Since the old insufficient effort close reason has been removed, are questions showing no effort at all no longer meant to be closed? Just downvoted? If they're meant to be closed, what's the current appropriate close reason? The SO help still refers to the "must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved" reason that no longer exists.

I did find this recent closely-related meta question, but I don't see any clear answer about what we do about them there.

Recently this question was asked on Stack Overflow (with this formatting):


How do you create a sorted list in case it is youngest to eldest and shortest name to longest name?

Question text:

public class Person


public static void main(String args[])



I don't believe a question like that has a place on SO, but none of the current close reasons seems (on the surface) to apply. (In this case, the OP deleted it after it was downvoted, but they frequently don't.) Sadly we all know there are plenty of these. We used to dispatch them quite quickly with the "insufficient effort" close reason. Shog9 feels that reason was abused (I certainly saw it get abused), and I could certainly see a strong case for rewording it. But I think there's a gap that needs filling.

So is there a current close reason for this? Or are we not closing these? Are we flagging them? What?

There are a couple of old meta questions on this that no longer apply:

  • 4
    I'd go with "unclear what you're asking" since OP needs to add additional detail (what he tried). I agree it's not optimal. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 11:44
  • 2
    Personally, I don't think "insufficient effort" needs to be a close reason. And when it was removed, it was determined that Minimal Understanding was never intended to mean "you didn't put enough effort". So just downvote and close as Too Board or Unclear if the apply. If someone does this enough, the downvotes will leave then q-banned and solve the problem. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 11:46
  • @psubsee2003: I completely agree that "insufficient effort" was abused, and it needed rewording/replacing. But what's happened instead is that it's been removed, without being replaced. I'm sure that was an intentional decision made with forethought and a plan, so I'd like to know what that thinking and plan was. :-) Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 11:48
  • 1
    @T.J.Crowder: the problem is that "insufficient effort" removal will lead to "unclear what you're asking" and "Too Board" abuse I fear. I completely agree that it should be replaced.
    – Revious
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 11:58
  • I personally prefer the 'lacks sufficient information' reason, its a click more, but fits most of such cases quite well. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:30
  • @πάνταῥεῖ: Yeah, it's somewhere between insufficient information and unclear, isn't it? Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:34
  • 1
    @πάνταῥεῖ the problem is the rest of the phrase... the complete emphasis on that close reason "it lacks sufficient information to diagnose the problem". We don't even know what the problem is in this case, so I don't think this applies unless we know the problem but don't have enough info to diagnose. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:37
  • @psubsee2003: Yeah. I've looked at that one several times and not used it, for that reason. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:39
  • @psubsee2003 I'd say this is more or less equivalent. The problem itself is essential information to diagnose it ;) ... Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:41
  • 1
    @πάνταῥεῖ just be careful. That close reason was added for a specific reason and we use this too wildly (like minimal understanding) that one will be removed as well, and we'll go through this exercise again. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:43
  • Because the duplicate was more closely associated with this post than the one it was cited as being a duplicate of. Or something. :o) Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 15:07

3 Answers 3


A question should tell me what the OP has a problem with. Those problems are something we as a community can solve. Requirements (i.e. this is what I'm trying to achieve) are only part of that. A question that is just a requirement statement lacks the "this is how far I've gotten" and "this is where I'm stuck". It's these last two parts that tell me what the actual question is, and that give me something I can answer.

The focus there is not so much on the "no effort" side of things. It's not about me demanding blood sweat and tears, but rather about the "where are you in the process?" side of the equation.

Looking at your specific example, it's only at the requirements stage. We get some idea of what the OP wants to do, but no idea of where he's stuck. Given that he wants to sort by age and name, surely his Person class should have appropriate members to hold that information.

Given that even such basic information necessary for a sort is missing, I can only conclude that the code is there just to avoid the entirely justified "show your code" comments from coming in.

So to me, at the state that particular question is in, that counts as an "Unclear what you're asking". I don't just need to know what you're trying to do, but also where exactly you are stuck in that process.

One could argue that the "lacks sufficient information to diagnose the problem" close reason could be a fit, but I tend to reserve that for questions that are somewhat clear and targeted, but cannot be answered without some specific information.

  • I think you're onto something with the effort being a secondary issue. I think that's what Shog9 was on about as well. Perhaps a more-specific version of "Unclear what you're asking" is required. Something like: "unclear what part of the problem you're having trouble with - The question describes a overall problem or set of requirements but doesn't explain what specific part of the problem you're having trouble with / how you're having trouble solving the problem. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question." Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:16
  • 2
    I would not be against a rephrasing along those lines @T.J.Crowder. Seems like a reasonable suggestion. (Not sure if that suggestion was made already)
    – Bart
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:18
  • I could go with "this question appears to be off-topic, because it's a set of requirements, not a problem description" Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 16:53

Handling these posts in general

While we encourage questions to be well-researched and the askers to put enough effort in before asking questions, I don't think this needs to be a close reason and on its own, this shouldn't be a reason to close a post.

Now if another close reason applies, the it should be closed.

Many of these types of question often fit in the definition of "Unclear what you are asking" and/or "Too Broad" so if those reasons apply, then by all means use them. I don't personally think that just because the question lacks research effort automatically means that it is either too broad or unclear (but usually does).

And just to address the "lacks sufficient information" close reason. The problem with this close reason is the entire point of emphasis of that close reason.

"..it lacks sufficient information to diagnose the problem..."

In most cases "lack of research" examples, we don't even know what the problem is, so I don't think this applies, unless we know the problem and don't have enough info to diagnose. But if we do have a clear problem statement and there is info missing, then yes, this could be a valid close reason.

From the posts you are linking, "Insufficient effort" was never a close reason, but the scope of the old "Not a real question" close reason was broaded a bit to bring these questions somewhat under it's umbrella. But I think it was confusing (as that entire close reason what given its name).

Likewise, "Minimal Understanding" was never intended to be for lack of research effort, but it was the misuse of this close reason that led to its demise.

Ultimately, I think the voting tool tip addresses the lack of effort topic completely:

enter image description here

So if you don't think there was enough effort than downvote to your heart's content.

The plus of this is if the poster habitually fails to do research, this will leave him question banned quickly and he'll learn the hard way.

Handling the specific example

For your specific example, that is a text book example of "Unclear what you are asking".

How in the world are we supposed to figure out what this OP wants given that post in its entirety. Sure we can sort, but he doesn't even provide any properties or anything to indicate what kind of data is being sorted and how, so answers are probably not going to be relevant or understandable or are just going to be stabs in the dark

  • There are 2 criteria list, age and name length. But are these separate sorts, or are they related (sort by age first, then by name length).
  • How should equal values be addressed in sorting?
  • The ages may not be integers, maybe they are stored as strings, so sorting would be different.
  • The longest to shortest name is also vague. Are we sorting the Family name? The given name? The full name? Is the name stored as a single string or separately are the family and given name.
  • You are not arguing though that a question as in the example deserves to remain open? To me that's a definite "Unclear".
    – Bart
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:01
  • @Bart if it is unclear, then I think it should be closed, let me clarify. I wanted to mention that originally and forgot, so thanks for reminding me Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:02
  • So you're saying that the question I quoted in my question fit the "Unclear what you're asking" close reason? That really feels like shoe-horning to me. It's frequently clear what's being asked ("Write this code for me" is common), it's just that the question being asked isn't a fit for what SO is meant to provide. Similarly "over broad" seems like sophistry; the quoted question is fairly specific, there are only so many ways to write the requested. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:10
  • @T.J.Crowder "How do I write this?" is at most a requirement specification. It doesn't become clear when I merely get what the OP is trying to do. It becomes clear when I get why he can't do that. Understanding requirements is all I need from my clients. But they pay me and users here don't. So I require more than that from them, if they want me to help them help themselves.
    – Bart
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:12
  • @T.J.Crowder it really isn't shoehorning. He gives a couple of vague specs and little detail. There is a lot of gray area there that any answer would be guessing at, so any questions that force people to guess are usually unclear. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:18
  • @psubsee2003: I think we're on the right track, but it's a very different kind of unclear from the usual run of unclear questions. I do think you and Bart (and Shog9 and others) are right that effort isn't the point, it's more about being specific where you're stuck so we can help you get past where you're stuck. A second form of "unclear" (or a sub-menu as with off-topic) would help, I think. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:24
  • @T.J.Crowder maybe, and maybe not even a subreason of "unclear" but just another custom off-topic reason. I also tried to address specifics as to why it isn't shoehorning and it is actually unclear. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 12:27
  • It's "unclear what you're asking" because you don't know where exactly the OP got stuck. Likewise it's also "lacks sufficient information" because you don't know where exactly the OP got stuck. Both can be suitable, I tend to go with "lacks information" for this kind. Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 13:08

I don't know how we should handle this kind of questions but I think this close reason was useful and that it will be hard to handle this kind of questions in the right way without it.

I'll try to explain the reason. Many members here still would prefer to see this kind of questions closed. And not only that kind of questions.

Speaking on meta and chat.meta for some days I see a strong effort towards the quality of the questions.

In my experience if this kind of questions are no longer closed with the real motivation people will strongly downvote them and, if there is any chance, close with another reason.

I can take my experience about.

One of my questions was closed as too broad. Reading the comment I understood the text was not clear and people were thinking I din't put enough effort. So I modified the text. The broadness of the question was immutated but the question was voted for reopening.

As humans we will, for sure, always try to do what we think to be good. Unless we experience a discomfort in doing it.

If some member believe that a question should be closed, and he is not concerned about using an improper close reasons, for sure he will do it. (since there is no punishment / discomfort in doing it).

So I think it would be better to introduce again this close reason. Just to give people the real reason for which their questions are being closed

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