There is not a week that goes by that I do not see a question that was closed for "This question needs details or clarity" and yet the question is perfectly clear to me. My hypothesis is that this happens mainly because (perhaps overzealous) reviewers see a question they know little or nothing about, and assume that because they don't understand the topic that the question requires "details or clarity."

For now, I will give just one example:   This question is tagged [matplotlib] and [mplfinance]. To anyone who has knowledge of those two packages, this question is perfectly clear.

Personally, when reviewing questions, I try to be very careful not to comment or vote on topics about which I do not have some significant expertise.

It seems to me that only people with a strong knowledge of a topic are qualified to say whether or not a question really does require additional details or clarity.

My question here is whether we can come up with a way to discourage those with little knowledge of a topic from voting to close questions on that topic?

  • Perhaps there should be an easy way to start a discussion with those who voted to close. This could be a way to get clarity about which part of the question they don't understand.
  • Alternatively, there should be an easy way (for both the questioner and other reviewers) to send a message to the closers, requesting that the question be re-opened to allow those with the required expertise to decide if the question actually requires details and clarity.
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    I feel this would be better off if posted on Meta Stack Overflow, since it seems rather specific to SO. – cigien Jul 9 at 21:12
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    That is possible, but you would need to make a much stronger case for that than you have here, with examples from various sites. At the moment, this seems very SO specific, and I think is much more appropriate there. And you definitely shouldn't cross post across metas. Since you've posted this question there, I suggest deleting this one. – cigien Jul 9 at 21:17
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    How do you know these people 'know little to nothing'? What I see way more often is people making some assumptions as to what they think the question probably is about, and writing an answer based on those assumptions. That doesn't mean the question is actually a good, clear, detailed enough one for Stack Exchange. – Tinkeringbell Mod Jul 9 at 21:20
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    from my perspective, i don't think the question is unclear, but what it is... is inconsiderate of answerer's time. Anyone who wants to answer that question has to come up with their own chart + data to demonstrate it. it's not much code, wouldn't have been difficult to include. – Kevin B Jul 9 at 21:21
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    @Tinkeringbell - I agree that I see what you have describe also quite a bit. This is another topic. And I don't know for sure that they know little or nothing (which is why I called it my hypothesis) however for topic areas about which I am an expert, if someone asks for clarity (without commenting as to what aspect they need clarity on) and I think the question is perfectly clear, then I can only hypothesize that they don't know much about the topic. – Daniel Goldfarb Jul 9 at 21:23
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    The "Needs details or clarity" reason is also used when the question seems fairly basic but it doesn't provide enough context to determine why the OP has to ask this question. Should they be studying a tutorial or textbook instead? Stack Exchange answers are supposed to supplement such resources, they cannot act as a replacement for them. – PM 2Ring Jul 9 at 21:48
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    Also, if we need to guess what knowledge gaps led to the OP asking the question, then it's hard to write a proper focused answer. Similarly, if we need to write a whole textbook chapter to answer the question, it's not a good fit for the Stack Exchange format. We used to use the "Too broad" reason for such questions, and some people now use the "Needs focus" reason, but that doesn't seem appropriate when the OP has asked a single question. – PM 2Ring Jul 9 at 22:08
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    On SO, there's a lot of traffic with a high percentage of bad questions, so the culture is to close poor quality questions so that they don't totally swamp the useful questions (i.e., questions likely to help many future readers). Feel free to post helpful comments to instruct & support OPs of bad questions, but you can't expect most regular answerers & curators to do so. On a smaller site (eg, Astronomy, where we might get a dozen questions on a busy day), people are much more inclined to help new OPs fix poor questions. – PM 2Ring Jul 9 at 22:21
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    @DanielGoldfarb Users who experience a closed question are given a banner which tells them why said question was closed, should they follow the links presented therein, as well as read the banner itself. It isn't feasible to give every single person who doesn't read the site's guidelines individualized help, not to mention that if a particular user is hostile, adding a comment in that regard just invites revenge actions. I've encountered users like that, and they do exist. – Daedalus Jul 9 at 22:22
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    Does this answer your question? What are the guidelines for reviewing? - "Needs details or clarity - The text in the closing dialog is self-explanatory: please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.". – Rob Jul 9 at 22:22
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    I sympathize with your concerns. The problem is there's no way to assert a user's expertise (the 3k reputation threshold only equates loosely to site experience). Now, if a close reason is wrong reviewers are expected to see that and choose "Leave open". Good sense and conscientiousness are expected to prevail. The inverse is also true, frequently you have to make a judgement call where you're not 100% sure but the question gives enough indications the previous reviewer is right about his judgement call. I also take into account who the 1st close voter was, some users are consistent. – bad_coder Jul 9 at 22:33
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    Well if you want to be more inviting and inclusive to users, a great start would be to not assume they know little/nothing...and at least try and get a proper explanation/understanding of why things were done the way they were done. – Tinkeringbell Mod Jul 9 at 22:39
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    @DanielGoldfarb the current problem, especially on SO, is the volume of incoming questions is overwhelming for the number of active reviewers. In 2020 over 425k questions were closed with around 50% of items "ageing" out of the review queue before having a completed review. So if you see an excessively zealous closure it's frequently a tiered reviewer that might have made 1 wrong decision in 50. Anyway, the solution is casting a reopen vote and leaving a clear explanation in the comments to help reopen reviewers decide. – bad_coder Jul 9 at 22:41
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    @Tinkeringbell you made your point previously; I will re-phrase my question. I am certainly open to getting a better understanding of why people close questions as "unclear" while, at the same time, other people find the exact same question perfectly clear. That is what is at issue here. – Daniel Goldfarb Jul 9 at 22:45
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    You've done two reviews on SO. Please go here: stackoverflow.com/review/close and do 40 of them (that is the daily allowed allotment). Let us know how it went. – rene Jul 10 at 5:51

. I am certainly open to getting a better understanding of why people close questions as "unclear" while, at the same time, other people find the exact same question perfectly clear. That is what is at issue here.

5 times out of 10, this is because the people to whom the question is perfectly clear are making assumptions: they're filling in the holes themselves with what makes sense in their minds, without feeling they need to check whether their assumptions are correct. They already 'know' the answer and just make the question fit that.

The other 5 times out of 10 it is most likely people don't realize the close reason is for lacking details or clarity, not just for being 'unclear'. So, a question can be perfectly clear, but still lack the necessary details, and be closed for that same reason. This is most likely to happen with questions that e.g. lack a minimum reproducible example, or some explanation of what the OP tried to solve their problem and why/how that didn't work out.

My question here is whether we can come up with a way to discourage those with little knowledge of a topic from voting to close questions on that topic?

You don't need to be a subject matter expert to see that a question lacks details. In case of your example, it's very obvious it lacks the research effort and a minimal reproducible example, even to someone like me that only used SO regularly to find answers. That question lacks the details SO expects from a question.

As for discouraging (I like to think of it as 'preventing' though) a mistaken user from closing a question, such a system already exists. Closing a question requires more than 1 person, with exceptions for gold tag badge holders (who have proven they know about a subject by getting their gold tag badge) that can single-handedly close duplicates, and diamond moderators who can close every question single-handedly.

The other part of that system is called edits, comments, reopen votes, and meta. If you see a question that seems clear to you but obviously wasn't to others, edit it to fix anything that may have caused the closure in the first place, or leave a comment asking the post author to clarify and edit their post.

If you see a question that has enough detail according to current site guidelines to be kept open, vote to keep open in the close-vote queue, or vote to reopen if the question is already closed. And if you aren't 100% sure why a question was closed or if it should be reopened, post on the specific meta site.

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    "You don't need to be a subject matter expert to see that a question lacks details." - Thank You for saying that. I could not agree more with that statement. – Ramhound Jul 9 at 23:23

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