I've noticed that "Not a real question" is a catch-all for closing questions.

Not a real question

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

Much of the time, it seems that instead of casting a close vote, the user should just down vote the question instead. This is especially true when the question has answers! If someone can answer a question, then it's a real question. Right?

It seems to me that it might be a good idea to remove this reason for closing (and all close votes citing it as the reason) if the question has at least one answer. Or, perhaps, at least one answer with a score of at least 1, or some other such qualifier?

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    I see your point, but the presence of an answer does not mean that the question makes sense. Not by a long shot. – Pëkka Jul 1 '11 at 22:58
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    When did you stop beating your wife? – random Jul 1 '11 at 22:58
  • But isn't there a difference between a poorly asked question and the current definition of "Not a real question"? – PengOne Jul 1 '11 at 22:59
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    I see a lot of "work orders" (of the PLZ SEND TEH CODEZ variety) posed as questions. Even though they sometimes draw answers, I think they're crap, they detract from the site, and I close as NARQ whenever I see them. – Jim Lewis Jul 1 '11 at 23:14
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    @Jim: If someone has the temerity to post a genuinely good answer to such questions (which might have interest to others, i.e. it is not too localized), I generally leave the question open (since it was clearly answerable). The productivity of the answers does matter. In general, however, bad questions generally attract poor answers. – Robert Harvey Jul 1 '11 at 23:17

Sometimes a question is poorly asked and unanswerable in its current form. Then someone posts a request for clarification as an answer:

Are you calling retain on that instance of JubJub?

and it's all too easy for this "answer" to score an upvote or two. There's no way that this should erase close votes simply by virtue of being posted in the answer space; that should absolutely be a comment.

It's also possible for someone with a certain degree of expertise to write a mini-essay in reply to a vague question, covering enough ground that the solution or a clue to it appears somewhere in it. (I've probably done this myself at least once.) While these kinds of answers can be helpful, I don't think they represent an ideal SO answer -- they are themselves "overly broad". I definitely don't think that they ex post facto make an "ambiguous", "vague", or "incomplete" question better or more legitimate.

Sometimes a poorly-asked question calls for a downvote, sometimes it calls for a close vote, and sometimes it calls for both. They are (intended by the SO team to be) orthogonal.*

(Don't forget about re-open votes. Sometimes a question is vague/incomplete/etc. and close-able on that basis, but also deserves re-opening once edited and expanded.)

In short, many NARQs get NARAs and I don't think that those should hold up the close process.

*See comments by Jeff on my Meta answer to "Should Downvotes on Questions be Free?" .

  • The type of answer you describe could very well provide justification for not deleting a question, but if anything provides further evidence for closing it. – McCannot Jul 2 '11 at 0:04
  • @canmccann: Absolutely agreed on both counts! – Josh Caswell Jul 2 '11 at 0:21

Some of the worst "not a real question" are super easy to answer, which is in fact the problem with them. "What is a letter in the English alphabet?" has 52 answers and would doubtless get all of them within minutes on SO. But it's off topic.

"Which programming languages use a semi colon at the end of a line?" would also get tons of answers, but it's not a real question by SO definition - it doesn't describe a problem someone is facing, it can't really have a single "this answer helped me the most" answer, it's pointless for people to vote answers up and down, and so on.

Ambiguous, vague, overly broad, rhetorical - these are the parts of NARQ that matter. Not what you would define a "real question" to be.

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    52 letters in the alphabet, huh? – ErikE Jul 1 '11 at 23:04
  • I get that, but there seem to be other valid reason to close the examples you've given (too localized, off topic, etc). But you are correct, I've often seen rhetorical questions get snarky answers (with many upvotes), so maybe the idea is flawed. – PengOne Jul 1 '11 at 23:05
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    @ErikE: Don't you know your aAbBcCs? – PengOne Jul 1 '11 at 23:06
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    A and a have different case, but are the same letter. Counting them as 52 is to confuse them with characters. The alphabet has twenty-six letters. Period. Kindergarten! – ErikE Jul 1 '11 at 23:10
  • @ErikE: Sorry, I forgot to use my sarcastic font for my reply :-) – PengOne Jul 1 '11 at 23:11
  • @Peng I got you were kidding and was really addressing Kate further, not you. :) – ErikE Jul 1 '11 at 23:11
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    "Which programming languages use a semi colon at the end of a line" is a poll question; the best close reason is "Not Constructive." – Robert Harvey Jul 1 '11 at 23:27

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