When you click on the button to cast a close vote, you get a list of options: duplicate, off-topic, unclear, too broad, and primarily opinion based. These appear to be consistent across every site. However, my problem is the "off topic" option: when you click on it, it brings up things that don't make a question off topic for a site.

Off topic, to most people, means out of scope for the site. And some of the choices relate to being off topic. The option to vote to migrate is there. However, every site also has an "other" option under off topic to write a custom reason. Some sites also have specific choices that don't make sense, such as Stack Overflow's "describe the specific problem" and "demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved" options - it's non-obvious that these reasons would be found under something called "off topic" on the main screen.

I'm not sure what the best way to do this is. Perhaps "other" should be a higher level reason and some of the custom reasons should be spread out among other higher level bullets, I'm not sure. It's just that from a closer's perspective, I may not see the "describe the specific problem" reason because I wouldn't look for it under off topic.

  • 4
    I'd like all of the reasons to be on the first screen, and then reclassify some of these as "other". There should be groupings to aid the user in narrowing down the hold reason.
    – casperOne
    Jun 26, 2013 at 12:25
  • I think that would be the best, yes. High level descriptions of what makes a question good, followed by specific options. Perhaps each high level should also have an other custom entry field? Jun 26, 2013 at 12:27
  • 1
    Maybe not for everything, but for "other", yes, I agree completely. Off topic really needs to be split out and those other things named to "other" or something else, as 1/2 of those reasons are clearly on topic.
    – casperOne
    Jun 26, 2013 at 12:28
  • 16
    Agree with abandoning the off-topic grouping; it's already being abused since it's the only modifiable category, and the text it leaves on a closed question is incredibly awkward. Although that would leave a lot of options on the main close dialog Jun 26, 2013 at 15:32
  • 2
    @MichaelMrozek I think that there should be categories on the first page, with each of the subcategories actually being customizable to some extent. I think that "duplicate", "off-topic", "unclear/broad", and "opinion based" should be candidates for top level since they apply to every site, with things like "no SCCCE" being under "unclear/broad" instead of "off-topic" on Stack Overflow. Jun 26, 2013 at 16:10
  • 4
    AndrewC also made this suggestion in an answer, and Ben Lee posted another answer with the same concerns.
    – jscs
    Jun 26, 2013 at 18:50
  • Why do I want to dupe this to Responding to your “too localized” concerns?
    – ɥʇǝS
    May 30, 2014 at 2:28
  • 1
    Previously declined. Let's try again.
    – TRiG
    Apr 22, 2016 at 14:00
  • 1
    @TRiGisTimothyRichardGreen Looks like it was declined. But considering the proposal was +157/-4 and the official response was +9/-12, and this proposal and support is also significantly net-positive here and across several other linked posts, I do hope this is reconsidered. Apr 22, 2016 at 14:03
  • 2
    Looks like it's finally happened, nearly 7 years later :P
    – V2Blast
    Apr 16, 2020 at 0:13
  • 3
    To add to the previous comment, more information can be found in these posts: Question Close Updates and Please reinstate the words “off-topic” into the closing dialog. And the relevant questions on Meta Stack Overflow might be useful too: Goodbye “off-topic”, hello “community-specific reasons”? and Question Close Updates: Phase 1.
    – Martin
    Apr 23, 2020 at 7:04

3 Answers 3


Strictly stick to the everyday meaning of "Off Topic"

"Off topic" does not, in an everyday sense, describe all site-specific reasons, and the phrase should not be used on questions that aren't allowed for reasons other than the general area of content.

  • Network Hardware on Stack Overflow is genuinely off topic
  • On Stack Overflow "How do you add two numbers in [language]?" is on topic, but not allowed and should be closed for not showing minimal understanding. To call it off-topic is to stretch the phrase too far.

Don't remake the mistakes of the old close reasons

If we stretch the phrase, we fall in the trap of some of the old close reasons.

  • Not constructive didn't just mean unhelpful, it meant something much broader.
  • Too localized didn't just mean applicable to a local area, it meant something much broader.
  • Not a real question didn't just mean it wasn't a question, it meant the question was unclear or incomplete.

We got an awful lot of upset users saying "in what sense is my question ......?". It doesn't matter how great your explanation below the heading is, if the heading doesn't mean what an ordinary person thinks it means, there's completely unnecessary grief.

Correct text encourages correct use

We also got a lot of misapplication of the old reasons: if you're supposed to use the phrase when it doesn't really apply (too localized for an excellently illuminating homework exercise pasted in), you get in the habit of extending the close reason beyond its textual meaning. Accurate wording encourages accurate use. Overextension of language leads to overextension of close reasons.

You just don't need to say Off Topic

Make the category in the dialogue be called "site-specific reason", and have each reason use its own custom title, e.g.

put on hold by AndrewC, SomeOneElse,.... :

Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Tell us what you've tried to do, why it didn't work, and how it should work. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist.

No need to use the words Off-Topic in the close dialogue or in the text for the user.

Similarly, I don't think "Is there a library that does x with y in z?" should be called off-topic either, but just be called a library recommendation:

put on hold by AndrewC, HisSockPuppet, .....:

Questions asking for tool or library recommendations are not permitted on Stack Overflow as they tend to attract opinionated answers and spam. Describe the problem and what has been done so far to solve it.

  • 3
    Well said. 'Course, the words "off-topic" are used as an anchor for the names of the folks who voted to close, so you'll have to figure out a fix for that.
    – user102937
    Jun 26, 2013 at 22:58
  • @RobertHarvey Good point. Edited with a suggested phrase.
    – AndrewC
    Jun 26, 2013 at 23:38
  • 5
    Indeed. I would highly recommend that people spend 20-30 minutes in the close vote review queue filtered down to just the Off Topic questions to see just how absurd that category has become. It will make your head spin.
    – joran
    Jun 27, 2013 at 1:03
  • 6
    @joran It only took 4 votes to close for "Off Topic" on one question for me to see that it was extremely absurd and to make a rare visit to Meta to find out what the heck happened to so totally muck up the reasons to close.
    – Jim Balter
    Jun 27, 2013 at 1:45
  • 14
    "Don't remake the mistakes of the old close reasons". I can't +1 this enough. I still don't understand why there is any resistance or any hesitation at all to changing this label. "Off topic" means something in everyday parlance. Don't make it mean something else. It really is that simple.
    – Ben Lee
    Jun 27, 2013 at 18:44
  • What about "We do not answer questions about [...]"?
    – badp
    Jun 28, 2013 at 23:40
  • 1
    If someone made a sock puppet account to do more cleanup on the site than they were allowed with their primary, would we really want to stop them? :-)))
    – corsiKa
    Jul 12, 2013 at 19:05
  • 1
    +1 for trying to prevent "completely unnecessary grief" to people. :)
    – Will Ness
    Aug 20, 2013 at 12:24

First off, SO, and the other SE sites, are a great contribution to the Internet - they actually _do_make it better.

What we are discussing here is, after all, how to make something that is really good even better. Just to get the perspective right.

I agree with my esteemed colleagues who point out that "Off Topic" is confusing when used as a close reason (a put-on-hold reason?) except for those cases where the question actually is outside the topic area of the site.

As a part of the growing pains of the fast growing SE network, you can say that it suffers from a "one size fits all" problem. It is understandable from a systems/corporate viewpoint that a single, unified code base is needed for the whole network, but for the users, especially the new ones who just stumble on the site and want to join, that is a non-concern.

This problem has two faces, as I see it:

  1. The "Off topic" close reason really is just a grouping of site-specific close reasons, not all of which really are related.

  2. A direct by-product of the first point: The label "Off topic" looks and sounds wrong to ears that haven't been trained in the one, true SE way.

If you look at the current Off-topic close reasons on SO, it feels like the problem would be solved if they were simply grouped differently:

  • The "Questions must describe the specific problem" and "Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem" reasons really are valid reasons to put a question on hold: it can, after all, be improved to fit the format. These are the "needs more work" reasons.

  • The other Off-topic reasons are "true" off-topic reasons; the question really isn't for SO, even if re-formulated. Using the term "on hold" for these questions may be a bit of a misnomer, but that is for a different discussion.

I have left "Other" out of this, as it is defined by the person who enters the text.

So all in all, the cognitive dissonance experienced here seems to stem from the moniker (Off topic) carried over from the old system and applied indiscriminately to all site-specific close reasons and the fact that unrelated close reasons are grouped together under the same heading, even if they have very little to do with each other.

A modest proposal could be to:

  • Add another site-specific close reason group (or maybe it doesn't have to be site-specific if all agree on it) with moniker along the lines of "Needs more work". This group could handle sub-reasons such as "Questions must describe the specific problem" and "Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem".

  • The second group could be "Off topic" and handle the true Off topic cases.

  • The last option ("Other") could be moved to the top level.

If creating a new group is deemed excessive, a similar effect could maybe be obtained by applying a headline or two on the Off topic close screen, just so a close reason for a question that is within the topic range of the site but needs more work is not grouped together with close reasons for questions that have nothing to do on the site.

Just a modest proposal - feel free to shoot it down!


The flag dialog (and I assume close menu) as a whole is unintuitive. We should consider doing massive changes.

Off-topic, to me, means that the question will never be a good question for the site, unless it is completely changed. "Unsalvageable", one might say. (I'm not a fan of the triage button label.)

Then there are questions that are technically salvageable, but only by the author. Cannot be reproduced fits when you cannot reproduce the error with the 0 lines of code given in the question.

Let me go over the issues with each option under "Off-topic" (for SO). Most of these suffer from being way too broad umbrellas.

You may not be able to get help on [other SE site]

Questions about general computing hardware and software are off-topic for Stack Overflow unless they directly involve tools used primarily for programming. You may be able to get help on Super User.

Did you know that Super User considers Facebook questions off-topic? I certainly didn't because I haven't read their help page. But I felt so certain it would've been on-topic because of all the "general computing" questions that I've flagged.

This text is just causing the crap to get up and circulate through the SE system. There is also a bit of overlap between sites, as being on topic one place doesn't mean that you're off topic everywhere else.

I tend to use this reason for two things: hardware problems and "normal people" problems.

Asking for recommendations

Questions asking us to recommend or find a book, tool, software library, tutorial or other off-site resource are off-topic for Stack Overflow as they tend to attract opinionated answers and spam. Instead, describe the problem and what has been done so far to solve it.

I think most of these questions fall under the umbrella of "opinion based", which isn't even in the off-topic menu (for some reason). One can argue that all spam (by the SE meaning) centers around pushing the opinion "this is great, you need it" onto others. The opinion-based reason should be expanded to include recommendation questions.

Why isn't this working?

Questions seeking debugging help ("why isn't this code working?") must include the desired behavior, a specific problem or error and the shortest code necessary to reproduce it in the question itself. Questions without a clear problem statement are not useful to other readers. See: How to create a Minimal, Complete, and Verifiable example.

If adding more code invalidates the close reason, the question isn't actually off-topic.

It's unlikely to be helpful

This question was caused by a problem that can no longer be reproduced or a simple typographical error. While similar questions may be on-topic here, this one was resolved in a manner unlikely to help future readers. This can often be avoided by identifying and closely inspecting the shortest program necessary to reproduce the problem before posting.

This is actually more of a reason to delete something after a certain period of time. The wording would indicate that you shouldn't use it until a solution is found, which is somewhat counterproductive.

The ability to migrate should be migrated.

First of all, the "too old to migrate" appears next to "off topic because...", which lead me to believe (at first) that I was suggesting migration every time I selected the "you may be able to get help on SU" option. (I thought that the "belongs on another SE site" was an overflow menu. I didn't realize at first it vanished when a question's too old.)

I think that migration should only be possible after a post is closed. Again, there's no reason it can't be on topic on two sites. It might be a good idea to show excerpts from the help page of each site, too.

  • The opinion-based reason should be expanded to include recommendation questions. – That would have to be a site-specific change, as there are entire communities focussing on recommendations: Software Recommendations, Hardware Recommendations
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 29, 2016 at 6:58
  • It might be a good idea to show excerpts from the help page of each site, too. – See this proposal.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 29, 2016 at 7:02

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