This is a part of one of the reasons for closing questions:

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format.

Why such artificial ambiguous "or" style of the reason? (there are also other similar examples)

I can't imagine a human explaining something in this way.

We all know how important is to have clear questions and answers, how come this principle of clarity is not respected here? Even worse, I think this sets a very bad example for anyone seeing such message.

  • 7
    This is a perfectly fine definition for "too broad" IMO. Feb 6, 2014 at 9:11
  • So you're suggesting what alternative?
    – Bart
    Feb 6, 2014 at 9:14
  • @Bart An alternative is to split this Frankenstein reason to two clear reasons.
    – VividD
    Feb 6, 2014 at 9:17
  • 2
    @VividD: Gaining what exactly? You are closing a question with this option because it is too broad; and a question can be too broad for two different reasons. These are not separate closing options though. Feb 6, 2014 at 9:23
  • 1
    @Fabrício Matté I think you have blue eyes or didn't read my question carefully.
    – VividD
    Feb 6, 2014 at 9:26
  • @Martijn Pieters Gaining removing this abomination of a sentence, and demonstrating that community respects the clarity.
    – VividD
    Feb 6, 2014 at 9:31
  • @VividD see my answer. Feb 6, 2014 at 9:31
  • 2
    The "or" joins two potential reasons for too broadness. One or the other or both will apply Feb 6, 2014 at 9:36
  • 2
    Vivid - this seems perfectly clear to most people. Have you thought that the lack of clarity is perhaps at your end?
    – Rory Alsop
    Feb 6, 2014 at 9:58
  • @Rory Alsop, I will consider what you said, but one thing is getting more and more clear: It's hard to express criticism of Stack Overflow on SO Meta. People don't like even to see it, let alone think about it. I believe this question will soon be put on hold, then closed, and then quietly deleted.
    – VividD
    Feb 6, 2014 at 10:19
  • 1
    @VividD your thread is perfectly valid. Downvotes usually mean "disagree" on meta, it is quite different from SO main. Feb 6, 2014 at 10:20
  • As Fabricio said, meta is all about agreement and disagreement. It is about the opinions, what can be done, and what can't. Some meta posts are downvoted massively, but this doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't post it, just that it may not be what most people think.
    – Rory Alsop
    Feb 6, 2014 at 10:25
  • "I can't imagine a human explaining..." -- neither can I. This is system explaining things, canned catch-all wording. Your dislike appears to be based on wrong expectations
    – gnat
    Feb 6, 2014 at 11:24
  • @gnat If people who are willing to answer questions expect (rightfully) clear question, expecting clear reasons for closing can't be wrong.
    – VividD
    Feb 6, 2014 at 12:31
  • it's not wrong, just unrealistic. System can not make personalized, individually tailored comments. Canned close messages are merely an approximation
    – gnat
    Feb 6, 2014 at 13:18

2 Answers 2


Consider the hypothetical help-vampiring question:

How do I build a forum?

Possible answers come to mind:

  • Install PHPBB (explain all the setup, options, customization etc.).
  • Install vBulletin (explain all the setup and specific options).
  • N other answers explaining how to use and setup existing forum frameworks.
  • A huge answer summing up all the answers above.
  • And finally a huge, 200 pages book-sized answer explaining all the necessary data storage structure, all the models/controllers/views logic, how to treat untrusted data, how to extend the forum with addons, etc. etc.

As you can see, the list of possible answers is unending. You either have an infinite list of small answers or too long (remember, book-sized) answers which don't objectively answer the question, because there is no practical answer to the question.

The "too broad" close reason indicates a question which is outside of the site's scope:

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

Having too many answers also open the possibility of a huge answer combining many of the other never-ending answers, so it makes sense to have these descriptions grouped together in the "too broad" close reason.

Even in the cases where these don't overlap, the description is still clear enough:

The "or" joins two potential reasons for too broadness. One or the other or both will apply – Richard Tingle

Having two (nearly) identical close reasons just to provide different descriptions seems rather unnecessary (and confusing for close voters in cases where both apply). I believe the description is clear enough as it currently stands.

Maybe adding a "There is no practical answer to your question" statement to the description could be slightly enlightening as well.

  • Your answer doesn't address concerns in my question.
    – VividD
    Feb 6, 2014 at 9:33
  • 1
    @VividD having too many possible answers generate the possibility for a very long answer. The description is valid IMO, I don't really see what you're addressing as wrong. I can only think that you're misunderstanding the "too long" in the description, which actually stands for "an answer the size of a book" which is not viable for the Q&A format. Feb 6, 2014 at 9:36
  • I'm tempted to downvote this for the shock value (shudders). They aren't so monstrous. More like vermin. Dec 4, 2015 at 7:08

Here is the full text of the close reason:

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

So does this say 2 completely different things? Absolutely. But both generally point to the same exact idea, "the scope of your question is to big, you need to focus it more for us to help you".

The purpose of the close reasons is to provide general guidance to the OP on what might be wrong with their question. Specific guidance is usually reserved for the community to provide via comments and even editing.

So why do it this way? There reason is actually for the benefit of the question asker (aka OP).

Imagine a situation where you split up the general ideas into more specific ones, you will end up with possibly dozens of close reasons. Because every person can look at the same exact text and interpret it differently, you will end up with multiple close reasons selected.

  • 2 people might select "Too many possible answers"
  • 1 might select "Good answers would be too long for this format"
  • 1 might select "Please clarify your specific problem"
  • 1 might select "Add Additional details to highlight exactly what you need"

So how does this help explain anything? Yes the close reasons are more specific, but now there are 4 different ones selected and none have a majority. They way the system is designed now, only the close reason with the highest vote total will be displayed, so the only feedback the OP will get is "Too many possible answers" and is going to miss out on some of the other bits.

Where as if you combine the close reason how they are now you end up with:

  • 3 votes for "Too Broad"
  • 2 votes for "Unclear what you are asking"

Yes there is still a conflict, and the close reason on the question is still only going to show the top selected reason, but now you get feedback from the majority of users who selected "Too Broad".

And yes, these conflicts will get even worse when you have 5 different reasons selected as only the first one selected will be displayed.

So this is why we rely on the close reason to only provide general guidance. If you want specific guidance, then usually there is good feedback on what is wrong on the specific question in the comments.

  • I understand your point, but why the explanation for closing couldn't be worded like this (in situation that you described in the middle of your answer): "Primary reason for closing your question is that there is too many possible answers. Also, good answers may be too long. Besides, you should clarify your specific problem. Additionally, add additional details to highlight exactly what you need."
    – VividD
    Feb 6, 2014 at 10:51
  • Or, @psubsee2003, if one means this: "The scope of your question is to big, you need to focus it more for us to help you.", why not say exactly the same?
    – VividD
    Feb 6, 2014 at 10:59
  • @VividD there are feature requests to show all close reasons but that's not how the system works now so it would be impractical to split them up until the system is changed. However, the reason it is system as it is now is to convey simple info to the OP, which is 1 close reason, not 3 or 4 (or 5). Feb 6, 2014 at 11:00
  • @VividD "scope is too big" certainly works, but in my opinion, it is too general. At least the currently close reasons provides some specific points on what the user might fix. Feb 6, 2014 at 11:04

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