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As inspired by this particular answer by Shog9, I'm calling for a change in wording to the "Too Broad" close reason.

Presently, the close reason reads as thus:

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.

This invites misinterpretations that can lock down on-topic questions, or label questions which really need more edit love than close votes as "undesirable". In effect, the wording can lead one to think that a long yet objective and on-topic question should be closed as "too broad", because it's long.

Let's be explicit about why a question should be closed as "too broad".

As a reference, some things as pointed out by Shog9 indicate why the close reason exists at all:

  • There are multiple questions being asked. Someone is trying to get a two-fer rather than just posting multiple, separate questions. This is closely related to...

  • Questions that try to cover too much ground. Asking for help solving a specific problem that arose while writing your OpenGL wireframe renderer is totally legit. Asking for advice on writing said renderer when you've barely more than a list of requirements is too much - a good answer would be a textbook on software design and probably include large portions of Foley, van Dam, Feiner and Hughes. These questions often transition gracefully into...

  • Questions that lack any specificity at all. Now we're in a situation where there are multiple "correct" answers because there are no criteria for proving anything incorrect! Questions asking for OpenGL tutorials or help designing systems for which no requirements are provided fall into this category, and often become not just too broad but overly opinion-based.

To that end, we should change the wording to reflect this intent, with the main themes being more than one question asked and questions which lack specificity. I'm no wordsmith, but here's what I came up with:

There is more than one question being posed, or the question being posed is not concisely focused to reasonably answer. Please revise the question to narrow its scope or isolate a specific issue which can be answered in a few paragraphs.

My personal thought is "few paragraphs" is ambiguous because "few" is ambiguous" But, my hope is that this at least attempts to address some confusion about when to use this close reason and why.

Thoughts? Concerns? Better wordsmithing (which is always welcome)?

migrated from meta.stackoverflow.com Mar 3 '17 at 17:03

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

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    I'm not optimistic. Instead of people arguing about how many answers is too much or how long of an answer is too long, we'll have people arguing about how focused is focused enough. I'm fine with the "more than question being posed" (and I already do use this close reason for posts that are a laundry list of questions related to one another only because they originate from the same user) but be prepared to deal with people who'll want to close questions because there is more than one interrogative sentence in them. – Louis May 24 '16 at 18:31
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    I think that it's OK to have more than one question when they are closely related. There are a number of regex questions that can be answered in 3 lines of code despite the fact that they ask about matching three different (but similar) things. We don't really need three questions where one works... – Laurel May 24 '16 at 18:46
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    @Laurel The problem isn't multi-part questions. It's single posts that could legitimately be split into multiple SO questions, each perhaps on-topic and not too broad, but too broad when taken all together. The problem with these, specifically, is that a user could answer question #2 but not question #1 and #3, and then we don't know what to do with their answer, or whose to accept. – Two-Bit Alchemist May 24 '16 at 18:52
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    kinda like "Oh, and this other thing doesn't work either, why is that?" – Kevin B May 24 '16 at 18:53
  • Maybe a separate close reason for multiple-question questions would be good? (Although I do agree with @Laurel that some of them are closely related enough to be ok.) – Don't Panic May 24 '16 at 19:02
  • @Don'tPanic I think you and Laurel are on the right track, and the problem is that multiple questions (sentences ending with question marks) is fine, but multiple Questions (SO questions) in a single post is not. This is the ambiguity that may need to be addressed by wording changes. – Two-Bit Alchemist May 24 '16 at 19:24
  • I think it is difficult to define "sufficiently closely related to be in the same question" objectively. – Don't Panic May 24 '16 at 19:28
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    @Louis: To your point, we kind of already do have people arguing about that. That's how this topic and the topic that preceded it came to be. But in honesty, this is more about being clear as to why the question is being closed. Yes, there will be people that interpret "focused" loosely, but it's the same quagmire as people that interpreted "Too Localized"; without them taking the time to consider why a question is too broad, they've voted to close 3 minutes ago. – Makoto May 24 '16 at 19:34
  • All this talk about close reasons makes me sad :(. I don't have enough close votes to make a dent on any of the really obvious off-topic Q's, like recommendations. I have tried to focus on flagging answers only, but a lot of the time I end up wanting to close the question anyway. I usually avoid voting on anything borderline, anyway. – Laurel May 24 '16 at 19:40
  • @Laurel: That's chiefly why the discussion on Meta happens. We're not capable of doing any of this by ourselves. If it didn't get discussed, then there wouldn't be many people left to be sad since they'd have left due to problems with the system. – Makoto May 24 '16 at 19:41
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    @Makoto I can easily find 10,000 questions that need to be closed for just asking for recommendations. Only a mod would be able to close that quantity of questions... – Laurel May 24 '16 at 20:00
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    @Laurel: Easily? It might be worth putting together a SEDE query to see if you can get some sort of pattern of occurrence for those types of questions that the scripts aren't automatically deleting due to age or other constraints. – Makoto May 24 '16 at 20:03
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    @Makoto Already did: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/481553/…. Unfortunately, I had to limit it because it's slow, so you can't see all the data... – Laurel May 24 '16 at 20:05
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    +100 for "There is more than one question being posed" - Someone said programming is the art of doing one thing at a time. Some people are too lazy and dump their whole requirement instead of tackling it step by step, while each of those steps are answered on Stack Overflow or available on the internet already (Example I just happen to visit). Please have that sentence in the close reason. – Tilwin Joy May 25 '16 at 4:43
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    The central issue is not the length of the answers, or how many answers are "possible", but rather the boundless nature of the question. If the question is not reasonably scoped and cannot possibly have a self-contained answer written, then it should be closed. If the close reason just said that, I think we would be ahead. It is critical that we abandon answer length as a generic metric for judging question quality. Some people just write really long answers. I don't know why, we were just born that way. It doesn't invalidate the questions we answer. – Cody Gray May 25 '16 at 15:16
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The description of the "Too Broad" close reason has been changed. This is the new text:

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.

  • Nice, I wish it was this description for all the other sites. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Mar 3 '17 at 16:24
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    @M.A.R. This is a network-wide change, this question is just what sparked the change. Shog and I spent a couple hours tweaking various ideas so that it wasn't SO-specific. – animuson Mar 3 '17 at 16:58
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    @Ani awesome. Thank you! – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Mar 3 '17 at 16:59
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    @animuson I really do not like the word "problem" there, as on many sites many questions are not really about a 'problem.' Why not simply 'question' and if you want to avoid the repetition of the word "please edit the post to limit it to a specific question" – quid Mar 3 '17 at 18:53
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    I fail to see how this new wording applies to the sort of big-list questions that were at least formerly beloved on Mathematics. The "specific problem" is that the asker wants a bunch of examples of [thing], and an adequate answer is an example of [thing]. – user642796 Mar 3 '17 at 18:54
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    It feels like this simultaneously covers "too broad" as well as "unclear what you are asking." – enderland Mar 3 '17 at 19:05
  • I'm not sure this new wording addresses the 'trying to cover too much ground' aspect it originally did that was also spoken about in the original question here. IMO it still suggests questions asking: 'please leave a long essay or entire book' are allowed. – JonW Mar 3 '17 at 19:15
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    Agree with @quid here that "problem" is not the right word. For the two sites I moderate questions are almost never about problems. I suggest "issue" instead as a way of generalizing. – Caleb Mar 3 '17 at 19:42
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    Are changes like this retrospective? That is, does the boilerplate above get served up for old questions flagged as "too broad"? – Nick Gammon Mar 3 '17 at 20:23
  • If the link at least could be site-specific, this would work more generally. The more info link shoukd point to information specific to that site’s culture and customs. Worldbuilding is about as different as they get. – JDługosz Mar 3 '17 at 20:40
  • @JDługosz The link is site specific (I just checked) – ChrisF Mar 3 '17 at 21:14
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    @NickGammon Yes, I see the new wording on a question closed last December. – Ben N Mar 3 '17 at 23:37
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    The link can be site-specific, @JDl - make a meta post proposing a site-specific re-write, and if your peers are cool with it we can make it happen! – Shog9 Mar 4 '17 at 3:11
  • The description hasn't been updated in the help centre. – Rand al'Thor Mar 20 '17 at 22:25
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Changing the message could help

I support the changing of the text in the Too Broad message.

I have had a very similar discussion to this before. Make it easier to close job shop "gimme teh codez" questions. The underlying idea was to make the close reason more straightforward with what it was being used for, as you have suggested here. However, the problem being solved was slightly different so the answers on that post do not particularly map to only changing the text.

I would suggest a change to the text as follows

Your question would receive too many long answers, would require users to create the entire design and implementation, or would require a tutorial. Please add more detail to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered uniquely in the character limit (30,000).

It could also cause damage or not address the underlying problem

However, even with changed text, this idea in general is perhaps a moot point. Both Brad Larson and Shog9 weighed in essentially making the argument that changing the text will not significantly address the problem.

Brad Larson suggested that perhaps instead of addressing closure from a close vote perspective, down votes could be used as an additional metric to close questions. He posited

What if we refocused close votes on the old definition of off topic (subject matter fit), and let votes take care of the rest?

Shog9's reasoning was similarly focused away from closure, and he explains very well why changing the close reason text can be a double edged sword

At every turn, attempts to solve this problem have resulted in useful questions being closed without actually doing anything for the problem of obscure one-off requirement-dumps. The problem is in the nature of what gets closed: boring, obscure questions tend to be ignored unless they're overtly offensive or blatantly off-topic, so the questions that enough folks actually view to close tend to be those that... aren't as useless as they first appear. Turns out finding drugs that kill cancer isn't hard; lots of things kill cancer. Drugs that find and kill only cancer are considerably harder...

In light of this, perhaps different approaches are necessary.

  • I like a lot about your suggestion. But tutorial requests would create an overlap with the "suggestion" close reason... – Laurel May 24 '16 at 18:59
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    @Laurel - That reason is primarily for off site resources, such as linking to an existing tutorial. That said, since it doesn't seem direct enough to you, it would clearly confuse other people and that means the wording is certainly not perfect. The angle I had intended it to address when written was for Stack Overflow users creating the tutorial in an answer. As in, when writing an answer, going step by step showing how to create an entire application of type A or whatnot. – Travis J May 24 '16 at 19:02
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    I think this will encourage people to try to come up with questions that require ≈30,000 characters to answer them properly. (Not really. But it seems like including the character limit in the close reason text may be TMI.) – Don't Panic May 24 '16 at 19:08
  • @Don'tPanic - I included that mostly because of some of the outlook Shog9 gave recently which was to say that an answer of 20,000 characters didn't instantly make the question fall under the too broad umbrella. Also, Stack Overflow never takes these texts verbatim if they use them, so this is mostly just my rough draft suggestion I suppose you could call it. I agree that it is a little explicit, but "too long" is a little too easy to misinterpret as well in my opinion, and we do tend to be a very large group of pedantic people (especially when casting these close votes). – Travis J May 24 '16 at 19:15
  • Good points; I agree. Although I suppose even with an explicit number people could still disagree over the estimated character count required to answer. – Don't Panic May 24 '16 at 19:22
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    I actually consider Makoto's proposal better -- the proposal here is more closely fitted to code-centric topics, but there are numerous "questions" that fit into the "more than one question being poised" camp that aren't actually code-centric. – Charles Duffy May 24 '16 at 19:25
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    @CharlesDuffy - Note that a question which has several aspects to it is not inherently off topic. This may in some situations involve having more than one sub question in the post, and there is nothing wrong with that provided that the scope is narrowed and they are not overly vague. That is essentially why Shog transitions into the "questions which cover too much ground" section. If "more than one question" was used, then anything with more than 1 question mark could potentially be closed by over zealous users looking back at historical posts. – Travis J May 24 '16 at 19:35
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    @TravisJ, I think Shog9's advice on the topic, quoted in the question, strikes an ideal balance. Condensing down too far drops the nuances enclosed within -- losing the ability to close the "asking for advice about a renderer when you've barely more than a list of requirements" question before it sucks time and attention away from more useful questions would be unfortunate. – Charles Duffy May 24 '16 at 20:05
  • I don't really agree with the rewording (it seems it might cause some issues to me), but I do like the idea of downvotes (possibly to an extent weighed against upvotes) more or less replacing close votes. I think that would make for a more objective system and effectively stop open/close wars. – user3995702 May 26 '16 at 16:15
  • @WilliamKappler: Perhaps you should elaborate on this point in a separate answer, since this question's main focal point is entirely about rewording as opposed to downvotes. – Makoto May 26 '16 at 16:38
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I agree that adding some clarification in the wording might help - if you can get new users to read it. Perhaps it's time for SO to provide more guidance to new users? We tell them "too broad" or "not on topic" without really providing an alternate recommendation. There have been meta discussions on the appropriateness of tutorials or write-ups on Meta before, and there is external discussion and frustration about the scope of SO as well (presumably from people who haven't taken time to get past the initial SO learning curve).

I think some more direct user guidance when closing questions would help focus or prevent too broad questions as much or more than updating the wording. Or at least stop them from asking "Is my question really too broad?"

Possible approaches:

Putting links to tag wikis in the closed banner

I've been on SO for years [1] and didn't know they existed until I stumbled on them through a Meta question yesterday (and asked a separate question on publicizing tag wikis better - their general neglect also been discussed before). The first comment was to have a new close reason: "Answered in tag wiki". I realize not all tag wikis populated or well curated, but some of the more common ones (e.g. the javascript tag wiki) are overflowing with useful external links for beginners.

Adding some "beginner" links to the Ask Question page

And remove them after reaching a rep cap, either overall or in a given topic. Possibly linked to tags wikis as well. enter image description here

More directly stating "find tutorials somewhere else"

Again, perhaps in the close banner, or in the Ask Question page. Yes, we talk about what's appropriate in the on topic help page, which clarifies a lot of things - how many new users who are after a quick solution are really going to read 2 pages of community guidelines before posting though? Not to encourage alienating new users, but sometimes you just have to be blunt to get the point across.
enter image description here
(from the web comic Basic Instructions)


[1] SO has the interesting problem of being at the top of search results for most beginner questions that really are quite broad, without wanting to provide broad answers. I for one found SO by Googling broad topics, and realizing what a great resource it was, took the effort to learn about the culture and preferred usage - many people do not. I have used SO for years to find detailed information, but never realized there was any introductory content for subject beginners.

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    My counterargument to your point being made (which is still valid) is that the closure is intended to help save those questions which are worth saving anyway; you'll never be able to redeem someone who asks if they can ask a question about "where to start" and think that it'd be welcomed warmly or that this sort of question could be "improved". I do wonder if "concisely focused" is enough to curb "where do I start"-type questions, but perhaps more wordsmithing is required... – Makoto May 26 '16 at 19:13
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    I like the idea of "It's the first time you ask on this tag, do you want to get a tutorial ?" – Martin Verjans May 26 '16 at 19:34
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    I'm not crazy about the tutorial message, but it could conveniently link to our Documentation site once that's out of beta. – TylerH May 26 '16 at 21:43

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