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Comments on Closing "unclear" questions

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Closing "unclear" questions

+3
−2

A frustrating situation is when a mod decides that a question is "unclear" and closes it, and yet the question is not actually unclear. Unfortunately, the close prevents anyone else from posting answers.

I've seen this many times on Stack* sites and I've now seen an instance here.

This type of close is confusing to me. IMO, the question has provided sufficient detail to the answer the question posed. If someone feels that more detail would improve the question, they can say so in the comments. The asker can then decide whether they are convinced. Sometimes, people incorrectly complain about missing detail when in fact it is all there, and ultimately it should be up to the asker if they feel like they need to improve their odds of getting a good answer by adding detail.

The crucial thing is that if you post a comment wrongly claiming that there is insufficient detail, there is little harm done. Your comment will not prevent someone else from answering the question and settling the matter. Indeed, if someone else has been able to answer to the asker's satisfaction, it is patently false that the question is unclear.

However, closing the question bans other people from trying to answer the question. It's hard to see the purpose of this outcome, since it seems like "I don't understand this question enough to answer - and no one else is allowed to try answering it either!". Yes, one could try to fight the close vote, and eventually it may be reversed, but this can be a tedious and bureaucratic process and most people simply give up and assume the community is intent on being unhelpful.

In situations like this, the question should not be closed. Deleting would make sense, after a very long time has passed (say 30 days) with no answer, because at that point it's just spam clogging up our site. But one moderator's opinion should not be enough to bar other people from actually helping the asker. Moreover, moderators are sometimes wrong about this type of close.

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+1
−3

That question seemed to mostly quotes from elsewhere. I can see the point to it having been closed due to being link-only. "Unclear" is probably the nearest handy close reason.

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3 comment threads

Dangerous (5 comments)
"Mostly quotes" is unfair (1 comment)
Probably worth creating a better tag (1 comment)
Dangerous
matthewsnyder‭ wrote 10 months ago

I consider this approach dangerous for the long term success of this site, in that it would appear to significantly harm the new user experience and repeat a notorious pitfall of Stack sites (unfriendly/unwelcome). I've left some comments to expand it more.

Olin Lathrop‭ wrote 10 months ago

One of the pitfalls of Elsewhere is that they didn't enforce quality enough. Crap needs to be dealt with quickly and decisively. Link-only posts don't belong here. We don't want the OP to get the desired result from a crappy question, else he (and others watching) will be back doing it again. That's what closing is for: "No soup for you until you fix the mess.".

matthewsnyder‭ wrote 10 months ago

I won't argue that there's a lot of crap on elsewhere that should be deleted. But IMO there is also a lot of non-crap that shouldn't get deleted. Incidentally, the common Q&A (with rep, votes, etc) concept provides many tools for dealing with false negatives - even if mods fail to close/delete crap posts, they are often still voted down to a low score where they don't bother you as much. But false positives are a different problem. Shutting down discussion when it shouldn't have been can easily antagonize users.

So in other words, I suppose my position here is that it should be:

Here's your soup, but next time please don't make a mess

Aka carrot over stick. Closing should be reserved when nobody (not asker, not answerer, not an editor passing by) could possibly fix the mess, which is a rare situation.

Olin Lathrop‭ wrote 10 months ago

"Here's your soup, but next time please don't make a mess" has been shown over and over again to not work. It is interpreted as "blah blah here is your answer". Your carrots simply don't work in this context. The only way to get the attention of people like that is to not allow them to have their desired result.

matthewsnyder‭ wrote 10 months ago · edited 10 months ago

It's not "my" carrots. Constructive/positive feedback is a general concept, not my own invention.

Regardless, if the position of the site is going to be "stick over carrot", this should be clearly stated in the site rules. We can't have some people doing carrot and some people doing stick. For the record, I get plenty of stick at "elsewhere", with 1000x the activity, so if stick it is I'd probably just go back there.