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Let's say you want to close a question for being just plain off-topic, in the non-SE-jargon sense, on Stack Overflow. (Yes, we're on MSE, not MSO. Bear with me.)

Since all of the choices under Closing > Off-Topic are dedicated to particular ways that programming questions can be wrong, your only option is to use “Other (add a comment explaining what is wrong)”. When you do this, you're invited to write that comment with the following prefilled text:

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about |

This text is a bad suggestion because it affords being completed with what the actual topic of the question is, like “This question appears to be off-topic because it is about feeding cats.” I frequently see this sort of reason given. The problem is, that's just restating the topic of the question — it doesn't say anything whatsoever about why the question is off-topic. There's nothing in the help center that says that cats in particular are off-topic.

(Today I even saw someone fill it in with "...because it belongs on Math Stack Exchange". This is incorrect — the fact that we have a math site (or Programmers or Server Fault or Information Security, even) isn't the reason why the question is off topic on Stack Overflow, and it gives the false impression that there is no overlap at all between site topics.)

Now, if I were in charge, Stack Overflow (and every other SE site) would have a radio-button off-topic reason for just-plain-not-in-scope:

This question is not about programming.

But that's a hairier issue, so let's at least fix the prefilled text (which is generic across all sites, which is why I'm asking at MSE) to encourage giving the right format by adding the one word:

This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about |

By suggesting the negative phrasing, I hope that it is more likely that the actual problem with the question will get written down, rather than restating the more obvious and less helpful fact of what the question is about.

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    The rewrite requires that I fill in "programming under the scope defined by the help center. It is, instead, about". So, basically, you just screwed me. – Won't Nov 7 '14 at 17:00
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In fact, the following is acceptable and helpful on other SE sites where I have reviewed close votes:

Today I even saw someone fill it in with "...because it belongs on Math Stack Exchange". This is incorrect — the fact that we have a math site (or Programmers or Server Fault or Information Security, even) isn't the reason why the question is off topic on Stack Overflow, and it gives the false impression that there is no overlap at all between site topics.

Yes, there is overlap between site topics, but some questions clearly belong on one site more than another. We get UX questions on EL&U a lot. Even more commonly, we get ELL questions on EL&U and probably vice-versa. SO gets lots of IT Security; Cryptography gets IT Security etc. I think the partially pre-filled off-topic close reason works quite well.

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This is now arguably moot because the prefilled text has been changed to

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because |

which does not contain the “is about” wording.

  • I didn't find any mention of when this happened in the unofficial change log; if someone could provide a date/citation I'd appreciate it. – Kevin Reid Jan 30 '15 at 21:41
  • I saw someone write functionally the exact same reason as is described in the question just this morning, so no, it's not "not a problem" just because of this change. – Servy Jan 30 '15 at 21:44
  • @Servy Sure, people will do that, but it's no longer the case that the wording particularly encourages it. Given the new text, I don't see that my proposal is significantly better. – Kevin Reid Jan 30 '15 at 21:50

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