What do I do if I understand a question that was marked as unclear? I want to answer it but I am unable to... I flagged it, informing the moderators that I am able to understand the question and answer it... but it is still placed on hold.

For example:

This is the question: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/19013166/day-until-the-other-day

This would be my answer:

// 1 for Monday
// 2 for Tuesday
// 3 for Wednesday
// 4 for Thursday
// 5 for Friday
// 6 for Saturday
// 7 for Sunday

$today = date('N');
$hour = date('H');

if($today == 3 && $hour == 15){
    echo 'We are live';
}else if( $today == 3 && $hour <15 ){
    echo 'Today';
        echo abs(abs($today-3)-7).' Days';
        echo abs($today-3).' Days';
  • 7
    I've looked at the question myself, and I can assure you, you are not the only one who understands the question. Even in its original form (it has since had a few edits), it was not difficult for anyone who actually reads the text. Honestly, I think there are some moderators (and "activist" users) who just go around and try to close as many questions as possible, as quickly as possible. If they don't understand something just by a 0.3-second glance at the title, boom, closed.
    – John Y
    Sep 25, 2013 at 20:46
  • 1
    I wonder if Robert Harvey would be mad if he read that ^ Sep 25, 2013 at 20:58
  • 4
    @Arian I doubt anyone gets a diamond after their name if they get mad from negative feedback. It's like your first job in customer support. After the first 4 weeks of being fed up of nothing but people complaining, you realise it's your job to deal with exactly that...
    – James
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:10
  • 1
    @Arian: It's certainly possible. I hope (1) that he would realize I wasn't talking about him specifically; I honestly don't know his activity history, or the overall quality of his moderation; I think he happened to make a bad call in this particular case, but he could have thousands of good closures; and (2) that, if he's indeed a good moderator, he probably has a cool head and can take comments like these in stride. I honestly didn't mean disrespect. Just as closures ideally help to improve the quality of questions, comments like these ideally help to improve the quality of moderation.
    – John Y
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:11
  • @JohnY It wasn't Robert, perse, he has a cron setup for auto off-topic....joking aside, see Hugo Dozios' answer, info here (#3): stackoverflow.com/help/on-topic
    – James
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:14
  • I was unclear what he wanted...code? high five? discussion? Ok, I guess I'll agree that we could have used a better close message...I only disagree if you think it should remain open.
    – user7116
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:24
  • 3
    I revised the close reason. I also re-read the original draft, and I stand by my original close reason.
    – user102937
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:57

2 Answers 2


The problem is not really that it is unclear, because with the edits the question is pretty easy to understand (and even before it wasn't that hard). It's more that it is a question that does not really show any research effort and is really of the type "GIMME GIMME THE CODEZZZZ".

IMHO, it should be closed as Offtopic => "Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Include attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist" instead of the current close reason.

  • It wasn't clear what the OP wanted, but we could infer (as you did) that all they wanted was somebody to write it for them.
    – user7116
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:25
  • 1
    Honestly, it didn't seem as lazy or greedy to me as you (and @user7116) make it out to be. Sure, no code was provided. But the question is at such a level that the asker really didn't even know where to begin. If you want to be hard-assed about that, that's understandable, and it's within the SO guidelines. But if you want to be helpful instead of dismissive, I believe that's perfectly acceptable as well. (You don't have to GIVE THEM THE CODEZZZZ. You can give them an approach, like: hey, try numbering the days of the week, and see where they go with it.)
    – John Y
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:31
  • @JohnY: you can peruse my answers on SO, I'm anything but dismissive of folks who don't even know where to begin. Usually, they've included a tiny sliver of code. PHP has more than enough out there to get at least a sliver down. There are far better choices to defend when picking a closed question that should be reopened.
    – user7116
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:34
  • @JohnY: See here for some clarity: meta.stackexchange.com/a/198316
    – user102937
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:58

You can do three things:

  • if it's not on hold yet, answer it, starting with "I believe you are asking [whatever]. Here is how..."
  • add a comment asking "are you asking [whatever]?"
  • edit (or suggest an edit) to clearly state whatever you think the question is.

Answering may not be possible if it's on hold, and could earn you downvotes if your interpretation of the unclear question is wrong. If you don't have edit rights, I think your best bet is the comment. If you don't have enough rep to comment you could risk suggesting the edit. The original poster will reject it if you are wrong. Other people may reject it anyway saying you're changing too much of the question. It's not ideal, but it could lead to the question making sense to more people and getting re-opened.

It's also possible you will inspire the OP to comment that you are wrong, and what is actually being asked is [something else]. This is at least progress and reveals what the underlying question is.

  • 7
    You shouldn't edit, or suggest edits, to change the meaning of the question in the hope that you interpreted it correctly. Such edits are entirely inappropriate, and would just result in edit wars with people editing the question to their personal interpretations whenever the meaning wasn't clear. You should use comments to flesh out the OP's intentions when it's unclear.
    – Servy
    Sep 25, 2013 at 20:47
  • 2
    @Servy Here's a spectacular example of precisely the kind of speculative clarification you're describing, with the interesting twist that the perpetrator was a mod: stackoverflow.com/posts/173400/revisions . As a result of the change by Gordon of 'sequential' to 'numeric' in the title (as per the body), many perfectly valid answers to the original providing ways to test for sequential arrays were attacked and downvoted over a period of years. I pointed this out and he (rightly, I think) reverted the title to the original version and closed the question as "unclear what you're asking."
    – Mark Amery
    Sep 25, 2013 at 20:59
  • 1
    @Servy That said, when dealing with a newly asked question by somebody whose English is poor and who may not be able to clarify their question themselves, I think that editing the question speculatively to clarify, and commenting to tell them you've done so and ask if you've understood correctly, may be better than leaving the question to rot. There's a compromise to be struck here between not wanting to change the author's meaning and not wanting to leave a question so unclear that it is useless. Closing a question that could be salvaged into something good is, IMO, wasteful.
    – Mark Amery
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:03
  • 2
    @MarkAmery I have very rarely found such practices useful, and have often found them harmful. The problem is that if they don't understand enough English to properly explain what they want, they don't understand it enough to tell if the edits correctly reflect their views. As a result I've seen a number of instances where they approved of such suggested edits, only for later comments to reveal that the edit wasn't in line with the author's intentions. If you think there's an interesting question that might be correct, post a new question with your interpretation instead.
    – Servy
    Sep 25, 2013 at 21:07

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