Recently a question came up on SO which was very poor and IMO it was not a real question*. I considered some options, but ended up leaving a comment and a downvote on the question; hoping to prompt a response.

When one didn't come after some time, I voted to close as NARQ since no one can fully answer the question. Now I tend to flag for moderator attention when I give up on a question and ask for it to be closed so that there are no unsightly "dangling" questions that I forget to come back to later... I like leaving anything I look at tidy.

In this particular instance, my flag was declined with the reason being:

declined - It's only been an hour! The guy may have the runs. Just take it easy for a bit.

Now granted, it's possible the OP could have come back and updated (he didn't BTW), but IMO when you post a bad question and get a number of comments back right away saying it can't be reproduced, it's fair game to be closed at any point. This is not a permanent procedure, that's what edit and reopen are for; because of this, I feel there shouldn't be a time window on when the requests to close a question come in.

So here's my questions:

  1. How long do others wait before flagging a question?
  2. Is there, somewhere on meta, a consensus/FAQ regarding the wait time before asking for a mod to help close a bad question?
  3. Pointed more at moderators (and with luck whoever the specific moderator who wrote that was), is this a common feeling that it's bad form to ask for help closing a bad question after an hour of inactivity? I had assumed if the moderator felt not enough time had passed he/she would simply ignore my flag for another hour or two or whatever, then come back to it.

* I say it's not a real question because the issue can't be reproduced by anyone, and the real code/tool versions weren't given so we couldn't check the OP's work.

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    @LBT What's that recursion all about? – Antony May 9 '13 at 19:03
  • @Antony probably linked the wrong page – ʞunɥdɐpɐɥd May 9 '13 at 19:03
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    @Antony - me somehow pasting the wrong link in :| Although, technically, this question is related to this question. – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir May 9 '13 at 19:04
  • @LBT - Yeah, I saw that too but here's the thing, the question you linked to asks "how long should I wait before flagging" but none of the answers actually touch on that point. – Mike May 9 '13 at 19:06
  • @Mike - fair enough; I didn't say it answered your question, just that it was related. If it bothers you, I can remove the link. – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir May 9 '13 at 19:07
  • @LBT - Oh no, you're fine. It's good to link to it, just wanted to mention that I saw that question and the answers fail here (in case anyone else thought to try and dup it) – Mike May 9 '13 at 19:09
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    You have 11k rep on SO; why were you flagging a question for closure? Just vote to close. – Servy May 9 '13 at 19:12
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    @Servy -- very valid point, but it could have been one of those mornings where everyone came out of the woodwork to ask bad questions. I remember one morning I blew through all 50 close votes before lunch. In that case, I usually just downvote, comment, and move on. – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir May 9 '13 at 19:14
  • @Servy - This is part of what I mentioned as keeping things "tidy". I do vote to close, but before I walk away from the question if it's not rapidly moving towards closure I ask a Mod to finish the job. In the review list for SO there's always 52K some closures to review... I'd rather not add another to the list if we can end it now. – Mike May 9 '13 at 19:15
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    @Mike The closure review queue priorities newer questions, so when you add a vote to a new question it'll generally be at or near the "front" of the queue. It'll take forever for the review queue to clean out all of the old content going back however many years, but it's still highly effective at handling recently added content quickly. There is no need to flag a question for closure if you have already voted to close. It would have been appropriate for the mod to decline the flag as something that didn't require moderator attention. – Servy May 9 '13 at 19:18
  • @Servy - Thanks for the info, that's good to know. Didn't realize the closure queue was LIFO. – Mike May 9 '13 at 19:23
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    Related: How soon should I vote to close? – jscs May 9 '13 at 19:26
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    possible duplicate of How soon should I "vote to close"? – Monica Cellio Jun 21 '13 at 18:16
  • @Closers: NARQ is still there on SO. This is therefore not off-topic as non-repo. – AndrewC Jun 21 '13 at 22:47

I disagree strongly with whoever declined that flag. It's very important that a question that is not a real question be closed immediately.

The reason questions are closed is to prevent answers. If the question really is NARQ then it means it can't be meaningfully answered. The problem is that less experienced users (and occasionally more experienced users) will try and answer the question anyway, even though there isn't actually enough information to give a quality answer. This results in low quality answers. It's important to prevent these low quality answers until the question can be improved enough to allow for high quality answers. Closing the question is how SO handles this. If/when the question can be improved enough to be answered it can be reopened, even if that's just five minutes later.

  • That's pretty much how I feel too. Just wanted to see if there was a consensus on it. Thanks. :) – Mike May 9 '13 at 19:11
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    "will try and answer the question anyway" Guess what happened. – Daniel Fischer May 9 '13 at 19:18
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    @Mike - wait, you voted to close the question, flagged the question to be closed, but answered the question anyways? – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir May 9 '13 at 19:21
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    @TinSoldiersAndNixonsComin' The question got closed, fixed, reopened, and a fantastic answer was given that both helped the OP and a whole bunch of future visitors? *goes to check the question - *sigh. – Servy May 9 '13 at 19:21
  • @LBT - Yeah, it was more of a comment that I couldn't fit in there. I was hoping I could help out the OP.. I have to admit, I feel bad just closing questions when there's any chance I could help. (I've cleaned that up btw, thanks for the reminder) – Mike May 9 '13 at 19:26
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    It was a real question. There was absolutely no need for a mod to come in and close it immediately. You're right about NARQs attracting NAAs, which is definitely a problem. In this case, it definitely was not. – user1228 May 9 '13 at 21:29
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    @Won't In that case the declined reason is still wrong. If the mod feels that the question isn't NARQ then the declined reason should indicate they don't feel it should be closed at all, rather than saying it just shouldn't be closed yet. – Servy May 10 '13 at 15:58
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    @Servy: Well, aren't you perfect and without flaws. I wish I was. Oh, how it sucks being human. Flaws, imperfections, inability to express complex decline reasons within the space of 170 characters. – user1228 May 10 '13 at 16:00
  • @Won't What's complex about it? If you feel that the question is simply a real question and shouldn't be closed then just use the one canned response stating that you've found not evidence for [...]. If the mod just mis-clicked and sent the wrong canned message that would be one thing (it happens; it's fine) but I can think of no situation in which sending the custom message that was sent would be appropriate. I don't feel that any question should be left open as it stands but closed later on if it's not edited, for reasons stated in my answer. – Servy May 10 '13 at 16:04
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    @Servy: Read my answer. If it is abandoned, then closure is reasonable. Abandonment was part of the flag. and the OP hasn't updated with the information requested. You can't abandon a post in an hour. What's hard to understand about that? – user1228 May 10 '13 at 16:08
  • @Won't That the OP didn't flag it for that reason. He flagged it for a reason that you're asserting is simply not the case, flat out, that the question is NARQ and should be closed. If you're asserting that it's a real question then just decline the flag saying it's a real question. That the question could be considered abandoned some time from now and closed for an entirely different reason isn't a response to the OP's flag, so it's an explanation for a request not asked, and is highly confusing and all around not helpful to reply with it. – Servy May 10 '13 at 16:12
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    @Servy: Don't be ridiculous. He gave two reasons for closure: 1. No repro, 2. abandoned. Its not the job of mods to evaluate technical problems (no repro). And you can't abandon a question in an hour. And I'm getting off this not-so-merry-go-round. – user1228 May 10 '13 at 16:18
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    @Won't Note that the rest of us, not being the mod that handled the flag, can't know the exact text of the flag he sent. He only ever said in the question that he flagged the question as NARQ, so that's the question that I'm answering. – Servy May 10 '13 at 16:20
  • @Servy: Dude. As I said before, the flag is quoted in my answer. Look, here's the flag again: This should be closed as not a real question. I "answered" it as best as possible (an attempt to move the OP in the right direction), Given the information from the OP no one has been able to reproduce the problem, and the OP hasn't updated with the information requested (there are no specific versions given, no full code/makefiles that can be used to see this issue).. Here's a link to my answer where you can read it one more time: Linky – user1228 May 10 '13 at 16:22
  • @Won't This post is an answer to the question that was asked, not a reply to your answer. The question the OP asked is, "How long should I wait before voting/flagging to close a question as NARQ". If the question really is NARQ the answer is "don't wait at all". In this case you're asserting that it's a real question, that there is enough information for it to be effectively answered as it stands and is complete, so for that case the answer is "it shouldn't be closed at all". Even if the question is abandoned, if it's complete enough to be answerable I see no need to close it. – Servy May 10 '13 at 16:30

Flags should be used for exceptional, not ordinary, conditions. Flags should be used when something bad is happening, and you feel that it's a problem that cannot be handled adequately by the community.

Sometimes it takes awhile for a question to attract enough close votes to close. It's not about allowing some specific time period to elapse; it's about giving the community a chance to act on their own. Accordingly, there's no "minimum time rule" that the moderators follow, nor is there any imperative for "acting immediately" unless it is an exceptional condition (spam, abuse, that sort of thing).

That the question might actually attract answers before it gets closed is a tempest in a teapot. The answer posted before the question was closed is an excellent one; it might even become a canonical answer for folks having trouble deciphering similar compiler errors.

If you don't have vote to close privileges, but feel strongly that the question should still be closed anyway, feel free to flag under the "it doesn't belong here" bullet, and pick an appropriate reason to close. Those flags show up in the 10K queue first anyway, allowing the community additional opportunity to act on them. Flags cast in this way by users who have vote to close privileges are automatically converted to close votes; the mods never see them.

Keep in mind that the only way mods have for providing constructive feedback on a flag is to decline it.

  • An interesting take on things that I hadn't considered. Thanks for that input.. also for "a tempest in a teapot" :) – Mike May 10 '13 at 2:01

Your flag:

This should be closed as not a real question. I "answered" it as best as possible (an attempt to move the OP in the right direction), Given the information from the OP no one has been able to reproduce the problem, and the OP hasn't updated with the information requested (there are no specific versions given, no full code/makefiles that can be used to see this issue).

So, we have a not-so stellar question, which is at least answerable in some fashion. It's got sample code and the resulting error message, which are both necessary to answer a question like this.

The op was immediately responsive to comments, giving more details as to why his question was not answered by what he found.

yes i did.I googled it and saw lots of them, but in the majority of the cases, the users didn't add the -lm.I have read the other one (How to write log base(2)) but it didn't help

More feedback was provided, and from what I can see you'd have to take an hour to see if they are in fact not an answer to the question. The two comments by Keith listed a number of things that might be causing the problem.

There is nothing here that warrants moderator attention. The question was two hours old, wasn't that awful (believe me, I'd put that question in the 60th-70th percentile in SO question quality rankings), and was working towards a solution.

So, did you flag too quickly? IMHO, yes. There wasn't anything here that needed mod attention. If, after a week or two, the OP hadn't responded to requests for clarification, then maybe it is abandoned and should be closed as TL. But not two hours after it was asked. Downvote it, vote to close as TL, fine. Ask us to come and nuke it from orbit? Its a bit of overkill.

How long should you wait before flagging? Depends. Take the logarithmic scale of quality vs time, invert it, then plot the rate of downvotes. Where those two intersect, take the square root and add 7 to it. That's the number of minutes after which you should flag.

Or, you should flag when you feel it warrants, and accept it if the flag gets declined.

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    Is there a StackApp for that formula? :P – user102937 May 9 '13 at 21:13
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    @RobertHarvey: No, but I plan on getting really drunk and writing one. – user1228 May 9 '13 at 21:25

I would advise flagging immediately. In the case of a NARQ that is expected to improve, the closure serves to prevent guess answers that try (and fail) to interpret what the question is trying to ask.

As far as "It's only been an hour!" - this should apply to deleting a closed question, not closing a question. Leave closed questions time to improve. It does not apply to closing a bad question. Don't leave bad, unclear, unanswerable NARQs open to attract garbage "answers".

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    this should apply to deleting a closed question, not closing a question - exactly what I was thinking. – Mike May 9 '13 at 19:11
  • @AndrewC if you're able to vote to close, then trying to flag using a flag equivalent to a close reason results in a close vote rather than a flag. – yoozer8 Jun 21 '13 at 14:37
  • @Jim True, but flagging something you can fix is either a minor waste of your time by going through an extra step or a major waste of a moderator or 10k user's time if you chose something that doesn't auto-map to a vote. It's a point of principle and good habits; don't notify a moderator of something you can fix yourself. You've read the question already. Don't ask someone to read something and decide to agree with you if you can have the same effect with a few more clicks having already come to a judgement. Flagging is for a serious problem you can't solve. Don't get in the lazy flag habit. – AndrewC Jun 21 '13 at 17:15

I was not the mod who handled this, but generally for close votes I'd much rather see them handled by the community. That's preferable to an insta-batsignal even if it makes things take a bit longer because:

  • it shows the op that this is a community standard not just a cranky moderator
  • it's not exceptional and there are usually plenty of high rep users around to handle this
  • mod workflows do not encourage postponing to see if the community does it

If it's been around for ages and not getting traffic or there's something horrendous or a problem that only mods can deal with by all means flag instantly though.

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    True, which is why had the flag been declined with the reason that this isn't an issue that requires moderator attention I'd have agreed 100%, especially because the flagger here already had enough rep to vote to close. But the mod didn't decline with that reason, he declined with a reason that is simply not appropriate; saying that the question shouldn't be closed at all (for one hour). – Servy May 9 '13 at 20:34

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