Updated; see examples at the bottom of this question

I've seen many examples of questions that were closed with the reason "Unclear what you're asking" that had received multiple answers. This feels like a "he said/she said" situation: the close voters say the question is too unclear to answer, while the answer-ers say (by answering) that it was clear enough to answer. At the moment the close voters win by fiat. It seems that there are better ways to handle this situation. I have two suggestions, the first and most radical is suggested in the title of this question (burninate the "Unclear what you're asking" close reason), while the second is more moderate (restrict the use of the "Unclear what you're asking" close reason to questions that have remained unanswered for a while). What do you guys think?

Here's a little more of my reasoning:

  • Not getting answers is the best signal of an unclear question. If a question receives no answers, this is the ultimate way for the entire community rather than just a few close voters to indicate that a question is unclear. Other users can then helpfully add comments suggesting edits or even make edits themselves to help. But ultimately this approach--letting the community show that they find a question unclear by not answering it--is the most democratic approach and best fits within the StackExchange culture.
  • Answers implies the question is clear enough. If a question does receive answers, this implies that someone finds the question clear enough to answer, and is the opposite of the community implicitly saying it is unclear by not answering it. Allowing it to be closed because a small number of users think it is unclear doesn't really make sense and feels undemocratic (see the bullet point above). As with the first bullet, any user can always comment with suggestions if they personally feel the question is unclear, or make edits themselves.
  • Maybe the close reason in question can become a house-keeping function? if burninating this close option seems a step too far (I can see why we might want to keep it), can we at least restrict its use to questions that go a long time (say at least couple weeks) without being answered? That way it serves as a house-cleaning function rather than as a judicial process.

Edit: Per comments, here are some examples, found thanks to the excellent SEDE script provided by rene:

  • 11
    1) No, getting closed is the best signal of an unclear question. 2) An answer does not imply it's clear enough; it just implies that someone made assumptions on the unclear bits. 3) Restricting a close reason to after a certain time almost guarantees questions that meet the criteria don't get closed in a timely fashion.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:00
  • 1
    So the implication of the close reason is that the close voters know better than the answer-ers? People interpret the same wording differently and what is unclear to one is clear to another. Life experience, exposure to non-native speakers, and even reading comprehension all affect this.
    – bob
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:03
  • 1
    If a question gets closed as unclear, and you feel you understand it, edit it to make it clearer. Yes, five closers are assumed to know better than one answerer.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:06
  • 3
    The close vote privilege comes at a certain reputation level. Those users are trusted with that power. On the other hand anyone can answer.
    – rene
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:06
  • So basically it's "working as designed" and it sounds like there's no desire to change the design.
    – bob
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:07
  • I don't know. But if you want to make a case I suggest you collect plenty of examples across the SE network where close voters closed a question as unclear where it is proven to be wrong. That prove should be based on the content of the question, not because it got answers or not. Because that is not how close voters are supposed to use their vote.
    – rene
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:14
  • You've got some good answers talking about the theoreticals, but if you want some concrete examples, take a look at this SEDE script that'll grab all Unclear What You're Asking questions with >5 answers.
    – scohe001
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:20
  • 1
    @scohe001 hmm I was doing the same but then network wide: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/1041057
    – rene
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:36
  • Thanks guys, I appreciate you putting together those scripts. I'll give them a look and see if I still think my suggestion has merit (in which case I'll update it accordingly), or edit it accordingly. To the data!
    – bob
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:40
  • @bob feel free to hop in chat if you have questions about SEDE queries.
    – rene
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 15:53
  • Awesome, thanks--will do! I appreciate the helpfulness!
    – bob
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 16:02
  • @rene I've added examples from your script. Thanks again for the help. I don't have time right now to add more but hopefully this helps.
    – bob
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 17:11
  • 2
    One of the problems with answers on unclear questions is that the answers often are based on guesses or assumptions of the unclear parts of the question. And when those guesses/assumptions are incorrect, the answerer has now wasted their efforts. Those efforts are what SO is optimized for. It's on the OP to provide enough detail in their question and to respond to comments asking for clarification. If the OP fails to do so, they're not holding up their part of the bargain. Putting the question on hold puts them on notice and can't be ignored.
    – user1228
    Commented May 2, 2019 at 20:25
  • 2
    Note that closing this question won’t directly impact your reputation.
    – Alex
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 0:15
  • 1
    I'd like to address your edit: Sometimes the question is hard to understand but valid (not everyone has the same level of expertise, and I know this site is trying to become more friendly) Closure has nothing to do with being friendly. It is curation, on par with a janitor cleaning up after someone tracked mud into a museum and pointing at the sign that says no muddy shoes. Curation and welcoming are orthogonal, but many people equate the two as one and the same, which is wrong.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 14:05

3 Answers 3


Not getting answers is the best signal of an unclear question.

No, it's indicative of a hard, maybe even not (yet) answerable question. Perhaps answering it would cause too much work and so no one wants to, but this may change.

Answers implies the question is clear enough.

No, because if it's unclear, people may just guess what the OP is asking and then write an answer accordingly. The opposite is often the case - if it's unclear, the interpretations widely differ and so many answers (all equally likely correct or incorrect) can be written.

On some stacks, an unclear question may be a post telling us the story of one's life with many, many problems, but no question and no clear goal. So anyone can give advice to any of the problems. But then, no answer is really correct and it doesn't fit into the SE model.

That's why I disagree with the idea that the close reason unclear what you're asking should be burninated.


Maybe the close reason in question can become a house-keeping function?

We have the roomba for that. Manual housekeeping functions rarely work well. Much like most folks - its more fun to do new things than clean up after yourself.

If a question is unclear - we want it on hold, discussed, clarified and improved before folks spend time answering it.

Answers implies the question is clear enough

or that someone chose to try to throw in a speculative answer or even a non answer. That there's an answer is neither a necessary nor a sufficient sign of post quality

Not getting answers is the best signal of an unclear question

Not always true. It can be a sign of a properly difficult or underdocumented question of the sort we would really prefer to attract.

Thats to say - unless people always ask clear questions that are perfect, there's actually a place for the close reason, and that someone posted an answer is not a good sign a question is answerable.


As with any close reason, there are times where it is applied correctly and times where it is applied incorrectly. I agree with you that there are questions that are clear that still get closed, but we have a system in place to deal with that.

If you have 3,000 reputation you can cast a reopen vote. In addition to getting the question one fifth of the way reopened, your vote will also send the question to the reopen queue where other potential reopen voters can see it and decide to vote to reopen it as well.

If you do not have 3,000 reputation you can flag the question and explain why you think it’s clear, or make an edit to the question. Within the first five days of closure an edit will send the question to the reopen queue as well.

In addition to whichever of the above options you choose you can bring the matter up for discussion in the site’s chatroom, or in a Meta post.

When you initiate any of these options, other users will tend to get involved. If enough users agree that the question is clear the question will get reopened.

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