I strongly disagree that "questions that can be answered using commonly available references" should be considered "off-topic" at all, but I can at least understand why someone would want to close questions that can be fully answered by trivially looking up a definition in an online dictionary, for example. But I also see legitimate questions about grammar, usage, and etymology—questions that are exactly what this site is supposed to be about, in theory—getting closed for the same reasons.
I suspect that some users are using "commonly available references" as a lazy way to get rid of questions they "don't like" without having to think too hard or work too hard. I trust that the irony inherent in lazily using a close reason that chastises the questioner for not doing their own homework is clear to everyone. In addition to being hypocritical, it makes the community appear intimidating and unfriendly and discourages participation by new people.
To solve this problem, I present the following multi-part proposal:
- The "commonly available references" close reason should only be used if the question can be easily and fully answered using a free online resource.
Even if we insist that we're not going to help anyone who can't be bothered to look up the answer themselves, it is completely unrealistic, not to mention impolite, to expect questioners to possess an up-to-date copy of the Chicago Manual of Style or Fowler's Modern English Usage—or even, God help me, Strunk and White. Nor is it reasonable to suppose that just because a question can be answered at oed.com (£215 per year to subscribe), that's sufficient reason to close it. If we're going to close questions for being easy to answer elsewhere, it should actually be easy to answer them elsewhere.
And that includes basic grammar questions, too. This page lists no freely available grammar references; even if it did, it is not reasonable or polite to expect a questioner to go pore over an extensive grammar reference for help distinguishing between verb forms. If they knew how to do that, they wouldn't have asked the question in the first place.
- If the software supports it, users voting to close a question as "reference" should be required to supply a citation showing where the answer can be found.
If you vote to close a question as Off-Topic > Other, you are given a text box to explain your reasons. Likewise, if you vote to close as Reference, you should be given a text box and required to provide a URL or other citation showing where the question can be easily and fully answered. If the question is too hard to be trivially answered with a citation, then the question does not have a trivial answer, and should remain open. And if you could do it but won't, if you refuse to expend even the bare minimum of effort necessary to copy and paste a dictionary.com URL... well, then maybe you shouldn't be voting to close questions at all.
And last but certainly not least, if we do absolutely nothing else, can we at least fix the grammatical error in "commonly-available references"? There should not be a hyphen between "commonly" and "available." It just makes us look bad.