This question (Split Java ArrayList into equal parts … Peer review) is on hold for being "off topic."

It's a good example of a question that should be closed, being a request for peer review, but it has been marked for closure for being "Off topic". The description in the close reason states:

This question does not appear to be about programming, within the scope defined in the help center.

After clicking through multiple links, you finally arrive at the On-topic guidelines, which are vague and fuzzy about this particular area. It's easy to be misled that this sort of question falls into the scope of StackOverflow, specifically this clause:

  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

Which I believe vaguely describes code review questions in general.

I think "primarily opinion based", rather than "off topic", hits the nail on the head, as I believe it does for book recommendations, overly-high-level design questions, and other similar questions.


  • Is this question closed for the right reason?
  • "Off Topic" has a broad, sweeping description, and tends to aggregate most questions that don't fit other categories very well. Might it be appropriate to rename it to something like "Belongs on Another StackExchange Site", or something else that directly implicates there is a location to ask, and that this is not it?
  • Did the description change when putting questions on hold was introduced?
  • Should the Help Center include a note about where to ask questions of this type, or subjective questions in general?

It appears that "Off Topic" is lopsided as a close reason: of 30 random questions with close votes I looked at on the review page, and of 79 total close votes, 44 were off topic votes. Maybe "off topic" needs to be split into more specific subcategories.

  • 5
    Note that off topic questions aren't just for questions that belong on another site; they're for any question that doesn't belong on the site it's currently on. – Servy Jun 28 '13 at 20:17
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    All questions that are not "on topic" are, thusly, "off topic". It's a fairly pointless descriptor for a closed question. SO has a fairly narrow set of guidelines, so any question that is closed for not adhering to them should be demonstrably in conflict with one or more of them. "Off Topic", in its current state, is a blanket reason that doesn't address this very well. You might as well rename it "Closable". – Wug Jun 28 '13 at 20:20
  • There might be a specific category for "No working example", which is currently a subcategory of "Off Topic" (in my experience, this happens a lot, and might merit its own category). "recommend a tool, library or favorite off-site resource" overlaps with "subjective answer" and could be omitted entirely. The first, fourth, and sixth bullet points overlap and could be consolidated. It's hard to say if it should be renamed, or even if it would be necessary at all with a different set of canned reasons. – Wug Jun 28 '13 at 20:45

I've changed the default off-topic close reason slightly. It now reads:

This question does not appear to be about programming, within the scope defined in the help center.

Note that the first link now points directly to the article in the help center that describes what is on-topic and off-topic for Stack Overflow.

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  • +1 - I was actually writing a question about this and noticed the change. I think that making the link to "on-topic" is helpful. – Travis J Jun 28 '13 at 20:46
  • I'll leave the question open for a while in attempt to lure in more opinions. Any word on the other ambiguous options in the "Off Topic" canned reasons, like the multiple references to other SE sites? – Wug Jun 28 '13 at 20:53
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    What other ambiguous options? What multiple references? What word? :) – user102937 Jun 28 '13 at 20:56
  • In the recommendations for Off Topic, there are 3 different bullets that all point to other SE sites. The first bullet points to SuperUser, the fourth points to ServerFault, and the sixth points to the generic "other SE site" option (which includes a bullet for SuperUser). There probably only needs to be one bullet for other sites. "recommend a tool, library or favorite off-site resource" overlaps with "primarily opinion based" and could be omitted entirely. The SSCCE bullet shouldn't be under the "off topic" list, it might be more at home as a suboption of "Unclear what you're asking". – Wug Jun 28 '13 at 21:08
  • Those are two different things. The recommendations for off-topic are intended to close the question, with a very specific explanation why. The "belongs on another site" option is intended for migrating a question to another SE site. You're conflating the two concepts; they are not the same thing. – user102937 Jun 28 '13 at 21:11
  • OK, that's fair. though, is there any reason that a question that is voted to be a better fit for superuser should not simply be migrated? I'm not sure I see the point of having a seperate, no-migrate option. Since the "belongs on another SE site" option claims a lot of questions, is it worth it to divide it into its own option? – Wug Jun 28 '13 at 21:13
  • Most questions that were mistakenly posted on the wrong site are not of sufficient quality to warrant migration. They'll just get closed on the target site also, and that wastes everyone's time. The first rule of migration: Don't Migrate Crap. – user102937 Jun 28 '13 at 21:16
  • That's true. Might I suggest automatic migration based on upvotes/downvotes at the time the question is closed? Or, in the absence of an automatic solution, maybe a seperate, "Migrate this question" checkbox in the "belongs on another site" section? Or, combine the two, and count a close vote with checkbox as one upvote for the purposes of the migration decision? – Wug Jun 28 '13 at 21:20
  • Questions already are subject to a threshold of migration votes to achieve migration. On Stack Overflow, I believe that it requires four migration votes out of five close votes for a migration to be successful. At least, that's true for migration to Programmers. So four voters must agree on migration, versus simply closing the question. Migration is the exception, not the rule; that's why the ordinary off-topic close reasons simply close, and do not migrate. – user102937 Jun 28 '13 at 21:22
  • let us continue this discussion in chat – Wug Jun 28 '13 at 21:26

I usually recommend that peer review questions refer to the Code Review SE site.

Which is what someone did in a comment on the question above, and that comment now has 12 upvotes.

It would be good to add this site to the "belongs on another SE site" list (maybe after it graduates). Then, the question, which is appropriate for Code Review SE, would appear as Migrated.

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  • I agree that it should belong there. I'm mostly aiming at the wording of the close messages and the on-topic guidelines. It would be good if that site could be added to the list of migration targets. – Wug Jun 28 '13 at 21:16

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