After recent discussions on the topicness of translation requests or questions about difference in meanings

we refined our help section to better reflect this. In addition we can now close questions as off topic that do not meet the standard we defined here.

It is without doubt that questions like "Please translate this for me" or questions on the meanings of single words which can easily be looked up in a dictonary have been and should always be off topic here, but there are many questions which are in the grey zone.

It is those questions that are not entirely off topic, where we feel they could actually become great question but where context or basic research effort is missing.

These question may be better not closed as off topic in the first place, as it often is only minor additions or clarifications from the poster which would make them instantly on topic. In these cases we should rather put the question on hold as "unclear what you are asking" for two reasons:

  • we clearly indicate the need of an edit.
  • being off-topic may cause confusion and frustration to new users. This is avoided by choosing unclear.

What we need now is a better definition of such questions. Which questions are not frankly off-topic? Which questions should better be closed as unclear?

  • Reading the issue, I would have opted for changing our custom off-topic close reason such that it indicates the need of an edit – if it weren’t for the community downvote. Is there anything we can do about the latter?
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 9:38
  • @Wrzlprmft: nothing we can do... I believe we should close as "unclear" far more often than we do now... not all is off topic, much is poorly asked only.
    – Takkat
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 9:42
  • off-topic votes raise a downvote? I know that "spam" does that, but I've never seen that for off-topic.
    – Em1
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 10:12
  • @Em1: oh my bad - from all those downvotes we get on to-be-closed question I obviously missed that the auto-downvote for off topic was removed from the system. Will edit my question.
    – Takkat
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 11:08

2 Answers 2


Here's my 2 cents on this.

Off-Topic is Off-Topic and Unclear is Unclear. full stop.

It doesn't matter if we consider that the question might be a good question if [insert various reasons here]. The problem with that is, that it is beyond the point of closing a question.

IMO we should (and can only) judge the question as-is and not as might possibly be, if OP is in the mood to ... I think you get it ;)

Point being, we can only judge the current status of a question. And if the question is off-topic, we should close it as such. Not as something different.

It would be inconsistent and incomprehensible to new users if we were to close an off-topic question as "Unclear what you're asking." The question in itself is clear. It's just that we simply don't want it (as biased and self-centered as that sounds), and we should tell OP exactly what is wrong with his question, so it's easier for him to edit it. or leave, but that's beyond the point again

On a possibly related matter: It seems to happen more and more, that questions get closed without anything but the machine-generated comment / banner. This makes it very difficult for new users to adjust their question, as they cannot know what we expect.

  • Well, increasingly people feel that an unclear question is off-topic (which it isn't). "Research effort" or "context" are two of those points where there should not be an automatic off topic trigger even after we had put this in our FAQ. Fact is that we only very rarely close questions as unclear. I feel there is a need for refinement here.
    – Takkat
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 13:23
  • 1
    @Takkat I don't understand.. why would missing research effort result in unclear what you are asking? I can follow your thoughts concerning "context", but research effort is IMO independent from the clarity of question intent...
    – Vogel612
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 13:28

First, one should be aware that having a custom off-topic close reason for translation requests which do not indicate prior research is only a somewhat makeshift solution, as this is the only way to incorporate a custom close reason for our additional rule into the Stack Exchange’s system. Idealistically this should be a close reason on its own which is not filed under any of the classic categories.

While I see the problems reported in the question, I think that closing such questions as unclear is the wrong way to go, as it is not helpful for the original asker either.

I therefore suggest to change the first part of the custom off-topic close reason to something along the lines of:

Questions asking for translations have to clearly indicate prior research effort on this site. Please elaborate on why general references such as dictionaries do not provide an answer to your question.

Note that I avoided using off-topic and tried to indicate the need of an edit. (One could also merge aspects from answers to this question into a new wording.)

  • Why not take "unclear" as the missing close reason? Whenever we don't see research effort it may indeed be unclear why the question was asked. Many question would be very much on-topic if only the research effort was shown. It confused people after we had said this question was off-topic in these cases.
    – Takkat
    Commented May 25, 2014 at 18:28
  • 1
    @Takkat: But if we only say that the question is unclear, it may be made clearer as a consequence without showing research effort. Alternatively, it could happen that the asker is confused as he does not know how to make the question more clear or tries and fails at clarifying it. With the custom close reason we tell people directly what the question is lacking. That’s why I would still use a custom reason in these cases and make it very clear that the question can become acceptable by showing research effort.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 8:25

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