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Meta Don't close questions for lack of detail/confusion

No. Terms like "too generic", "unclear", "too broad", "off topic" are absolutely not euphemisms for "stupid question, go away". They mean what they say; and when they are used Somewhere Else, mult...

posted 3mo ago by Karl Knechtel‭

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#1: Initial revision by user avatar Karl Knechtel‭ · 2024-03-18T00:15:34Z (3 months ago)
No.

**Terms like "too generic", "unclear", "too broad", "off topic" are absolutely not euphemisms** for "stupid question, go away". They mean what they say; and when they are used Somewhere Else, multiple of them exist simultaneously for a reason. They are *explicitly not designed* to be used to judge that a question is "lazy", that the person asking doesn't "deserve" an answer or anything else like that.

First off, we are judging questions, not the people asking them. But even then, some kinds of issues with a question can be fixed, and others can't. **Closure is about** signaling that there is an issue, so as to insist on **fixing the issue if it's fixable**. Finally, don't make up a close reason if the question is clear, well scoped, properly backed up by a specification or reproducible example as appropriate, etc. **If you simply dislike** the question - that is, if you feel that answering the question is not *important* (but please keep in mind that *most people are beginners or near-beginners, in every discipline*), **that's what downvotes are for**.

If we choose to make it our problem that beginners don't know what to ask (and I agree that they very often do not), here are the workable strategies I can think of:

1. Have experts self-answer the necessary questions, using their expertise to determine what to ask. (One may think that answering would be trivial at this point, but even simple questions can be surprisingly nuanced when one tries to account for the fact that the reader doesn't already know the answer.)

1. Use a separate section for the "plz point out the bug", "what are the steps to solve this", "what does this part of the assignment mean" etc. questions.

1. Some kind of explicit staging or drafting system for questions (i.e. something that the Codidact Foundation is explicitly tasked to develop, with more technical support than just a separate category).

----

The objection you've raised *fundamentally misunderstands the purpose* of closing questions on a Q&A site. It is *injunctive, not punitive*; it is *fundamentally temporary*; and it is a judgement of *current suitability, not potential value*.

The consequence of closing a question is that it cannot be answered *until reopened*. Closing and reopening are both explicitly, deliberately designed features of the system; we may conclude that **the purpose of closing questions is to prevent answers** from being posted. Once problems are fixed, such that providing answers would be aligned with the goals of a Q&A site, the question can be reopened, and answers can be posted.

Why should this be necessary? Because well-meaning people on a "question and answer" site, who see a question and believe themselves able to say something useful in response, will be tempted to write an answer. **Such answers, however, are inherently not useful to the general public**. The value that the Q&A format has, which an ordinary discussion forum does not have, is that over time it *accumulates a searchable reference library*. As such, questions need to provide *something to search for* - by clearly introducing a properly-scoped problem that answers can address.

Otherwise, it wouldn't be necessary to describe problems caused by typos as "off topic", but we do. It would scarcely be necessary to close anything that's on topic, in fact. However, if we can agree that some programming questions merit deletion, then we must surely also agree that **at least as many merit closure** - since deletion *also* entails prevention of answers.

While I accept that this standard won't always be reached in practice: the gold standard for a question is that, as a curator, you should feel like you could close *someone else's* question as a duplicate of *this one* some day, and not feel like you've done the OP a disservice simply by trying to keep the answers to the same question in one place. (After all, that's another aspect of how to provide "searchable reference library" value: *once you've found "the question", you shouldn't have to keep chasing links*.)