't even know what I did wrong yet??"

see the FAQ for guidance:

enter image description here Yup. That's the same definition, complete with a link to itself.

So, what's actually wrong with this question? For this discussion, it doesn't really matter. What's important is that whatever's wrong, the current close reason doesn't convey it to the OP, so he still can't improve or avoid it.

I used a "Not Constructive" example, but NARQ has a similar problem. It reads:

enter image description here

There are five possible things that might be wrong there, and while the closer may know exactly which one is the problem, the asker presumably doesn't start from the position that his post is any of those undesirable things, which makes guessing which one applies to him challenging.

2. The wording shouldn't make you defensive

"Not constructive" seems polite to us, because we feel like we're essentially using it instead of

"that has no answer; stop wasting our time"


"you're kind of ranting and being a jerk"

But that's not the context for the asker. The asker thinks they asked a perfectly reasonable question. As such, they're unlikely to respond by thinking, "I could be more constructive". From their perspective, it sounds like something a slightly detached guidance counselor might say to a child.

And even if they just got back from some meditation, and are just really, really open-minded, there's still no opening to say, "okay, I should try to fix that," because it isn't specific enough. So, their only logical response is defiance: "Why isn't it constructive?"

And the same is true of "Not a Real Question". Everyone thinks they've asked a real question. I imagine myself being told by a colleague at work, "I read your email. That isn't a real proposal". It's almost impossible to honestly convince myself that I'd think "Huh that's odd. I thought it was. I wonder how I can improve it to make it a real one".

Which is part of why NARQ closures tend to elicit arguments citing the prominent inclusion of question marks, rather than legitimate attempts to correct problems.

Okay, enough complaining. What can we do about it?

Well, we want to continue to close the questions these currently are used for, but we need to make the feedback clearer, and incentivize improvement (or at least learning). Here's what we came up with:

Eliminate "Not Constructive" and "Not a Real Question", and replace them with more specific reasons:

unclear what you’re asking — Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

too broad — There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

primarily opinion-based — Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

In all three cases, not only is it clear what the problem is, it should also be clear what you need to do (when possible) to make the question acceptable. It's slightly less explicit in the last reason, but that's because fewer of those are savable.

To see if these reasons seemed to cover us, we had both community team members and mods try to apply them to a largish sample of previously closed questions.

Based on that review, we believe that these reasons will cover almost all current NC and NARQ questions — our sample had 94% well-covered, with the remainder pretty easily addressed using site-specific Off-Topic reasons, as proposed here.

That was long. Did you want something?

Of course! We want your input. We got a lot of these ideas from meta posts, and we've done enough testing (both inside and outside our echo chamber) to feel good about the approach, but we want to know what you think and how you might tweak or improve it.

Part of the close reason rework project:

  1. Changes to "close as duplicate" (part deux)
  2. Help us make "Off-Topic" close reasons clearer to the OP
  3. Help us make "Not Constructive" and "Not a Real Question" closures more effective
  4. Every "close" has its thorn: replace "close" with "on hold" for the first five days
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    FWIW I think this is a good enhancement to an already good(ish) system. – Jamiec Mar 13 '13 at 19:13
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    The reasons are going to have capital letters when they go into production, right? – blahdiblah Mar 13 '13 at 19:34
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    This is sort of a side topic, but I'm in hearty agreement with @blahdiblah -- the e̶x̶c̶u̶s̶e̶ rationale for all-lowercase letters in the past has been "they're not complete sentences". These most definitely are complete sentences, and when we're asking someone to improve their question anyways, we should set a good example by using proper English. – jscs Mar 13 '13 at 19:38
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    More squarely on topic, which of the three proposed new reasons applies to your sample question? – jscs Mar 13 '13 at 19:39
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    I love all of this. – ThinkingStiff Mar 13 '13 at 19:47
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    I think we need to rename the "not constructive" reason to something else. that seems to cause a lot of confusino – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Mar 13 '13 at 20:18
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    Remotely related: Show banner in edited closed questions asking for reopen review – Pekka Mar 13 '13 at 20:29
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    The problem with Not Constructive, is that often the question is fundamentally flawed, meaning, the core of the question, the meaning itself is not a fit for the site. In that case, we have nothing to do. Editing can't really work without overhauling the question (in which case, a second question is usually better). – Madara's Ghost Mar 13 '13 at 20:43
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    @JoshCaswell, nsGod, if I wanted to be told how to speak and write clearly, I'd go to ELU! Oh, okay, fine. – Jaydles Mar 14 '13 at 13:14
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    There are lots of comments / answers here (including this question itself) that refer to the fact that linking back to the FAQ doesn't actually help because it's just circular information, but nobody is mentioning the idea of actually updating the FAQ in line with the changes to closures. For instance on our Meta.UX site we just had this very question stating that the closure text doesn't really match the reason for closing, and the FAQ itself isn't ideal either. – JonW Mar 14 '13 at 15:53
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    @JonW, we agree. We are already working on an FAQ overhaul, which we'll share for input once we've got a little more done. The key question here is what we can do to address the problem best for someone who doesn't get to the FAQ. But you're dead right - we can use it to augment and improve it even further for those who do. More to come on that soon. – Jaydles Mar 14 '13 at 18:13
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    I wholeheartedly agree with replacing the mildly-insulting "Not Constructive" and "Not a Real Question" with those more specific reasons. They encourage new users to fix their question or repost it rather than ragequit SO. – System.Cats.Lol Apr 3 '13 at 13:02
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    Hooray. Because "not constructive" and "not a real question" has exactly the effect you describe when I receive it. Any of the 3 replacements ("too broad", "unclear what you're asking" etc) would be much more helpful. And links to the FAQ generally just deepen the pain, because the FAQs rarely contain anything useful. Real policy seems to occur on metas, and never makes its way back to the FAQs. – Steve Bennett Apr 18 '13 at 5:21
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    Until this gets implemented, would there be any benefit to dropping the "as not constructive" from the not-constructive close description, so instead of reading "Closed as not constructive by UserA, UserB, ..." it reads "Closed by UserA, UserB, ..." and users are forced to read the description below to understand why? This close reason is being used much more frequently lately, and I am constantly seeing the words "Not Constructive" causing a lot of confusion and arguments when "constructive" (by non-SE standards) questions get closed. – Rachel May 14 '13 at 15:27
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    @ShadowWizard, I'd generally avoid tossing "closed" or "lock" banners where not needed, and I'm not sure it's necessary here to curb anything: Looks like the last answer came in in '13? – Jaydles Jun 1 '16 at 15:27

26 Answers 26


Provide the OP with all the reasons that their question was closed.

It would be helpful to show the OP all the reasons that the question was closed instead of the one that a majority of closers picked. If two people pick primarily opinion based and three pick too broad, the OP should be made aware of both problems. Otherwise, they'll edit the question to narrow the scope, eliminating that problem, but still end up with a question that's just going to be closed again because it's opinion based.

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    Sometimes I see close votes that are just wrong. Maybe there should be at least 2 votes to show that reason. – juergen d Mar 13 '13 at 23:04
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    I wonder if it'd be useful to allow close voters to select more than one reason. – Caleb Mar 14 '13 at 0:23
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    @caleb I disagree. If there are multiple reasons that fit, pick e worst offender. For example, a lot of posts are both off-topic AND overly opinion-based. But if you reword that question to be based on facts, but you don't change what the question is about, it'll still be closed as off topic. So just close it as off-topic to begin with and save everyone a little time. – Laura Mar 14 '13 at 2:51
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    @Laura I'm not sure whether you're disagreeing with my answer or my comment. My thought was that if we provide all the reasons that a Q is closed, as in my answer above, then why not let voters select all the reasons for closing? That'd provide more info to the OP so the Q can be edited appropriately. It'd also make Juergen's suggestion more feasible: we could require two that two or maybe three voters agree on a reason before it's presented to the OP as a reason for closing, thus avoiding mistakes or poor individual judgement. – Caleb Mar 14 '13 at 3:42
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    @Caleb with your comment. At first thought, it does sound like allowing people to choose multiple close reasons might be a good idea, but after thinking a little more, it would probably not work as well in practice as in theory. Some questions would probably have every single close reason selected - and that would either be completely overwhelming for the OP, or just really confusing ("wait, so EVERYTHING about my question is wrong? Guess I'll just leave, then"). – Laura Mar 14 '13 at 13:38
  • @Laura Agree -- that's why I couched the possibility in "I wonder if...". It'd require some actual design from somebody smart. Set some reasonable limits, like you never show more than three reasons no matter how many votes there are. Or something. Hmmm. If only we had a polymath... – Caleb Mar 14 '13 at 14:06
  • Which is why I thought it would be helpful if there was a text box a close voter could type in when selecting the category... That way the OP would see the category, and reasoning about their question specifically... But apparently most people don't want to bother typing a single sentence, which is a bit disheartening. – Luke Mar 14 '13 at 22:11
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    I hope this isn't too far off-topic from this question, but I wish closing worked differently in at least two ways: (1) which reasons have previously been voted for should not be shown, to discourage closers from “voting with the crowd”; (2) a question should only be closed if it gets the required number of votes in any single reason. A split vote suggests to me that no single reason really fits the question; the bar should be higher for closing a question if people don't already agree on why it should be closed. – Peter Hosey Mar 15 '13 at 20:32
  • @PeterHosey Agree that your comment might be a different topic. However, a split vote may just mean that no single reason fits the question because the question has more than one problem. I don't think we want to delay closing a questions that people think are close-worthy on several counts. If we require 5 votes that agree on why the Q should be closed, we should allow voters to select multiple reasons so that it doesn't take 8 or 9 votes to close a really bad question instead of the usual 5. – Caleb Mar 15 '13 at 20:46
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    @peterhosey, I proposed the exact same thing, but it has a problem. Some posts have multiple, independent problems, and requiring 5 votes in a specific one to close would effectively make it harder to close the most problematic ones - we ARE considering a requirement that there's some minimum consensus, though. – Jaydles Mar 16 '13 at 15:44
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    While I share some of @Laura's concerns, we're looking at possibly including some version of this to give the OP more feedback on what's needed when they ARE trying to improve their post. – Jaydles Mar 16 '13 at 15:46
  • Disagree. The point of majority is to drown out the one a**hole who was completely off base or just annoyed. OTOH, questions that have multiple legitimate close reasons are rarely salvageable, as is the relationship between the OP and SO. – djechlin Apr 3 '13 at 0:43
  • I disagree with this since the majority of votes should be reflected in the close reason. In the case of tie, "unclear" should break the tie since only once it's edited to provide clarity, can you decide if other flaws should keep it closed or if the edited question can now be reopened. In the case where a moderator casts a binding vote, that should be the close reason regardless of voting since when mods make a mistake, they can re-open and re-close with the correct close reason attached. All other instances could be handled with flag or a meta post or a constructive comment, IMO. – bmike Apr 22 '13 at 17:02
  • @bmike It often happens that several reasons apply: a question could be closed for being both off topic and not constructive. When you vote to close, though, you have to pick one or the other. Telling the OP that his question is off topic, having him fix that, and then closing the question again right away will certainly frustrate the OP and waste everybody's time. Providing both reasons saves time and frustration by letting the OP fix all the problems. And if he doesn't fix them, he'll at least be aware of them and hopefully be better able to avoid them the next time he asks a question. – Caleb Apr 22 '13 at 17:08
  • I get why this would be an improvement with the current close reasons. I don't see it being as helpful going forward. We should close everything as "unclear" unless it's clear. At that point, a clear question should have one clear flaw. If it doesn't have one clear flaw, that's a sign to me that it's still unclear what the OP really wants. Can you provide an example of a question where my thinking breaks down? – bmike Apr 22 '13 at 17:16

I long ago had campaigned for the too broad reason (and they had inserted that language in the NARQ comment), so I think that one is great. My main feedback would be for you to specifically mention polls or list questions in one of the reasons (probably primarily opinion based). We may be able to close knowing what those are, but the user may not understand that that is what opinion is referring to.

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    +1, add "Shopping" too. – user7116 Mar 13 '13 at 19:33
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    Yes, please something specific about list questions. – Mat Mar 13 '13 at 19:33
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    @mat, lance, we looked at both- the problem is that the standards differ on different sites - some tolerate them generally, some rarely, most never. Mostly, that seems to be working, so we're loath to over-manage individual communities. So, we're currently envisioning them being "off-topic" sub-reasons on sites that prohibit them, or that only allow them in limited ways. That also has the benefit of putting them near the thing that (wrongly) makes them look ok in the FAQ - yes, programming questions, but no, not ones that generate lists where each answer is a single suggestion ranked by votes. – Jaydles Mar 13 '13 at 19:40
  • @Jaydles: I'd prefer the confusion (no Actual confusion, just those who get closed questions don't bother to read the FAQ) over the current close reasons over users pointing to the new reasons as why their shopping question is actually a good fit. – user7116 Mar 13 '13 at 19:50
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    @sixlettervariables I was under the impression that "shopping questions" were actually OK providing they contained enough details to avoid turning into a huge list of everyone's favorite X, with no way to determine "correct" answers from "incorrect" ones. For example, asking "What's a good Javascript library to use" would be not-constructive, but "What's a good Javascript library containing these specific features" would be OK. – Rachel Mar 21 '13 at 12:30
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    @Rachel, I agree, you basically have to be specific enough that you don't get a shopping list generated (IMHO). – Lance Roberts Mar 21 '13 at 13:50

I too like the three new close reasons.

My only remaining complaint about the closed question banners is the final sentence:

For help making this question more broadly applicable, see the FAQ.

What help does the user receive upon clicking that link? A list of the same closure reasons with the identical text and circular links back to the FAQ. They also get another link (wait, I thought this was the place where you explained what I should do; I have to go somewhere else now?) to the How to ask which contains only the most basic, general advice:

  • Do your homework
  • Be specific
  • Make it relavent to others
  • Be on topic
  • Keep an open mind

None of that is likely to pertain directly to the specific reason the asker's question was closed, nor does it give specific advice that's likely to pertain to the asker's question.

I would much prefer to see the following at the end of that link:

  • A curated selection of real example questions that were closed for the same reason, edited and then reopened.
  • A more detailed explanation/description of the close reason (the sort of explanation that you'd get in a good answer on Meta, but that's too long for the banner).

The reason I want to see this additional change is that communicating to people clearly about why their question was closed it only half the battle. We also need to do a better job of explaining more specifically how the asker can improve their question.

Obviously, I think this idea is more applicable to some close reasons than others. For instance, we're probably not looking for people to improve and reopen duplicates, or possibly even off topic questions.

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    Yes, as the question here highlights, the current link to the FAQ is circular and not helpful. We need to provide more customized "how to fix" guidance, and your suggestion to use examples, etc. are good ones. – Jaydles Mar 13 '13 at 19:42
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    Yes, this is a long-standing problem with the close reasons. Adding a link to help was a good idea, but there's not a whole lot of specific help at the other end right now. – jscs Mar 13 '13 at 19:42
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    The examples of resurrected questions is quite an interesting idea. Not sure how easy that would be for some questions which truly have no means of resurrection. Consider the case that we won't have a pool of questions to readily pull from under the new definitions for a bit (or a while on smaller sites). – user7116 Mar 13 '13 at 20:22
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    @sixlettervariables Yes, no way around it generating a list of examples would be work. If there aren't existing questions that would serve as good examples, surely some creative folks could invent a few. IMHO any concrete example would be better than what's provided at the moment. – joran Mar 13 '13 at 20:28
  • @joran: agreed. – user7116 Mar 13 '13 at 20:52
  • +1 - Each site's FAQ should probably contain some question-asking guidance tailored to that site to avoid the rabbit hole of links... – voretaq7 Apr 18 '13 at 20:35

The wording actually reads well and makes a lot of sense. Huge kudos for that!

One thing I'd like to pitch in would be a note to the poster (not necessarily visible to the rest of the world), explaining to them that a closed question isn't the end of the world - if they improve their question to not be in one of those categories, then it could be reopened.

  • Better not to use the word closed - rather say hidden or something else that does not have a sense of finality - although for dups and off topic finality might be OK – mmmmmm Mar 14 '13 at 13:41
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    The only problem is the wording itself. "Closed' is gentler than "locked" or "hidden", in the grand scheme of things. – Makoto Mar 14 '13 at 14:55
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    no as locked or hidden tends (especially in computing) to be easier to undo than closed. e.g. which is worse your account is closed or your account is locked – mmmmmm Mar 21 '13 at 9:26
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    I think the idea of a question being "closed" comes from the original Stack Overflow being a programming-oriented website. In bug trackers, you close a ticket when it's no longer an issue, and can reopen it if you goofed. (The analogy isn't perfect, though, as questions with an accepted answer aren't closed.) – Eagle-Eye Mar 23 '13 at 21:43
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    Being active in the PHP tag, I see a lot of questions being closed. And often I see the OP writing a comment stating that since his question has been closed, he will ask on another website. The OP probably hasn't realized the question could be reopened. – Jocelyn Mar 28 '13 at 18:19
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    I'm very much against this. Most closures are just signposts on the road to deletion. Most really can't be improved enough to get it reopened, and anyway there's not really any benefit to "editing to get it reopened" vs. just "asking a new and better question". At least in the latter case we have the benefit of the auto-ban if they still can't get it right after countless attempts. – Aarobot Mar 31 '13 at 18:22
  • @Aarobot: That's an old-fashioned way of thinking about it. Just because a question is closed doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be deleted. There are quite a lot of questions that can be eligible to be reopened with a little TLC. (Why would we have the ability to reopen if that weren't the case...?) Also, there is heaps of benefit to editing it to get it reopened - it allows a poorly-worded question to become clearer and potentially benefit others who read it. I wouldn't polish a turd, but you sure seem to lump all "closed" questions into this "turd" pile. That's wrong. – Makoto Mar 31 '13 at 18:27
  • Old-fashioned according to whom? There's no evidence for your claim, and if you look at the stats you'll see that very few closed questions get reopened after editing and a lot more get deleted. It is, for the most part, a turd pile. The fact that some situations are salvageable isn't grounds for misleading people most of the time. UX design and content-writing should follow the 80/20 rule. – Aarobot Mar 31 '13 at 18:30
  • I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree, then. I realize that a lot of content is unsalvagable, but my feeling is that if we treat every question like that, then there's no point to allowing questions to be edited or reopened. – Makoto Mar 31 '13 at 18:40
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    This only makes sense if questions have a good chance of being reopened. Right now that's usually only a theoretical possibility. Most users just re-ask the better question and start over... and um, myself included @ 8k rep. – djechlin Apr 3 '13 at 0:40
  • @djechlin: Here's an example of a question that was closed, then reopened after explaining the situation to the OP. There are questions that can be saved from closure/NARQ with editing and participation from the OP, although I'll willingly submit that the latter is hard to get (leading to the "theoretical" possibility). – Makoto Apr 4 '13 at 17:28

I'd like to see some wording that makes it clear the question isn't suitable for the StackExchange network of Q&A sites to the "too broad" and "primarily opinion based" closed reasons.

There has been many times in the past when users don't understand why their "good" question got closed as "not-constructive", but once it's explained that their question isn't necessarily a bad one, it just isn't suitable this Q&A network because of the quality of question they try to maintain, then the user is OK with the closure.

I see the same thing happening with the "too broad" or "primarily opinion based" close reasons. Users won't understand why their questions are not considered "real" questions and are getting closed, so I think it's important we are clear that we're not saying their question is bad, we're saying they are bad for this network of Q&A sites


I'm referring specifically to questions that are seeking opinions, polling, or a broad lists of recommendations. Questions like that aren't necessarily "bad" questions, they're just not suitable for Stack Exchange and typically get closed because the end result is a list of everyone's favorite X, sorted by popularity. Having them get downvoted and closed is often seen as "they think my question is bad" when it reality the reason is "this question is not suitable for this network of Q&A sites"

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    How can anyone know all the sites in the SE network? – Lance Roberts Mar 13 '13 at 19:58
  • @Lance: There is a list of a bunch at the bottom of every page... There's also a link curiously called "data" that lists ALL of them. – NotMe Mar 13 '13 at 20:03
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    @chris, by "know", I mean actually understand what is on-topic for each one. heck, I still can't even figure out Programmers. – Lance Roberts Mar 13 '13 at 20:04
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    @FrédéricHamidi I didn't think it was covered by "off-topic"... I'm referring specifically to questions that are seeking opinions, polling, or a broad lists of recommendations. Questions like that aren't necessarily "bad" questions, they're just not suitable for Stack Exchange and typically get closed because the end result is a list of everyone's favorite X, sorted by popularity. Having them get downvoted and closed is often seen as "they think my question is bad" when it reality the reason is "this question is not suitable for this network of Q&A sites" – Rachel Mar 13 '13 at 20:08
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    @Rachel, I see, looks like I misunderstood what you meant by suitable in your answer. If you're referring to "list" or "opinion" questions, those are indeed not constructive (they were too subjective before IIRC). Under the system proposed by the questioner, they would become too broad or primarily opinion based. Are you suggesting we add for the StackExchange network of Q&A sites to these qualifiers? – Frédéric Hamidi Mar 13 '13 at 20:13
  • I don't think I really understand the point you're trying to make here. The second or third thing usually asked by a person whose question is closed is "Well, where should I ask it, then?" Why would they think "closed because blah blah" means "This question should never have been asked anywhere on the planet"? Why does it need to be explicitly suggested that other places might exist for a question? – jscs Mar 13 '13 at 20:15
  • @LanceRoberts Well, Programmers isn't for everyone, that's for sure :| – yannis Mar 13 '13 at 20:15
  • +1 because I sort of agree with you, even if I truly think they're bad questions. – user7116 Mar 13 '13 at 20:19
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    @FrédéricHamidi Yes, I've updated my answer to try and clarify that. I am referring specifically to questions that have been deemed not-constructive for SE, even though the actual question is a good one and would probably do quite well in a discussion setting or forum. – Rachel Mar 13 '13 at 20:19
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    Rachel I think I know which questions you have in mind, and I think "not suitable for the Q&A format" is a bit more descriptive. Nothing wrong with those questions, but the SE platform was build with a different type of questions in mind and can't cope with polls, overly broad questions etc... "isn't suitable for the StackExchange network of Q&A sites" has a bit of a "your question isn't good enough for us" air, that I'm certain wasn't your intention. The issue is technical, not a quality one, the platform was never designed for such questions and can't cope with them. – yannis Mar 13 '13 at 20:20
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    @Yannis There's nothing wrong with trying to maintain a specific question standard. Personally I don't see anything wrong with polling or list questions in a Q&A format, however I can understand why SE deems such questions as "not-constructive" and closes most of them. I would want to be clear that the SE network has specific question standards, what those standards are, and why they exist, but I agree that I wouldn't want to make it sound like we're a bunch of elitist snobs. I figured I could leave the exact wording up to someone who's better with words than I am. – Rachel Mar 13 '13 at 20:29
  • Different sites have different "too broad" definitions so I don't think I'd like the blanket statement. Since "too broad" wouldn't be "off topic" IMO it doesn't need to include the "and it's probably not on topic elsewhere either". Off Topic closures do seem to have the problem that people see that notice and ask somewhere else (having not fixed the real problem) but I'm not sure "too broad" would have that same problem – Ben Brocka Mar 14 '13 at 21:13
  • I'm not sure "for the StackExchange Network" is an improvement on the existing messaging; a typical new user is likely just aware of this one site (stackoverflow or whatever it may be), and adding the fact there's a whole network out there they're violating probably doesn't help them determine what they can do better. – Chris Moschini Apr 3 '13 at 3:05
  • Perhaps instead of CLOSED, call it moved to Library ! – Benalmadena Apr 3 '13 at 19:33
  • That is why I recommended the Entry Exam (java script popup).! In case where the question does not fit the form and format, send them back to the Entry Exam, that would send a clear message to the user. – Benalmadena Apr 3 '13 at 19:37

I like the general solution, with more specific explanations of what is wrong, designed to encourage fixing it. But there's one problem remaining:

You're still calling it closed.

For these particular things, we should call it "Needs Work" or something to that effect. "Closed" has a more permanent meaning; it discourages fixing it. If it were named with "[Needs Work]", then it's clear that fixing it is encouraged. Obviously it should be functionally the same as closing, just like "Duplicate" is identical to "Closed" now.

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    Good point. We'll post some thoughts on that in the next couple of days. – Jaydles Mar 14 '13 at 11:39
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    How about "Closed for repairs"? – jscs Mar 14 '13 at 13:48
  • 1
    Or "Frozen"?<!-- 15 characters --> – user7116 Mar 14 '13 at 20:09
  • On the other hand, why does it need to be closed (or any other verb for the same action) to promote editing? It can already be edited without closing it; if you want to fix or improve it, just do that, and if you want the OP to edit it, you can ask them to in a comment. I think you've got a good idea, though; it could be better to have closure (for unsalvageable questions) and “needs work” (for reparable but currently unanswerable questions) as two concurrently-available options. – Peter Hosey Mar 15 '13 at 20:37
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    This is awesome. Either Nicol's or Josh's suggestion should end up being implemented (the latter makes me smile, and might help us win over offending askers emotionally). @Peter I disagree, if we don't prevent new answers while the question needs work, edits will be more unlikely, less radical, and the answers will no longer make sense. – codesparkle Mar 20 '13 at 10:16
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    @JoshCaswell I had a similar approach: "[the question] is currently closed for further answers as a result of it's current close-vote standing" apart from that I need a better thesaurus, I would always choose "is currently closed" over past tense "has been closed" to make clear it's a state that can change not a permanent verdict like in "case closed". – mxfh Mar 23 '13 at 23:09
  • Not awesome. Not every question is actually salvageable. Yes, we want to be gentle to the folks who almost got it but not quite. But honestly I've closed and seen closed thousands of questions by now and at least 90% of them have no hope of ever getting reopened. Closed means closed, we didn't say deleted or destroyed or even locked. If you can close something, you can also open it, it doesn't take a programmer to understand that. It's become a very annoying fallacy that users are simply objecting to the wording of "closed" - the words don't matter, it's the result they don't like. – Aarobot Mar 24 '13 at 15:21
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    @Aarobot but if something is closed the only thing you can do is open it which you have to do before you can change its insides. This is not the message we want to send, we want people to change the insides before reopening. – mmmmmm Apr 2 '13 at 12:58
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    "Closed" primarily carries over meaning from forum software, where a closed thread is typically never re-opened. Whilst that may be statistically true of questions here, the state is quite different. On a forum, a closed thread is frozen and can't be modified, where on SO, the question can be commented on and edited whilst in this state. This confusion would be simple to avoid by avoiding "Closed" and aiming for a synonym. – Paul Turner Apr 12 '13 at 10:20

Let's start large. For many users, the fact that there's a big fat [CLOSED] tucked at the top of the question means that the question is dead. It cannot be revived, and no one cares about it. That's because many users come from a forum background where CLOSED (or LOCKED) mean that the thread is closed by moderators, and is likely to never be revived.

They stop reading there. That's why the very definition of "Closed" needs to change. Perhaps "On hold"? or "Needs improving"?

As for the reasons:

Not a Real Question

Much like the off-topic suggestion, I suggest breaking it up to several sub-reasons:

  • Too broad.

    This question is not reasonably scoped. An answer to this question would probably be too long to be actually useful. Try editing and focusing your question onto a more specific issue.

  • Incomprehensible.

    This question is unclear to the point where it cannot be answered. We simply cannot understand what you are asking! Try to edit the question to improve the language, grammar and/or formatting so that it is clear what you are asking. Add code examples and/or screenshot to complement your problem.

  • Not a question.

    This post is not a question. It is a statement, a rant or an article. Please edit your post so that the actual problem is clear, and your question is obvious. Reduce noise and background to the minimum required for clarity.

  • General Reference (or some other more appropriate name)

    This question shows absolutely zero effort. The answer for this question is easily searchable, widely available or is part of an official manual. We expect our users to perform some level of research and effort on their own, before turning to help.

Not Constructive

I can make a distinction between two types of Not Constructive questions.

  1. The question itself is not a good fit, and never will be (because it, at its core, is intended for debate)
  2. The question can be reworded to avoid the debate (by focusing on technical details only, for instance). These are usually something like "Which is better? X or Y?"

The first case

This is a problematic one. There's nothing much we can do to improve the question generally. The question itself is not a good fit for the site, no amount of improving, revising, or editing would suffice to reopen it (and if they do suffice, the OP should probably post a second question). Therefore, the phrasing I propose is:

This question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. See the FAQ before asking more question to prevent more closed questions.

The second case

Could actually be improved, so I suggest something such as:

As it currently stands, the question isn't a good fit for this site. Try to edit it to be less subjective in nature, focus on technical or real comparable details instead of asking other people's opinions, ask for their expertise.

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    "no amount of improving, revising, or editing would suffice..." hm in last two days I saw at least two questions that were quite easy to revise out of NC: 1, 2 – gnat Mar 13 '13 at 21:20
  • @gnat: Am I missing anything? The first was closed as OT, the second wasn't closed. – Madara's Ghost Mar 13 '13 at 21:24
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    yes you are missing something I believe. First had vote-split (my own vote was certainly NC, OT at Programmers rarely makes sense), second... well just look at discussion in comments that accompanied earlier version "requesting a list of Questions which is a poll". – gnat Mar 13 '13 at 21:30
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    I'm all for getting rid of "Not-Constructive" entirely like I think the question proposes. It's far too often misunderstood by the OP or other users, as they often don't understand why their question got called "not constructive" and it puts them on the defensive even before they read the small print under it. – Rachel Mar 14 '13 at 11:54
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    I'm with @sixlettervariables - "Incomprehensible" is the BEST WORD TO USE. – JoshDM Mar 14 '13 at 19:37
  • ALso for NARQ we need you have not shown enough research – mmmmmm Mar 21 '13 at 9:27
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    @Mark no we do not. Not enough research is grounds for a down vote, not close vote. If not enough research was shown, find a duplicate. – Madara's Ghost Mar 21 '13 at 15:12
  • @MadaraUchiha - not according to these Meta questions here, here and here and more – mmmmmm Mar 21 '13 at 15:19
  • @MadaraUchiha - and "not enough research" does not mean just on this site but in general e.g. not tried to debug your code, not done a google search etc so there won't be a duplicate to mark – mmmmmm Apr 3 '13 at 18:52
  • @Mark: That's a different feature request. Check the "General Reference" suggestion. Also, "debug this for me" is too localized. – Madara's Ghost Apr 3 '13 at 18:53
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    +1 Incomprehensible. This is very distinct from Unclear. Incomprehensible = catastrophic grammar and structure. Unclear = loss of focus, too many goals, vagueness. – Jirka Hanika Apr 3 '13 at 19:55
  • +1 for the NARQ splitting, even though I disagree with you about Not Constructive. – Ben Barden Apr 12 '13 at 12:53
  • +1 for "Incomprehensible". Sometimes this is due to Google Translate, used either mindlessly or inadvertently (by the web browser). Perhaps something to this effect should be added to the text for "Incomprehensible"? – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Apr 12 '13 at 18:53
  • IF a question gets an accepted answer, is it by definition a real question regardless of the "Not a Real Question" flag? - my point being it likely has some other issue present. – Mark Schultheiss May 6 '13 at 14:50
  • @MarkSchultheiss: No, if a question gets an accepted answer, it means that the answer that was given to it helped or solved the OP's original problem. It doesn't mean it was good, or that the question was good or even real. – Madara's Ghost May 6 '13 at 15:06

(I thought I'd suggested this long ago, but I can't find any trace. This is close to Rachel's point.)

By and large there are three types of reasons we close questions:

  • Because the question has already been asked, and there's no point in duplicating the answers. Close reason: duplicate.
  • Because the question is not a good fit for Stack Exchange. Current close reasons: NC, NaRQ, TL.
  • Because the question is not a good fit for this Stack Exchange, but it might conceivably fit on another site. Close reason: off-topic, possibly with migration.

I think there should be three toplevel headings when closing a question, each with a submenu:

  • Duplicate. Pick the duplicate question.
  • Off-topic. Optionally pick a migration target (any site for moderators, only meta and vetted paths for others).
  • “Not a good fit for Stack Exchange in its present form.” This one comes with several canned subheadings:

    • Unclear.
    • Too broad.
    • Primarily opinion-based.

I think some of the per-site custom close reasons should fall under ”not a good fit“ as well. When SU rejects mobile phone questions, it's a matter of topic. But when a language site rejects a dictionary lookup question, or when SU rejects “shopping requests”, or when Gaming or SFF rejects recommendation requests, it's a matter of fit.

For example, experience on SFF shows that if a recommendation request is closed as off-topic, this leads to puzzlement: but I'm asking for recommendations about time travel stories, how is that not science fiction? There should be a custom close reason under “not a good fit” — something like “We have found that Stack Exchange's questions and answer format does not work well for personalized recommendations <link to meta thread>. If you have more than 20 reputation points, you're welcome to join us in chat<link> and discuss your favorite works.” (wording thrown in a hurry).

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    +1 because I think you factored this correctly, Unclear, too broad, too subjective etc. are sub-reasons for "not a good fit for SE." "Not a good fit" is also more accurate and kinder - it's not necessarily a bad question, just a bad question as asked presently, here. – djechlin Apr 3 '13 at 0:38
  • I posted it for reference. Please don't take it personally. – bwDraco Apr 15 '13 at 18:08

Whatever the issues are in the closed question, I believe it would not hurt to make it clear to the OP that the purpose of the closure is to prevent question from picking up new answers, which in turn is intended to make it easier to edit the question into a better shape and reopen (to me, this is the main purpose of question closure at all).

For further guidance for the OP interested in more details on how to improve (intended to replace current reference to "same definition, complete with a link to itself") I would recommend to explain to them the effects that their question edits might have on already existing answers (if there are any). That should help the OP make a better informed choice on the edit-to-reopen approach.

If possible, the guidance would also include a recommended norm / etiquette on question edits that may invalidate existing answers.

My understanding is that current community preference is for generally trying to avoid invalidation, up to the point of completely locking substantial edits to question. Since I personally have no sympathy to answers posted to bad questions, I wouldn't mind if the recommendation would be opposite - the main point is to just have some common reference to use when discussing issues related to edits that invalidate answers.

Regarding the guidance for improving "primarily opinion based" questions, I would like the OP to be referred to some explanation of "Atwood's transform":

... there is a way to ask these [types of] questions that avoids the inherent problems with shopping recommendations...

For questions closed on grounds of polling for particular programming resources, it would be nice to also inform the OP about an option to edit it into constructive form by presenting an underlying problem instead - a problem that was intended to be solved with particular resource requested (if needed, refer to this discussion at Programmers meta for more details).

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    Perhaps instead of "Closed" call it "Frozen"? Seems like a simple fix to your above the line point. – user7116 Mar 14 '13 at 20:08
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    @sixlettervariables "Frozen" isn't a bad term, actually, though my concern would be that it would send the message that the question itself is frozen, too (not just the answers) - which is the opposite of what we want to convey. – Laura Mar 14 '13 at 20:48
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    @sixlettervariables "Frozen" may, well, freeze the desire to edit / improve. "May Need Work" sounds safer... – gnat Mar 14 '13 at 21:09
  • @gnat / Laura: yeah I couldn't come up with a One Word solution better than Frozen. – user7116 Mar 14 '13 at 21:23
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    “to make it clear to the OP that the purpose of the closure is to prevent question from picking up new answers,…” This should also be made clear to closers, to remind them of what they're doing: Preventing the question from getting an answer. Closure should (in my opinion) be reserved for questions that already cannot get an answer because they are unanswerable (for any of the closure reasons). – Peter Hosey Mar 15 '13 at 20:41
  • @PeterHosey that's quite a slippery road: answers that are irrelevant to asker may block the question from editing into clear explanation of what they really need and, subsequently, from getting the answer they seek. "fast closure... serves the primary need to make reopening easier and protect the poorly worded good question from getting bad answers" – gnat Mar 15 '13 at 21:35
  • @gnat: Answers can be edited, too. If an answer to a best-guess interpretation of the question does not fit what the questioner meant to ask, then the author can and should revise their answer after the question is revised. – Peter Hosey Mar 15 '13 at 21:39
  • @PeterHosey I for one would be happy if things work that way (see "no sympathy to answers..." note above) but so far, it doesn't look like this attitude is widely supported (see "current community preference is for generally trying to avoid invalidation...") – gnat Mar 15 '13 at 21:42
  • @sixlettervariables: "Frozen" is more likely to be interpreted as "locked" rather than "closed". I would not agree to this change. – bwDraco Apr 19 '13 at 2:18

After my own first-time-meta experience yesterday I might be able to contribute with some more straight forward constructive insight. After getting some initial up votes my question was closed with the following text and I realized meta is apparently not the generic feedback place I assumed it to be.

We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance.

The wording might come across as unnecessarily harsh to some who are just here because it's somehow advertised as "feedback" channel all over the place (in all emails and on the very footer of this page in bold right next to contact us). My basic understanding of the term includes that any feedback is usually welcome, and at worst it should be discarded, if feedback is constructive that's good yet it's not a inherent requirement. The current wording implies that that I didn't meet someone's expectations, that's A-OK for keeping any Q&A site on topic yet not the best response if you're here expecting to be on a feedback site. Especially with first time posters I would rather assume good faith than imply they don't know what they're doing and somehow broke something. People with ill intentions don't get scared away by words alone anyway, so no need to sound demanding or lecturing about any attempt of interaction with the site.

Also the special nature of meta votes could be featured more prominently, especially first time users, who would otherwise add some valuable input might be alienated by it's volatility.

For meta, I would propose this explanatory text which includes encouragement to further constructive site interaction, a description of what happened to your question, why it happened and what you can do about it without resorting to words like expect and solicit:

We appreciate any feedback, yet this question, in its present state, will likely not lead to constructive discussion and is currently closed from further answers. Please see the FAQ for guidance and best practice on how this and future questions can be improved to match this site's Q&A style and scope.

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    UV because yes meta is completely different. It's more of a kludge to jam the discussion it requires into Q&A format, but it's a kludge we accept because benefits outweigh costs. – djechlin Apr 3 '13 at 0:35

After recently posting a question and getting it closed, I went though this process from the other point of view, the closee. I believe what is missing for people like me is a path to rectify the situation. As the closee, you have very little to go on unless some closer has left some specific advice.

I found no good information as to how I should go about trying to fix my question. The FAQ did not help much. I ended up posting something here on Meta. With the help I found there, I found it amusing to see my question re-opened, closed and re-opened again. Subsequently I found out that this path is often followed as a de facto appeals process. I have seen various entries here on Meta-SO that lamented the use of Meta for this type of appeal. It's certainly not the most pleasant way, nor the most efficient I expect.

I also saw mention that you could edit the question and then flag the question for moderator review. I did not see that in the FAQ, but maybe I just missed it. Obviously it not not occur to me to do that. Is it really the right way to do it?

I suggest the following change. Add a button on Closed posts next to "flag" and the others that says, in fewer words, "I have edited my question, please reconsider". I suspect that will cut appeals here by half or more. Make available to the Closee text that suggests a rewrite and reconsideration request. Just having a clear path to follow will greatly improve their experience.

And for their part, make it easier for the closer to leave feedback aimed at a successful rewrite of the question if they think that is possible.

I do think the proposed rewrite of the "reasons" are good ones.


  • If you edit your closed question it is automatically added to the reopen queue on the /review page. – ChrisF May 1 '13 at 20:47
  • As a newbie to this I did not know that and am not sure how I would have known. It would have helped. I did not know until now that there is a review page. – LostInTheTrees May 1 '13 at 22:48
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    @lost, that feature (edits triggering addition to the re-open queue) is fairly new, and not yet well documented. But we're on it. – Jaydles May 2 '13 at 0:34

The wording is much better, I can finally close as NARQ without having folks complain "But there is a question here, you dimwits! Can't you see the question mark?"

However, regarding NC:

Not Constructive has many facets. "primarily opinion based" is something rather debatable and doesn't really cover all in the form presented; I suggest we add

  • recommendation question - Questions asking for book or product recommendations tend to be opinion-based, and are off topic on [site]. We suggest you edit the question to ask "What should I look for in an X?" instead of "What is the best X?" and be more explicit about what you need it for.

as an explicit category. questions should probably have their own category as well.

These are the types of NC posts I generally come across. For these, "opinion based" is just as arguable as all the points on the current NC banner. Explaining NC is hard. It is far better that the banner explicitly says that we disallow such posts, and tell the OP how to fix the question.

Also, it may be helpful to link to the relevant meta posts and/or blog posts in the close reasons. Especially the Q&A is hard one.

  • On some sites, aren't most answers "recommendations"? Perhaps instead change it to "broad recommendation" and explain we want posts that can be definitively answered, so users don't need to go through pages of equally-valid answers to find one that suits them. I like your 2nd sentence of how to rephrase the question though (although I'm sure some people will still argue "but now you're asking for a list!") – Rachel Apr 12 '13 at 11:54
  • @Rachel: Not sure, any examples of such sites? Also, it depends on the phrasing of the question. If the question is asking "how do I do...?" and the answer is a product rec, that's fine. The question should not openly invite recos, that leads to a lot of careless-off-the-top-of-my-head answers. – Manishearth Apr 12 '13 at 12:00
  • I was thinking of more subjective sites, such as Parenting.SE and Workplace.SE – Rachel Apr 12 '13 at 12:14
  • @Rachel: Hmm, yes. Do you have any alternative formulation in mind? (Or this could be made an optional close reason for sites -- IIRC they're making the OT section customizable, won't be hard to do it here either.) – Manishearth Apr 12 '13 at 12:17
  • It would be nice if it were customizable, but the only way I can think to phrase it for all sites would just be "broad recommendations", with a brief explanation why SE doesn't want such broad list questions (end result is many equally valid answers, and you have to read every post to get a full answer). The explanation should also include something short suggesting how to improve the post, such as being very specific about the details on the kind of X you're looking for, or to change the phrasing to "what should I look for in an X" or "how can I do X" instead of "what's the best X" – Rachel Apr 12 '13 at 12:33

Not Contructive

Anything that can be done to improve the situation ought to be done. The current definition, as a catch-all, doesn't help the poster to even begin to fix the problem.

I had this exact difficulty on music.SE with What's the most useful alternate tuning and why? [closed] and my two meta questions Facts, References, OR Specific Expertise and Good Poll/Bad Poll — Lesson to learn?.

Singularly unhelpful and frustrating is being quoted the same definition again when asking for clarification.


I very much like the suggestion: as it stands, it isn't easy for a user to tell from a NARQs/NCs what to do to fix their question. The proposed change makes it much easier to know how to improve the question. The One problem with this proposal is the result of its attractiveness, and the flip side of specificity: if the closure reason doesn't fit one of the proposed reasons, it isn't clear how to categorize the reason the question was closed.

As an example, I want to use the sour cream question-type as articulated by David Kessner on meta.EE: this is a common type of question on EE.SE

Using 1 quart sour cream, three bolts of different sizes, and a pen how can I ride a horse?

Under the old system of close reasons this would be NC. Under the proposed system (which I am in favor of), it isn't clear where this fits. The real reason this question should be closed is something like "The premise of your question is flawed". Of course, we could argue that this should be another close reason. However, I am sure other sites have other good (and specific) reasons to close questions that likewise don't fit in the proposed categories: gimme da codez questions, whatever.

It seems that if we want to give very specific feedback on closed questions the need be many close reasons, perhaps selected in a non-mutually exclusive fashion. However, it is not clear how maintainable such a system is. Perhaps there need to be some catch-all close reasons specisely for the cases where the proposed categories do not fit. However, if 50% of the questions can be closed using a more specific reason, then this site will be more friendly towards new users.

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    A close reason tailored for the "gimme the codes", "plz debug this for me", "I wanna make an app, plz tell me how?" questions would not be bad. The working title could be "Too lazy", but in production it would probably need to be re-worked. – Monolo Apr 26 '13 at 9:10

Although I have answered an okay number of questions on SO, I have only ever asked one. I asked after doing a lot of research trying to solve myself. I was excited to go out of my usual area where I know the answers into a different tag to ask something where I didn't. Right away I got asked for the code, and I very happily added that and thought this really is great, someone actually responded and with a reasonable request that I should have thought of myself. Then the question got closed as not a real question and I really have to say I will likely never ask a question again. The message said it was rhetorical. I really don't know what would make it rhetorical given that I really just wanted (and still want) to fix my code so it doesn't generate notices. It was certainly a hard question without an answer that you could find by searching in Google or the obvious places in the php manual; it would need to be answered by someone who really knows a lot about utf-8 handling in php, but that doesn't make it rhetorical ... I'm just sharing this because I really agree that he standard messages are discouraging and not helpful

  • If you disagree about a closure, and you are sure it is on topic, you can ask a question on meta - if people agree that it should be reopened then you will have your question quickly reopened. – nhahtdh Apr 26 '13 at 8:43
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    Really, spending time arguing about whether something is a real question or not is not going to help me get rid of my notices and is not something I'm going to do. I'm really making that as a usability comment. I'm sure for people who hang out on SO all the time it's just part of life that you go to meta and ... do meta stuff. In the meantime, I think as someone who wants to know how to fix my code it's more useful for me to spend that time finding new ways to search the php issue tracker to see if there is something there that relates. Anyway, that's how I as a user felt. – Elin Apr 26 '13 at 9:45
  • Of course, you can choose not to participate in meta. However, if you have problem on main site, meta is the place where you ask for help. I merely suggest you to post a question to ask other people to reopen your question, since I think your question merits reopening. – nhahtdh Apr 26 '13 at 9:49
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    Yes and thanks, I just think from where I sat as a new question-asker it was really discouraging and really it wasn't clear how to respond, which is the point of the whole thread. The whole thing just really took me aback. – Elin Apr 26 '13 at 9:59

I don't think grouping "you didn't ask a question" and "you didn't provide enough detail" together is a good idea, since the labeling "you didn't provide your research" as unclear what you’re asking seems incorrect to me.

I find that I want to leave a comment explaining for insufficient detail questions because the existing reasons are vague (taking up two words total) even though it is a very common occurrence.

For example this question which asks a question, but needs more information to be a proper question.

  • 2
    "We're not sure why you have that problem based on the code sample you provided. Can you provide more context or list some things you have tried?" seems to fall under "unclear what you're asking" to me. If you have to guess what the question asker meant, then it's unclear what they're asking. – Troyen Mar 13 '13 at 23:16
  • @Troyen: I added an example (might not be the best, it was just one I had reviewed today), basically if they actually ask a question, but fail to provide any support for that question. I commented what I thought was missing and closed as NARQ. – Guvante Mar 13 '13 at 23:21
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    It took me several tries to figure out what that question was asking, so I think "unclear what you're asking" would be an OK fit. I will admit that really lazy or simple RTFM questions aren't covered under the proposed close reasons, but I thought those were technically supposed to be downvoted rather than closed (even though people close them anyway). So I guess close as "unclear" if you can't answer the question but just downvote if they put in no effort. – Troyen Mar 13 '13 at 23:29

The changes proposed here will result in some great improvements, for sure.

I just wonder if the self-imposed constraint that all the close reasons should be valid for all sites in the SE network isn't a bit too stifling?

If the rules that have evolved on the various sites are diverse from site to site, then maybe it should be possible to create diverse close reasons, too?

This would also allow to use more specific language relating to the topics of the site. The current very generic language (and even the improved language in this proposal) can be difficult to relate to, especially for someone with English as a second (or third) language.

If it is a goal to keep the close reasons unified (KISS!), then maybe the descriptions of the reasons could be "localized" for specific sites?

  • 1
    We agree that sites should have some leeway to make site-specific close reasons. We're hoping to address that by making all site-specific close reasons live in the dedicated off-topic reasons proposed here. – Jaydles Mar 14 '13 at 13:08
  • I would say if we haven't found a universal solution then that just means we haven't really found the insight that tells us what's wrong with questions in these categories. What makes a question NC or NARQ is precisely what SE sites have in common, not where they differ. – djechlin Apr 3 '13 at 0:32
  • Right now, "Off Topic" carries an automatic downvote, whereas "not constructive" does not. This is the case even though "off topic" is specific to a site, whereas "not constructive" is (or should be) common to ALL SE sites. That's backward, IMHO. We should penalize people more for violating "common" SE standards, than for violating "localized" site standards. – Tom Au May 7 '13 at 15:36

The path to answers...

 Overview  --> Facts         --> Opinion    --> Discussion

 Wikipedia --> StackOverflow --> ?????????? --> forums

StackOverflow's "just the facts" approach is becoming the gold-standard for reliable, succinct information that is more specific than Wikipedia. To keep it that way, a great many of the closures are questions that largely call for an opinion.

While opinions must (mostly) remain outside the scope of this site to maintain its utility, by not providing a route for soliciting such opinions, are we throwing the baby out with the bath-water? Facts are better than opinions, but opinions (particularly by the high-caliber of expertise found here) still can have great value.

Perhaps there needs to be a slightly different variation of site (sub-site?) for opinions...

When a calls-for-opinion question is closed, the message could offer to move the question to the opinion site and present it for editing as often some verbiage changes might be needed. Such a site would be very similar in format and features to StackOverflow except the length of opinion-answers might be limited (similar to comments) to discourage rants and promotions and encourage single-statement answers. Voting bubbles the most widely held of those opinion-answers to the top.

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    The "Just the facts"-approach as you call it is what makes SO so unique and uniquely useful, and it is worth a considerable effort to protect. OTOH, the opinions of knowledgeable colleagues on a not so clear-cut problem can also be very, very useful when dealing with real-world software problems. Maybe the key would be to distinguish the knowledgable participants from the less so. Here is some real opportunity for innovation. – Monolo Mar 21 '13 at 10:06
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    DVing because I think it will greatly weaken SE to 1) legitimize poor opinion-polling questions as such, and 2) to deny that great answers often are simply good, expertise-based opinions. – djechlin Apr 3 '13 at 0:30
  • The "Good Subjective / Bad Subjective" post is extremely helpful! I've only recently discovered that Programmer's allows much more subjective Q&A. In fact, I had thought all SE sites were required to follow SO's strictly-the-facts format. Perhaps changes to the too-subjective close-messages could refer the questioner to other sites like Programmers. This would both tell them how to correct the problem and inform newbees like me that the subjectivity standards vary between sites. – DocSalvager Apr 4 '13 at 5:57
  • Bear in mind that Programmers started off life as the place for subjective questions not allowed on SO, but then went through a great deal of pain before it became the thing it is today, and the process is part of why stack exchange is very very firmly not a discussion forum, and is extremely cautious about subjectivity. – AndrewC Apr 30 '13 at 23:04
  • @Monolo: We can treat "expert opinions" as FACTS. For instance, "The Axis had an outside chance to win World War II" is an opinion. But "WINSTON CHURCHILL thought that the Axis had a chance to win World War II based on [this speech] or [that written passage] is a FACT (about an "expert" opinion). – Tom Au May 7 '13 at 15:30

My most frequent underlying reasons (in my own interior monologue) for suggesting that a question be closed are:

  • Too Coy: Did not supply anywhere near enough information to make possible anything but a pure guess.

  • Too Gormless: Clearly didn't bother to read the docs, do a Google search, search Stack Overflow, try any code of your own, vel sim.

Without actually using potentially insulting terms like "coy" and "gormless", it would be nice to have a way to express these notions helpfully.

Addendum 1: A category frequently cropping up these days is something like "Willfully ignores the fact that this a duplicate." The Stack Overflow interface nicely presents possibly related questions, including some that give the answer perfectly, and the questioner just ignores this and asks anyway. I've seen the same question about NSDate and time zones nearly every day, for example. There ought to be a quick penalty for this, in my opinion, because it strains bandwidth.

Addendum 2: Another mental category I often come up against is "made some dumb silly mistake that is unlikely to be of interest to anyone." This kind of issue often gets fixed to the complete satisfaction of the questioner just by a little back-and-forth in the comments; the question never even gets (or needs) an answer. I try to cover that under "too localized", but it would be nice to have something clearer (and perhaps a fast track to deletion, since the question was just a kind of mistake all along).

  • +1 for your thoughts on categorization, but this is of limited usefulness since coming up with proper terms is one of the major purposes of this question. – Pops May 16 '13 at 17:56
  • I'm hoping to provoke discussion / suggestions / thought on that point. Perhaps "Needs more information", "Needs more preparation"? (I'm trying to avoid the word "insufficient" even though it's what I'm really thinking.) – matt May 16 '13 at 17:58
  • Another problem I'd like to see tackled is what to do about people who have been given the correct answer and just keep fighting against it. Maybe we need a closure category that amounts to "Not listening" or "Would rather whine than learn". – matt May 16 '13 at 22:03

I feel that people that leave comments after making a close vote stating why is often more helpful, as long as they're not just quoting the FAQ.

The problem is most close voters don't take the time to leave a comment on how the question could be improved. And each close voter, while sometimes selecting the same pre-defined reason, has a different perspective on what's wrong with the question, but they don't share it with the asker.

I would suggest that each close voter should be required to leave a brief statement on what the problem is and how the question could be improved. It should not be a comment - it should be separate, and possibly anonymous. If each close voter did that the asker would have 5 points of view to examine to help them improve their question.

This would work well if the reasons were only viewable by the asker / moderator (not a comment). That way one closer's point of view won't influence another's. And if a moderator comes along to review the question, they can see each closer's reasoning and make a more informed judgment.

(There may be some reasons that shouldn't require this, like spam. But I feel that if you made it optional people wouldn't do it.)

Why I'm suggesting this

I recently had a question of mine closed. I had one person comment on my question stating that it was too broad. Ok... How so? What parts of it were broad? I asked for clarification, and someone said it was open ended... Ok, that's almost the same thing as broad..., what specifically about the question was broad or open ended? 4 close votes later with no further explanation, and the question was closed. I commented more, and that didn't get me anywhere. The question was very important to me, so I didn't know what else to do.

So after some Googling, I discovered I could appeal by posting on meta. The first thing I did was search for other questions like "Why was my question closed?". How much success have other folks gotten? Many of these questions have a negative score... Seeing that is not very reassuring.

I decided to post on Meta anyway, and I got a clear and concise bullet point list from Bill why my question was broad, and what else was wrong with it. He also suggested I add some sample code. I then had a clear and precise blueprint of how to fix my question.

What bothers me is, up until Bill's response, the whole experience felt hostile. I didn't know what to expect. I needed an answer to my question, but I also felt peer pressure from other people, even before I had asked the question on meta! I badly needed an answer, so I pushed through... But how many other people with good questions feel this peer pressure and simply give up, like I could have done?

From the comments below this suggestion, people feel like they shouldn't have to leave brief comments to assist the asker because "experience has taught them" that most askers are too arrogant to fix their questions and "want it their way"... But I feel like you could have considered me arrogant and argumentative because I felt like I needed to be defensive for being attacked. This isn't just because the reasons for closure are so vague, it also has to do with the peer pressure of other questions being closed.

I feel like this is the wrong attitude to have - on either side. Only 1 of the 5 voters on my question bothered to leave a comment, and that comment was vague. The 4 voters who came along didn't leave a comment... but who could blame them? The first voter already left a comment - their line of thinking was probably something like "that feels about right" and they moved along. If they had not seen that comment, they could have individually been more specific. If each of the close voters had left 1 point from Bill's post each, I wouldn't have had to post on meta. Heck, the whole experience would have been more friendly.

I'm not asking for every person to be like Bill. But it would be nice if the system would encourage the 5 close voters as a whole to make up a Bill. I would have gotten the point earlier, been less frustrated, and saved a lot of time wondering what the heck went wrong.

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    I don't disagree with your reasoning, but I don't want to leave comments on everything that I've voted to close. If you have pre-canned responses to close votes, then you're not really getting ideal feedback from the closers at all times. – Makoto Mar 14 '13 at 17:22
  • So you don't want to leave a comment. Which is the points I was making; Most people won't bother to. Which leads the asker to be confused, and leave, or later ask on meta why their question was closed. Wouldn't it be better to type at least once sentence, for the askers sake? Like "You need to include a code snippet of what you tried". There are only so many canned responses, and many of them are not specific enough to be clear to the user. What I'm asking for would potentially take less time than leaving an answer. – Luke Mar 14 '13 at 17:26
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    Each close voter should be required? No. I do take the time to write a comment when useful, and while I haven't made any statistics, I'm sure that's only a small minority of my votes to close. And often when I'm not the first close voter and a comment is useful a previous close voter has already left a satisfactory one. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 14 '13 at 19:44
  • @Gilles If you do, that's great. Most people don't. And I would say a satisfactory comment would be one not quoting the FAQ, wouldn't you agree? – Luke Mar 14 '13 at 19:46
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    @Luke No, sometimes a satisfactory comment does quote the FAQ (a specific section, not the thing as a whole). – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 14 '13 at 19:59
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    @Luke: It has been my experience that users who ask questions I VtC are those most likely not to improve their question. Usually any comment I leave ends up being ignored or argued. It is not worth my time to comment. If it is worth my time to comment, I usually will spend it editing instead. Basically, Vote to Close or Edit, those are the only two options that produce a better signal to noise ratio. – user7116 Mar 14 '13 at 20:04
  • @Gilles That is not always the case. I've had a question of mine closed where the commentar quoted the FAQ but was not specific enough why they felt the question was that way. I posted on meta and got more specific direction and the question was improved and re-opened. – Luke Mar 14 '13 at 20:06
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    @sixlettervariables It shouldn't be a comment - I agree. That's why I suggested it be something separate to go along with the description of the canned close reason. I'm just saying providing more specific information is more helpful to the asker than a canned response. I'm glad some people take the time to leave a helpful comment, but not everyone does. – Luke Mar 14 '13 at 20:08
  • @Luke: my point is I shouldn't have to leave a comment, the VtC should be comment enough. If I can comment and substantially improve upon the information conveyed by the VtC reason, then I probably should spend the time editing. Comments are noise. – user7116 Mar 14 '13 at 20:11
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    @sixlettervariables You can't always edit a question to improve it. In my case, there wasn't enough information. My question was closed as being too broad - and the commentator stated that. But they failed to say how it was broad, and what I could do to improve it. I was then left with a closed question with no idea what to do. It wasn't until I posted on Meta I got a clear and concise answer from Bill. If people aren't willing to write a single comment explaining their point of view, why should they be allowed to close vote? Why leave answers at all? Askers shouldn't have to go to Meta. – Luke Mar 14 '13 at 20:17
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    @Luke: you're an odd duck compared to the average user on SE who have a closed question. Most have no desire to change or completely misunderstand SE. I've given up on doling out comments because it isn't worth my time. A VtC is sufficient enough and provides enough for a user who could benefit the community to figure out what to change. You seemed to figure it out and are now benefiting the community. I'd say the process works. – user7116 Mar 14 '13 at 20:22
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    @Luke: none of the VtC reasons are offensive unless you read into them inappropriately. Regardless, your question was one in a sea of many many many lower quality questions. Like I said, unless you spend the time to ask for clarification, we have no reason to assume you want to know why it was closed. Experience tells us you'd rather not and would rather do it your way (nb: plural form of you and your). – user7116 Mar 14 '13 at 21:04
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    @sixlettervariables Of course there are standards. We're not arguing that. We're talking about requiring a single sentence why you think the question should be closed and anonymously given to the asker as guidance. Something that should already be in-mind after examining the question and deciding which category it should be closed under. A good question can come from a bad one. Hand-holing only applies when helping the same person multiple times who doesn't get it. Assuming "it's not worth it" with every person doesn't improve anything - it causes bad experiences for people like me. – Luke Mar 14 '13 at 22:04
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    If something like this were implemented, you'd have to somehow make it very clear that the notes left by the CVers are not necessarily "official" reasons for closing things. What's to prevent someone from leaving a note like "no, that's stupid?" It sounds nice, but in practice it might be too chaotic. Probably better just to allow canned responses. Maybe some kind of custom note in addition to canned responses could work, though. – The Community Mar 23 '13 at 23:54
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    @Luke: “I'm sure other people will be more specific.” I'm sure that, in many if not most cases, no other people will be more specific. – Peter Hosey Apr 3 '13 at 20:07

What is the intent going forward with respect to questions that are closed using the old reasons? Presumably there would be a short visual indication that the old close reasons should not be used going forward with a link to FAQ announcing the change and outlining how to handle a re-open?

Just like the historical lock verbiage attempts to answer why something is in that state, if the old close reasons no longer apply, a user should edit the question to improve it if possible (so that it hits the reopen queue) or flag it for moderator attention to consider re-opening it should it need no edits to comply with the new criteria for a closed question?

This isn't directly related to the close reasons per-se so let me know if this belongs in another thread.

  • I'm sure the intent is to leave them closed. This isn't fundamentally about changing which questions get closed, it's about changing how informative we are about the closure. – AndrewC May 13 '13 at 0:37

I believe that at the heart of the matter is the question of who we are as a community (on stack exchange). The reality is that most of us use computers (some very heavily) to make a living. Therefore, we tend to like questions and answers that meet standards similar that those we use for computer programs and systems of mathematical equations.

Good systems of equations lend themeselves to solutions that satisfy existence and uniqueness poperties. LIkewise, good questions generate answers that are "Turing complete." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_completeness

"Not a real question" (NARQ) means that a good answer does not exist (within the parameters of the question, because not enough variables have been specified. Put another way, the system is "undetermined."

And "Not constructive"questions means (to me, at least), are those that lend themselves to numerous answers that do NOT "converge" to "one best answer, but rather contain the potential for an "infinite loop." Thus, the system is "overdetermined."


In case of not-constructive closures, I think that each closer should be required to explain how to turn the question in a constructive one, so that the asker can address all the issues at once.

I'm quite open minded and I've put some effort to turn one of my questions into a constructive one, but despite reading a lot about SE policies and applying all concrete suggestions that I recieved, the question is still closed as not-constructive (probably due to "a knowledge gap that cannot be fixed since it's come with being around for a long time and seeing these things play out", as explained by a moderator).

Still I'd have wasted far less time into the process if each closer had explained from the very beginning what I had to do to fix the question.

Obviously, as Kete Gregory pointed out, when a question cannot be fixed, closers should just say this "You can't fix this question". In such case, however we should remove a part of the closure message, that explicitly suggest to look for help.

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance.

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    This presumes that it's fixable. Shopping questions, polls, send me teh codez, plz hlp urgent no worky, language rants, and so on are not constructive and probably can't be made constructive. Sometimes commenters will try to help, but throughout SO we have a paradigm that you don't have to comment and help if you don't want to, but you can always record your opinion in the form of a flag, downvote, or vote to close. Or upvote of course. – Kate Gregory Apr 12 '13 at 9:01
  • I agree with Kate. Most non-constructive questions are inherently non-constructive and can't be fixed. – Emil Vikström Apr 12 '13 at 9:10
  • @KateGregory sure, but in such case, the closure message should tell that the question cannot be fixed. – Giacomo Tesio Apr 12 '13 at 9:55

I like the added reasons but I think that Not Constructive should be retained with a blurb like:

The question you have asked is not constructive
We expect that all questions here will help to solve problems without being argumentative. The question you have asked is likely to evoke strong reactions that are not conducive to solving problems or answering questions.

This would be good for questions that appear to be on topic, and are clearly answerable but add no value to the site. Most of the questions that fit this mold are not intended to be answered but rather to cause problems through trolling.

  • I disagree that most "not constructive" questions are so extreme. Here's one fished from the review queue that is almost acceptable but I voted to close: stackoverflow.com/questions/15775825/… – djechlin Apr 3 '13 at 0:18
  • @Djechlin - No most of them will fit in with the descriptions above. I am suggesting this as the catch all for those that do no fit above but that are not really constructive. This is probably of a higher occurance on the other SE sites than it is on SO. – Chad Apr 3 '13 at 12:26

Re. constructive-based it is important to stay away from the notion that answers being opinion based is the problem. All answers are opinions; some are correct, informative and useful in the collective judgment of our members.

The criteria we're actually getting at are more like:

  1. This question has ideally one and no more than a few unique best answers.
  2. After reading the highest votes answers, the user should not need to research the question anymore.

Would go with:

This question is likely to elicit differing, valid opinions. Questions on Stack Overflow should have one best answer community members can agree upon. Make sure your question may be answered with hard facts, references, or domain expertise, and that you are asking about a specific problem or issue that needs resolution.

  • one best answer community members can agree upon. Wrong - there might be cases where 2 or more answers complements each other, or several answers that suggests different approaches. – nhahtdh Apr 26 '13 at 8:46
  • @nhahtdh wrong, if a question elicits "several different approaches" and they are all equally valid, then the question was not constructive, and can probably be salvaged by the OP fleshing out requirements. In the latter case a unique best answer would be an answer that included the information of both. If it happens to be spread over two answers that's something the SO community can cope with, but there still is a unique best answer. – djechlin Apr 26 '13 at 12:15
  • After looking around, I think your argument is fair enough for most cases. (However, due to the way the answers are displayed, votes are usually skewed towards the highest voted answer in long run, so it might not be a good indication that the answer is the best. It is a different matter, though). Your description however push the responsibility of identifying whether the question has a unique "best" answer or not, which the OP would not know since they are asking the question. – nhahtdh Apr 26 '13 at 13:19
  • @nhahtdh not knowing whether a question is constructive until the answers come in is something I don't know how to solve (see here), and it would be great if we can come up with a better policy to decouple good constructive questions from the answers that happen to come in. – djechlin Apr 26 '13 at 14:48
  • @nhahtdh Here's a pretty good example of complementary answers. I had a hunch as to what the problem was, but didn't have the necessary in-depth knowledge to back it up, and a couple of other users filled in that gap. I don't think it can be argued at all that the question is non-constructive simply because there exist multiple answers that add mutually exclusive value. – user200500 Jun 20 '13 at 21:41

Shouldn't we just refactor downvotes/close votes so that

  • downvotes mean "This question needs to be improved" e.g. not enough information, too many topics covered, not related to a specific problem
  • close votes mean "does not belong or should not be answered on SO": a poll or discussion, off topic, or otherwise not salvageable? ("Duplicate" falls under "should not be answered," consistent with current policy).

At -5 downvotes, lock the question from answers until it is improved, becoming effectively closed.

It's also not crazy to require downvotes to pick a reason. While it is fun to downvote really bad questions, there's not much value added from downvotes without a value-added comment anyway; this gives a middle ground. Do not require users to select a reason if they have already commented.

Note that status quo is closed questions are very hard to reopen even if improved. We need to solve that problem as well if we are going to move toward more encouragement to improve closed questions.

  • I think you got downvoted for wandering off-topic into a longggg debated and long-since decided issue (forcing users to say why they downvoted you). Better said in an on-topic question elsewhere on here. – Chris Moschini Apr 3 '13 at 3:23
  • @ChrisMoschini true but it's coupled to this issue. I think we've drawn the line between "downvote" and "close" wrong, hence this entire Q&A post in the first place. – djechlin Apr 3 '13 at 3:32

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