I would argue that waay too many questions are being closed inappropriately.

Let's take some examples:


Here's a (clearly) non-English speaker who is struggling to phrase his question. His first question has plenty of comments suggesting that he needs to expand on his question. He also picks up downvotes for a bad question. So far so good.

But why close it? The author has no chance to edit his question. Instead he reposts, again and again. Each time he gets a little closer, but each time he gets downvoted and closed. It's almost like we're encouraging him to respam his question. What's wrong with leaving the original question unanswerable and downvoted?

I see this all the time and I just don't get it. We already have downvotes/comments. Why close this?

I also have similar rants for questions being closed as 'not programming related'. Why not just leave it open and unanswerable? Downvote the question if you like, leave a comment too. But don't close it.

It's really discouraging to spend an hour or so crafting a nice answer only to have the original question eventually deemed as 'not programming related' such as what I stumbled into here: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/3159091/what-methods-do-you-use-to-limit-credit-card-fraud

I believe there are badges for providing answers to negative rated questions. I'm guessing it's getting near impossible to obtain those badges when questions get closed so fast.


Some of the comments mentioned that the system was fine as it was. Closed questions can still be edited, and once updated they can be re-opened right? Samael disagrees. He does not speak native English, so his original question (which was asking for trouble) was closed within 10 minutes. A few hours later he managed to speak to a colleague who kindly translated it to well versed English. Now its 3 hours after the edit and its still closed. Infact since the edit it has only had 8 views.

As it stands we are closing questions too quickly, and there is no responsibility to re-visit those closed questions when they get revised. I know this is a popular site, but this behaviour is actively discouraging both genuine questioners, and worse still the people who take time to answer.

  • What do you want? Closed questions can be edited and reopened, provided they are not locked - if you have them made unanswerable, then that differs from closing only in allowing up/down-voting. – Charles Stewart Jul 12 '10 at 11:39
  • @Charles. See the update – PaulG Jul 12 '10 at 18:30
  • I agree, the question as it stands now should be re-opened. – jjnguy Jul 12 '10 at 18:37
  • 1
    Of course it should. But who would notice? Of the 5 that closed it, 4 have been active since the revision and not noticed. Like I said. Once a question is closed it is dead. We are killing questions within 10 minutes, well before any chance to revise it. – PaulG Jul 12 '10 at 18:42
  • @PaulG "Once a question is closed it is dead." is wrong. I've even seen closed questions reopened without any revision to the original question, because the original closing was wrongfully done. Meanwhile, revisions that spark reopening have happened as well. A handful of the examples where it didn't get brought back does not prove closing to be the kiss of death. – Grace Note Jul 12 '10 at 18:52
  • 5
    I think you mean a handful of exceptions where it does get re-opened. If you insist I'll repeat the experiment. I'd be amazed if more than 10% get re-opened without prompting. – PaulG Jul 12 '10 at 19:00
  • 1
    My point wasn't that reopening isn't rare (because I agree that it is rare), my point was that closing isn't final. There are ways to reverse closing, and going around promoting the idea that closing is absolute just spreads the wrong idea around that "the act of closing is a bad thing". Yes, there are wrongful closings. But there are also good reasons to close things, numerous in their count. – Grace Note Jul 13 '10 at 13:17

I think you're right - a notification to the close-voters should ask them to read the edit and consider reopening in case of an edit making the "not a real question" a real one.

  • 1
    Rats you beat me to it. I was going to add that last night. Drafted it out and everything :) – PaulG Jul 13 '10 at 9:16
  • @PaulG: Sorry, I thought since you didn't do that during those 20 hours... But I'll change it to CW or include your comments in an edit if you want. – Tobias Kienzler Jul 13 '10 at 9:52
  • Dont worry at all my friend, its fine :) – PaulG Jul 13 '10 at 10:07

Closing questions is integral to the system

The first thing a new user sees is what is on the front page. This was set out explicitly by R. Cartaino in his blog post.

The single most important design element of a new Q&A site is the questions on the front page.

This is to say, the only way to ensure that the site continues to grow in a guided and controlled manner is that questions must be closed if they do not conform to the (very reasonable) standards set out by the community.

The standards are basically as follows:

  1. Is your question about programming? (Not Off-Topic/belongs on other site)
  2. Is your question technical in nature? (A real question)
  3. Does your question has a specific resolution or answer? (Not subjective)
  4. Is your question unique? (Not duplicate)
  5. Is your question applicable to other situations? (Not too localized)

If we don't close questions that don't adhere to these standards, then we will get more of them. We will also get many many many people coming to Meta and complaining that their question was closed even though other similar questions weren't closed. The response from meta is often to close both of them.

In the specific situations you mentioned:

Questions 1,2, and 3 all grow steadily in terms of their quality. However, one thing that you'll notice is that there is no technical information. The third and best of the three describes an external process, but describes literally nothing about what the OP is trying to accomplish, nor what technical problems they have had. It is both not programming related and not a real question, because the OP didn't bother to ask one.

Question 4 is a real question, however it is not programming related. In fact the example that he appeals to (MaxMind.com) is a phone verification service that has nothing to do with programming. It is a question about security architecture. Not at a programmatic level but at a workflow level. As such, it is completely not-programming-related. If you'll notice, there is no mention of platform or language.
They don't have a process defined, and they don't have a technical architecture, and they certainly don't have code. Once they have code, they'll have problems. For those problems we would gladly help them out here.

But, if they'll insist on asking questions that don't belong, then we'll insist on closing them.

  • 3
    Sorry, but I dont agree with the premise that if 'bad' questions are not closed that we'll get more of them. Infact there's an argument the opposite is true. The example I provided is one user who has posted his bad question three times because his question was being closed. My main point is that his original question could have stayed open, and he'd either revise it (because he's getting no feedback) or abandon it. I find that preferable to him respamming the question, getting more downvotes and more comments each time – PaulG Jul 12 '10 at 13:36
  • 2
    @PaulG: On meta we have MANY times seen "Why was my question closed when XYZ wasn't?" It is the most common complaint. In the case that you mentioned, the user kept asking question because he didn't understand why his question was closed, even though the reason was posted there for him. It does NOT make the questions appropriate. The act of Closing IS feedback. – devinb Jul 12 '10 at 13:43
  • 1
    @PaulG I will grant you that by the third time, someone probably should have added a comment that explained why they were being closed. In fact, you can still add comments after questions have been closed, so that option is still open to you. You should direct the user toward asking better questions, instead of actively ignoring feedback. After getting your question closed twice, it was probably time for him to rethink what he was doing, rather than simply asking it a third time, still with none of the qualities of a strong SO question. – devinb Jul 12 '10 at 13:45
  • @PaulG Additionally, the negative behaviour of this user was minimized (that is, it is obvious that his behaviour is unacceptable) because of the community response. If we closed fewer questions, then we would simply have more open & invalid questions. Asking three times or once, his question(s) was not appropriate for StackOverflow. – devinb Jul 12 '10 at 13:47
  • 3
    @PaulG: I usually leave a brief comment on why I'm voting to close, and I think this a good idea because it specifies why a question should be closed and at least suggests how to ask a better one. Aside from that, I completely agree with devinb here. – David Thornley Jul 12 '10 at 18:12
  • @David. Leaving comments is very helpful, but do you as a habit revisit questions after casting a close vote, to see if there have been updates that may make you reconsider? – PaulG Jul 12 '10 at 18:45
  • @PaulG: Typically, no. On the other hand, since I can't rescind a vote to close, a notification that it had been edited would be of only limited use. – David Thornley Jul 12 '10 at 19:52
  • Thinking about the user experience, you should also consider the existing ones, not just what a new user sees the first time he comes to the site. I had a question closed (stackoverflow.com/questions/12062400/…) which I thought was legit. I felt like I was wrist-slapped. You should also consider that for foreigners English may be problematic. I think you should first warn and give a chance to correct, not close and leave the user hanging. – Avi Aug 25 '12 at 14:16
  • I could point to one user who closed one of my posts for not being a real question who posted a question themself that was entirely subjective, thus contravening the "Does your question has a specific resolution or answer? (Not subjective)" rule posted above. I'm powerless to do anything however. – Andy Oct 8 '12 at 16:34

But why close it? The author has no chance to edit his question.

This is a misconception. Author can edit closed questions; this is by design. We close because we want author to edit so the question becomes answerable. Discussion can still ensue through comments.

Closing the question only blocks "answers" which have to guess what the question really is about.

  • 1
    'By design' is not a good excuse for poor design. I would wager that 99% of the time a question is closed, it is not re-opened. Chances a new user would even consider editing in the hope it is reopened is even slimmer. As a general rule, once a question is closed it is dead. – PaulG Jul 12 '10 at 11:39
  • 1
    @PaulG - Pity for the user, then, if he doesn't want to rework his question. I prefer such situation rather than a poorly worded question with "guesses" answers going in every direction. Believe me, even if often many will just give up, many times I see a user fighting to have his question reopened, because he wants an answer. He will rework his question, following the comments. So it happens, and moderators are glad to reopen the question in such case, even. – Gnoupi Jul 12 '10 at 12:31
  • @PaulG there's a data dump that has that answer. :-) – George Stocker Jul 12 '10 at 12:35
  • 3
    ... I don't believe, that enough people can be found to reopen an improved question. It's much easier to find another four for closing. And I don't believe, that an author will take a 'closed' as a motivation to edit his question. Most likely he'll ask it again or just go away. – Andreas Dolk Jul 12 '10 at 13:00
  • 1
    @Gnoupi, and all. See the update. – PaulG Jul 12 '10 at 18:32

I see nothing of value in these questions to support the idea that they should not have been closed.


Why do you think the OP would have revised his question if it wouldn't have been closed? More often than not these types of questions aren't revised.

And if the OP won't get the desired answers to his question (which is rather probably given the questions quality) there i still the possibility that he'll just repost it anyway, to get more attention to his problem. At least closing is a clear indication that the question in it's current form is not a good way to ask a question here.

Also, if a question gets closed, it can later be deleted, so that bad question like this don't pile up to clutter the search results.


I agree that some posts are closed pretty fast, but for the first three examples I agree with the close voters and the commenters. I don't see a real programming related question inside. The improvments have been marginal and the OP should have read the FAQ first.

For Adams question, I agree that there was no urgend need to close it after 24h, 2 upvotes and three comprehensive answers - even though I'm a bit irritated that I just see one single upvote on all answers and none has been accepted...

If you want to answer on a question where you believe it will be closed pretty soon, then just send a quick short answer first, because you can edit answers even when the post is closed.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .