I'm posting this mostly because of this question(it's been deleted now) 10k Only..

To summarize, The question had the qualities that we usually ask people for, and it's main fault was it's presentation.

I edited the question to improve it, but in the 2 minutes between when it was asked and when I had finished editing, the mob had already downvoted it 10 times, and had left rude comments. This left the OP so demoralized, that he deleted the question a few minutes later.

I know that it's tempting to pile on what looks like an ugly question, but people really should at least take the time to know what we're commenting on or closing before we actually do it.

This was one of the downvote/close-vote pile-on questions.

Now, this question definitely did have its problems.

  • The name was not very descriptive.
  • The post was overall poorly formatted.
  • The whole reason the OP needed to ask it was because of a single typo.
  • It was a question about homework.

but in many ways, the post was an above-average Stack Overflow post.

  • The asker posted all of the relevant code.
  • The asker posted both the expected output and the actual output.
  • Once the sample output was formatted, It was very clear what the problem was.
  • The ask was not an unreasonable one for potential answerers. The solution ended up being a change of exactly 1 character.

This person actually posted a lot of the stuff that we constantly ask new users to post.

What ended up happening was in the span of a few minutes a bunch of users downvoted, voted to close and made rude comments on it. The OP ended up getting so demoralized that he gave up on it and deleted the question.

I don't have any problem with the downvotes themselves. If you don't proof-read your post to make it pretty, than you should expect downvotes.

The close-votes are a bit harder to justify, but not impossible to justify. It looks like most people just voted to close because it smelled like a "do my homework for me" question, but as it is, I can't find a close reason that matches the problem with this post ("bad formatting"). The old Too Localized close reason would have fit, but that's not one of the given reasons anymore. The only justification are on I can come up with is that there are so many bad questions on this site, that if you don't close questions based on smell, then they'll just never get closed.

The comments, however, are unjustifiable.

The first 3 comments accused the poster of asking us to do his homework for him, and one of them even said that he didn't include expected output (which he did).

Seriously guys, this is where we inform users of how they can improve their posts. If you're going to write a comment, You should at the very least make sure that you're writing an accurate comment. If you can't be bothered to do that, then you might as well not comment at all.

I suppose that I'm saying that if you intend to comment on a post or to close a question, then you should at least do your due diligence and read the question over and pretend that you're going to take it seriously.

Commenting and closing a question without reading it over is what robo-reviewers do.

  • 3
    If the issue was a typo, it doesn't seem like the question would be useful to future visitors. Perhaps it should have been closed with the "minimal understanding reason?" That still doesn't address the other issues you bring up, but that's my first thought. Dec 9, 2013 at 19:15
  • 2
    I actually thought about opening a meta thread along the lines of this. Would it be a good idea to have an optional feedback/reason submission when a user downvotes a question or answer? That way the original poster directly knows what was wrong with the question? Or perhaps require a comment on the post so that everyone can see what changes should be made.
    – paulkon
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:16
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    FWIW, that question was closed as "Unclear what you're asking" one minute after your formatting changes. Prior to that, it was rather unclear, and most of the CVs could have easily come before anybody saw your changes.
    – Geobits
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:18
  • 3
    Related, if you're more concerned about the closing than the downvoting: Now that "too localized" is gone should we embrace the typo questions? Which close reason should I use to close typo questions now?
    – jscs
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:23
  • For the commenting part, what issue are you raising here that hasn't been discussed to death before?
    – jscs
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:25
  • 2
    This gives more support to the idea of Question Templates -- meta.stackexchange.com/questions/208311/…. A good question template could be a requirement for first-time posters... or maybe give newer posters incentives, like more points for the question. Dec 9, 2013 at 20:13
  • 3
    Since I was the one that commented his question didn't contain the expected output: look at the first revision. I'm not going to dig trough 20 lines of unformatted text to check for clues. I'll be the first to clean up a post all the way, but there was no effort in the question to describe the problem, nor distinguish his output. I would close a question like that every time, it's too low quality. Once he fixes it, I would have voted to reopen. The close reason was "unclear": all you have to do is make it clear. Dec 9, 2013 at 20:15
  • @JeroenVannevel So you tell the OP that that he doesn't have the expected output? even though you didn't look for it? Dec 9, 2013 at 20:23
  • 2
    @SamIam: fair enough, I should have clarified that it wasn't clear where his expected output was detailed. I looked at the output which said "When i run this code, its not running the way i expected it to. heres what happened when i ran the code:" with 20 lines of similar-looking text after that. It was his responsibility to distinguish the actual and the expected output, so at the very max you could say that my comment wasn't 100% clear, but I still consider it warranted. Dec 9, 2013 at 20:27
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    @SamIam He's saying he didn't see it, because of how the question was formatted. If, as a question author, I see a comment like that, then it is clear to me my question is not being understood properly and that I should edit it to make it clearer what the expected output is. Thus, the comment helps the OP (or, as was the case here, some 3rd party) edit the question to improve the formatting.
    – Servy
    Dec 9, 2013 at 20:27
  • 2
    possible duplicate of Do you wait for edits before voting to close a question?
    – gnat
    Dec 9, 2013 at 20:47
  • 1
    @gnat nobody had to wait for edits on this question. Everyone able to submit a close vote, also had the capability to edit it themselves. Dec 9, 2013 at 21:57
  • 1
    Should all questions that have a possible answer be answered? I see questions every day that the answer is simply a copy paste from the documentation, or a fixxed typo. In what way are these questions/answers useful? They may solve the immediate problem, but long-term they're nothing more than one more search result, one that is more likely to become out of date once the documentation updates.
    – Kevin B
    Dec 10, 2013 at 19:08
  • 2
    I do disagree with the close reason that was used, but i still think it should have been closed, and i agree with the downvotes. The downvote title literally contains: "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful" the question is unclear, not useful, and doesn't show any research effort. Yes, it's a question that can be improved and answered, but even then it still is not useful.
    – Kevin B
    Dec 10, 2013 at 19:55
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    Seems like you're asking us, the community, to not post mean/disrespectful comments. Unfortunately, there will always be that person having a bad day or who doesn't know how to communicate effectively that will post a bad comment. Flag it and move on. Complaining about it here isn't going to help the situation.
    – Kevin B
    Aug 11, 2015 at 19:06

3 Answers 3


but in many ways, the post was an above-average StackOverflow post.

That's kinda sad.

Not to dump on this question - I'm sure the asker was trying his best - but as it stood when it was closed, this was not a good question.

Let's start with the title:

Can someone figure this thing out for me?

That is a title that does not describe the problem. It's a question in the same sense that "can you help me?" or "can I ask you a question?" is a question - it's something to say when talking to a specific person that gives them an opportunity to politely decline before too much time is wasted.

But that makes no sense on Stack Overflow, where you're not talking to a specific person and the best way to avoid wasting someone's time is to summarize your problem up-front so that they can skip past it if they aren't interested.

Speaking of which, the introductory paragraph:

Heres my code

...Is still not a problem statement - and it fails to explain why we might want to read the code before dumping it in our laps. Not only does this provide a useless excerpt for display on the questions lists, but on my laptop screen it means I have to scroll a page and a half before I finally get to the problem statement!

When i run this code, its not running the way i expected it to. heres what happened when i ran the code

Two lengthy output dumps follow, presenting the reader with a fun game of Spot the Difference.

Finally, the question ends with... A link to a PDF containing the full assignment. I haven't clicked through to that; perhaps there is (finally) a useful problem statement there, but frankly even if there is, that's entirely too little too late.

But hey, you know what? You're right: it is possible for a patient reader to divine the intent of this question and come up with a useful answer. I have no doubt that you did just that. Kudos...

...It's a shame you didn't take a minute to save the rest of us the trouble.

As an answerer with full editing privileges, you could have easily salvaged this question. You could've:

  • Written a descriptive title
  • Provided a short summary of the purpose of the code prior to its listing
  • Summarized the differences between the output and the desired output

These three changes alone - utilizing information that you must have had in front of you already in order to answer - would've turned a fairly terrible question into something respectable. And given the time you must've already invested in answering, I suspect the additional effort would've been trivial.

Keep this in mind next time...

  • 9
    I did edit the question. I didn't re-compose it to the extend that you've suggested, but I did highlight the actual and expected outputs. Once I had done that, It took me about 10 seconds to figure out what the problem was, and about 15 seconds to post an initial answer. The question was closed at that point and had 10 downvotes. The second draft of the answer took about a minute to write. and around 5 minutes later, the OP had gotten demoralized, and deleted his question. Dec 9, 2013 at 19:42
  • 1
    If I had edited his question to the standard I use for my own question, that would have taken at lest 5 minutes, and could have potentially gone to as high as 20 minutes. By that time, it was too late Dec 9, 2013 at 19:44
  • 21
    @SamIam: This answer is good advice, but in practice code-dump, how-fix questions are hard to save, and ultimately it is the responsibility of the OP to write something that demonstrates that they've made even a half-hearted effort to, at the very least, narrow the problem down to the specific part of the code that they're having difficulty with. It's not necessarily fair to ask the community to patiently wait to see if someone is going to make a heroic effort to rehabilitiate the question.
    – user102937
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:46
  • 11
    I can't say whether that question - or any question - is worth your time and effort to edit, @Sam. That's something you need to decide for yourself. I can say though, that if you're not willing to salvage mediocre questions you're gonna have to be willing to accept that the time spent answering them may be wasted to a certain extent. Again, it's your call - but hopefully now you can make an informed decision.
    – Shog9
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:57
  • 1
    and this is another topic, but, If the question had been edited and fixed, and I had nominated it for re-open, What do you imagine that the future of this -9 question would have been? Dec 9, 2013 at 19:58
  • 13
    It would still be a highly-localized troubleshooting question that is only of interest to the OP.
    – user102937
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:58
  • 3
    I'm guessing that, had it been generalized to be of broader interest of others, it would already have contained the elements that Shog9 described here; a relevant title, a short summary, and some demonstration of effort that would have prevented a score of -9.
    – user102937
    Dec 9, 2013 at 20:02
  • 7
    @Doug_Ivison when I vote to close I MUST choose a reason, and this reason is displayed below the question when it goes on hold. The issue of requiring comments on downvotes has been discussed here so often: meta.stackoverflow.com/search?q=downvote+comment should get you started Dec 9, 2013 at 20:24
  • 1
    @sami one thing I have noticed about people who insist no question, no matter how awful, can be saved through the application of extraordinary effort: they are peculiarly generous with everyone else's time. Dec 14, 2013 at 8:18
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    As noted above, @Sam, I don't really think that edit "fixed" the question. "here is my code, please find the bug" isn't a good question. It could be fixed relatively easily, but it wasn't - and therein lies the problem: not only would your answer be forever trapped under a nondescript question, but the question itself sets a bad example for the asker and others who might stumble across it.
    – Shog9
    Dec 14, 2013 at 17:57
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    Indeed I did, @Sam - I had to carefully scan the code and output before I could determine what problem he was looking to solve. That may not seem like a big deal, but it effectively means the question is unsearchable - there's NO explicit statement of the problem being solved anywhere in it. Consider, what if everyone did this? If every question on the site began with "Can someone figure this thing out for me? Here is my code" and finished with code dump + output dump, what good would Stack Overflow be?
    – Shog9
    Dec 14, 2013 at 18:10
  • 1
    I never said there weren't worse questions on the site, @Sam. Hopefully we can agree on a better goal here than "not as awful as it possibly could have been".
    – Shog9
    Dec 14, 2013 at 18:15
  • 1
    Ok, that's closed now too. @Sam.
    – Shog9
    Dec 14, 2013 at 18:17
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    Here's how I look at it, @Sam: I came to Stack Overflow after realizing that I was answering questions like this every day and... Nothing ever came of it. It was a treadmill to oblivion, an endless parade of answers that would maybe benefit one person and then disappear forever into the chaos. At some point, without even realizing it, I lost the motivation to do my best - after all, what was the point when no one would ever see it again? I didn't want to keep doing that, I didn't want good folks like you to end up like that... Focus the best of your efforts on posts that'll LIVE and LAST.
    – Shog9
    Dec 16, 2013 at 16:35
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    @sam do not be afraid to hold your fellow internet users to STANDARDS. That's what SE is about, the discipline and strictness necessary to get great results. If they do not do their part, it is deeply unfair of them to ask us to contribute so much effort. This sort of institutionalized unfairness what makes people eventually resent the world and everyone in it. Be brave -- demand that fellow users do their homework, and we will do ours too. Dec 16, 2013 at 23:26

The real issue here was that the question needed to be closed for repairs, and then re-opened, but the user didn't know what that meant and got upset.

It's a secondary issue that the upset manifested as deleting the question - it can always be undeleted - the primary issue is that even after renaming closing to On Hold users still see it as a hostile act. As a result there is a steady stream of meta questions saying "instead of stabbing users in the heart by putting their questions on hold, isn't there some way we can call a pause while the question gets improved?" There sure is, it's called putting the question on hold.

Closing (on-holding) because "I can't understand this" is perfectly correct and right. In fact it's our obligation. It prevents answers pouring in that are answers to a different interpretation of the question. Then someone (doesn't have to be the OP, could be you) can edit it and presto! It's reopen time. I vote Reopen in the Reopen Queue all the time when things have been improved. This system has only one flaw - the perception of closing as hostile. Maybe a comment that "hey OP I'm going to clean this up a bit and see if we can get it reopened" would work - I've tried that on some other sites with some success.

  • 1
    You also had a number of rude "we don't do your homework for you" style comments. Which I think are rather inappropriate. If you want to tell the asker of a question what the problems are with it, than you really should take the time to actually understand what the problems are with the question. Dec 9, 2013 at 19:54
  • No argument there. Good idea to flag those comments as rude, since enough rude flags will auto dismiss a comment. And adding a polite one (that homework is actually welcome, and that the question just needs an edit to get reopened) might outweigh those. Dec 9, 2013 at 19:55
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    @KateGregory homework is not acceptable if the asker has made no effort whatsoever Dec 9, 2013 at 20:01
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    @JanDvorak Whether or not it is homework is irrelevant. Asking someone to solve an entire problem for you is inappropriate regardless of whether it's homework or not; asking for specific help with a problem with sufficient research/effort applied is appropriate, again, regardless of whether it's homework or not.
    – Servy
    Dec 9, 2013 at 20:06
  • 3
    @Servy This much is true. It is, however, the case that zero-effort do-it-for-meh are very often homework assignments (or regexes), and that homework problems are very often under-efforted. Dec 9, 2013 at 20:10
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    @JanDvorak And they're very often not homework too. Equating such questions with homework is not beneficial, and is often harmful.
    – Servy
    Dec 9, 2013 at 20:14
  • I don't think the closevotes are the problem, but rather the downvotes. Downvotes are very rarely retracted so even if the question gets improved the result lingers. I see this a lot less with closevotes (at least: I stay around with questions that I have closevoted for future improvements). Dec 9, 2013 at 20:18
  • @Jan, I'd appreciate your input here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/210840/…
    – Shog9
    Dec 9, 2013 at 20:57
  • @Shog9 I've voted on the answers. I don't think I have a comment to add - sorry for that. Dec 9, 2013 at 21:15
  • 3
    @JeroenVannevel: the persistent downvotes (or the closevotes, for that matter) wouldn't be so much of a problem if you received notifications when whatever you downvoted gets updated. Dec 10, 2013 at 13:29
  • Maybe a comment that "hey OP I'm going to clean this up a bit and see if we can get it reopened" would work - I've tried that on some other sites with some success. I like this—explain briefly to the new user what's going on, what closing really means, and link them to the help center. Jan 27, 2014 at 19:35

Close votes don't mean, "This question is beyond hope, we should burn it with fire." That's what deletion means. Closing simply means, "This question is not suitable as it stands, if it can be improved over time into something that is appropriate, great, and if it isn't edited, then it will eventually become eligible for deletion (both manual and automatic).

The question, especially before your edit (but honestly, even after), is a fairly low quality question, for reasons Shog has described in great detail. While you are correct that there may be potential there for it to be edited into a question that is appropriate for the site, it's not there yet, so closing it is entirely appropriate. If/when the question is edited into something that meets the site's standards, then it can be reopened.

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