5

This question is an off-shoot of this Meta question focused on the deletion, and consequently on the closure, of a particular single-word-request question.

The question being discussed there was arguably too broad, though that seems to be in dispute to some degree. But as I submit in my answer there, many single-word-request questions are as arguably too broad yet they are left open.

It seems to me that a standard for broadness on single-word-requests is not well-established. Must a question have an easily acceptable, single answer? Should questions that receive more answers than others be considered too broad to a greater degree? Should upvotes or popularity of the question have any bearing for or against closure?

Regarding the necessity of an easily acceptable, single answer, how would this be judged in as objective a fashion as possible when considering close-votes?


Why do I think there should be a widely-accepted standard?

It seems to me like people answering a question, and who are familiar with the rules for what is on- and off-topic, have a reasonable right to judge whether the question they're answering is likely to be closed or not. Since closed questions are subject to deletion at any time, it would be frustrating to a user to put in the effort to answer a question that seems to be a good question by the general standards of the site, only to have the question and their diligent answer deleted later on.

For that reason, I'm somewhat skeptical of the argument that questions which attract a huge number of answers are therefore somehow objectively more off-topic. The rules for broadness say:

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. [emphasis mine]

I'm not sure the number of answers that show up over a period of time is an accurate reflection of whether there are too many "possible" answers, especially on questions that garner a plethora of copy-paste one-liners from new users, repetitive answers by users who haven't perused the existing ones, or other Low Quality answers. A questioner can't control how many low quality answers they'll get, and I don't know that those answers really measure the quality of the question. Furthermore, an early responder posting a good answer has no way of knowing that the question would be off-topic for this reason until those answers appeared. It seems to me that off-topic questions should be off-topic questions from the beginning.

My impetus for this question is fairness and consistency. Fairness because without a predictable standard for whether a question is on-topic, users could feel their questions or answers were unfairly deleted while similar questions or answers were not (See the linked Meta question again).

However, I recognize that this site is for the broad community of visitors, not just users who post, so I also emphasize consistency for its own sake. Even if users can't expect their questions to be closed on a purely "fair" basis, which in a democratic forum, they surely can't, it still seems like a worthy aspiration to attempt to our best ability to close questions in a consistent way. That has the added benefit of providing a guide by example to other users as to what kinds of questions are on- and off-topic. That in turn can promote better questions, better answers, and a better experience for both users and visitors of the site.

  • 4
    I think the standard should be: if Dan Bron finds it interesting. – Dan Bron Jul 9 '17 at 23:32
  • 1
    First, I think you'll find an overlap with Primarily Opinion Based in these. Second, I don't see why you’re talking about binding votes here rather than the suitability for anyone at all to vote that way. – tchrist Jul 9 '17 at 23:57
  • 1
    @tchrist I assume by "binding votes" you mean moderator votes? I edited the question to refer only to close-voting generally. My main point is to open discussion on what qualifies as too broad and what doesn't, partially because I still think that's pertinent to the other meta question, but has been somewhat sidelined by other discussions there to the extent hat I thought it worth a separate question. – RaceYouAnytime Jul 10 '17 at 0:03
  • 1
  • 2
    Too broad is not the only thing. What about 'too narrow' -- is there a single word for a school-going person in a first-world country who feels anxious in the morning, dull at school and happy in the evening, especially on Mondays.... What about an unanswerable question? – English Student Jul 10 '17 at 0:04
  • 3
    @tchrist Shog's post is excellent. I think the level of scrutiny suggested in the post is far beyond what users tend to actually apply to SWR's right now, though I don't want to appear to be saying "let's rally everyone together to close more SWR's;" I can tell this has been a complicated issue on the site for a while. – RaceYouAnytime Jul 10 '17 at 0:14
  • Not so complicated an issue, @RaceYouAnytime, if you consider this logic: Single-word-requests are easy to ask & easy, interesting and fun to answer; challenges our word skills and therefore much enjoyed by SWR enthusiasts (and even the general population) -- if you scrutinise a SWR too closely, it may need to be closed, which will not please SWR fans; SWR also contributes more member participation, site traffic, upvotes and resultant reputation points, and faster than any other category: therefore far greater latitude is allowed for a single-word-request to remain off-topic & open at ELU! – English Student Jul 10 '17 at 2:05
  • 1
    Other examples of, arguably, questions that are too broad 1. english.stackexchange.com/questions/397148/… and 2. english.stackexchange.com/questions/397043/… (closed) 3. english.stackexchange.com/questions/397550/… – Mari-Lou A Jul 10 '17 at 13:43
  • 1
    Those questions are all a few years old, so they predate the current tag description for single-word-requests. If they were asked today, I suspect the askers would be pressed to include an example sentence showing how the word would be used. This usually has the effect of narrowing a question's scope, and without such a sentence they could be closed as "off-topic". – 1006a Jul 10 '17 at 16:38
  • By 'too broad' do you mean too many possible answers? Then most of the single-word-requests are too broad because SWR is a vocabulary exercise where OP 'describes a word they are seeking' and members begin suggesting words that fit the description. The other end is 'too narrow' -- OP describes something with such specificity of detail that it really has no answer, but members may submit guesses anyway! To point out this fallacy I asked an unanswerable SWR that got downvoted, closed & reopened; it went unanswered and got automatically deleted after 30 days.It's still visible to 10k rep users. – English Student Jul 10 '17 at 17:10
  • As a NNS I think that SWR questions are among the most interesting on ELU. The answers to these questions often provide wide and detailed discussions on the usage of synonyms or near symonyms that one can rarely find in dictionaries. On the other hand, I understand that to NSs, who have a perfect knowledge of the language, SWR questions may sound, boring, unuseful and possibly unconstructive. As for off-topicness, we have recent examples of perfectly off-topic questions which have been celebrated with huge amounts of views, upvotes, great answers etc. and nobody dares to touch them. – user66974 Jul 10 '17 at 18:40
  • Such a good question, and you raised all the right issues, each and every single one of them. But is there an answer, can a checklist be created which users can use as a guideline? And in the end, what does it matter if all it takes is one flag, just one, and a mod can, following SE protocol, delete an entire post with all its upvotes and answers. The system is flawed, but its devotees fail to acknowledge it. – Mari-Lou A Jul 10 '17 at 23:03
  • @Mari-LouA I think you've nailed the problem by asking "is there an answer?" Based on reading older meta posts and the opinions of various users, it seems like there is too much strong disagreement (Let's body-slam all SWRs! // SWR's are some of the best questions!) for a consensus to be reached. Still, I hold out hope that maybe bringing this up for further discussion is worth something. – RaceYouAnytime Jul 10 '17 at 23:10
  • 2
    @RaceYouAnytime - keep in mind that there users who think that etymo questions are even worse than SWR ones. I personally find grammar questions most boring.....we all act on personal preferences...and rules serve as guideline. The fact that we disagree on their interpretation or want to make exceptions to their applicationd play an important part in keeping this site and the interest of users alive. – user66974 Jul 11 '17 at 4:54
  • 1
    @Josh You make a good point that everyone has different opinions. However, I don't think those who are anti-etymology have a good case to make, apart from the oft-heard complaint, "what's the point?" An etymology answer as short as this one would never get 10 upvotes. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but answering etymo questions usually involves time-consuming research and usually earns a few upvotes unless it becomes a hot network question, or if it is a highly exemplary answer. – RaceYouAnytime Jul 11 '17 at 5:09
2

Before asking a question on EL&U, the querent should perform a detailed search on the Internet, failing that, even a perfunctory one is better than none at all. The OP should explain exactly, and in detail, what they need, citing any solutions they discarded during their research (and explaining why) before asking assistance. This should narrow down the number of possible and acceptable answers.

From the Help Center

What does it mean if a question is "closed" or "on hold"?

  • too broad - if your question could be answered by an entire book, or has many valid answers (but no way to determine which - if any - are correct), then it is probably too broad for our format

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.

This seems to me a pretty good description, and the parenthetical comment, also explains why generating many, and valid, answers is not always a good thing.

  • The next thing to ask ourselves is how many answers are too many? Do we fix the number of answers at 15, or at 20? Maybe 25? 30? Or should it be capped at 50? And to put it bluntly, do crap answers count? Does the community consider an answer consisting of a single line to reflect the standards of the site? And what if the answer contains several suggestions? You know, those thesaurus-like answers. Does each suggestion count as a separate answer? If each proposal is complete with its own dictionary definition, cited resource and neat little clickable link, is that a high-quality answer? Not for some users it seems: “copy-pasting dictionaries makes for a bad answer”. This user is not alone, it's an observation which has been repeated by both sexes, by veterans and newcomers alike.

  • And what about the, if your question could be answered by an entire book…? Where does that fit in? How much detail in one answer is too much?

1

As with our other standardized closure reasons, the general guidance is currently stated in the closure reason:

too broad — There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.


I am not entirely sure what the rationale for this is meant to be, but if I had to guess, it would be keeping the question short enough to be easily browseable, because otherwise it's of no use to anybody.

Regarding the applicability of this closure reason, the answers given are not especially long, so the question was probably closed because there are too many possible valid answers. As of March 17th, 2015, which is how the last archived version of the post is dated, there were 30 answers, and MariLou-A's answer suggested there were a couple more added since then.

32 posts is just two answers shy of double the number of answers of the most answered post you exemplified, which is What's a word for avoiding a question with a generic (fake) answer?. Moreover, the question only had approximately 10,500 views. The most answered question in the provided sample is 38,263, which is nearly four times as many for just barely over half of the answers. Additionally, Word for “only caring about oneself ”, which only has 14 answers, has nearly two hundred thousand views. Therefore, the closed question has double the average number of answers for far fewer than less than half the views than a question of this sort usually has based upon the sample you provided.

Additionally, it is not as if the question was closed because it had 30 answers with 10,000~ views. By August 28th, 2013, which is as close to the date of actual closure as The Wayback Machine will take me, it had 27 answers in just a week of being open, but only 4434 views. By means of comparison, the other questions being compared gained their total number of answers over the course of an entire five years of being open. These rates of answering simply are not comparable.

What is furthermore is that not only did everybody and their mother have an answer to this question, but it also had a resurgence of popularity. It was closed on the 30th, so if it has 32 answers, it gained four answers within just two days if I am not mistaken. Now that is not always so unusual, but it is when you consider the fact that the quite was already about a week old, by which point in time most questions would probably have lost what I shall call their "initial interest", for lack of a better term. This is especially so when we consider it never had a bounty applied to it, since if it had, we would have seen an answer awarded with the points.

In consideration of these facts, this question attracts too many answers at too fast of a rate to be helpful in achieving our goal of building an archive of useful answers. Therefore, it seems fair to me that at least this particular question should at least be closed until further restrictions are applied. It just gained too many to be useful with no signs of slowing down.

However, I would personally advise against inventing a general rule to apply to all from this one case. One of the main reasons for my apprehension this is because it seems to be an inherently rare and difficult to ascertain circumstance and as such, would be more appropriately left to the discretion of our "human exception handlers" than a general rule. A general rule may be inconsistently applied by the community, and lead to more questions being closed than what is actually helpful if we start seeking to close them with the sort of prejudice I think it would probably encourage.

  • +1 and another +1 for the last para "against inventing a general rule to apply to all single-word-requests". – NVZ Jul 10 '17 at 16:07
  • I have a lot of faith in the moderators to use close-voting powers with great discretion and restraint, but the 'general voting public' needs to exercise greater consistency in casting close votes. As I have said many times before at meta, the closed questions attract so much attention and debate mainly because hundreds of 'very similar' questions -- especially but not exclusively single-word-requests -- remain off-topic and open at ELU. – English Student Jul 10 '17 at 16:59
  • I think I agree that faith should be put in moderators. I created this question to get feedback from everyone, not to advocate for any particular position. Thanks for a well-reasoned answer. – RaceYouAnytime Jul 10 '17 at 17:40
  • I must remember this line: "What is furthermore is that not only did everybody and their mother have an answer to this question, but..." It's quite good. I think 39 answers fits that description too, but an impressive 11 were deleted for being low-quality. Not one of those had earned more than one upvote. – Mari-Lou A Jul 10 '17 at 20:03
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA I don't know. I don't have access to view counts, post dates, or knowledge of what limiting factors exist in the body of the question. These are necessary to make as fair of an assessment of its relative propensity to attract answers as I made in my answer, and compounding matters is that "overly broad" seems to be a relatively rare closure reason (I think we generally prefer P.O.B. for too many possible answers), so I lack a good sense of what qualifies. This is a face value assessment based upon the data that was provided to me by the question. P.S: I thank you for the compliment. – Tonepoet Jul 10 '17 at 20:49
  • Thank you for replying, and for being so cool, objective and dispassionate. I wish some of that would rub off onto me. Good qualities to have on this site. – Mari-Lou A Jul 10 '17 at 20:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .