• What does it mean to "close" a question?
  • How/when can I vote to close questions?
  • When should I vote to close questions?
  • When should I not vote to close questions?
  • 1
    This was originally a feature request for more descriptive close messages, and probably should never have become an FAQ entry. It should be somehow merged with What is a "closed" question?.
    – Pops
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 19:28

3 Answers 3


Close reasons have been discussed before on Meta Stack Overflow, to some effect. And while most of us who are trigger-happy with the close button know what they mean, I think there does exist a general lack of guidance on when they should be applied.

What Does "Closing" a Question Mean, Anyway?

Closing a question is not an inherently negative activity. It should not be considered so, by either those closing, nor the original poster (OP). Instead, "closing" a question should be considered a form of sequestering -- placing the question in a state of Limbo.

It is not only possible, but in the right circumstances, likely, that the question can be reopened. It may just need input from the original poster -- clarification of the question, differentiation between it and the supposed duplicates, etc.

Closing a question merely prevents new answers from being added. The question, and any existing answers, can still be edited, voted and commented upon. This allows activity to flow, which in turn allows the community to determine if the question should remain closed.

If your question is closed, read below and see if -- objectively -- you can understand why it was closed. Over time, you'll likely find that you agree with many of the community's closures, and when your rep allows, you may very well end up joining the cleanup crew.

Here are the rules I personally follow. I have made this post Community Wiki, with the expectation that other question closers will actually edit these rules, and edit out all of the mentions of "my" guidelines. My sincere hope is that, perhaps, this can become something of a "community consensus" guideline.

Without further ado:

Exact Duplicate

This question covers exactly the same ground as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question.

In my mind, this means that the questions are, for lack of a better term, identical. I do not believe in deleting duplicates, as they serve an explicit SEO (and human search) benefit. However, if a new question covers absolutely the same ground as an old one (or the combination of two or more, e.g. a question asking for C# books and blogs is a duplicate of two existing questions), then I definitely believe the new one should be closed so that there is one canonical location for the answers to that question.

Additionally, if the answers from another question adequately answer the new one, or any answers posted to the new one are likely to be duplicates of answers from the old one, you're probably looking at a duplicate -- even if it isn't an exact duplicate.

When Should This Not Be Used?

In addition to the obvious, "if it's not a duplicate," I actually think this gets overused on Meta Stack Overflow quite a bit with similar questions. Similar or related questions are not necessarily duplicate questions. For example, the question this precise answer relates to could have been closed as a "duplicate" of 5018, but thankfully (thus far) wasn't.

Before rushing to a "duplicate" judgment, ask yourself if there is something about the new version which makes it unique, different from the old. Can you envision possible answers that would apply to the new one and not the old? If so, then its answers likely will have value separate from the old question; it is not a duplicate, and refrain from the closure vote.


Questions on {site} are expected to generally relate to {topic}. This question is very far afield from {topic}.

This should be self-explanatory, but for many people, it is for some reason confusing. We'll use SO, and programming, as our example.

Programming-related questions are those specifically related to code. Questions which relate to being a working programmer ("as a programmer, how do you deal with a non-technical boss," etc.) are not programming-related. One could easily substitute the words "accountant" and "non-mathematical" for "programmer" and "non-technical" and get essentially the same responses.

Programmer-related is not the same as programming-related. If it's not about code, it could very well be a candidate for closure under this reason.

When Should This Not Be Used?

Gray areas. If you have enough reasonable doubt that it could be on-topic, then leave it alone. If it should be closed, others with more experience will handle it for you. For example, issues with IDEs or questions on the use of source control are not strictly programming-related, but the people most qualified to answer will be on Stack Overflow, as these tools are used primarily in the practice of programming. So leave them be.

Subjective and Argumentative

It's impossible to objectively answer this question, and the question was asked in a confrontational, argumentative way.

Everybody's favorite. It's been the subject of many a battle, and even some advice on how to game the system. Here's the thing: Note the word "and" in the title. In technology, many things are subjective. The way you approach problem x may not be the way you approach problem y, even if they're remarkably similar, due to a variety of potential constraints that may not be verbalized in the question. Also, certain subjective questions are not only on-topic, but actually valuable to the community -- justifications of languages, platforms, operating systems, etc., are all (in my mind) actually valuable to their respective communities -- done once. It's a good thing to have a canonical location of pros and cons.

So when should this be used? When the tone of the question is in fact both subjective and argumentative. "Tell me why PHP doesn't suck" would qualify. "List the pros and cons of using PHP" would not. In many cases, editing out the OP's argumentative stance may salvage the question -- however, once that is done, a careful duplicate check should also be endeavored, as chances are good that at least one site in the Trilogy has answered the question at that point. Caveat: some arguments are unavoidable, no matter how politely the question is asked; if the question boils down to Tabs vs. Spaces, Emacs vs. Vim, Linux vs. Windows, Mac vs. PC, etc... Then leaving it open is just an open invitation for another skirmish in these endless wars. Either find a way to change the focus of the question, or vote to close.

When Should This Not Be Used?

When the question is only subjective, but may hold value to the community, and is not a duplicate of an existing question. On Stack Overflow and Super User, I personally believe this isn't likely to happen until some more brand-new technologies come out.

Not a Real Question

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous and vague, and cannot be answered in its current form.

My personal favorite. I wish it was available on Meta Stack Overflow, to be honest. Many people probably consider this merely a "catch-all," but I don't. Sometimes, an asker merely needs a bit of motivation to finish his thought, and closing can be that "stick". To me, this should be used when one or all of the following conditions are met:

  • There really isn't a question hidden in the post. ("Windows sucks!" is not a real question.)
  • The question is so ambiguous that the OP's intent cannot logically and reasonably be inferred. A certain recent question on tagging fell into this category for me; I was its only close vote. (Even though Meta Stack Overflow does not have "not a real question," I voted to close anyway because of this bullet point.) To me, the Golden Rule of editing is to never change the OP's intent. If the question is worded so vaguely that intent cannot be inferred with 100% certainty (for example, there are multiple possible, even likely, intents), you cannot edit it in good conscience -- so vote to close as "not a real question" instead. In this scenario, it's a good idea to comment and ask for clarification from the OP as well. If that had been done in the early stages of a certain recent controversy, said controversy might have been avoided. (Even though I still agree that closure was warranted there.)
  • (more bullets to come from the community?)

When Should This Not Be Used?

Greg Hewgill says it quite effectively in his answer to this post: "Just because the answer is "No" doesn't mean it's not a real question." In fact, if there is an answer, and the question is unambiguous, then guess what -- it's a real question.

Simple/trivial questions are real questions.

Questions you consider boring are real questions.

Questions you can answer with a 2-second Google query are real questions.

Too Localized

This question would only be relevant to a very small geographic minority, and is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't hew to the exact definition above. I consider "too localized" to not only be geographically centered, but also to an extent, situationally centered. The obvious closures here would include things like, "where can I find a user group on x in town y." Less obvious choices would include discussions of laws and regulations, distance working, etc. (However, an equal argument can be made in many of those that they are not {topic} related.)

When Should This Not Be Used?

Don't blindly slap this on anything that happens to be location-related. A question on where to buy replacement power cords in the south of France might be too localized, but a question on power connectors used in France wouldn't have to be (for Super User at least). Similarly, asking for help translating your program's UI into es-mx is crossing the line, but asking for help designing your UI to support localization because you plan to sell a version in Mexico isn't.

Don't use this to lock out obscure topics that would otherwise be on-topic for the site. You may not care about operator precedence in Crystal Reports macros, but someone does and sooner or later they'll get an answer (may God have mercy on their souls).

Belongs On {site}

This should be used when a question is clearly intended for a different site in the Trilogy. This should only be used when you can clearly identify exactly which site the question should be on.

For example:

  • Configuration of a client on a Windows domain will likely belong on Server Fault.
  • Installing Windows on a PC will likely belong on Super User.
  • Developing a tool to aggregate information from various servers via WMI and ASDI will likely belong on Stack Overflow
  • A question about why one of the above belongs on its appropriate site clearly belongs on Meta Stack Overflow.

As you can see, there is some ambiguity in most of the above samples, but they all have a fairly clear home, based on the missions of the site.

When Should This Not Be Used

I'm with Jeff Atwood: When in doubt, don't migrate. Unlike other closures, migration is damned difficult to undo. Once migrated, the original question is locked, which takes closure to a new extreme by preventing commenting. Additionally, there is the possibility (actually, likelihood) that the OP does not have an account on the migrated-to site.

This should only be used when you are 100% certain that not only does the question not belong on the site where it was asked, but that it absolutely does belong on the site you are targeting with the migration.


Noise or Pointless

This question does not add anything useful; having it present on the site is actively harmful because it distracts from other more useful questions.

This is a Meta-only close reason, and is roughly equivalent with "too localized," "argumentative," "not a real question" and the old closing reason of "blatantly offensive." It's difficult to adequately define "noise or pointless," but it's much like pornography: You know it when you see it.

Typical examples would be full-on rants and ravings, ludicrous joke questions and spam or offensive material.

When Should This Not Be Used

When the question is valid or legitimate, but merely controversial. Also, if the question is severely inflammatory in its current incarnation, but can be salvaged with editing into a reasonable (if potentially controversial) post, then edit before closing.

So there we have it. A starting guide. I now open the floor to all comers. If you're about to comment and disagree, but have closure rights on one of the Trilogy sites, I implore you to edit this as well as comment. Change what I've written -- that's why this post was CW. I'm trying to get us to a decent consensus on this.

As C. Ross commented on my "real" answer to this question, not all of those with closure rights will read this. In fact, I suspect most won't. And as Roboto mentioned in his comment on the same answer, we are fallible. But if those of us who are highly active in the edit/closure space do, and come up with a set of good guidelines, I think it will serve to benefit the community over time as we get our houses cleaned up.

Remember: Closing isn't negative, but those of us with closure power must use caution when we exercise it -- when we are just with our decisions, there is no controversy. When we are unjust and unnecessarily obstinate, the community will rebel against us.

  • CAPTCHA! "cided blazers"
    – John Rudy
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 2:54
  • 2
    Nice work, Smurf 'bu. Edited in a few extra thoughts...
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 3:54
  • I LOLed at Lotus Notes. Did you put that in there just to make sure we were paying attention? (BTW, you owe me my next doctor copayment; LOLing while actively puffing a cigar and swallowing a swig of bourbon is hazardous to your health!)
    – John Rudy
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 4:24
  • To answer your question: yes. To commiserate with your reaction: I know. :-(
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 4:29
  • 1
    If it makes you feel better, you got a second cigar-smoke LOL on God have mercy on Crystal Reports macro operator precedence users' souls. (My lung specialist thanks you, BTW, his kids need this college fund.)
    – John Rudy
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 4:36
  • 2
    Great list. People think all of the reasons are confusing, but I like being able to choose the right reason to close a question.
    – jjnguy
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 4:46
  • Excellent answer. I added a couple of minor points, but you definitely hit all the high notes. Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 13:49
  • Some of these reasons may no longer exist.
    – random
    Commented Feb 8, 2010 at 9:23
  • @random: Excised Spam, Blatantly Offensive and No Longer Relevant. I haven't been active much since Friday (my time), and didn't know about the closure changes.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Feb 8, 2010 at 11:56
  • The change was only a couple of hours ago really. So not that long.
    – random
    Commented Feb 8, 2010 at 12:03
  • I'm thinking I might need to add some stuff from "no longer relevant" to "too localized," as it seems that's where that's supposed to be now ...
    – John Rudy
    Commented Feb 8, 2010 at 12:35
  • 1
    This is severely outdated. Are you considering updating it? [/faq-cleanup]
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 1:45
  • I don't think this is too outdated, specially when given the context of its age... like the Joel Test should include something specific about CI/CD. Not to name names, but I've encountered overly successful reviewers using their "power" to gang up on topics they don't like... think Gaming SO, but you don't like anything to do with the Steam Deck...
    – Ray Foss
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 19:36

Maybe we do need instruction. Just today I've noticed quite a number of posts that are at 4 close votes yet (in my opinion) don't deserve to be closed:

I expect that some of these will quickly get the one more close vote they need to be closed. I suppose at that point, the close user names are published so we'll know who needs some remedial education on close etiquette. :)

  • I upvoted you because I agree with most of what you say. However, I disagree with licensing and much-requested-but-wrong-features. Programmer- and project-related are not programming related.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 3:00
  • I was really on the fence with that PHP/PDF question... In the end, I voted to close because, while valid, "no you can't" isn't all that useful. If he could provide a bit more information regarding his situation (as the lone commenter requested), it might collect some useful answers - and I suspect that title is gonna catch quite a few Google hits.
    – Shog9
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 3:22
  • 3
    BTW, this seems as good a time as any to mention this: Shog9, thanks for the rewrites. Seriously. I wouldn't have voted to close the monitor question (it was valid in its original form, but just badly worded), but your rewrite made it crystal clear and a much better question.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 3:51
  • These things are exactly the type of things I think guidance on would be great. Obviously after all is said and done, this will still be a touchy issue for some questions.
    – C. Ross
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 13:35
  • @Shog9: I voted to reopen that one. It is a legitimate question. It's answerable ("No."), and one that other people might be interested in. On the other hand, I'd already voted to close the project-related one. I probably interpret "programming-related" wider than most, but I just couldn't see why that wouldn't apply to anybody doing, say, workflow routines that didn't involve computers. Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 15:52

OK, a couple of notes:

  1. There actually is guidance there. There are tooltips on every reason. However, it's not detailed guidance, I'll grant that.
  2. There actually is a detailed discussion here on Meta that goes over all the close reasons and what they actually mean, why they should be used, etc.
  3. "When in doubt, don't" refers specifically to migration. I agree with that for migration, because that's a very big step to take. However, for non-migratory swallows answers, closure is not necessarily bad (if done for the correct reasons).

Perhaps there ought to be some specific guidance about each close reason. I'm thinking this question right here could provide those answers. When I get home this evening and have more time, I'll post a CW answer here with the guidelines I try to follow. (It'll be CW not to avoid downvotes, but so that as a community we can get to a decent set of guidelines.)

If someone else wants to start that process, then I say go for it, and I'll just pile on to that answer.

  • I agree with your points. The thing is, how many of those 2000 odd users will check on Meta. Probably still worth doing.
    – C. Ross
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 0:14
  • If it gets in the FAQ ... You might be surprised.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 1:31
  • I can tell you that despite the tooltips, the closers are still fallible. I posed a question here: stackoverflow.com/questions/1798552/… and it was initially closed as "not programming related" - What?! Even Shog9 said that was a bad close reason. I managed to get it re-opened which garnered more views, votes, and someone got extra rep because I posted a bounty. The moral of the story is if it is popular enough, it will be re-opened against any of the closers will. In my case, the closing was pre-emptive and you can see I didn't really alter the question. Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 2:05
  • 2
    "Closers are still fallible." Damn right we are -- we're human, we make mistakes just like anyone else! I grant that I've voted to close when perhaps I shouldn't have. The scenario you describe is exactly why we now vote to close (it takes 5) instead of having the power to do it immediately. Other closers may not agree with the vote system, but I personally do. It allows a basic sanity check. And the ability to reopen provides the counterbalance to it.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Dec 10, 2009 at 2:09

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