I chanced upon a question that:

  • has compilable code;
  • has an obvious goal (not stated outside the code, but clear from the messages the code prints);
  • formulates a question about a specific part of the code, and while that question uses incorrect terminology, it is perfectly understandable.

We have someone who's written a short program and has a difficulty. It's clearly someone on a learning path, not someone out of his depth. The question isn't asking for code: it's asking for an explanation of a part of the code, and ideally a way to fix that part of the code.

So why was this question closed as “Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved”?

closed as off-topic by Gilles, Undo, hims056, Aziz Shaikh, Martijn Pieters Apr 23 '14 at 6:50

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question pertains only to a specific site in the Stack Exchange Network. Questions on Meta Stack Exchange should pertain to our network or software that drives it as a whole, within the guidelines defined in the help center. You should ask this question on the meta site where your concern originated." – Gilles, Undo, hims056, Aziz Shaikh, Martijn Pieters
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Well, it was reopened. Of course there's been some disagreement here, but is this anything that couldn't just have been handled by casting a reopen vote and waiting? – slhck Aug 18 '13 at 9:33
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    @slhck My purpose wasn't to reopen that question (although from my point of view, this is an expected and desired side effect). This is just one questions among many where I find the use of this close reason completely unwarranted. There is a huge gap between how different parts of the community interpret this close reason. I want to resolve this gap. Either explain to me why this question should have been closed, or explain to the closers why it shouldn't have been closed. – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 9:38
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    Would it then not be better to refocus your question on the general case? Use this as an example (add some others if you've seen them) and discuss the general idea of "minimal understanding". I also sometimes get the sense it's used in a "meh, go figure that out yourself" kind of way, but I'm not sure this question goes beyond that specific post at the moment. – Bart Aug 18 '13 at 9:59
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    @Bart If we have a discussion in abstract terms, it's not going to lead anywhere. I'm focusing on this specific example (which was closed by a moderator, so in some sense this is an official use of the close reason). – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 10:04
  • Not necessarily abstract terms, but I fear you're not going to get much further than this specific question now, if even more than a comment like "well, it's reopened now". – Bart Aug 18 '13 at 10:06
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    Many people use that close reason when the OP lacks the understanding of some basic concept. In this case it seems to be the difference between null and " ". (Note that this is just an observation, I don't advocate it myself.) – JJJ Aug 18 '13 at 10:50

Without reading this question, just reading your description of it, it sounds like an absolutely perfect use of on-hold. On hold is so that something can be edited into a real question:

  • goal not stated outside the code, but clear from the messages the code prints: excellent, having put in that effort to "Get it" you can edit the question to state the goal clearly
  • uses incorrect terminology: fix the terminology

Once edited, it's a great candidate to be reopened. The system works. Honestly, this is why closed was changed to on hold. So people wouldn't say "it's mean to close it when there's the core of a good question in there." Bring that core out, make it a good question, and we're away to the races.

  • 2
    The incorrect use of terminology was part of the confusion, it needed to remain. As for the goal not stated outside the code… it was really trivial, and didn't hamper the understanding, which is why I didn't even bother to edit and went straight to voting to reopen. And even if the clarity of the goal had been at fault, I don't see how that justifies closing for lack of minimal understanding. – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 15:38

There were several flags on that question, including one from the OP asking for it to be removed. Based on that, I didn't spend a lot of time trying to understand the question. There were already close votes cast for "lacking minimal understanding," and based on a quick read of the question, answers, and comments, it looked to me like a basic misunderstanding of the difference between null and ' '.

  • 1
    How does a misunderstanding around null vs ' ' translate into “lacking minimal understanding”? Every question ever demonstrates a lack of understanding of something, otherwise they wouldn't ask. – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 13:19
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    @Gilles So we should accept any question at all because someone doesn't understand something? The difference between null and a space is pretty fundamental. – Bill the Lizard Aug 18 '13 at 13:21
  • It's pretty fundamental if you know C well. If you're learning, it's one step in the learning process. I feel a strong disconnect between “lacking minimal understanding” and being able to write the code in that question and formulate a coherent question about it. – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 13:24
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    Yes, it's one step in the learning process. One of the very first steps. That's what I mean by "fundamental." The OP wasn't able to form a coherent question about the code, which is why there was confusion around it to begin with. – Bill the Lizard Aug 18 '13 at 13:28
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    I don't get it. The OP did form a coherent question about the code. Misuse of terminology or erroneous assumptions don't automatically make a question incoherent. – Gilles Aug 18 '13 at 13:36
  • @Gilles That question was far from coherent. Misuse of terminology and erroneous assumptions weren't the only things contributing to the overall clarity of the question. – Bill the Lizard Aug 18 '13 at 13:43
  • 3
    null, do you even space? – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 18 '13 at 13:46

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