After a ton of discussion, work and input from the community, we're rolling out the remainder of major closing changes that you've helped us design, as discussed in these prior posts.

They're live, network-wide RIGHT NOW!!! See also: https://blog.stackoverflow.com/2013/06/the-war-of-the-closes/

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

NOTE: This post does not address all the details of the interface, etc. for each change. Its purpose is to summarize the changes in one place with enough detail to convey what's happening.

Why are we doing all this? Isn't closing good?

Yes, closing is great. It's one of the main things that stands between us and Yahoo! Answers. And it's critical to how we keep quality up. But over time, we've come to believe that it can be improved in a couple of ways that won't undermine its effectiveness:

  • The tone of the current verbiage (both "Closed" and things like "Not Constructive") tended to elicit argument and debate, rather than improvement

  • Even in those cases when a poster did improve their question, the odds of it getting re-opened were extremely slim, as there was no natural path to re-opening for improved posts

  • Many of the the close reason descriptions aren't specific enough to convey what exactly the OP needs to do to fix the question (I'm talking to you, NARQ and Not Constructive) or what made the question off topic ("It IS about programming...")

So, here's what's changed/changing:

1. Duplicate changes (live since Feb)

  • Duplicate question must link to a question with an answer
  • Questions closed as dupe show as [duplicate], not [closed]
  • The duplicate language is designed to read more like a pointer to your answer, rather than a dead end

2. Questions edited by the OP within five days of closure go into the re-open queue (live since Feb)

  • Previously, posters often had to resort to a meta post to get an improved question considered for re-opening
  • Now, timely edits by anyone are proactively pushed into a process for re-opening review

We may consider letting later edits trigger addition to the queue at some point.

3. Questions will display as [on hold], rather than [closed] for the first five days after closure. (new)

  • The goal is to better convey that questions can be improved and re-opened during the period where they have the best shot at that happening
  • Questions put [on hold] will still not accept answers, and will behave identically to [closed] questions
  • The language will change to [closed] if the question is not re-opened within five days, to continue to serve as a clear long-term signpost

4. "Not a real question" and "not constructive" are being replaced by the following: (new)

  • 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 each case, the language is much more specific about what needs to be changed to be acceptable here

5. Off-topic closures will include feedback on what specifically is off-topic for that site. (new)

  • Each site will have a list of its own specific pre-selected “Off-Topic” reasons
  • Each closer will either select one of the site's standard reasons from the list (for instance, “Recipe requests are off-topic, although recipe replacements, etc. are allowed”),
  • Closers can enter a free-form reason ("Your question appears to be about 'Cat Grooming', which is off-topic for Stack Overflow.")
    Free-form reasons will be presented as comments, but the close dialogue will refer the reader to the comments for more info
  • Free-form reasons picked by closers will be available to subsequent close-voters on that question as one of the selections from the list
  • These lists will be determined by the communities, and moderators will be able to update them, subject to review by each other, their community, and the SE team

Reasons will need to be specific enough to make it clear to most readers what is and is not allowed (off-topic reasons of the form "Things that are NOT X" will be discouraged).

This is also the place to address any closing reason that applies to one site but not others (for instance, the "General Reference" close reason on English Language and Usage is moving here).

5(A). "Too Localized" is no longer necessary since the specific off-topic reasons now address its main use case. (new)

Too Localized was, by far, the most misused close reason in our surveys, with both Community Managers and Moderators deeming over 50% of randomly sampled TL closures to not have merited closure (including on SO).

Today, TL is used helpfully on code dump questions on SO, but the new OT reasons are where this is now correctly addressed. SO can use "Large blocks of code with requests for debugging without meaningful supporting info" as a specific OT reason.

Here's what the new list looks like:

enter image description here

Questions closed prior to these changes will not be mapped to the new reasons, as it's not a 1:1 mapping, with the exception of Duplicates and Off-Topics. The others will continue to reflect the reason picked at the time they were closed.

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    "unclear what you're asking" Hm... I'm not asking anything, I just want to cl... on hold this. – yannis Jun 12 '13 at 18:49
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    Amazing! This will definitely improve the close system and there will be less "plz help why is my question closed" meta questions. (although I wish cv undoing was included, but still this is great :D) – Doorknob Jun 12 '13 at 18:49
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    @Doorknob, we give you 10 yards, and you want another inch! Okay fine: CV reversal is now status-planned. – Jaydles Jun 12 '13 at 18:54
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    Overall, this looks like a lot of great work! The breakout of NC and NARQ should be very useful. I think I understand your desire to do away with Too Localized, but filing "Here's my code, help me fix it" under "Off Topic" seems like quite a stretch to me. The topic of SO is writing and fixing code. Code dumps are inappropriate, but they're more like "on topic, but not permitted for other reasons", just like recipe requests are on Cooking. If we're trying to be super clear and helpful about close reasons, I think this one may be problematical. Still, I will wait and see how it goes. – jscs Jun 12 '13 at 19:02
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    Will there be any reason thingy for RTFM errrr lack of effort type questions? – PeeHaa Jun 12 '13 at 19:05
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    Okay, I see your point there, though I'm still worried about semantic arguments from people who've had their code dump closed. That also brings me to the question I was just about to ask -- what do we do with typo questions now? – jscs Jun 12 '13 at 19:18
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    @Servy I was hoping this would have been considered and taken into account. What about those RTFM questions already answered 1000s of times (and I cannot be bothered to fetch a decent duplicate for OP as a personal butler thing) only adding noise and make information harder to find? – PeeHaa Jun 12 '13 at 19:19
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    @PeeHaa埽, are you really asking for a custom close reason so you can close something that you know is a dupe, without having to link it to the right place? – Jaydles Jun 12 '13 at 19:22
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    I once again renew my request that all questions be closed by default. The new [on hold] text makes it more appropriate. – Anthony Pegram Jun 12 '13 at 19:23
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    @Jaydles, it becomes awfully tiresome to keep doing the asker's research for them. So, yes, closing the question is easily answerable with a little effort from the user seems entirely appropriate. This website gets too many questions from too many lazy users to give them all the kid glove treatment. – Anthony Pegram Jun 12 '13 at 19:27
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    @Jaydles Yes I am really asking for that. I have to do OPs job by finding a suitable duplicate for him/her. I'm sure there were lots of TL "abusing" for that which is not "fixed" now. When I search for a question title and see a loooong list and after that when I try OPs title out in a new question to see the possible dupes list and also get some possible candidate I really don't feel like finding the perfect duplicate for OP – PeeHaa Jun 12 '13 at 19:28
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    So if a user just forgets a semi-colon somewhere, or has some other generic/obvious typo, instead of closing as "Too Localized", we either close as Off-Topic since typos aren't supported (which sounds weird, since it was a progrmaming question) or just leave it open and downvote to oblivion? – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir Jun 12 '13 at 19:29
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    @PeeHaa埽 This kind of telling the user to search themselves for a duplicate while not actually linking to it is one of the most annoying things I've experienced in some forums. It does not only punish the user that did no research, it also annoyed me a lot when using the forum search to find a solution for my problem and only finding lots of thread with the answer "use the search to find the answer". Linking to duplicates is not only for the benefit of the asker, but for anyone who has the same problem. – Mad Scientist Jun 12 '13 at 19:33
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    @Jaydles I agree with PeeHaa埽 here - it is a lot of work to close a dupe properly, i.e., finding the best question (or just a good one) with a good and correct (not a given) answer. After which 4 other users have to verify this research and approve it. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I personally don't think that it is a reasonable expectation from SE (the company) that we do this work to weed out questions that shouldn't have been allowed in the first place. And even if the other close reasons are simpler, it is still too much to ask, TBH. – Monolo Jun 12 '13 at 19:42
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    @PeeHaa埽 That is a problem with the implementation of the duplicate system, it should automatically resolve duplicate chains and similar problems. I care more about the value of the post to any future visitors than the actual user asking, and I think closing as duplicate without actually linking as duplicate is a very hostile action. A page about my problem that just tells me that it is easy to solve but doesn't link to any solution is a useless page that just wastes the time of anyone else stumbling upon it when searching for a solution. – Mad Scientist Jun 12 '13 at 19:51

20 Answers 20


I think the changes are okay but they still don't fill the gap that Too Localised provided earlier. I used Too Localised as a way to close certain questions that could definitely not help anyone and trying to put those under "Off Topic" feels like a stretch to me which makes it seems way too Catch-22 and might not fix the problem you initially wanted to fix. With the inclusion of using "Off Topic" to be more broad, it makes it seem as if the effort put into being more descriptive has failed outside of its changed domains.

Consider the questions that are basically a copy paste of a homework question. With the current system there is no way to actually close it due to its low effort. Too Localised might have done it but closing as Off Topic is a bit of a stretch because it is well within the topic of SO -- a programming question. It definitely isn't Too Broad and it can't really be Unclear because if it was then the assignment was bad to begin with. It can't be a dupe because it's probably only applicable to the user themselves. So what close reason do those get? Unfortunately none outside of the stretched Off Topic catch-22.

It isn't just homework question copy pastes either. It's other low hanging fruits like forgetting a semicolon. That isn't Off Topic, it isn't Too Broad, it isn't Unclear, and it isn't a duplicate. Then there's other questions that show no effort for debugging or attempting to solve the problem themselves. Is this Off Topic? I doubt it. Too Broad? You might be able to stretch it, along with Unclear.

I feel that this is a step in the right direction -- but we still have some holes left in the close reasons that don't allow us to be descriptive with our closes. I feel the solution PeeHaa 埽 suggested with a "Low Effort" close reason might alleviate this problem.

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    Low Effort isn't a reason to close, it's a reason to downvote (and sometimes to attempt to find an appropriate close reason as well). – ben is uǝq backwards Jun 12 '13 at 19:22
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    So too localized questions should be left open, @benisuǝqbackwards? It makes really, really no sense. – Griwes Jun 12 '13 at 19:27
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    @Servy, no, I am not misusing the term. And those questions are definitely closeable, and that's what too localized was for. – Griwes Jun 12 '13 at 19:41
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    @Griwes No, that's not the case. You were one of the people abusing the TL close reason, and that's why it has been removed. Such questions are ocasionally too localized, but in a large percentage of cases they were asking how to solve common problems faced by a lot of people. Since they're so often applicable to a wide audience, they aren't "too localized". – Servy Jun 12 '13 at 19:43
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    @Servy - That is your view. It doesn't seem to be the view of Jeff here I do not accept questions that are brief meta-descriptions of what the author wants to accomplish without demonstrating any actual attempt to solve their own problem or sharing the research they did on the topic. – Martin Smith Jun 12 '13 at 19:43
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    @MartinSmith I don't see Jeff stating that such a question is too localized. People have been talking about "gimmie teh codez" questions for a long time. Pretty much everyone agrees they're bad and don't belong here. That doesn't make them too localized. You should downvote such questions. While a lot of them will meet some close criteria, many don't. I would have been much more shocked to ever see him say that gimmie the codez were appropriate. I'm not saying they are. I'm saying they're not [always] "too localized". – Servy Jun 12 '13 at 19:45
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    @Griwes How is it broken? Don't go around saying, "you're wrong, but you're so wrong that I'm not even going to explain why you're wrong". If it's really that wrong it should be easy to explain. Take an example question of, "How do I create a Linked List in Java?" Very common homework problem; lots of classes will ask that at some point. Clearly the answer to that question is applicable to a lot of people, even those not doing homework (knowing how it's implemented is useful for anyone). You're saying it's TL. That means your definition of TL has nothing to do with the close reason. – Servy Jun 12 '13 at 19:57
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    It's a sad illustration of how badly misunderstood the previous close reasons were that you would use "Too Localized" for these, when "Not a Real Question" explicitly called them out in its description ("incomplete"). When experienced users of the site don't even know what the close reasons are meant to be used for, there's a serious communications problem - we're hoping to fix that. – Shog9 Jun 12 '13 at 20:35
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    @shog9 how can you have "too broad" without a corresponding "too narrow"? Under these rules couldn't you ask a programming question that can't possibly help anyone but you, like Joel's mythical "there's a car parked outside my house" except "there's a recursive function parked outside my house"? – Jeff Atwood Jun 12 '13 at 20:44
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    @Servy what should be done about those typo questions? They shouldn't be kept around to dilute the search results. – John Dvorak Jun 12 '13 at 20:46
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    @Jeff: yup. In practice many sites will want their own rules to handle just this sort of scenario. TeX, for instance, will almost certainly want a "MWE required" rule (which they've been using TL+comments to enforce up to now), while I'm recommending that Stack Overflow focus on short, reproducible problem descriptions as a requirement. – Shog9 Jun 12 '13 at 20:51
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    If these homework copy-pastes get answered AND the answers won't get downvoted, you can pretty much expect stack overflow to be flooded with homework copy-pastes. These are not "low-hanging fruits". These are not "fruits fallen to the ground". These are "fruits fallen to the ground and thoroughly rotten, and the answerers are the worms". The worms will thrive. The place will stink. The worms might even be attracted to the smell (rep-whores seeking heavily-downvoted unclosed questions without answers). I believe these should be closed, especially since you cannot safely downvote the answers. – John Dvorak Jun 12 '13 at 20:55
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    My current working draft has "Questions regarding assignments must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Tell us what you've tried and why it didn't work. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist", @Jan. – Shog9 Jun 12 '13 at 21:10
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    I've found that Low effort questions that don't actually have other problems are rarely down-voted. The "low effort"-ness that people always refer to is a vague notion that the OP is asking for too much. Questions such as How do I declare default parameters in c# or What is the syntax for a literal array in java typically get upvotes if anything. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Jun 12 '13 at 21:44
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    @shog9 why would that be limited to 'questions regarding assignments'. Why wouldn't all questions need to demonstrate a minimum understanding of what is being asked? – Jeff Atwood Jun 12 '13 at 22:46

I like most of these suggestions. I think it is well worth making the changes outlined here but there also needs to be some consideration for preserving the community from becoming a job shop environment.

Please do not remove "Too localized". This close reason was spot on. Clearly some of the other close reasons needed work but "Too localized" filled a niche.

I think @Jeff Atwood said it best

how can you have "too broad" without a corresponding "too narrow"?

link to comment

Too localized is what would fill the gap in order to close questions which basically request a feature from the community or (as noted above) are missing a simple syntax correction (such as a semi colon). "Unlikely to help future visitors" might be too direct, but it is entirely accurate.

Without a "Too localized", or similar, reason then under the current list laid out here it will be nearly impossible to close a question which requests specific code for a specific issue without highlighting any issue other than "I was too lazy or could not accomplish this task without learning, please code it for me".

Previously, a question could skate past duplicate because it was original, it was on topic in that it was definitely in the same scope of most of the other questions, it was a real question in that it made actual reference to code requirements and a base approach, an answer would be supported by facts and there would not be any extended circumstances or opinions. The one caveat is that the question ends in "I need this to b and all it does is a right now" and was caught by "Too localized" since it would only help that one user for the community to implement their feature.

With the current changes, that question would be somehow pigeonholed into "Off Topic" for reason of "Too localized". How did "Off Topic" somehow become a parent for every other close reason that one of the exchanges could consider? On-Topic seems to be defined as matching the scope of the exchange and plenty of request for work questions match the scope, show effort, and reference fact.

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    off-topic is for things that one site has decided may look on topic, but isn't for them. SO has (quite wisely) decided it didn't want that "give me the code questions", Making them off-topic for that community. You could call such things "site-specific" close reasons,but what they really are is topic definition refinements. The "topic" isn't simply programming. It's evolved to be programming questions that are NOT "Give me the code", whiteboard problems, etc. as the SO community has decided they should no longer be included on the site. – Jaydles Jun 13 '13 at 14:12
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    You also asked in comments on the main question whether we expect clearer guidance elsewhere as to what's "off-topic", given that we're using that to define things like "unsourced claims" on skeptics, "code dumps" on SO, etc. We absolutely do. The idea is that the new help center (formerly the FAQ) will cover all these "sound like our topic, but not allowed for this site" things, and then the top ones will also be reflected in the About page ("do" and "don't" section) and in the custom OT reasons.\ – Jaydles Jun 13 '13 at 14:15
  • @Jaydles - In the help center, can there be an explicitly defined place which says something along the lines of "Asking a question for help with features you are working with is encouraged, but requesting that the community write features for you will result in your question being closed."? – Travis J Jun 13 '13 at 17:51
  • I don't find questions where the answer is "You made a typo" to be unhelpful to the world at large. Everyone makes typos, and someone searching the Internet for their answer, coming across such an answer, would be reminded of the need to check for typos. – Michael Hampton Jun 14 '13 at 19:13
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    @MichaelHampton - That reference was to a previously made statement here by someone else. But I have to say I agree with them because those questions usually show a lack of effort and have a title along the lines of "Major Bug In Highly Used Library!!!!". The questions also tend to be worded poorly because the OP did not realize there was a typo, and so the world at large would not find them. I do not think typo questions help anyone when poorly worded, all they do is clutter the site. However, sometimes they are useful when the exact text of the error found is used and is not a duplicate. – Travis J Jun 14 '13 at 19:18
  • Hmm. Maybe we just have a higher class of "You made a typo" questions on Server Fault. :) – Michael Hampton Jun 14 '13 at 19:19
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    @Jaydles, the "Question" says "Too Localized" is no longer necessary since the specific off-topic reasons now address its main use case. That is just oh so wrong. Crappy questions that don't deserve answers are not off-topic, they are crappy, and should be distinguished as such so that the OP is not encouraged to post the exact same question somewhere else. – Old Pro Jun 16 '13 at 23:44
  • @Jaydles - I am not suggesting we include a "Too Narrow" vague statement as one of the close reasons. I believe you took my post out of context when you linked to it. I am specifically talking about questions which will only help 1 person and are requests for work. My point was not about making some vague "Too Narrow", and my quote from Jeff Atwood was only to show the onesidedness of your approach to overhauling the close reasons. – Travis J Jun 20 '13 at 18:52
  • No, just because we have "too broad" as a close reason, doesn't mean we should have "too narrow" as well. It's a non-sequitir, even if it does come from the founder of StackOverflow (who no longer works at StackExchange, note). The reason we have too broad is (a) some questions just require ridiculously too much effort, (b) some questions are actually multiple questions. If a question will only help 1 person, so what? And how can you possibly know that it will only help 1 person? IMHO close reasons are to remove annoying or inappropriate questions - that is their ultimate purpose. – Robin Green Jan 5 '14 at 14:07
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    @Robin - Well I guess you just read the quote and nothing else in the post. So I urge you to re-read this, and stop the practice of commenting when you skip content. It is easy to derive that only the person asking will benefit because what those people basically ask for is a free developer to help them implement a feature. You are entitled to your opinion but you should revisit closing questions because they "annoy" you. Closure serves to prevent future answers until the question is improved, not as a tool for personal reasons. Also, "Too narrow" was taken out of context. See comment above. – Travis J Jan 5 '14 at 20:18
  • well these comment boxes are quite tiny, what can I do? – Robin Green Jan 5 '14 at 20:28

"Too Localized" is no longer necessary since the specific off-topic reasons now address its main use case.

The problem with "off-topic" & why we need "too localized"

We've talked a lot on Meta about closing and migrating questions and one of the things that sticks out is that a lot of crappy questions (used to) get migrated with the result that the receiving site is not happy about it. I believe this is why ServerFault was removed as a migration destination from SO in the Off-topic list.

I think the consensus was (in fact, I don't even think it was controversial) that if the question is not a good question to begin with, it doesn't deserve to be migrated, it should just be closed. Labeling a question as "off-topic" strongly implies that it would be a good, on-topic question elsewhere. How do I keep my puppy from getting fleas? is off-topic; we want the OP to take that question and post it somewhere like dogforums.com. When I type '1+1' into my calculator it displays '6' is not something we want to encourage the OP to post elsewhere, it's something we want them to reformulate into a question of broader interest.

"Off-topic" should be reserved for "good" questions that would be welcome elsewhere but are just not right for this site. "Elsewhere" doesn't even have to be another SE site, but "off-topic" should not be a dumping ground for crappy questions or questions that do not have answers or questions that are no longer relevant for whatever reason. Remember, the purpose of giving a reason for closing is to guide the OP and others toward appropriate action. When someone asks a a question like What is the max bandwith of LAN and WAN network, we want to give them guidance that both helps them get the help they are seeking and keeps them from being a further burden on SE. Telling someone with a question that no one wants to (or can) answer that it is "off-topic" is not leading them toward improving the question and getting an answer, it's leading them toward finding a different forum in which to ask it and wasting more of our volunteers' time. (In this particular case it got migrated from SO to ServerFault where it had to be closed again.)

"Too localized" should be renamed, but IMHO the correct essence of that label was well described in the previous explanation of it: the answer to this question is unlikely to help anyone else. (Of course, "only relevant to a small geographic area" was kind of bizarre for a programming question, so I'm not saying we shouldn't clear up the description.) This is not a question that would be better asked on another site, this is a question that would be better asked of a teacher, coach, or colleague. It is also a question that can be made better by simply broadening it from a specific question to a general question, which on SO will usually lead to the OP figuring out the problem on their own.

Since we have "too broad" as a close reason, let's replace "too localized" with "too narrow"

There are two types of too narrow that should be covered in the explanation.

One, the question is too specifically related to the OPs particular situation. It is a question not about a general principle or even the specific behavior of a publicly available resource, but rather it is a question about a situation that no one else will find themselves in because of the details that form the basis of the question.

Two, the question is about a situation that does happen to enough people to be of interest, but that question has an answer that everyone else is happy (enough) with, so attempts to further answer the question are futile. (I speak from experience.)

Fixing the old problems with "too localized"

While looking for examples of questions that were "too localized" I was rather dismayed to find that more than 75% of the questions I found with "too localized" votes were, in fact, not "too localized" at all. In other words, I found what the other surveyors found. So I agree we need to do something about that. It seems most of the questions were more along the lines of "too basic" or a highly specific instance of a general class of problems that would be of interest if presented in a general way.

I think that by changing the label to "too narrow" and improving the description of it, we can avoid a lot of the problems.

Aside: if you want to go the extra mile, you could implement a list of reasons to choose from when someone votes to "Leave Open". E.g "Basic Questions are Allowed: Questions that are very basic in nature or could be answered with a quick search are allowed unless they are duplicates." or "Illustrates a General Problem: questions that are highly specific examples of problems of general interest are allowed. Even though future users may not have exactly this problem, the answer to this question will likely help others with similar problems." The point of these reasons for leaving open is that it encourages a dialog within the voting community which can help us converge on a consensus and eventually lead to more consistent voting. But please, leave the idea of reasons for voting to leave open out of the discussion of this answer (or this question overall). Head over to the feature request if you really want to get into it.

  • You might actually create a brand new, shiny feature request about too narrow. I really agree though, we need TL. – ɥʇǝS Jun 15 '13 at 22:03
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    That's very much what I was trying to say, yes. Off-topic shouldn't be the dump for everything we don't want. – user98085 Jun 15 '13 at 22:03
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    Calling it too narrow and editing the description won't stop the misuse. The new close reasons forces people to think about why they're closing it. This would be interpreted as just a re-branding, and nothing would change. – AndrewC Jun 18 '13 at 13:40
  • I like the open reasons idea. Are you going to ask it as a question? – AndrewC Jun 18 '13 at 13:42
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    Thanks, @Andrew. I opened a feature request – Old Pro Jun 18 '13 at 17:48
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    "Off topic" and "to be migrated" are not the same thing, and shouldn't be considered the same thing. After all, we can close questions as OT long after the migration time limit has passed. If someone asks a bad question about puppies, it's still off topic, regardless of the quality of the question. You shouldn't conflate the two concepts. And this way, each site gets to set clear standards for what is and is not on-topic. And each site gets to have explicit close reasons explaining what the question has asked about that isn't on-topic. – Nicol Bolas Jun 18 '13 at 18:04
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    @Nicol, my point is that "Off Topic" implies (or at least should imply) that the question is worth migrating, even if that only means the OP should find a different web site to ask it on. A bad question about puppies should be closed as a bad question regardless of the topic. We want to encourage the OP to write a better question, not copy-and-paste the question over to dogforums.com – Old Pro Jun 18 '13 at 18:13
  • @OldPro: And my question is why should it imply that? A question that's off topic is by definition bad for that site, regardless of any inherent quality to that question. The point of the various off topic close reasons is to have a place to explain what specifically is wrong with the question. Simply being "too narrow" doesn't explain to the user what the problem is. Saying "We don't accept debugging code-dump questions" does. And such a question is off topic because we have decided not to accept code-dump questions. – Nicol Bolas Jun 18 '13 at 18:24
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    @OldPro: "calling a question off-topic is implying that the question would be on-topic elsewhere" It does not imply that. It means exactly what it says: that the question is not on topic for that site. Whether it is on topic elsewhere on the Internet is completely irrelevant. – Nicol Bolas Jun 18 '13 at 19:52
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    @OldPro: "Closing "What is the max bandwith of LAN and WAN network?" as off-topic doesn't help the OP improve their question." Nobody's suggesting that. They will see it closed as "Questions not about programming are off-topic for SO." That tells them more and better info than merely "off-topic", which is what we had before. So how is this "no useful information"? Also, there's no improvement for the question you suggested. So there's nothing that can "help the OP improve their question". – Nicol Bolas Jun 18 '13 at 20:39
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    @OldPro: so what's the alternative? We help someone learn to write a really good networking question and then closing it as off-topic? This doesn't seem like a good use of anyone's time either, and folks on SO are probably less well-equipped to teach someone how to ask a good networking question than the folks on SF would be. Of course, this is all assuming that the asker cares to learn anything, which is already a stretch... We may just be sorting the recycling according to type before it gets dumped together into the incinerator. But let's try to be optimistic for a little while. – Shog9 Jun 24 '13 at 2:01
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    @Old: if you want to do that, nothing in these changes prevents it. Indeed, we're hoping to encourage more specific guidance in the close reasons themselves, for those few that will follow them. – Shog9 Jun 24 '13 at 17:12
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    @Shog, removing "too localized" and not replacing it with something similar (like "too narrow") is "preventing me from doing that". I want to encourage voters to use stock answers other than "off-topic" for questions that suck generally, in order to avoid the problems we have often experienced from exactly that happening (crappy questions closed as "off-topic") in the past. I really don't understand the resistance to having a close reason that says "even though this appears to be related to the topics we cover, this question as written is not going to generate answers that help anyone else." – Old Pro Jun 24 '13 at 19:15
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    @Old: because that particular message failed to explain why... This didn't help the asker, but worse yet it didn't help the folks closing - the end result being, folk ended up using it for broadly-applicable questions that simply didn't fall into their personal field of interest. I liked TL for problems that had objective criteria: links to an external/production website, massive code dump with "there's a bug in there somewhere" problem description, etc... But that's never been explicit in the description, nor does "too narrow" clarify it at all. – Shog9 Jun 24 '13 at 19:20
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    It's already dead, it just doesn't know it yet. Dead close reason walking. That doesn't preclude a different reason being added at some point in the future, but let's make a clean break - we've been discussing alternate wordings for TL for years now and pretty much come up with nothing great at every turn. If you want to propose an ENTIRELY NEW reason with a specific, well-defined, easy-to-recognize use-case and associated description, then go ahead and do so - just don't damn it by associating it with TL. – Shog9 Jun 24 '13 at 19:33

I think we can simplify even further, at least for English Language &Usage:

enter image description here

  • 1
    Not exactly a serious attempt to advance the dialogue, but funny nevertheless. – user102937 Jun 24 '13 at 17:58
  • It's a dangerous irony, because most people can take it serious ... – Danubian Sailor Jun 26 '13 at 7:10
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    I actually quite like the tl;dr option... – Duncan Jones Jun 26 '13 at 9:12
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    wtf text should read: This question is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent query were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this site is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. – saluce Jul 17 '13 at 20:46

Can we keep the migrate to another site in the Stack Exchange network on the first page? Right now, I have to click through two radio buttons and then type the name of the site I want to migrate to.

That's quite a bit much, there's no reason for the extra click, especially since the dialog can expand to fit the site migration box.

If this was accessible only to moderators (and it looks like it is) then that's fine.

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    I have no such option, so unless I'm looking in the wrong place, this is mod only behavior. – Servy Jun 12 '13 at 19:18
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    "If this was accessible only to moderators (and it looks like it is) then that's fine." yeah yeah cough bragging cough :-) – PeeHaa Jun 12 '13 at 19:57
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    But where is the migration option for ordinary users? There used to be 5 sites to choose from in the off-topic close reason. – Antony Jun 13 '13 at 7:05
  • @Antony I get the feeling it's a mod-only function now, given that other site moderators aren't pleased with the migrations to their sites (even though there are reports on what's been migrated). – casperOne Jun 13 '13 at 11:52

The off-topic reasons under "Off-Topic" ought to stand out more. That is, the summary of the off-topic reason should appear in bold. As it is currently, it's hard to pick one without reading them first, since there's no at-a-glance overview. For example, the reasons could appear like this:

  • Programming questions are off-topic on Meta Stack Overflow. Please refer to how to ask on Stack Overflow. See also: Why are questions no longer being accepted from my account?

  • The problem described here can no longer be reproduced. Changes to the system or to the circumstances affecting the asker have rendered it obsolete. If you encounter a similar problem, please post a new question.

  • Other (add a comment explaining what is wrong)

Or they could be shortened:

  • This is a programming question, so it's off topic.

(This shouldn't preclude using the previous text as what actually appears in the box next to a closed question.)

  • 5
    +1.Good idea on the bold; it's now done on this site. We'll include this in our best practices for mods to consider when setting OT reasons on others. – Jaydles Jun 13 '13 at 15:12

Today, TL is used helpfully on code dump questions on SO, but the new OT reasons are where this is now correctly addressed. SO can use "Large blocks of code with requests for debugging without meaningful supporting info" as a specific OT reason.

But that reason isn't even there!


  • I think "Other (add a comment explaining what is wrong)" is what you are supposed to use for that. – Robin Green Jan 5 '14 at 13:46
  • The frequency with which closures happen for that reason suggests we really do need a concrete radio button to check, not free text in Other. – Michael Berkowski Jan 5 '14 at 14:05

There is one thing that really does not feel good about this redesign, and that's the focus on having essentially everything an "off-topic close reason".

The choices you're essentially given are:

  • too broad
  • unclear
  • subjective
  • some already defined off-topic reason
  • define a new off-topic reason

I suspect that this will lead to a lot of lawyering about just what the defined off-topic reasons actually cover, and a lot of meta reasons that exist for no other purpose than to cover what isn't already covered.

At that point, a site no longer adjusts its topic definition, or scope, it just tries to turn it into a "safe" environment for moderation - something that doesn't cause unnecessary discussion, complaints and the such. That just isn't about what is and isn't on-topic anymore.

  • You give no reasons why this will create a lot of lawyering.. – ɥʇǝS Jun 13 '13 at 2:08
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    @Seth "about just what the defined off-topic reasons actually cover" - Precisely what is already causing the discussions whenever something is closed just as "off-topic as per FAQ!" right now. People coming to meta, or making lengthy comment sections over the way it's worded, or how to interpret it. Moving almost everything to off-topic just seems like it'd push this even more. – user98085 Jun 13 '13 at 2:10
  • And what would you suggest doing about this? – ɥʇǝS Jun 13 '13 at 2:11
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    @Seth Quite frankly, keeping TL doesn't look all that bad, no matter how misused it is. Misuse is something that can be addressed - educate your community. The lack of a close reason, however - or forcing this close reason to be replaced by something it just isn't (off-topic by some arbitrary definition that has nothing to do with the actual site scope, for instance), cannot be addressed without what is essentially "exploiting the system" or yet again calling for a major change. – user98085 Jun 13 '13 at 2:23
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    Taking Ask Ubuntu, we sometimes get questions that are just overly narrow - ask for a particular way of solving something ("Don't give me a Terminal solution! Also, don't make me install new packages! Oh, and it has to fart rainbows."), or only exist in a unique setting, to the point where it might not even be replicable so it can be answered. These aren't off-topic (unless we arbitrarily decide that such questions are off-topic, although that has nothing to do with the topic), and they sure as hell aren't subjective either. Neither are they incomplete or too broad. – user98085 Jun 13 '13 at 2:29
  • But they aren't answerable. And, quite frankly, a "not answerable" or "not replicable" reason might even be a better choice than TL, come to think of it. – user98085 Jun 13 '13 at 2:29
  • I agree. We should make a distinction between good question that are off topic and bad questions that we should just quash. – Old Pro Jun 15 '13 at 21:49

Since the banner now displays close reasons point by point, could we get the ability to VTC as more than one close reason? (if not for everyone, at least for moderators)

It would be quite a bad experience for a new user if s/he sees "please do X to get it reopened" and is later told "No, you need to do Y too" after having done X. It's better to be able to list all post issues at once (which the current system does in the case of community closes where everyone picks something different).

I've seen plenty of fixable questions which are NARQ and NC (UWYA and POB now). Some questions are even a combination of three or four close reasons. (now that TL is no longer there, this may become rarer).

(Not sure if I should post this as a separate feature request)


"primarily opinion-based" doesn't quite fill the void that's left by Not Constructive. What do we do about questions? If you ask "What are some books to learn ", it's not necessarily opinion based. It's just a list question, which the SE engine isn't particularly good at. Till date these have been closed as NC on most sites. Should the mods of each site add it under "off topic"?

(see also: https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/176247/178438)

  • 9
    There's never been a "no big lists" close reason (although the system does tend to make them feel unwelcome in various subtle ways). The sorts of "list" questions discouraged by NC were... Questions asking for opinions. "What's your favorite...?" / "What do you use?" / "What do you think I should ...?" etc. I wouldn't hesitate to use the new reason for closing these. Naturally, each site is free to implement further restrictions as they see necessary (more than few will want limits on shopping/recommendation questions, whether opinion-based or not). – Shog9 Jun 12 '13 at 22:37
  • @Shog9: Hm, I see. Thanks :) – Manishearth Jun 12 '13 at 22:39
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    Hm? Big lists were mostly NARQ (overly broad), not NC. The new "too broad" reason fits perfectly. – yannis Jun 12 '13 at 22:53
  • @Shog9 What do you think, is closing study material questions, such as questions that ask for lecture notes, review or introductary arxiv papers, books, etc that are specific enough or reference request questions, both are important for students and researchers of physics, really demandeded throughout the whole SE network? Or is this just something our local moderators at Physics strictly enforce but they do not absolutely have to do this? I am very interested in your opinion about that Shog9... Did you find time to look at the recent enough discussions concerning this we had on Physics Meta? – Dilaton Jun 12 '13 at 22:58
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    It's on my list, @Dilaton; I've been utterly swamped this week so far. To answer your question in brief: this is something the folks on Physics need to figure out. Huge, "give me a link to everything I need to know for the next 10 years of my career" questions are doomed - not by us, but by their own overreaching. Something more specific can work, but it needs to be clearly asked and carefully watched; never have I seen more than a small handful of these work out well on a given site. – Shog9 Jun 12 '13 at 23:02
  • @Shog9 In addition, from your above comment I am getting the impression SE forbids not all questions that could lead to a (smaller or bigger) list, but that in particular the ones that lead to many nonconstructive opinion based answers are discuraged, but question that can have several answers from a non subjective, for example reasonable physics point of view, can be ok, if the locel moderators of the site allow this? – Dilaton Jun 12 '13 at 23:06
  • Thanks @Shog9. Up to the last elections, specific enough by level, topic, or other criteria, good enough study material and reference questions have been allowed (if they were not too broad), and since they get strictly closed, as soon as they appear. I think this is not good, since academics, researchers, and students need to find study materials or research papers to learn from or do their scientific investigations. Could you open a private chat room, such that I can talk to you further about this later? No is my bedtime unfortunately ... I will be travelling soon, so in two weeks would be – Dilaton Jun 12 '13 at 23:13
  • timely enough maybe. But I'd like to ask you some serious thing in private in a private chat room to get certain things clarified. – Dilaton Jun 12 '13 at 23:15
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    @Dilaton: every growing site goes through this. When you have a small group of people working together, you can sit around and talk to each other without it becoming a problem; when the group grows larger, everyone wants in and it becomes a big distraction. When one cook seasons a broth, it comes out good, but when 200 cooks all throw in a pinch of salt it becomes inedible. – Shog9 Jun 12 '13 at 23:16
  • @Shog9 can I create a chat room and then invite you, not earlier than in 14d I think, and you can then make it private or something? This would be great. – Dilaton Jun 12 '13 at 23:20
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    Just send me an email then, @Dilaton. – Shog9 Jun 12 '13 at 23:21
  • @Shog9 ok cool, thanks :-) – Dilaton Jun 12 '13 at 23:23
  • @Shog9 What would be the close reason for this ? OT doesnt make sense. Frankly, should this even be closed? It is a list question, but it wont have many answers + its extremely useful + search engine bait. – asheeshr Jun 13 '13 at 2:08
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    @Manishearth It's safe to assume that when folks ask for book recommendations, they're looking for good ones. The use or absence of "good", "best", and other words like that is completely irrelevant when discussing the pros and cons of recommendation questions. – Adam Lear ModStaff Jun 13 '13 at 17:33
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    It's probably easier to demonstrate a book rec question that wasn't opinion-based: this one. Note that folks had to stop adding to it because they hit the 30K character limit in the answer. Definitely "too broad"... – Shog9 Jun 24 '13 at 2:06

Good but, but "unclear what you're asking" is worded a bit differently than the rest of the close options. It reads like a private message to the asking user, not a message to the moderator trying to close it.

Right now it reads:

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.


unclear. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what the question is asking.

If that's too unclear for ya

unclear. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what the question is asking. The problem in the question needs to be clarified more specifically, and additional detail should be added to the question to describe exactly what the questioner needs.

I think the latter answer is too long to read at a glance, however.

  • I agree that there is a problem with the wording, but your suggested version is a bit unclear. – Antony Jun 20 '13 at 11:09
  • In the context of the close menu, it seems clear enough. However you could add: "The problem in the question needs to be clarified more specifically, and needs additional detail to describe exactly what the questioner needs" – bobobobo Jun 20 '13 at 16:37
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    Unclear what is being asked – Justin L. Jun 26 '13 at 3:53

OK, cool, but you're still lying to the entire world about what I think of, say, this question:


I voted to close as ... well, with these changes, I don't even remember what it's called. But it certainly wasn't duplicate — that duplicate is totally wrong.

  • 2
    This isn't new, it was always like that. Suppose three voted to close as dupe and two as other things, those two were always lost in oblivion. Pretty sure there's already report/request to change. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask V2 Jul 2 '13 at 14:13
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    @ShaWizDowArd: Yes, I know it was always like that. That's why I said "still". I've seen the post you refer to before, and I've been trying to find it, but I can't :( – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 2 '13 at 14:14
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    here it is. :) – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask V2 Jul 2 '13 at 14:14
  • So, who will start bounty there? – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask V2 Jul 2 '13 at 14:15
  • @ShaWizDowArd: Yeaaah there it is. Actually I already offered and awarded a bounty on it :P Of course nothing changed. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 2 '13 at 14:16
  • Worth trying one more time, with at least 100 (you can't offer less anyway :)) and who knows? Maybe this time it will catch. :-) – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask V2 Jul 2 '13 at 14:17

On thing regarding the missing "too localized" that I believe is misstated in the question post (or perhaps the system has simply been modified since it was posted):

[...] SO can use "Large blocks of code with requests for debugging without meaningful supporting info" as a specific OT reason.

I wasn't able to find that close reason in the off-topic list of reasons (except that there is a free-text "other reasons" field where I could have entered it).

But on closer inspection I found this off-topic reason:

SSCCE close reason screenshot

Although I was shocked at first when I realized that the "too-localized" close reason had disappeared, I actually believe the SSCCE-reason above is a good replacement. Most large chunks of code submitted as requests for debugging do not match the criteria for an SSCCE (because they are not examples of a specific problem at all), and using this as close reason seems appropriate. (I welcome comments telling me that I misinterpret this close reason if that's the case.)

It may be a good idea to include the spelled-out version of SSCCE ("short, self-contained, correct example") in the close reason explicitly though.

As a general comment, I think the new system of close reasons, and the new "on-hold" mechanics behind it are a great step forward. In the past I often found myself adding comments to questions I had voted to close because the official close reason was misleading. This is much better now.


The new hold notice appears to be missing a description of "what happens next."

We tell the user why the question was put on hold:

put on hold as ...The users who voted to close gave these specific reasons:

Then we tell the user what to do:

If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question or leave a comment.

However, we don't explain why they should do these things or what will happen when they do. I suggest we add a line such as:

Your edited question will be placed in a queue for re-evaluation. If reviewers agree that it matches the standards described in the help center, it will be reopened.


After seeing these changes in action for a little while, I just wanted say YES!!! They appear to be working spectacularly well.

The immediate change I've noticed is a significant increase in the number of questions appearing in the "Reopen" review queue, and more importantly, a significant increase in the quality of the edits made to questions that put them in that queue.

In other words, it's working: people who ask poor questions used to see their questions closed and just get annoyed with SO for being elitist. Now they're seeing their questions put on hold and with a useful description of why, and they're responding by editing the questions to include better quality information.

Sure, there are still people who just can't get it right, but this change does seem to have made a big difference.

Well done to the SE dev team.

  • ...And still complaining that SO is eliteist. – Raedwald May 3 '18 at 11:47

The page is not written in comprehensible English

I'm sorry, but the wording should be vetted at English SE.

"This question does not appear to be about on-topic, within the scope defined in the FAQ"

About on-topic, seriously? Is this standard English?

As Yannis wrote,

"Unclear what you're asking"

You are barking up the wrong tree, m'lord. "I" am a humble reader who'd like to keep SE relevant. "He/she" is the original poster.

Recently, there's been a spate of re-designs in Stack Exchange, which would have benefited from our community's involvement beyond MSO - User Experience and English SE, first and foremost.

  • 3
    This seems primarily opinion-based... – Werner Jun 15 '13 at 7:19
  • @Werner - based on the picture presented in the question - think this needs to be edited. The choice of personal pronouns to refer to the OP as "you" is consistently wrong throughout the reason page. You may be right in that the involvement of Graphic Design, UX and English should be discussed in a separate question. – Deer Hunter Jun 15 '13 at 7:27
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    "About on-topic" is just an artefact from the test server that made it into a screenshot. What happens in reality is that the default off-topic close reason pulls the right phrasing from site settings. So, here on MSO it is "This question does not appear to be about Stack Overflow of the Stack Exchange engine that powers the Stack Exchange network, within the scope defined in the FAQ." (Though we should probably kill that comma before "within".) – Adam Lear ModStaff Jun 16 '13 at 2:29
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    On another note, proofreading is off-topic on English SE itself. :) Folks who frequent UX, English, and any other site are more than welcome to participate here to help design and grow the network. – Adam Lear ModStaff Jun 16 '13 at 2:30
  • @AnnaLear - thanks, I found that it was an artefact from testing while doing a sample flagging here at mSO. On UXSE and others - review is off-topic there, as well, was referring to checking corner cases there. The introduction of controversial interface changes with glaring omissions becomes a trend lately, could have been avoided by offering the design for review through mSO before rolling out. Yannis had a valid point on personal pronouns but there was no reaction. – Deer Hunter Jun 16 '13 at 4:04
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    This post being here is a call for feedback and review that you're asking for. The changes haven't yet been rolled out to the entire network, and rolling out to MSO first to work out any leftover bugs or make last-minute adjustments based on community feedback is how we roll out most of our features. – Adam Lear ModStaff Jun 16 '13 at 4:37
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    Far as the "unclear what you're asking" wording goes... yeah, I'm not a big fan of that either. My personal preference would be for "unclear what is being asked here" as the least awkward option. I'll bring it up internally on Monday and see where we land on that. – Adam Lear ModStaff Jun 16 '13 at 4:38
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    @AnnaLear - Err.. how does one make sure he's not beating an already fixed UI bug? That is, getting feedback on submitted bugreps is quite valuable, yet I find it is done rather informally - a sea of comments and no links to resolutions, even "Not a Bug (TM)". In the usual course of meta-work, there are resolutions on questions, but with grand rollouts we are reluctant to post separate bugreps and unceremoniously dump all the stuff (impressions and reproducible faults) into one question's space. Possibly an area for improvement. – Deer Hunter Jun 16 '13 at 4:49
  • @AnnaLear - thanks a bunch on following up. – Deer Hunter Jun 16 '13 at 4:49
  • @DeerHunter Yeah, that's a fair point. We could do better with responding to feedback during major rollouts. – Adam Lear ModStaff Jun 16 '13 at 15:55
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    Screenshot fixed. Regarding the other issue, I do think second person sounds less condescending, but we'll take a look at the tradeoffs. – Jaydles Jun 17 '13 at 17:15
  • @Jaydles - nice to know that. This answer is now my personal record for no. of downvotes, let's see how it goes. – Deer Hunter Jun 17 '13 at 17:33

I think the issues with "Too Localized" and "Too Broad" can probably be condensed into one fundamental problem. Certainly in some cases a broad question can be a good question, and in some cases a very specific and localized question can also be a good question. The common feature, I think, in both cases, however, that makes them a bad question is when they are questions whose answers require implementation of a programming project rather than a solution to a programming problem.

In the case of "Too Broad" the question typically reads like OP is a poorly literate version of management who is throwing out a vague set of specifications for which they would like a software solution. OP in this case generally has very little idea of what they are doing, doesn't know where to start, and is in way over their heads - the SO post is a desperate attempt to have someone do the work for them. The only expected result is "I need codes" and the problem is "I don't have codes".

In the case of "Too Localized" the question is generally of the same nature, but rather than encompassing an entire software solution it generally focuses on the implementation of some esoteric functionality that is of little general use to anyone but, contrasted with the above, is laid out in software engineering terms rather than vague management terms. Like the former case, however, the solution generally constitutes a programming project which OP is out of their depth with and, while the project may be described with great specification as contrasted with the "Too Broad" case, it nevertheless also touches on a myriad of tools and techniques required to accomplish the stated goal. This type of question is often the "large blocks of code filled with errors that won't compile for uncountable reasons and won't work for as many reasons more". The only expected result is "it should work" and the problem is that "it doesn't work".

In both cases, OP fails to successfully break the problem down into its constituent components. Rather than generate a series of general questions, the sum of whose answers would form the foundation of the required elements for implementing their project (and which individually answered would each be of general utility outside the scope of their project) they resort to simply describing the quandary they find themselves in and asking for help.

I'm not sure how this can be useful, of course, but at least it highlights, I think, a type of question that reflects a very specific deficiency on the part of the asker - namely that the question in question has not been sufficiently analyzed and reduced to its essential constituent parts and that OP is lost out of their depth. Whether anything useful can be implemented in the SO interface to address this is an open question. These types of askers need most to learn how to learn but I'm not sure that there is any readily available resource or method that they can be directed to that will help. Perhaps some simply can't be helped and we just close it and be done with it...

I guess to sum it up in a few words :

The question currently describes a programming project and not a programming problem. To adequately answer this question would require solving a large number of programming problems. Try to isolate specific problems and ask them as separate questions.

  • One thing to note; we no longer have a "Too Localized" close reason. I don't disagree with the principles you've expressed here, though. – Andrew Barber Jul 31 '13 at 1:50
  • 1
    @AndrewBarber - yes, I'm aware, but discussion here seems to continue to lament its passing (the "Too Localized" reason, I mean). I guess the above is an attempt to distil the essence of whatever is perceived to be the meaning lacking in its absence. Reading over the sizable mass of it now, I suppose I actually didn't distil so effectively. – J... Jul 31 '13 at 1:56
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    At EL&U we have General Reference - I think that would be a great addition - a sort of "Search SO first and upvote the answer you could use, then if not found, RTFM" – mplungjan Aug 1 '13 at 13:10

I haven't attempted to close anything in a while, but today, I decided to review a few questions in the close queue. Almost every one of the questions was marked:

off-topic: This question does not appear to be about programming within the scope defined in the help center.

Not having read this meta question, I was baffled how any of the questions fit into that category. They were all clearly about programming and didn't fall under what I would consider "off-topic". In fact, I'd say the most common issue was "not enough research" or "no attempt to solve".

I didn't know that choosing "off-topic" would lead to another list of problems, many of which had nothing to do with the topic. To make matters worse, the "review close votes" screen made no mention of the off-topic sub reason, only the basic (flawed) definition of off-topic.

So, while I like that there is a more specific list of problems, lumping them all under "off-topic" doesn't make sense to me, and the usability of this system from the POV of the user doing the closing could be better.

My suggestion would be: flatten out the hierarchy

I won't try to suggest what the specific items should be, as there is already a ton of discussion on this above, but I would definitely like to see you bring everything that isn't about the "topic" per se up a level so it doesn't confuse the closer and/or the closee.


Some rant from an user.

Often, I search Google when I have a programming question (as many of you might do). I do this more often when it's a language I'm just learning or re-learning. It's my primary documentation tool, and sometimes it leads directly to the official language documentation. I might search for "How to concatenate pathnames with ruby" or "How to delete a key from hash tables on Ruby", I do so expecting a quick overview and ready-to-use sample code, so I typically I want to se a code snippet using File.join and hash.delete() in the first click.

I have noticed that many Google results are of bad quality. There are a lot of blogs that are very verbose on their presentation yet don't deliver the essentials. Usually I have two preferred search results: the official documentation and Stack Overflow. But SO can, for example, suggest third party libraries and warn about common pitfalls, something official docs seldom do. SO is useful as a task-oriented programming documentation.

For SO work as I use it, it needs to have low-hanging questions. To cite some questions in the comments, "How do I create a Linked List in Java?", "How do I declare default parameters in C#" or even "What is the syntax for a literal array in Java" are, together, essential for this site, so I find it sad to see them labeled as 'low-quality'. Many (or most?) programmers are beginners, and SO is most useful for them. It is also common to have learned a language a long time ago, and after a while re-learn the specifics, even basic language constructs. I see the literal array question by itself is kind of dumb, but when picking up Ruby after some years I found myself using Javascript syntax and could as well Google for the actual syntax -- and it's natural to land on SO when googling programming questions. If such questions weren't already asked and provided with quality answers, SO wouldn't be as popular as it is now.

This rant isn't specifically about homework, but I understand a homework question may be an useful beginner question. In this sense, they wouldn't qualify as "too localized", even if lacking in some aspect. Other homework questions may not be useful. Describing a very detailed project and expecting people to work on all its parts is normally not useful for the community at large, and typo questions are useless, so there is that.


The following is inspired by a discussion over custom close reasons at Biology SE.

Many feel the need for a close reason that expresses that the basic premisses of the question are incorrect (factual errors, etc.). Shouldn't there be a need for this close reason on many (most?) SE sites? I first thought that the close reason "primarily opinion-based" could be interpreted to cover this, but it is clearly aimed to discourage general discussion-style questions without a clear answer. At Biology SE this problem often comes up on "controversial" issues such as evolution and parts of human biology, where some questions are ideologically based and built on flawed premises, and where the OP refuses to modify the phrasing of their question to make is answerable. I can imagine that this problem should come up in many science-based SE-sites.

In the discussion I'm referring to above one example/suggestion for the close reason was given (as a starting point for discussion):

The premise of your question relies on factually incorrect information, and thus, your question cannot be answered in its current form.

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    Or, you could answer by showing why the premise is incorrect. Not sure how it would work out on Biology, but seems more useful than just closing as factually incorrect. – John Dvorak Jun 28 '13 at 8:53
  • I agree that this should be the first way to approach this. We should first try to improve questions based on constructive comments. However, this can often lead to long a tiresome discussions in the comments. The main problem are situations where the OP is not really interested in honest disussion and a scientifically based Q&A, but is using the question as a platform for (ideologically based) discussion. A specific case from BioSE would be "questions" that are based on creationism and completely ignores current evolutionary theory (i.e. the basis for biology). – fileunderwater Jun 28 '13 at 8:57
  • If an answer requires some knowledge that the asker is unwilling to disclose, then it sounds like "unclear what you're asking" (or, rather, "unclear what you're thinking"). Can you point me to a specific example where it doesn't fall into the "unclear" category, and summing up the comments and/or adding more proof would not constitute of a good answer? – John Dvorak Jun 28 '13 at 9:03
  • Ummm... I don't think the theory of evolution should be treated as the only possible explanation. There are many people (including me) that believe macro-evolution did not happen. If Biology does not like questions that assume a specific model of biogenesis, perhaps that should be included as a site-specific closure reason? – John Dvorak Jun 28 '13 at 9:07
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    Disagreement is fine, as long as it is backed up by a coherent argument and something substantial. However, asking questions in a specialist forum, while completely disregarding the facts within the field is hardly constructive. To disregard current evolutionary theory in a biology Q&A is problematic on many levels. This should be the case for many SE sites beside biology. The main problem is that it leads to the same basic discussion being repeated over and over again in comments to different questions. – fileunderwater Jun 28 '13 at 9:17
  • The concern that questions based on an incorrect assumption should be closed, is valid. To bring a more obvious example, that would be a question in Physics, assuming fast spinning metal objects disregard the law of gravity. If that's the entire question, an answer refuting the premise would be appropriate. A great answer would explain a possible cause of fast spinning metal objects appearing to disregard the law of gravity when some basic conditions are fulfilled. But, if the question goes much further than asking why is it so, is it still appropriate to answer by showing the premise false? – John Dvorak Jun 28 '13 at 9:38
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    I'd still like to separate "controversial" questions, where there is insufficient proof in either direction but there is an assumption widely regarded as true, and "obviously incorrect" questions where the basic premise can be proved wrong. The former might be site specific, and for most sites, "primarily opinion-based" seems to fit well (and the rest could introduce their own closing reasons). For the second kind, I would probably go for "unclear what you're asking", but that's a weak fit. "Not a real question" used to fit better. I support your suggestion when it comes to the second kind. – John Dvorak Jun 28 '13 at 9:52
  • I agree that "Not a real question" was a better fit than the new close reasons (but not perfect). I also agree that a close reason of "factually incorrect" shouldn't be used lightly, and to improve a questions is often better, but only works if the OP is open to honest discussion of the premises. My reference to "controversial" issues was not to suggest that controversial questions should be avoided, but only that the problem often comes up on topics that some (outside the field) see as controversial. The close reason should only apply to factually incorrect questions. – fileunderwater Jun 28 '13 at 10:01
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    Factually incorrect questions (works for me, [fiddle]) sometimes appear on Stack Overflow. Normally, they are either asked for clarification and then closed as "unclear" ("you didn't tell us all you know"), or answered by refuting the premise ("chairs generally need at least one leg to maintain structural integrity. You can't get a levitating chair because [[one paragraph about gravity]], but if you have a wall near that chair, you could install a wall-mounted chair instead. This also solves the basic problem of people tripping over the chair legs: [[a wall-mounted chair installation guide]]") – John Dvorak Jun 28 '13 at 10:18
  • Maybe I'm just lucky, but I'm yet to encounter a question that cannot be reasonably answered by explaining the asker that he's wrong or closing as "the question makes no sense at all". But, I understand this could happen on sites other than Stack Overflow. – John Dvorak Jun 28 '13 at 10:25
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    @fileunderwater If you want to kick off a new discussion based on this answer, go for it. There's no harm in that. – Adam Lear ModStaff Jul 3 '13 at 15:42

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