We recently closed a question on our site as "not constructive". However, IMO it could have also been closed as "too localized", and someone posted a comment to that effect. After the close, the OP left the following comment:

the FAQ did not say a question must be helpful to future visitors.

I read over our FAQ, as well as the SO FAQ, and did not find any mention of "too localized" in either FAQ. I can see how this would be confusing and frustrating for new users.

My Suggestion

I suggest a description of the five standard close reasons be added to the FAQs of all SE sites. I can edit our FAQ to include this information, but since these five reasons apply to all SE sites, I think it should be consistent through out the entire network.

If this is not implemented, at the very least I think a link to this question should be included in all FAQs network-wide.

I found this other related question, but the accepted answer is outdated and no longer applies. In fact, the link in the accepted answer is a dead link.

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    I fixed the broken link in the related question. – user102937 Jul 2 '11 at 19:00

Originally, or at least for a good long while, the FAQ on Stack Overflow started off with this:

What kind of questions can I ask here?

Programming questions, of course! As long as your question is:

  • detailed and specific
  • written clearly and simply
  • of interest to at least one other programmer somewhere

... it is welcome here. No question is too trivial or too "newbie". Oh yes, and it should be about programming. You know, with a computer.

(emphasis added. By me.)

It was easy to understand, but imprecise and apparently misleading, because folks used it to justify all sorts of things it was never intended to allow: questions that weren't detailed or specific (but were of interest to other programmers), questions that weren't clear or simple (but were "newbie"), and questions that weren't about programming (but, again, were of interest to programmers).

So it got changed to the current (considerably less-lofty-sounding) verbiage. And the other sites, by and large, followed suit.

But something was lost. The original FAQ alluded to a problem that Stack Overflow - and later Stack Exchange - was designed from the start to solve:

Programmers seem to have stopped reading books. The market for books on programming topics is miniscule compared to the number of working programmers.

Instead, they happily program away, using trial-and-error. When they can't figure something out, they type a question into Google.

(again, I'm graffiting it up with emphasis)

That bit in bold? That's the audience. Not the people asking questions. Those people are weird, deviant, abnormal - normal people just google it. And when a SE site is working, they find their search results leading to a SE site.

Now, folks twisted that "of interest to at least one other..." line all out of shape, claiming it meant your question was ok if someone else liked it, even if it wasn't clear, wasn't on-topic, or wasn't even a question at all...

But all it meant was, your question should be useful to other people. Normal people, out there on Google, searching for answers to their problems.

Fixing the FAQ

As Robert notes, there is a FAQ that goes into detail on all of the various close reasons. It's not information you'd normally want to throw in people's faces though, since - apart from Too Localized - it's stuff that should be obvious: you shouldn't ask an off-topic, nonconstructive, ambiguous rant and expect it to get useful answers. "Duplicate" is sort of a bonus - someone already answered your question, before you even asked it!

Too localized... Well, it's obvious once you know what SE is about. But plenty of folks don't, including plenty of long-time SE users!

So I think we do need that in The FAQ. Not the way it was on Stack Overflow (positioned as one option in a list), and not as a link or subsection leading to an exhaustive description of every way your question can go wrong... But simply as a high-level goal, stated at the top of each site. Maybe something like,

What kind of questions can I ask here?

Answers.onstartups.com is a site for entrepreneurs starting and running new businesses.

Topics include financing, hiring employees, renting an office, legal, marketing, sales, compensation plans, banking, payroll, benefits, and more. This is the place to seek specific advice from your peers on specific problems that you face and others might encounter.

(just to switch it up a bit, no emphasis added)

How you word this will probably depend a bit on who you're addressing, and what your scope amounts to. I rather doubt "Too localized" has any meaning on CodeGolf for instance. But you're absolutely right in that it should be there - much better to give folks the right idea straight away than to let them find it out after they've already put effort into their question.

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Short answer: If people don't seem to be using the close reasons properly, consider clarifying the "What questions can I ask here?" section of your FAQ to be more specific about what kinds of questions are considered acceptable on your particular site.

At the bottom of your FAQ page, there should be a section that looks like this:

What about…

If you’re looking for excruciating detail, our meta-discussion site hosts a section of constantly evolving frequently asked questions that document everything about the site.

The first question in the Frequently Asked Questions link is the FAQ for StackExchange Sites. The page that discusses closing questions (including close reasons) is linked on that page.

I realize that this is a roundabout way of getting there, but close reasons is just one topic in a sea of topics about StackExchange that people might be interested in, and I'm not sure close reasons are novel enough to get special treatment in the FAQ.

Note that the description for the close reason is imprinted in the close banner when a question is closed, so it's not like we're keeping it a secret. You can also discuss close reasons on your site-specific meta.

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    It feels like this arrangement is setting folks up for failure. Read the FAQ, feel fairly comfortable that you've done your homework preparing a good question, get that question closed because you failed to read the "excruciating detail" present on the soup of a site that is Meta. – Michael Petrotta Jul 2 '11 at 18:31
  • @Michael: See my edit. – user102937 Jul 2 '11 at 18:32
  • @Robert: The problem isn't that people are using the close reasons improperly. In the example that I cited, there were two valid reasons to close the question, one of the two was chosen. The problem, as @Michael, points out is that there is no indication in the FAQ in the first place that "too localized" is a reason for closing a question. As a result, new users waste time crafting questions that will end up getting closed. I think we need to clearly state in the FAQ why questions are closed, and a definition for each reason. – Zuly Gonzalez Jul 2 '11 at 19:52
  • @Robert: (Cont.) Yes, once the question is closed, the definition for that one reason is displayed, but at that point it's too late. I think the current setup unnecessarily frustrates new users. Also, our FAQ does not have a "What about" section, like SO's FAQ. Even still, there's got to be a better way than linking to a link that links to a link. Even for a veteran it can get confusing, and it's time consuming. – Zuly Gonzalez Jul 2 '11 at 19:56

The actual section you're referring to is here:

Why are some questions closed?

Questions that are not a good fit for this site may be closed by the community. Users with 500 reputation can cast up to 24 close votes per day. When a question reaches 5 close votes, it is marked as closed, and will no longer accept answers. Closed questions may be opened by casting reopen votes in the same manner. However, you can only vote to close or reopen a question once.

We can probably expand that to include the actual close reasons since there is actual, literal, expansion in the /faq now.

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  • Right, except that I can't edit that section. I'm only able to edit the first section, "What kind of questions can I ask here?". I can add the close reasons in that first section (and that was my original plan), but I was hoping for a more universal change that would improve the FAQs on all SE sites. – Zuly Gonzalez Jul 2 '11 at 21:37
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    @zuly I added it to our todo.txt – Jeff Atwood Jul 2 '11 at 21:38

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