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OK, so the question I'm looking at is clearly off-topic, but it doesn't fit one of the existing close reasons. What to do? Of course! Use a custom close reason.

Hmm, what to put there?

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about program management.

Hmm, isn't that programming related? Am I talking about pointy-haired bosses, or about version control?

This question appears to be off-topic because it is spam/nonsense.

Fair enough, but wouldn't a moderator flag have sufficed?

This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about programming.

Is that suitably descriptive?

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about [the question title].

Hm, really?

The custom close reasons are the least defensible of the close reasons, because they appear ad-hoc (we're making them up as we go along). But writing custom close reasons is hard. Writing a good reason seems to be as difficult as writing a good question title.

My idea of a perfect custom close reason is this:

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about [general topic area defined by the question] and not about [one of the general topic areas in help/on-topic]. See [Meta post where we discussed questions like this, and established a community consensus that they are off-topic].

... but we really haven't provided a lot of guidance on how to use custom close reasons, other than filling in the blank. Could we do better at this, and if so, how?

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    Perhaps this ultimately calls for having a larger community-curated list of pre-defined close reasons after all. Finding specific Meta discussion about a specific aspect of off-topicness would be incredibly useful for the respective OP, but it can often be hard and expensive to find for closers (in terms of time) – Pekka Sep 23 '13 at 15:36
  • I agree that writing a good custom close reason is difficult. – user221081 Sep 23 '13 at 15:48
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Pointing to Meta discussion would be exceptionally helpful for OPs who want a deeper understanding of why their question was closed as Off Topic.

However, the way this works at the moment for closers is that they need to go to Meta, search for a suitable discussion, read through it, make sure it arrives at the conclusion they want it to arrive at, and post the link. That's a lot of effort for possibly very little gain - many users don't care for the education either way.

As a community effort to help things, we could compile a list of links to canonical Meta discussions about the issues that come up day to day - either in a Meta question, or perhaps the off-topic tag wiki. (I personally would prefer a question as I never look at tag wikis.)

Yea? Nay?

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  • A meta post explaining why questions sometimes get closed with a custom close reason might be helpful, but given what happened to WSOiN, I think I'd prefer a post that re-affirms the positive, rather than stating an unbounded list of the negatives. – user102937 Sep 23 '13 at 16:00
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    @Robert well, the idea would be to have a lst of quick links for people to use when they enter a manual close reason. (Not to actually point people to that list.) how that would play out is hard to predict though – Pekka Sep 23 '13 at 20:07
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It's supposed to be hard.

Well, ok, it's supposed to be really easy in some cases. For instance:

This is stuff pretty much everyone agrees is off-topic; if this was all the off-topic close reason was used for, we wouldn't even need custom reasons.

But of course, it isn't all that OT is used for, and hasn't been for a long time. Which is what made OT so frustrating: folks saw their questions closed as off-topic, when they were clearly programming questions, perhaps even with code and so on. This increased over time (with initially quite a bit of resistance) until it reached a tipping point and now a majority of OT questions were about programming in some fashion - but rarely with any helpful explanation as to why. In all too many cases, questions were closed based on simple keyword matching and grave misunderstandings of past meta discussions (question contains the word "recommend?" Close!!!1one).

If it's too much work for the person closing the question to explain why this particular question is off-topic, what with the meta searches and so on, then how the hell is anyone else supposed to figure it out?

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    I don't disagree with any of this. I merely assert that there is a dearth of guidance on how to use the feature properly. – user102937 Sep 23 '13 at 16:52
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Could we do better at this, and if so, how?

Yes -- simply by doing exactly what's being done now.

Think of all of the custom close reasons as entries into the Next Close Reason Choice contest. It goes like this:

  1. Vote early, and vote often. Entries are collected by filling in the blank.
  2. The custom close reason that gets offered up most often after X weeks, wins.
  3. That reason is wordsmithed, and added to the list.
  4. Closers can now choose that one rather than enter their own.
  5. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
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