I have a gut feeling that lately questions are very rapidly closed as "not a real question" without the OP giving a chance of modifying the question.

Example: Import data from Excel

I presume the OP is not native English, as I see a lot of influx from non-English people too.

Maybe these two are correlated, maybe my gut feeling is totally off.

Do other people have similar experiences?

If yes: what to do about it?

Let's add some more oil, I might put that in another question later.

I have the generic feeling that SO (not SE!) is getting more hostile, both from askers and answerers.

Phrases like 'fed up' and 'please write my code for me' don't give a warm community feeling to new users, or users not familiar with the English language or with programming.

I think that feeling is what Joel et were after in the first place when starting SO.

The SE sites have much less of that, I think because those sites are in a much younger stage.

We - the users - should strive to keep this place a friendly one, and think about how to do that best.

Opinions, please :-)

--jeroen (it is about bed time here, so I will get back tomorrow and probably do some more edits).

  • 5
    "This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form." -- that pretty much sums it up.
    – Jon Seigel
    Feb 20, 2011 at 22:20
  • 3
    So what if the user is not native English, and this phrasing is the best he can do? How to detect and mentor such users? Closing the question is not helpful for these kinds of users. Feb 20, 2011 at 22:24
  • @Jeroen look at the question at hand, and this previous question by the same OP. I'm all for including everyone into the community, no matter what their native tongue, but if this is the best the guy can do, I'm not sure he can be helped here. If there can't be some dialog about what the OP needs, and instead of clarifying they go start another new hazy question, there is no chance for it to work out. And if it doesn't work out, closing is the right way to go - even if it is harsh
    – Pekka
    Feb 20, 2011 at 22:37
  • @Pekka I started computing (almost 30 years back) at high school with a very bad state of understanding foreign languages (I was a math/physics/chemistry/computing person, the terms nerd or wiert fit too). It didn't help being a bit wordblind too (dys...ic, nice term for it!). It took me years to learn how to phrase things well in foreign languages. So I know about the struggle that people can have, and also appreciate all the people that took the energy back then to help me. I have a feeling people struggling like that are undervalued here. Feb 20, 2011 at 22:46
  • @Pekka: thanks for your last comment: it precisely describes what I was after; I wish you had made that an answer, so I could accept it. (And sorry to be late; I'm at #bastacon so I have been a bit busy teaching a session and assisting people at our booth). Feb 23, 2011 at 14:37
  • @Jeroen I added the comment into my answer, I think it gives a balanced picture now.
    – Pekka
    Feb 23, 2011 at 15:30

4 Answers 4


If yes: what to do about it?

Close them; if a question in fact gets improved by the OP, reopen it. This is always the way to go because in the majority of cases, the improvement does not take place.

I totally appreciate both your viewpoint and the spirit of this question. I also agree this is definitely a point worth talking about, and there is much unfair snarkiness towards non-english speakers struggling to get their meaning across. The problem is that SO has grown so big that it has been discovered by the masses of the truly lazy as well, the dawdlers and "write my code for me" leeches, and it's so difficult to tell apart the genuine good users from those.

Therefore, if I see a one-line question that is likely to send five users on a wild goose chase because of missing context, I downvote and close because in 90% of cases, it's the right decision. I agree that closevoters should be loudly notified if a question gets edited by the OP so they can revert their vote, but I stand behind the basic action of closing.

Much will depend on experienced users guiding and mentoring newcomers where necessary. But for that to happen, the minimum the OPs have to do is to react to comments in some form. If they can't do even that, and go asking a new question instead (for whatever reason, be it genuine misunderstanding / shyness / awkwardness or indifference), I don't think there is anything that can be done, no matter how much good will is present.


If the question is unclear, it is better to close and then reopen if/when the question is fixed.

The problem with "give the author a chance to clarify" is that everyone is likely answering a different question. Then the damage is done. If you close first; ask questions later, at least everyone will (eventually) be answering the same question.

Until the question is clear, users can only provide random (unhelpful, possibly wrong) replies.

  • This. I agree there should be generally less hostility when closing, but the closing stands.
    – Pekka
    Feb 21, 2011 at 22:35
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    @Pekka: When a question is asked in good faith, I always try and provide an explanation, remembering that this is likely their first experience with the site. I abhor closings that sound like "your question sucks; how dare you!" Feb 21, 2011 at 22:47

That particular question is a "Please write my code for me" type of question. These are problematic under the best of circumstances.

I agree with Mozillanerd's answer; just save the Excel file to CSV and import it into Paradox. You don't need to write a program for that.

  • I agree questions like this are a problem, but I don't agree on the solution. In this case, the question is answerable, but the context of the answer is wrong, and the context should be improved (or hinted that it should be). Feb 20, 2011 at 22:27
  • @Jeroen but arguably, closing the question as too ambiguous is the hint that is needed.
    – Pekka
    Feb 20, 2011 at 22:30
  • @Pekka I know that closed questions can be edited, but edited closed questions have a very low view rate (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/56849/…) so can't we all think of a better way of handling these kinds of things? Feb 20, 2011 at 22:42
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    @Jeroen: The right way to handle it is by educating yourself as a new user. Read the FAQ, read some questions and answers, get a feel for how the site works, and what is considered a good question. That's what I did, and I never got these kinds of complaints about my posted questions.
    – user102937
    Feb 21, 2011 at 0:42

The problem here is the speed at which SO operates. A question can be asked and have five good answers within less than a minute. That's awesome (albeit frustrating if you start writing an answer at the same time and find five people beat you to the punch).

But the same thing that makes the site great when you get five answers almost immediately also means that you can get five votes to close almost immediately. That's the trade-off when you have a site that is as popular as this.

Perhaps a trade-off could be a short delay before we can vote to close? But likewise then you'd be opening up a window for junk to start hanging around the site. It's a tricky one.

[edit] Another interesting point is that people seem to equate a vote-to-close with a down-vote. It's unusual to see a question that gets down-votes that doesn't also get closed. Seeing anything lower than -1 on the site is very rare.

(The side effect of this is to make it virtually impossible for anyone to ever win the Reversal badge).

It would be good if we could come up with some way of separating down-voting and close-voting; maybe by only allowing people to cast votes-to-close once a question reaches a certain negative score (-3? -5?). (if we do this, it should only apply to certain types of close vote -- closing because its a duplicate is still valid, even if it is a good question and doesn't attract a negative score)



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