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Sometimes an off-topic question is asked by a new contributor who doesn't understand well our site requirements yet, or simply didn't take/have the time to read our guidelines for asking a good question. Such question may get closed very quickly, sometimes without a comment left for explaining why the question will likely get closed. Usually, a user will leave one, but I recently noticed that the comment would be along the lines of:

Hi, this question will get closed because of XXX.

But too rarely we remind users that they can edit it / narrow the scope / rephrase it so it gets reopen. And there are lots of situations in which the question simply is too broad, or is shaped in a "what should I do" way while it may be perfectly valid once rephrased.

Should we consider changing our approach towards likely-to-get-closed-soon questions? How could we increase the rate of edited-and-reopened questions, namely from new contributors?

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No, we should not reduce the speed at which we close questions.

Closing a question is not a punishment to the person who asked, nor is it meant to be a negative interaction at all. The reason we close questions is that there are certain types of questions that (for various reasons) are not a good fit for the site. This is equally true whether the asker has been around for many years or just one day; it is equally true immediately upon the question being asked or long after the question has been asked. The same reasons why we close questions at all are reasons why we close them immediately. I.e. the problems that they pose are present as soon as they are posted.

The longer a question is left open, the longer inexperienced users see it open and may take it as an example of a proper question. The longer a question is open, the more opportunity there is for someone to post an answer. Answers to off-topic questions further encourage more off-topic questions. If the question was not entirely clear, the answers may additionally be answering the wrong question.

Once answers are posted it is much harder to resolve problems with the question because any edits can potentially invalidate existing answers. If the question gets closed as soon as possible, any problems with it can be addressed without having to account for any existing answers.

Of course, this only refers to questions that should legitimately be closed. In those cases it is more helpful for the site to take quick decisive action. That is part of the reason why moderators have the ability to unilaterally close questions. Even if a question is not certainly close-worthy, it is often better to close it first and sort out the problems afterwards. However, if a question is clear and on-topic there is no reason to vote to close it at all, neither quickly nor slowly.

All of the above only addresses the singular aspect of the actual closure of the question. Even if we have to close questions abruptly, we should still try our best to explain to new users what is happening. The close reasons themselves often are not very instructive, especially to new users who are not so familiar with how the site works. If you do vote to close questions posed by new users (whether immediately or later) comments explaining the process and the issues that need to be addressed would be very helpful. Linking to key sources in the Help Center or on Meta can also be very helpful.

In short, questions that should be closed should be closed immediately, but that should not stop anyone from doing their best to help new users fix their questions and make them worthy of being reopened.

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  • 4
    "Closing a question is not a punishment to the person who asked, nor is it meant to be a negative interaction at all." That is true, but that doesn't mean a new user will perceive it that way.
    – Rainbacon
    Jan 30 '19 at 22:28
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    @Rainbacon That's where comments can be helpful.
    – Alex
    Jan 30 '19 at 22:30
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    Along the lines of "closing a question is not a punishment"... Maybe the biggest issue isn't that we close questions too quickly, but that we can be off-putting in our tone when notifying new users of the ways their question may be out of scope. I agree fully with everything Alex has stated here, and would encourage everyone to maybe just speak a little softer and give helpful, positive encouragement to new users who need to make edits to their questions - instead of just "This question is lacking XYZ so I'm voting to close it."
    – Jess K.
    Feb 4 '19 at 13:23
1

As the site traffic drastically dropped since HNQ removal, closing questions is slower than before. I chose to use this at my advantage to advise new contributors on what they should do to improve their questions. Here's how I chose to approach the issue described in the question:

If I see an off-topic questions with a bunch of close votes cast and with no comment left or with only a comment warning the soon-coming closing of the question, I no longer immediately cast a close vote and leave comments explaining what OP should do to improve their question and make it fall within our scope. Of course, sometimes it'll fail for one of the four following reasons:

  1. The question is not salvageable with editing (aka "way off-topic"),
  2. OP disagrees with my understanding of the question and doesn't edit to rephrase it to fit their needs,
  3. OP simply refuses to edit anything,
  4. OP doesn't respond to the comments.

Yet I think that it's worth trying and therefore I'd like to share with you my commenting pattern:

Hey there. Right now your question is likely to get closed because it's XXX. If I understood well, you're trying to achieve XYZ. Could you rephrase your question to make it fall within the site's scope? An example of rephrasing may be "ABC?".

I think it's very important to offer an example of an on-topic question because it doesn't let OP thinking that it's hard to edit and respect the scope. Even if they disagree with my understanding of their issues, they can think of a phrasing that may respect the site's requirements.

Also, I usually add a link to the tour or the help center because I think that our requirements are quite complex and that our scope is narrow (I'm not criticizing, it's just a neutral observation), especially for new users.

The fact that we're less people around to close questions makes it likely that without my vote, the question remains open long enough for OP to edit without being scared of having their question being closed and not knowing what to do next.

Now what I'm offering may not be enough to solve this problem, so please feel free to share your thoughts about it.

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    I mostly agree with what you say, but why don't you: 1. Write your comment, 2. Write a comment telling OP what closing is all about (letting you have time to peacefully edit) and 3. vote to close?
    – Ael
    Jan 30 '19 at 16:43
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    @Noon that's a great idea! I didn't think about telling them closing enables peaceful edits.
    – avazula
    Jan 30 '19 at 16:45
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    Not only does it enable edits, but it may also help skip bad/wrong or unapropriate answers ;)
    – OldPadawan
    Jan 30 '19 at 19:02
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I think this is a battle going on in more than a few stacks.

In TWP, it recently resulted in a user being chased off.

Details here

Closing too soon just chases users off.

So, the question is this:

Is it more important to hold hard and fast to the rules, or to bend them a bit to guide new people, and welcome them aboard?

SE in general has had a problem with seeming cliquish and unwelcoming. Personally, I think maintaining such rigid rules only serves to exacerbate that.

Edit with regards to the comments.

There comes a point where sticking to the rules HARD goes past the point of reason, as the tour is inadequate, does not explain how the rules here are enforced, or how to do a course correction.

If you're stopped by a police officer, and he writes you up for every last violation he can think of, it doesn't matter how nice he talks to you, he's still being a jerk.

With all due respect, the same perception will be communicated to new users who see their work shut down quickly.

IMO, it might be worth some research to see how many closed posts are edited by the OP and later reopened, I suspect it is very few.

So, again. What do you value more, the strictest adherence to the rules, or to be welcoming. You cannot have both.

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  • I'm not comparing those two stacks. But, from your link, the top rated answer has ONE word. ONE. This kind of answer would be very unwelcomed here. Almost no doubt about this. We are (expect to be? need to be?) different. 1/2
    – OldPadawan
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:05
  • @OldPadawan seems like you are comparing the two stacks, did you look at the situation I actually pointed out? Namely, a new user was chased off. do you consider that to be a good thing?
    – user4548
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:08
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    And, watching and reading a lot TWP, I have problems understanding why some questions start with should I...? or is this [whatever]?, these get real quick answers and DV at the same time, sometimes with negative comments from users who just answered? It's a completely different way of thinking, asking, answering, enforcing rules... and so on... 2/2
    – OldPadawan
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:10
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    It's not nice, not good, at all. 200%. Agreed. But it's been discussed on meta almost everywhere, as many of us know. Still, closing can and should be used with comments. Nice comments, and explanation.
    – OldPadawan
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:14
  • @OldPadawan I'm one of the few people who bothers to edit, make no mistake, I'm not saying things are peachy there. They are certainly not, as last year's election fiasco demonstrated. That said, do you want to make the same, or worse mistakes here?
    – user4548
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:22
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    From the Workplace Meta question you linked it doesn't seem that the issue was the speed with which the question was closed; it seems that the issue was simply that no one engaged the new user in any way. Indeed, there need not be a choice between helping new users and closing questions. Both can be done simultaneously.
    – Alex
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:23
  • @Alex We've had that debate as well. The close then edit vs the edit to prevent a close. I fall in the latter. Again, the point is not to chase users off.
    – user4548
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:26
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    OMG, dare I say less?... That's why I think we should close and explain why, ASAP, in the nicest possible way! We should be very careful when enforcing our policies, but stick to them. Hard. Nice (to people) and hard (on rules).
    – OldPadawan
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:26
  • @OldPadawan That's like saying a cop can be nice while busting you for everything he can think of.
    – user4548
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:27
  • Or more specifically, if you stick to the rules too hard, it doesn't matter how nice you try to be, you're going to chase them away. The tours are inadequate, and have been for some time, and don't teach how they're enforced, what to do if you get a post closed, and how to edit it, or how to request it be reopened, if it is.
    – user4548
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:30
  • like saying : almost like saying :) few months ago, as a business owner, I had to pay a HUGE fine because one of my cars (and employee) got a speeding ticket. ONE km over the limit. 71 for 70. Was I mad? Yes. Was the cop wrong? No. Was the rule unfair? No. Am I still mad and disgusted? Yes. But where do we draw the line and stop? 72? And complain at 73? "Dura Lex, sed Lex" :)
    – OldPadawan
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:35
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    @TheWraith Do you read some of the comments that avazula left when moderating? Like this really recent one? To me, she doesn't sound like a "not nice cop" at all but like someone trying to help you. And if we all left comments a nice and helpful as she is, this please will surely become a better one.
    – Ael
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:36
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    @TheWraith There's nothing wrong with editing to prevent closure (as long as it's either the original asker or the edit doesn't deviate from the asker's intent). The question here is whether you should put off voting in the hope that the question will be edited.
    – Alex
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:38
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    For example, today a question was closed as off-topic which asked about the ethics of reimbursing someone for a favor if it was that person's fault that you needed the favor. The question has since been edited to focus instead on how to reimburse without making the person feel bad. That might be a change that makes it on topic, but it is an entirely different question. I think it would be inappropriate for someone other than the author to make such an edit. Now, if the question had been left open, it might already have an answer focusing on the ethics which would be invalidated by the edit.
    – Alex
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:50
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    So we would be stuck with an answer to an off-topic question, posted to a different question. It would probably have to be deleted, which might cause bad feelings for that author. And if that author is a new user, you're back to square one with having to take action against a new user that they might not understand. So it seems better to simply close the question and try to help the author fix the issues.
    – Alex
    Jan 30 '19 at 21:52

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