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Right now, we are limited to three custom "off-topic" close reasons. I wrote a fourth this morning to address a number of recent closures, but it's not possible to even turn it on without turning off one of the other three.

This new reason reads:

Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved or concept being asked about. When asking a question, please demonstrate (as appropriate) that you have researched the issue, elaborate on your current understanding of the situation, and identify the specific things that are confusing or problematic.

This follows from a number of recent closed questions (including some that have been flagged for moderator attention). Some people have used some custom close reasons, but I've noticed that some have been rather cold and terse (not necessarily rude or offensive, but not welcoming or helpful to potential new users or visitors who read them after finding questions via search engines).

I'm not suggesting that the above close reason is final - if you have improvements, please suggest them. However, I believe that it would be beneficial to have a "minimal understanding" type close reason. Stack Overflow actually has two - one for describing the specific problem and how to reproduce it and one for minimal understanding. I don't think two are necessary on Programmers, but if someone wants to refine this reason, please do so. However, it can't be a default reason unless the number is expanded.

Some examples of questions where such a close reason may be used are (as asked for by the community team):

Some of these may be addressed by unclear if the default unclear text was better, such as being closer to:

Please demonstrate that you have researched the issue, elaborate on your current understanding of the situation, and identify the specific things that are confusing or problematic.

In most cases, the current definition of

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

doesn't work. It's clear what they want, but it's that no one can answer it because an answer would likely be unhelpful. It's the difference between "I don't know what you want" and "I understand where you're coming from, but I don't have enough information to give you a useful answer".

With additional reasons, I'd also like to consider implementing this custom close reason, but perhaps not make it specific to Stack Overflow. Instead, I'd phrase it more like:

This question is off topic on Programmers. There may be an appropriate Stack Exchange site where this subject is on topic, but the question may not be a good fit as currently written. If there is an appropriate community, please consult their Help to understand what they expect from questions and reform it as appropriate.

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    +42,961 if I could... I might start using this as a comment in closing such questions. Prior Proper Preparation Prevents Painfully Poor Performance – maple_shaft Sep 14 '13 at 13:45
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    You spelt "pisspoor" incorrectly. – ChrisF Sep 14 '13 at 19:03
  • The last of those reasons I suspect will lead to duplicated posts rather than migrations, which might not be ideal. – enderland Sep 24 '13 at 13:38
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    IMHO, cross-site duplicates (where the original is closed as off-topic prior to the creation of the second) are almost always preferable to migrations, @enderland. Why? Simple: if there are any problems with a post beyond it being out of scope for the original site, having the author around to address them is really helpful - and an author who is engaged enough to log in on a second site and post his question is more likely to stick around and fix those problems. Migrations are wonderful for well-answered questions, and generally do no harm for well-written questions, but otherwise... – Shog9 Sep 24 '13 at 20:50
  • @Shog9 I assume you're talking about case when questions are not posted in parallel but so that first it's closed at one site, and only after that posted at another. If this is so, the more accurate term would be like re-post? (I am sort of concerned that your comment may be interpreted as encouraging pure cross-posting) – gnat Sep 25 '13 at 8:34
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    Correct, @gnat. – Shog9 Sep 25 '13 at 8:35
  • @maple_shaft are you implying that you can't give it +42,961? I thought the mods were all powerful and capable of anything they so wish.... – Ampt Sep 28 '13 at 22:31
  • sort of update: limit of three close reasons currently seems to be per-site and technically can be increased to at least 5. I just noticed that Stack Overflow has got five custom close reasons ("general computing hardware and software", "professional server- or networking-related infrastructure administration", "recommend or find a book, tool, software library, tutorial or other off-site resource", "why isn't this code working?", "problem that can no longer be reproduced") – gnat Feb 8 '16 at 18:56
7

The concern of 'overuse' is 'overblown' - the concern should be about the misapplication of existing reasons when something else would better address it.

In trying for the best experience possible for someone who is going to have a closed question, there should be some consideration paid to a well written close vote reason:

The message they get is appropriate and worded correctly for their situation.

This question appears to be off-topic because it is asking a legal question.

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about an implementation issue.

These reasons, while correct do not do a good job at explaining the 'why'. Why is a legal question off topic? why are implementation issues off topic? Compare with:

As phrased, this is a legal question (what are the penalties for not compiling with a license) and is off topic. This is the domain of lawyers (not programmers) who are experts in this realm of questioning.

Unfortunately, the message is short, we generally don't like spending minutes drafting a lengthy response. Its off topic 'nuff said (from the close vote view).

By having appropriate, well written reasons we provide a better experience to the person asking the question when its closed.

The official ones are useful in that we know they are nicely done and thought out. Expanding this list helps collect meaningful stats on the questions (doing a search for 'legal' on http://jsbin.com/ajipiKI/1 suggests that we should have a cv reason crafted to that area too).

Failing having this, a known canonical set of cv reasons for easy cut and paste is likely the next best option. Note however that the portion active on meta and close voters is a subset of close voters in general. Unless the items appear in the official list, or someone who knows of it uses it quickly it is quite possible for the cv to get closed with just 'too broad' or something generic (misapplication is bad).

Further note that the official list has some weight behind it as the official stance by the community rather than one random cv'er's suggestion to a reason. This helps when other people look at the reasons things were closed and see it called out rather than the generic 'off topic' and have to find out why it is so.

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    I was actually going to categorize the list of things in the jsbin and create a list of types of things that are common. I saw legal as a running thread. I suspect that homework questions that show insufficient preparation (but don't fit the general use of unclear) and legal questions are the top reasons. – Thomas Owens Sep 24 '13 at 16:23
  • @ThomasOwens - that sounds like a good start to coming up with a set of canned, custom close reasons. It will take a bit for non-meta people to find out about the list, but they'll eventually see the reasons as actual close votes and can copy from there. I have noticed a few of gnat's standard comments being re-used by others now. – GlenH7 Sep 24 '13 at 16:41
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    "Perhaps this ultimately calls for having a larger community-curated list of pre-defined close reasons after all. Finding specific Meta discussion about a specific aspect of off-topicness would be incredibly useful for the respective OP, but it can often be hard and expensive to find for closers (in terms of time)" (comment in "Brain Freeze..." discussion at MSO) – gnat Sep 24 '13 at 16:46
  • Also, it's not just the misapplication of existing reasons, but existing reasons having their own flavor in SE-lingo. Off-topic is a good example. On Stack Overflow, an off-topic reason is that questions must describe the problem and include valid code. There could be an on-topic question that fits this criteria. Likewise, using unclear for questions that are clear and understandable, but don't show enough prior effort is very much like this. – Thomas Owens Sep 24 '13 at 16:46
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Can it be? Sure; should it be though?

The biggest danger in adding more options is causing analysis paralysis in close voters. Without any custom OT reasons defined, there are already 9 different options for closing a question here (including "other" and the two migration options). The first custom option replaces the default, putting the current set of options at 11, divided unevenly into three separate lists. The Off Topic sub-list already holds 5 separate options - as many as the top-level list of close reasons - that's a lot of choices, and for them to be effectively used they should be clearly differentiated from one another and obvious as to their purpose - adding more options increases the likelihood of stress on the part of the close-voter, and thus the need for clarity.

What happens if the reasons aren't sufficiently clear and distinct? Well, it's possible that some folks will just give up and not vote. It's also likely that folks familiar with the system will skip trying to pick a single "best" reason and just go with whatever fits. This then leads to another problem: folks learning by example, where the example includes questions closed with an inapplicable (at least superficially) close reason. It's not hard to find examples of this among the old close reasons: both Not a Real Question and Too Localized started out very narrow in scope, but by the end were used for all sorts of questions where they were only tangentially applicable.

The examples

So let's look at the problems identified in your examples:

  1. Easily Google-able. This is almost never a good reason to shut down a question, but even if it is in this case you'd be setting a bad precedent by ensconcing such a reason in the system. Today it's a rhetorical question from someone looking for backup in a political situation; tomorrow it's a good question that's simply been answered on a different website first. Is this a site that can provide answers that are better than the greater internet, or just a site that answers questions no one else wants to bother with?

    Existing close reasons that fit: Primarily Opinion-based, Too Broad.
    Suggestions for correction: state one specific problem or question, drop squishy bits ("Am I wrong to feel this way?")

  2. No details on what research has been done. "Show your work" is almost always a good suggestion, but... In this case the question would still be too broad - and almost certainly off-topic as well! Of course, there's also the chance that the interview question isn't the real question here at all, but rather the meta-question of "how much detail should I try to provide for questions like this?" That question at least makes sense, and might even be on-topic here. But it's unclear whether that's actually what he wanted, and the answers go both ways. Maybe he just wanted folks to commiserate a bit after making it through a tough interview? Closing it with "insufficient research" ignores all of these critical flaws.

    Existing close reasons that fit: Unclear, Too Broad, Off Topic (belongs on Super User) and possibly even Primarily Opinion Based. Suggestions for correction: Remember that this is a site for high-level software development questions, and then state the specific problem you're trying to solve.

  3. Needs more specific details. As with #2, "show your work" wouldn't be amiss here, but ignores the primary problem with the question: it isn't at all clear what's being asked. Realistically, no canned close reason can be as effective here as a simple comment asking, "what context did you find this term in?" - and it's possible that no answer can be as effective as just asking the person who wrote the template, regardless of how much research effort is shown.

    Existing close reasons that fit: Unclear, OT->Other ("give us some context") Suggestions for correction: Please provide context!

  4. Not sure where the problem lies. Turns out, this exact question was asked by the author on Stack Overflow, where it was closed with Stack Overflow's "no-effort homework" OT reason (upon which your suggestion is based) minutes before he posted it here. Showing his work isn't gonna fly here, since the actual question being asked (gimme teh codez) is off-topic. Realistically, any effort spent trying to categorize or rehabilitate questions like this is a waste of time; at best, you may end up answering a question no-one asked, while at worst you end up letting trash questions set a bad precedent for others. If you were going to create a custom OT reason for this, "crap SO doesn't want" would be it.

    Existing close reasons that fit: OT->Other ("would belong on SO, if it were better"), Unclear Suggestions for correction: Fix your question on SO; if they don't want it, neither do we.

More examples

The best way to determine if a new OT reason is needed is probably to just look at what folks are entering when they select "Other". I wish I had a better way of grouping these, but until I figure something out here's a list of every custom off-topic reason selected at least twice since this feature became available: http://jsbin.com/ajipiKI/1

...Use whatever methodology you see as appropriate to analyze these.

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    Your argument about the number of options doesn't seem compelling. Sure there are a fairly large number of them in total, but adding one to the site-specific close reasons (when there are currently only three, if you don't count the "other" option) doesn't seem particularly onerous. I think you could get the count to five, or maybe even six, custom reasons without breaking the bank. – Robert Harvey Sep 23 '13 at 22:44
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    The worst problem you would have on Programmers with a new close reason, I think, is convincing Gnat not to apply it to every new question he sees. – Robert Harvey Sep 23 '13 at 22:46
  • Right now it's 5, counting "other" and "belongs on..." - this isn't a reason not to add more, but it's a good reason not to add more without proper consideration. As you note, it's reasonably likely that a reason like the one proposed here would be... Very heavily used; to me that suggests it might be trying to tackle too many different problems at once. – Shog9 Sep 23 '13 at 22:54
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    I think you're looking at a different dialog than I am. I'm looking at the "off-topic" close dialog, where there are exactly four options, one of them being the "off-topic, because..." option. – Robert Harvey Sep 23 '13 at 23:01
  • Old question with no "migrate" option, perhaps? See: i.stack.imgur.com/G9ZoY.png – Shog9 Sep 23 '13 at 23:03
  • Ah, I see...... – Robert Harvey Sep 23 '13 at 23:04
  • @RobertHarvey if you somehow allude to my favorite pro-forma comment about insufficient research, don't worry: I often do it without voting to close (expecting, naturally, question to be expanded with research details); and in cases when I glue it with CV, I am using unclear close reason – gnat Sep 24 '13 at 7:12
  • I think I have a new custom OT close reason to use. "This question appears to be off-topic because it appears to be crap SO doesn't want." – GlenH7 Sep 24 '13 at 14:19
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    As much as I would like an additional close reason, I understand and agree with your concerns regarding it being overused. Perhaps the intermediate step is to create a set of custom OT reasons that can be copied into close votes. Using the same wording would make it easier to track which custom OT reasons are being used most frequently. I realize that it's a bit contradictory to have canned custom reasons, but I don't think we captured the full set of OT reasons with the current options we have – GlenH7 Sep 24 '13 at 14:22
  • I fully agree with @GlenH7 - I also think the community should decide which reasons we have and what the wording is. However, right now, we can't add more. It's clearly not a technical limitation of the SE platform to add more, since other sites do have more. It's pointless to have the discussion of which ones we should have and how they should be worded if we can't add more. – Thomas Owens Sep 24 '13 at 16:25
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    By saying that there are existing close reasons that fit as a primary argument, I think you're essentially going against your own rationale for creating those reasons in the first place. Sure, you could use one of the existing reasons, but the point is to help the person by being as specific as possible about what the problem really is, and it would be much kinder to close questions like this one as "needs more research effort" than by "too broad" with a flurry of downvotes. – Aaronaught Sep 29 '13 at 16:02
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    In fact I'd hazard a guess that nearly half of all questions closed as "too broad" (on this site) are specifically questions where the OP just hasn't even made an effort. "Too broad" is the symptom, not the cause. – Aaronaught Sep 29 '13 at 16:04
  • jsbin.com/ajipiKI/1 - I think it would be easier to read if you could drop the canned prefix " This question appears to be off-topic because" (I'd replace it with ellipsis "...") – gnat Oct 1 '13 at 21:07
4

I would like to see some more close reasons added. Rather than blindly stabbing in the dark, I want to cite the on-topic page in the help center with a slight formatting change:

and it is not about...

  1. general workplace issues, office politics, and job hunting (check out The Workplace instead)
  2. implementation issues, such as code fixes (ask on Stack Overflow instead)
  3. how to use specific tools
  4. what language/technology you should learn next, including which technology is better
  5. what project you should do next
  6. where to find a software library, tool or other resource
  7. product or service recommendations
  8. career or education advice, salary, or compensation
  9. personal lifestyle, including relationships and non-programming activities
  10. legal advice or aid

Items 2 and 3 have a close reason for Stack Overflow migration (with the caveat that 3 needs to be more specific than the wording here implies).

Items 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 all fall under existing off-topic close reasons.

Item 9 does not have an existing reason but probably does not need one. This item really is the catch-all for "none of the other off-topic reasons we get a lot of so they need their own reasons." It is served well with the custom close reason.

This leaves items 1 and 10. I propose two changes:

  1. Add a migration path to The Workplace. We do not get a ton of questions that belong there, but we do get them. Nixing beta sites and the two existing migration paths, this would likely be near the top of paths for which there is a legitimate need. The only issue here is some of the questions are on-topic here, but they really need to focus on the non-workplace aspects of the question and require the unique perspective of a programmer compared to other professionals. They also cannot devolve into How do I explain ${something} to ${someone}? which covers the "my boss says to do X, but I think we need to do Y. How do I persuade him?" questions.

  2. Add an off-topic close reason for legal advice. We tend to add custom reasons such as "...because it is about legal advice" or "...because we are not lawyers" et al. I propose writing up a friendly, well-written close reason that enumerates precisely where the line is when it comes to licensing/copyright/legal questions. I think we need some consistency here, because there tends to be some confusion not only among question authors but also close voters.

0

I would like to have the custom close reason:

This question is off topic because it is a people question, not a programming question.

This would cover questions like:

  • 2
    Of those examples, I think other close reasons are better. How to explain something is likely to be unclear (we don't know the other party well enough to know how to teach them best), too broad, or primarily opinion based. How to interact with coworkers is career advice. People who are struggling to learn something can be on-topic, but would be unclear if they didn't explain their question sufficiently and need to do basic research first or too broad if they are looking for content best covered by a book or course. – Thomas Owens Jun 7 '15 at 2:02

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