We have a lot of things specifically delimited as off-topic in our FAQ. Let me quote them:

  • Proofreading ("are there any mistakes?"), unless the source of concern is clearly specified
  • Writing advice or critique requests (see Writers.SE instead—note critique requests must meet their criteria)
  • "How to improve my English?" (this is not constructive anyway)
  • Translation and non-English languages
  • Naming, including naming programming variables/classes
  • Criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature
  • Jokes that do not rely on the English language

We also end up closing a lot of questions as off-topic. Can we talk about this?

To me, at least, it seems like proofreading and naming don't necessarily need to be closed as off-topic. Not A Real Question and Not Constructive respectively seem to be much better explanations as to why we don't like them. We don't like them not because they're not about English; we don't like them because they're fundamentally bad questions for SE.

Let's send writing advice along to NARQ as well, shall we? After all, just asking for advice is overly broad. Good critique questions can be migrated to Writers.SE.

We already have "How to improve my English?" marked as Not Constructive, so that's addressed. I'm not sure we're actually closing them as NC, but at least we've determined that they should be NC.

That leaves us with translation, non-English languages, English literature, and jokes. That seems like a much better list as far as OT is concerned to me.

Why do I think this is important? Because when new users come to our site, they see us closing these questions as OT and it looks like we have no idea what the English language is. Honestly—EL&U is one of the less-friendly SE sites, and we should probably work at changing that for the better. That doesn't mean relaxing standards entirely, but providing meaningful feedback is better.

Why does changing the three or four words in the close reason matter? Because it also changes the explanatory text that comes along with it. And while not everyone reads it, potentially valuable members do so. And the off-topic one is not particularly helpful.

So, no matter to what extent you agree or disagree with me here, please at least step forward and say something. The community is made up by all of us together.

  • For the purposes of avoiding confusion, this post represents my views only and does not necessarily represent the views of the moderator team.
    – waiwai933
    Apr 9, 2013 at 6:29
  • It makes sense to differentiate between close reaons. "off topic" and "not a real question" carry an automatic downvote, and -2 on rep, whereas "not constructive" does NOT. (Nor does "too localized" or "duplicate.") So we have to make a conscious decision as to which types of questiosn we want to penalize and which ones we don't.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 12, 2013 at 23:24

3 Answers 3


I understand what you are saying and I disagree with you.

I have personally been pushing many of the closed questions into the Off-Topic category. Why? Because I don't wish to imply that those sort of questions are on-topic here.

Closing a question as "Not A Real Question" and "Not Constructive" implies that there is something salvageable there, if the OP edited the question to provide more context, or explain the question better.

For example, closing a proofreading question—Is this paragraph correct grammatically?—as NARQ is more likely to spawn "Is this grammar OK?", "And this one?", "Is this word right in this context?", "And this grammar?" because the implied feedback is "make this more specific and less broad, and then it will be on-topic here."

In reality, we don't want cut off the head of that hydra. We just don't want those sorts of questions here. Closing a question as Off-topic is a straightforward (and I think nicer) way to say "Don't ask this kind of question here." It means exactly that. It doesn't mean "well, maybe we'd answer it if you asked it differently, so keep posting stuff like this until it gets edited into something that might actually stay open."

  • 1
    "Is this grammar OK?", "And this one?", "Is this word right in this context?", "And this grammar?" would be on-topic for English Language Learners, right?
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 10, 2013 at 10:28
  • 1
    Probably. It depends on the quality of the questions. I don't want to speak for ELL.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Apr 10, 2013 at 10:53

Actually, the proofreading questions are off-topic if the source of concern is not clearly specified; this means that questions showing just quoted text without explaining what the OP thinks wrong are off-topic. Not all the proofreading questions are off-topic, but explaining the source of concern is the minimum requirement.

I agree with KitFox that saying that a question is off-topic gives a stronger, and precise message: The purpose of the site is not answering that type of questions. The other closing reasons would be like a "Try again; next time you could be luckier." reply when there is not "next time you could be luckier" for a proofreading question that doesn't show what the OP thinks wrong in the quoted text, or for a question asking how to name a variable whose purpose is this and that.


I don't feel strongly either way about most of these, but 'Writing advice' needs to stay in Off-topic. If it's not a real question, it obviously can't be transferred to Writers or anywhere else on SE; but that's not what we're saying. As Kit pointed out, you can't edit a question on writing advice into something that fits here; the problem is not with the form but the subject, which could be a definition of 'off-topic'.

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