Note: This is partially a work in progress, I guess. It is more of a thought dump on the subject because I see a lot of negative reactions to something I consider a good thing. All thoughts, comments, criticisms are welcome. I don't have any plans for this.

Typically, people react poorly to having one of their questions closed. This is understandable but it suggests a misunderstanding of why we close questions.

Closing your question is good for you

Something about your question is giving us pause and we feel that it would be best to wait on answering until we get the issue resolved. This does a handful of things that help you:

  • ... get better answers. A little clarification goes a long way toward getting an answer that helps you. Instead of a handful of, "Well, I think this is blah..." you get "This is the answer look at these awesome references."

  • ... potentially mitigate downvotes. If your question is attracting downvotes, a close will typically stop them and give people a chance to resolve their concerns in a more constructive manner. A few edits later, your question will get reopened and those downvoting you will have a chance to change their votes.

  • ... point toward an already existing answer. Closing as a duplicate will give you a link to an answer that the voters feel will answer your question. It may not be a perfect match but it gets you far enough that we feel you can make the rest of the connections on your own (or with a little bit of research).

  • ... learn how to ask better questions. After a close-reopen process you have an opportunity to learn more about what the EL&U crowd likes in a question. This is valuable information! The more you learn about asking questions the better answers to those questions will be.

Your question is not yours alone

You are the primary focus when answering a question you have asked but the StackExchange network also considers future visitors when closing. Sometimes we can make a few changes to your question that will still get you your help but also increases the chance of helping people wandering in from a web search.

If we close a question, sometimes we are explicitly taking these future visitors into account. Something about your question may be accidentally excluding these visitors from getting their questions answered. A few edits and a reopen will help both you and them.

While it is easy to see this as people walking all over your question, that isn't what they are trying to do. While your name is attached to the question, the question really belongs to everyone who uses EL&U. This includes those future visitors and part of our job is to make sure that we are accurately predicting (and answering) those questions. We can do that by closing your question, making a few edits or changes, and reopening. And we should do that.


4 Answers 4


Let me say first that I agree with you in principle, that closing should be taken as a learning experience (by the closee).

But in practice, it really doesn't come out that way, especially with respect to "learning how to write better questions" and "getting better answers".

Once a question is closed, it signals to the OP that the whole question and anything near it is bad (along with the emotional feeling of failing). There is always the option of rewriting the question better, but once it is closed there is a cloud of stigma around it (in the OPs mind).

And this then implies that, on getting better answers, it can only come from better writing on another unrelated question.

I think what this means is that the fear of impending closing might help the OP know to rewrite. People with rep under a given value, who are less likely to have the site local culture to know what is good and bad, can't see how many close votes have been made, so don't know to fear.

Comments on the question seem to be the only way for the OP to learn anything substantive without being scared away.

Closing certainly helps the site by pushing bad questions out of the way, but the claims that it is a teaching moment don't seem to me to be founded on actual practice.

  • 1
    "Once a question is closed, it signals to the OP that the whole question and anything near it is bad (along with the emotional feeling of failing)." Honestly, that is a problem with the OP's mindset not SE's signaling. Closing isn't a bad thing. Obviously closing questions needs to be packed into a greater learning experience. That is part of our job as high rep users. This post is a step toward exactly that: Give people a way forward. The first step is to stop treating closing like a punishment. This applies to both voters and askers.
    – MrHen
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 2:37

I absolutely love this post. It's great, and now I can have something I point people to when they complain about closing. +1.

Just two short notes:

Closing your question is good for you

I know what you mean, but that does sound a little like people should want their questions to be closed. I don't have any replacement suggestions, but just thought I should let you know.

... stop downvotes.

Maybe discourage downvotes instead? Closing doesn't actually prevent voting.

  • Extending the "..." you get "help you stop downvotes" which I think is accurate enough. And, in practice, I don't think most people downvote a question that has been closed unless it was unredeemable. I agree about the wording for "good for you" but I was having trouble finding a suitable replacement. If you think of one, edit it in by all means. :)
    – MrHen
    Commented Jul 27, 2011 at 21:54

This is excellent, and I've shamelessly copied it for inclusion in Programmers.SE's meta FAQ.

I agree the "stop downvotes" is problematic, as there's no guarantee that closing will do such a thing. Instead, I changed it to "potentially mitigate downvotes" which seems to capture more accurately what occurs.

An additional change I made to the same section was to replace the last sentence with:

A few edits later, your question will get reopened and those downvoting you will have a chance to change their votes.

As reopening a question doesn't automatically reverse down-votes: it just unlocks people's votes from before.

Finally, this sentence is problematic:

There are lots of other reasons to close-as-duplicate but if it happens to you, be thankful that you just got a single link containing one or more viable answers.

Putting it out there that are many other reasons to close a question as a duplicate poisons the rest of the advice: I can turn around and say, "well sure other questions were closed as legitimate duplicates, but in this case, my question was closed as a duplicate for an undisclosed, illegitimate reason and now I'm more annoyed than before."

Additionally, that someone should "be thankful that they just got a single link" sounds a bit condescending. I get what you were trying to say, but I think the sentiment is fully covered by the first part of the section and doesn't need to be rephrased.

So I removed that sentence, and I would suggest the same thing here.

  • Ah, nice. I made both of those changes here as well. Thanks for the help!
    – MrHen
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 2:32

I beg to disagree @MrHen. If the purpose of closing questions genuinely was to give OPs an opportunity to amend them, there were countless better names for this measure - such as "suspended" or "need reviewing" or "frozen". It is doubtless in the mind of the overwhelming majority of EL&U users that "closing" is meant as a deterrent and operated in this way. There would not even be a need for your original post in the first place if that were the case.

The plain truth is that just as any other group, EL&U needs borders to delineate its identity; border that can serve as a reference about what's in and what's out. No borders simply means no identity. A universal characteristic of borders however is that they need to be defended.

The closing mechanism is just one tool out of many with which EL&U's identity can be defended. It is entirely legitimate and there's no need to beautify the picture. There are plenty of good reasons for closing posts such as the merge of duplicates, the circumvention of blatant trolling attempts or the elimination of off-topic and peeving posts.

Although this could seem an overly bellicose thesis, there is nevertheless no intended aggressiveness. If I walk into a hardware store and express the wish to purchase some food, the shopkeeper is perfectly entitled to turn me away albeit as courteously as possible: "Sorry sir, we don't sell this here" and I will doubtlessly apologise for my misunderstanding. Please note that in an ideal world, the shop keeper refrains to take advantage of the situation and belittle the customer.

Similar situations happen regularly in EL&U. And I think the overwhelming majority of the community's members would agree with the necessity to sanitise the influx of incoming questions.

The inherent problem of defence means is their possible misuse. The source of disagreement actually lies in where the borders lie. There is unfortunately no quick fix for that for the simple reason that different personalities will fatally have different readings of the on-topic/off-topic limits and also perceive the submitted questions through the prism of their vastly different sensitivities and upbringings.

What was until recently distinctly pleasant and refreshing about EL&U was the spirit of tolerance and openness it had manage do develop on its own.

In contrast, what I believe many here now deem misguided is that it all looks like there were an unwritten 11th commandment outranking all others and transverse to all on-topic bullet items that could be summed up as "and of course questions can deal with all of the above except if they allude to arousable body parts in the anatomy of primates, mating tendencies usually judged deviant by the main monotheist religions and more generally subjects commonly deemed objectionable in contemporary western cultures". To be fair, the convention is that the 11th commandment should only apply to question titles - which I personally find to be a good compromise between the limitless enthusiasm of would-be linguists such as myself and the paramount health of the stackexchange business model. This compromise also implicitly vindicates the maturity shown in many occasions by the community in its treatment of dodgy questions.

"In coda venenum" they say.
Now that this modus vivendi has been painfully reached I believe the balance should not be tipped further in the direction of greater severity and I believe close-button-happy privileged users should refrain from indulging into more censorship than what is needed and turn away possible eminent-members in the making . Said otherwise I find the "closing is good [for you]" theory as developed above too close to "You belong here only if you cast yourself in the form".
Isn't it for instance a striking observation that a high proportion of EL&U's most prominent members are non native speakers? Don't misunderstand me, I just mean to say "let more of these come in, EL&U deserve them as much as they deserve EL&U".

  • 1
    You wrote too much for me to respond to in comments, but I downvoted only for the irrelevant comments about 11th commandments. I honestly don't see closing as a bad thing for EL&U and I don't think people should take offense to having their questions closed.
    – MrHen
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 19:22
  • @Alain: I totally agree with you and can't understand why this answer gets downvotes!
    – vonjd
    Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 10:00

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