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This post was inspired by this question.

Suppose a new user asks a question, but it isn't clear what the question is asking. Within minutes, it will start attracting down-votes and votes to close.

At that point, is it even worth the poster trying to improve the question? I get the impression that the question is permanently doomed, with no hope of ever getting voted back up to at least zero, or of getting a useful answer. But if that is the case, what is the point of allowing other users to leave requests for clarification?

The poster would be better off deleting it, and writing a new version of the question from scratch.

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    IMHO your question is valid in general, but the example you linked to is IMHO not a good one for the described situation. I think the problem with that linked question is not "it isn't clear what the question is asking", but that it is based on a wrong assumption we have seen way too often here: that the differences in efficiency between these different coding variants (assuming there are such differences, which is probably wrong, too) have any major practical relevance.
    – Doc Brown
    Apr 15 at 15:00
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Unfortunately, I don't have any hard data on this. I'm not sure if it's possible to build something in the Data Explorer to get some actual data on questions that have been turned around by editing, but it would be important to realize that not all questions are salvageable, even if people try. Getting data may be difficult.

I will address the editing versus deleting and starting from scratch. There is some risk to this strategy. Software Engineering (and other Stack Exchange sites) have automatic blocks if users ask low-quality questions. The algorithm is not known, even to moderators. However, factors include downvotes and deletions. Deleting and reasking the question, especially if it isn't improved and results in more downvotes, may just result in a user who is making a good-faith effort being blocked.

My recommendation would be for users who are running into these experiences post here on Meta. Link to the specific question and get some feedback. There are some higher rep users who are active here and have a good insight into how the general community thinks. Moderators also receive a notification for new questions. It's totally within the scope of Meta to get help formulating a question. In some cases, the right solution will be to make very significant changes, which perhaps should result in deletion and a new question (that shouldn't be downvoted, although we can't control individual behavior). In other cases, there may be edits made by either the community or additional things brought up that the original asker should address.

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There are several reasons why questions may attract downvotes and close votes. In my observation, the reason you mentioned ("it isn't clear what the question is asking") fits only to a small subset of them. For the majority of questions it is mostly clear what they are about. That does not mean, however, downvotes and close votes to them are unjustified.

Questions getting lots of downvotes and close votes are often expressing a certain misunderstanding about the communities' expectation about a valid question, or what this site is about. Those questions can rarely be saved, at least not without editing them so much they turn into a completely new post.

It is not unusual to observe such questions getting downvotes, and no edit of the OP will prevent more downvotes or close votes. But don't mixup cause and effect - those questions are not "doomed because of the first downvotes" they got, the downvotes and the fact the question cannot be rescued are simply a symptom of the question not being suitable for this site.

So when is it worth to edit an already downvoted or close-voted question? I think there are some preconditions to be met here:

  • The question must not violate blatantly the topicality of the site (like being a coding question, or a research request, or a homework dump, or an educational request, or a request for legal advice).

  • It should not be a request for a discussion, a question about a purely speculative issue, a request for a list-of-things, or a general "I am just curious" kind of question. Ideally, it is a question about a real, practical, focussed software engineering problem the OP faced in their work or studies.

  • It should not be based fully on obviously wrong assumptions (though some of the best answers on this site are ones which debunk some maybe-not-so-obvious wrong assumptions in certain questions - here is one of my favorite).

  • The OP should have tried to find an answer on their own before (especially on this site, so there is no obvious existing duplicate).

If all those preconditions are met, but a question gets downvotes either, which kind of edits may be helpful to convince the community to convert their downvotes into an upvotes?

  • clarifications, of course, if the question contains unclear parts;

  • background information, examples, motivations and context, if that is what missing.

  • references to prior research of the OP, telling why it did not help them, or links to material which give further information;

  • removal of problematic phrases like request for 3rd party resources, or some biased assumptions (if those are only minor parts of the question and can be removed without changing the core);

  • improvement of spelling, grammar, wording and structuring and formatting;

  • removal of rants, colloquial speech, or any other kind of distracting phrases which might trouble readers.

Questions which meet the preconditions above are definitely not "doomed". I have seen several times questions being saved and upvoted after an edit of the mentioned kind, even if they were downvoted first. And in case the original downvoter does not respond to the edits, other community members usually will give enough counter-upvotes to balance the initial downvotes.

Let me add a final note. The site's system allows to cast anonymous downvotes without any comments (for good reasons - there is no way to change this). Unfortunately some of our community members seem to use this possibility on a regular basis for questions which meet the former preconditions, which is in my eyes an abusage of the system. Those members give me the impression of confusing the "right to do something" with "the right thing to do". That leaves askers often in the situation of a guessing game which kind of edits would satisfy the voters' expectations (if any). But hey, any online community has it's trolls, and my best recommendation here is to ignore them. When in doubt how to improve a certain question, try to talk to the more constructive part of the community, either through comments, or (as Thomas Owens already wrote) here on Meta.

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Once a question starts getting downvoted, is it doomed?

Nope. That's why we have the lifeboat badge.

This post was inspired by this question.

That post is explicitly off topic. Yet it was gathering good answers. These questions are dangerous because if off topic questions do well here they redefine what the site is about. Such questions need to be doomed or the site is doomed. It's no surprise that it was down voted to -3 because that is required for deletion.

Suppose a new user asks a question, but it isn't clear what the question is asking. Within minutes, it will start attracting down-votes and votes to close.

That's a different close reason. Yes it will start attracting down-votes, votes to close, comments asking for clarification, and answers blindly stabbing in the dark at it's true meaning trying to get lucky.

The main thing the new user should be doing in this situation is rereading their question and trying to understand how it looks to others. If they manage to spot the problem they should edit to make the question clear. The only time this is a problem is if doing so invalidates well received answers. In those cases posting a new clearer question is entirely reasonable. Preferably with a different title.

At that point, is it even worth the poster trying to improve the question? I get the impression that the question is permanently doomed, with no hope of ever getting voted back up to at least zero, or of getting a useful answer. But if that is the case, what is the point of allowing other users to leave requests for clarification?

As questions age they are reviewed less and less. That's what dooms a question. That's why you should read it carefully before you post it. And it's why requests for clarification should inspire edits quickly while it's still attracting votes.

But understand, up voted and off topic is still off topic. So read the sites rules, meta, and existing answers first.

The poster would be better off deleting it, and writing a new version of the question from scratch.

Sometimes that's true. Especially if the question is on the wrong site. Take it to the correct site after deleting it here. That's why one of my canned comments for newbies in that situation reads like this:

Welcome to Software Engineering. We only support good, on-topic questions. Many sites have different rules. Feel free to take your issue to an appropriate site if one exists. Search existing answers first. Edit your question to fit the sites needs. Please don't cross post by failing to delete your question here.

Something you should understand, there is no magical way to avoid getting downvoted and closed. We can give you advice that will give you better odds of doing well. But even following that will lead to you occasionally getting downvoted and closed. I've had to take my lumps here and I've watched our top reps take their lumps. The community here is critical. They aren't shy about it. It's harsh. But it's what puts the polish on the gems you can find here.

So my advice is take your lumps with a smile and keep at it. I think you'll do great.

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  • In the bible, it states that you will know them by their fruits. Ergo, a question that generates good answers is a good question. Those who close these questions are modern day pharisees; a narrow minded and overly conservative establishment intent on keeping order to an extent that generates corruption and decay.
    – Anon
    Oct 1 at 8:03
  • @anon yes I know them by their fruits. But it doesn't matter how good a tree's apples are if it's in an orange grove. Oct 1 at 13:25
  • It doesnt matter, if you are intent on running the orange grove out of business.
    – Anon
    Oct 1 at 21:30
  • @anon no, just trying to keep the oranges out of the apple bushels. Something we wouldn't have to be so close happy to achieve if migrating was easier and more flexible. If we don't have an identity then we aren't a destination. We're the bargain bin. Oct 1 at 21:34
  • Nobody else sells our apples or oranges. I saw someone come in yesterday asking for an apple because nobody else sold them, and you shoo'd them out of our store. Those apples have every right to be on the shelf as those oranges.
    – Anon
    Oct 1 at 22:30

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