It's no secret that there are questions from newbies or questions that are hard to understand. However, some members may be well-experienced to understand even such questions - relying on their knowledge. Normally, questions, that are not clear or something like this - will be closed soon - and that's how it works - it's good that we can close questions that are unclear.

What we have now

If someone is writing an answer to a question - and then, during this, question is closed - the corresponding notification will appear. Ok, let's imagine that it will be a good answer to the question that is hard to understand, but answerer understood it well. And, also, let's imagine that he has spent half an hour to create that answer. What he'll see? Yes, 'answers will not be accepted anymore'. Sad. He just lost 30 minutes of his life. This is another side of medal when we're closing question.

So, what can be done?

I have in mind some ideas to prevent such situation - and, in the same time, save current model of how questions are closed.

  • If we have notification to answerer that question is closed, then - why we have not notification to those, who are voting, that in current time, an answer to this question is in progress? That may be implemented as a notification or it may even prevent question from being closed until answer will be sent or answerer will have no activity for X seconds.
  • If it's new question, then it may have sense not to allow closing it in 10..30 seconds. This interval should not be too high, because if it will be, then bad question will possibly disappear from first page and then will stay opened (due to lack of reviews).
  • If we have notification to answerer that question is closed - then may be there's sense in sending notification to him when each closing vote is accepted? In that way he'll know that question possibly will be closed and he'll have choice - abandon his answer or continue writing it, but on his own risk. At least, this decision he'll able to do much earlier than he'll realize that question is closed.

Or may be there are other ideas? Some questions are really bad, and it's ok that answers to them will never appear. But in some cases question can be unclear for wide-range of viewers, but there's chance, that someone will understand it. And intention of such notification - that, when someone will do cv and receive notification, that answer for this question is in progress, he'll know that someone possibly understood this question. Mostly, this is about questions that are either 'too broad' or 'unclear what you are asking' - but may be it has sense even for other reasons of closing questions.

The only doubt if - than answer in progress could also be not well. But that's up to community, isn't it? Anyone is free to downvote it as well (but at least, answerer will not spend his time for nothing)

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    There is a grace period for answers already being written of up to 4 hours. – Martijn Pieters Nov 20 '13 at 14:26
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    And I've seen plenty of crappy answers to crappy questions being posted, while voting to close them. I'd love to head those answers off. Why should 'you should use my library SpamHam for your resource request!' answers get to postpone closing the question? – Martijn Pieters Nov 20 '13 at 14:27
  • @MartijnPieters not sure I got this. My question is about - is it ok, that someone will lose his time on creating an answer, if corresponding question was closed during creation that answer? – Alma Do Nov 20 '13 at 14:27
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    "but answerer understood it well." - more often than not, opposite is the case. At least in my experience. – Mołot Nov 20 '13 at 14:28
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    My main problem with "undertanding hard questions" is that it's often easy to understand something. If what you understood is actually what was meant, is a difficult question. Your understanding is very likely influenced by your experiences and opinions (which is always the case, but not always a problem). So you might guess what the user meant or you might guess wrong. The only one who could tell us is the OP. – Joachim Sauer Nov 20 '13 at 14:28
  • What @MartijnPieters was saying is that this effort is not lost. There is a grace period when the answer can still be posted. – Andrew Barber Nov 20 '13 at 14:29
  • @Mołot ok, but is it hard to have notification? I.e. when someone votes to close, he'll see notification that "answer for this question is in progress". It's just info, nothing more. And it will up to him to decide - continue or not. Same for answerer - if he'll see that question is about to be closed – Alma Do Nov 20 '13 at 14:29
  • And if a question is being closed so quickly that the answerer didn't even see the initial 'close vote' count on the post, then surely the majority of the community was certain that the question needed closing? A truly difficult question won't be closed just because it is hard to answer. If the question was that unclear, it needs to be improved and clarified first! – Martijn Pieters Nov 20 '13 at 14:31
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    It is not at all relevant to the process of closing whether or not someone is in the process of answering. – Andrew Barber Nov 20 '13 at 14:31
  • I never said it's hard to add it. I only meant to express my doubts about existence of a reason to add it. – Mołot Nov 20 '13 at 14:35
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    If you read a bad question that is likely to be closed, but are able to understand it well enough to answer it, fix it first! – Kate Gregory Nov 20 '13 at 14:48
  • All that said, by the way; This was a well-thought-out and presented feature request. – Andrew Barber Nov 20 '13 at 14:57
  • I really understood a question one time and wrote a really helpful answer that helped other people who also understood the question. But then the OP decided that the question wasn't understood, and clarified into a really bad question. So, does the misunderstood question which is really helpful belong to the community? Or does the crappy question which was misunderstood belong to the OP? – Lee Louviere Nov 20 '13 at 15:17
  • Ok, the community has spoken. So question would better to be deleted, I think. – Alma Do Nov 20 '13 at 15:24
  • Note that in most cases where someone wants to answer a really unclear question it generally means they're making a lot of assumptions/guesses about the situation the OP is in. The more unclear the assumption, the more they need to assume and the less likely they are to be right. We don't want to have lots of answers that are making lots of assumptions. When those assumptions are wrong it makes it a lot harder to try to improve the question and get a real answer. It's much better to ask clarifying questions so that you don't need to guess at what the real problem is. – Servy Nov 20 '13 at 15:53

No, the system is working fine and as intended.

If a question is closed because it is unclear, but one answerer managed to pull off the psychic debugging feat of guessing what the actual problem is, then the question is still not useful for future visitors and deserves to be closed until it can be improved. Questions do not get closed because they are difficult to answer, they get closed because they are difficult to read and understand.

The alternative, postponing closing has enormous downsides we really don't want. Well-meaning new users would keep resource requests or opinion polls (specifically off-topic) open much longer than needed by immediately starting to post answers. By closing such questions quickly now we get to teach new users in the community that such questions are not worth posting answers to.

Note that if you do put in the effort to post a long answer on a question being closed, that there is a 4 hour window in which you can still submit your answer, even though it is already closed. This grace period makes your primary concern, that effort put into an answer is lost, moot.

  • I didn't know about 4-hours window. Thank you. However, it still may have sense in having notifications about answer in progress. But that's only my opinion. – Alma Do Nov 20 '13 at 14:42
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    @AlmaDo I just don't think the notification would serve any purpose; even without the grace period - but certainly not with it. – Andrew Barber Nov 20 '13 at 14:42
  • Well, as I've said: just my opinion. If community say: no - then I see - it's ok. May be it has little sense (i.e. having notifications) - and I accept this. That's how it works – Alma Do Nov 20 '13 at 14:45
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    While there is a grace window, it's difficult to use. Normally the server notifies the browser as soon as the question is closed, and the JS on the page disables the answer posting button. You need to be adept at web development (or to have a suboptimally-supported browser or a weird proxy) to benefit from the grace window. Is there a pre-packaged user script somewhere to democratize access to the grace period? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 20 '13 at 14:52
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    Just to add to that, if someone does manage to answer a question that's been closed because only they could understand it, surely they should be submitting an edit to clarify the question, at which point it would be reopened? – Cryptographeur Nov 20 '13 at 14:52
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    @Gilles: at the very least, you have the opportunity to copy your post and paste it into a text editor for later use. You get to improve the question and perhaps reopen it, if it is really worth answering. – Martijn Pieters Nov 20 '13 at 14:53

Questions and Answers have two audiences:

The Question and its answers are there for the person who posted it (and more importantly to the life of Stack Exchange) and it's there for everyone who should have that problem in the future. This is really important to building a sustainable Q&A repository. If you don't have some sort of quality check, you end up with Yahoo Answers, and no one wants that.

Questions are put 'on hold' because they have issues, and almost all of those reasons have to do with the question's usefulness on a specific site.

While it may seem unfair to the person who asked the question, we put their questions on hold to give them a chance to make that question useful to future visitors. The impetus is on them to do so (or they can hope that someone will edit their question). If they don't put forth the minimum amount of effort needed to make their question understandable, why are we worrying about solving their problem?

A better solution would be to engage with the OP when you see their question closed, and help them edit it / let them know what they can do to improve it.


I also agree the current system works fine as is and there is no need to change anything in terms of writing an answer while the question gets closed. Anyone who contributes to a bad question actually breaks (fails to follow the system rules). We do not want bad questions, too localized or broad. We want to see people ask good quality questions, questions which can be answered.

If at anytime question is unclear, there is a comments section we use to ask the OP for clarification.

What you are mentioning is a bit unfair towards other people who contribute to the site as per

some members may be well-experienced to understand even such questions - relying on their knowledge.

I think this is a wrong assumption - if something is unclear or not understandable to 5 people (voters to close) then it's wrong from you to assume you know the answer to the question. 5 against 1 in a democratic way of thinking.

Good questions deserve answers - bad questions deserve to be closed.

Your third suggestion seemed to make the most sense out of 3 when I first read your question.

may be there's sense in sending notification to him when each closing vote is accepted?

but, users with less than 3K rep can't know how many close votes there are on a question so your idea fails and we don't want the system modified.

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