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Recently we have quite an increase in questions coming in. I believe this is a good thing, as only many questions will produce good answers and this will lead to good content on the site.

With the increase of questions we can also see a significant rise in close votes on many of these questions, mostly for them being off topic. Not all of these questions gather enough close votes from the community but some do and are then being closed, sometimes not even with any helpful comments for the OP to improve next time.

This makes me worry if that was a good thing, and if we should do something about this. Shouldn't we just go on and write an answer to such an easy-to-answer question instead of voting to close it?

Closing poor questions is definitely needed to improve the site's content but not all mediocre questions are poor in the sense of what we had discussed in previous meta discussion, or from our help section.

We also have to keep in mind that our community is a place for all:

  • Beginners.
  • Advanced learners.
  • Professionals or native speakers.

This will inevitable lead to a wide spectrum of questions where a beginner's question naturally will be basic, and easy to answer. But this per se is not a bad thing. There is consent from the community to also allow basic questions as long as some prior research effort was indicated, and enough context was given to make it answerable.

What would be the benefit to our site if we had closed (or even deleted) all too basic beginner's questions? What should we do if we were unsure if a question was on topic or not? What harm would be done if we left an answered basic or borderline on topic question open?


To help people get an idea of what I am talking here some examples of disputable questions that caught close votes, were closed, or were reopened in the last 30 days. Admittedly none of those is an outstanding brilliant question, some lack elaborate explanations or context, some are a bit broad, but I have the feeling that most if not all of them could stay without doing any harm:

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    Can you give some examples for such questions? – Wrzlprmft Feb 6 '15 at 13:47
  • I suspect that not enough questions will be closed today. – Carsten S Feb 7 '15 at 15:24
  • I don't see what is new now, in the discussion. If you don't agree to close a question, formulate your dissent in the question in discussion to be closed. Give examples. Else, everybody will have some different impression about recently closed questions and we will talk about different things. – user unknown Feb 11 '15 at 20:10
  • @userunknown: From the question (I linked to myself BTW) I did not get an answer what benefit there is when closing so many questions. They fortunately don't get closed all but still there are too many close votes which to my opinion are not supported by community consent. Closing such a question will confuse new users and it will effectively keep them away from our site. This does more harm to the site than any mediocre question could do. There was consent that we should not be so picky on closing questions but we still are. That's why I had to ask again. – Takkat Feb 11 '15 at 20:24
  • If you feel the answer to my question is "No, we don't close too many." then speak up! – Takkat Feb 11 '15 at 20:26
  • I know you linked to it yourself - that's where I got the link from. – user unknown Feb 11 '15 at 22:55
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I don't think we are closing too many questions, but I feel we are closing them pretty fast. Too fast, sometimes.

Unless blatantly off topic (like this: German Partner to Talk to?) I never VTC for new users, until

  • They had a "welcome to the site, please change XYZ / give your own thoughts / re-phrase your question / show your own effort" comment and
  • A reasonable amount of time to do so. (Considering time shift, for me that's 24+ hours unless OP's comments show that he's read the comment but obviously choose not to act on it.)

But by then, quite often a group of fast voters has already closed it as off topic...

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    Actually, the idea of the closing system as it is is to close questions as soon as possible and reopen them after they have been improved. This way you avoid all the trouble with the problematic answers closeworthy questions are provoking. – Wrzlprmft Feb 13 '15 at 23:32
  • Do new posters realize that closed qestions can be re-opened? Ok, that's really meta-meta but I'm wondering... – Stephie Feb 13 '15 at 23:35
  • I think the information under questions on hold makes this rather clear. – Wrzlprmft Feb 14 '15 at 8:25
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    In case close votes are also accompanied by many down votes (they do!) users may not feel like putting any more effort into their question. If the question also gets deleted from enough delete votes any such effort will fail anyway. New users who are greeted with downvotes and closures of their questions will not learn much as they likely won't ever come back. – Takkat Feb 14 '15 at 15:31
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Alternatives to closing

For such borderline questions that are not elaborate, lack research effort, or only show minimal research effort, have issues in providing enough context, or are incomplete in any other way we do have alternatives to closing: Use your votes.

Whenever such a questions is answerable, already had a good answer, or is of general interest in any way consider to leave a question open, comment to say what is missing, or fix issues by an edit.

Don't vote up

If any such question does not show research effort, or has other issues, I usually don't vote it up. Tumbleweed question will automatically disappear over time if they don't get a good answer. This alone should in most cases be a sufficient means to show people that we don't really appreciate their question.

Vote down

If in addition the question is very poor, lacks general interest, or is very sloppy downvote it, and eventually vote to close it.

Vote to close

This is what we should do for any proof-reading or translation requests that lack research effort, or questions that lack any general interest. We should not take this too lightly. Some of those questions may be interesting to people we had not thought about. Consider that much traffic also comes from non-native speakers of German, or from beginners. They may have a different approach to what is interesting to them.

In case we want to put a question on hold we should do so with a comment explaining what is missing. Don't expect people to find out by themselves.

  • Please do not vote to put a question on hold without explaining what is wrong. This will not help anybody.

For improving question quality on the site it will considerably help new users much more to point out issues we have, or suggest an improvement, than silently closing their question.

Vote to reopen

Have an eye on questions you voted to close to see if an edit made the close reason obsolete. Also please make use of the Reopen Queue to enable fast reopening of edited or improved close questions.

Don't answer very poor questions

Whenever a question has an answer it may be answerable, hence it may not be extremely bad, at least not to an extent that we have to close it immediately. If it was a good answer we had upvoted this will effectively remove any such question from the system auto-close and delete queue for Tumbleweeds. We still can close such a question but we don't have to. We can also decide to leave it as it is if we feel it doesn't cause harm. This should be done on an individual base for any such question. If a poor question does not get an answer then the OP may eventually find out by themselves that there is a need for improvement.

There is no obligation to remove all mediocre content. That is what voting is for.

If in doubt why not ask in chat what your fellow users think? Chat is the appropriate place for this but it sadly was not being used for any such discussions.

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Now being with GE StackExchange for about two months, I observed that "opinion-based" as a reason for closing a question is applied quite quickly, too quickly from my viewpoint, and it is often mixed up with "off topic".

As an example, some time ago I asked: "Bringt der Import von 'impact' in den allgemeinen Sprachgebrauch einen semantischen Mehrwert? Oder handelt es sich nur um einen Akt konnotativer Aufwertung bzw., negativ ausgedrückt, sprachlicher Emigration?" This earned me a vote to close almost immediately as being too opinion-based. As one should look for the cause of such a verdict in oneself at first, the reason for that could well have been the abstract wording of the question as I just wanted to know whether "impact" in German can serve a solid semantic purpose – signifying something which hasn't been signified by a German equivalent so far – or only carries a different connotation (using an English term instead of a German one for reasons of style, or as a temporary fashion). I simply tried to bring up a denotation problem which can be discussed based on a well substantiated delineation of semantic fields, far from personal opinions.

In fact, "personal opinions" often infect an answer with biased statements or even irrelevant chatter where it should be substatiated by facts and expertise. But then it is always difficult to determine if was the fault of the question being poorly put, or of the person who answered it.

As a rule of thumb, I think only such questions should be closed as opinion-based which require answers involving

  1. Predictions ("How long will it take until I can speak German fluently"?)

  2. Personal preferences ("Which German novel is best to read first for a beginner?")

  3. Polls ("Findet ihr auch, dass Anglizismen zurückgedrängt werden sollten?")

  4. Rankings ("What are the best methods to effectively learn German?" "I need a 'remote island' list of German literature")

Questions like "What is an effective way to learn German?" are, on the other hand, not opinon-based but off topic because the answers wouldn't apply to German only but to other languages as well. The point is that questions like this can be soundly answered based on scholarly research provided the answerer cares and is able to do so, but the answer would be not specifically related to the German language or require too broad an outline of the topic.

Many answer posts which are of poor quality are answering Yes/No questions. Should we have an eye on those questions because they invite to drop quick one-liners? I think not, because their only harm lies in revealing that especially new users can't yet tell answers from quick forum conversations and from a chat dialogue. They have to acknowledge that they should always think twice before posting and that even laconic questions can trigger profound answers.

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If we answer a borderline question that otherwise could have been closed, we may want to consider adding a post notice similar to a historical lock, e.g.:

This question is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here.

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    But then, we could close it as well, as closed questions with upvoted answers will not be deleted. Closing is not deleting. – Wrzlprmft Feb 13 '15 at 8:51
  • "please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions" - do you believe poor questions will attract more poor questions? And, if a basic question was "poor" in that sense, do we want to keep people off the site who need answers to their basic questions? If so, then why would we want that? I so often read comments like "consult a dictionary" accompanied by a close vote. What do we expect to find in that dictionary, or is it that we want people to always include "I consulted a dictionary but this did not help me" on asking. – Takkat Feb 13 '15 at 10:00
  • @Wrzlprmft I see your point and I agree that closing carries a similar message and thus already serves this purpose. However, closing prevents any further answer to the question. I suppose, many borderline questions could still be reasonably answered and answers would add value to the site. As you can see, I try to negotiate a compromise in the grey area between good questions and off-topic questions. – Loong Feb 13 '15 at 16:15
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    @Takkat Do you believe poor questions will attract more poor questions? Users usually do not read the guidelines given in the Help Center; they read existing questions and answers. Therefore, new posts tend to adapt to the quality of existing posts. Hence, yes, I am afraid that poor questions may attract more poor questions. However, I am not convinced that ‘poor’ is the right word for borderline questions. – Loong Feb 13 '15 at 16:16
  • @Takkat Anyway, I do not want to lock out any borderline question; however, I do not want to simply answer such questions without comment. I would like to be able to answer such questions and to indicate that (and how) these questions could be improved in order to meet our quality objectives. This may help the author of the particular questions as well as the other users of the site. – Loong Feb 13 '15 at 16:19
  • @Takkat: “or is it that we want people to always include ‘I consulted a dictionary but this did not help me’ on asking” – For certain types of questions: Yes, we do. Who writes down this sentence is either a ruthless liar or has actually done so and thus probably asks a much better question (or refrains from asking a question that can really be answered by a dictionary). – Wrzlprmft Feb 13 '15 at 16:50
  • @Loong: If I am not very much mistaken, all locks do also prevent further answers. They usually go even further by preventing votes, edits and comments. – Wrzlprmft Feb 13 '15 at 16:53
  • Maybe we should re-consider the level of our quality standard to better define what we consider to be clearly off topic (then close of course) or what still is on topic (even if possibly not so brilliant). Seeing more and more beginner's questions we may not want to put our level too high, as this might scare away people. It's o.k. for me if we decided to have a high level of quality but we need to also consider that this may possibly be not such a good thing for this site's long-term survival and maturation. – Takkat Feb 13 '15 at 16:55
  • In case we manage to mature from beta, and we see that we have too many beginner's questions we can still consider proposing a German Language Learners site (such as ELL) or elevate our quality standard but at present the amount of questions we have does not ask for any question limitions, really. – Takkat Feb 13 '15 at 17:02
  • @Wrzlprmft Sorry for not being clear; I do not suggest to lock the question. I propose to add a post notice, similar to the post notice that is shown for a historical lock. – Loong Feb 13 '15 at 17:07
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No.

Accepting proofreading and simple transllation requests will invite more such questions and fast answers instead of discussion to close it, because people like to earn the points.

I guess it is a misconception to catch such users and to turn them into users with more valuable questions. They will not return until they have the next translation request and you will get more questions of that kind.

And different rules for new users and established ones will not work either. Inviting such users to ask such questions at chat is a thing you can do, but I don't know how much reputation you need to join the chat - is reputation from other sections sufficient? I don't think so.

Politics of no broken windows should be our way to go.

Update after adding of examples to the question:

Some have few close votes, some are pretty old, some have already many upvoted answers. I can't see a problem here. However: Keeping poor, simple questions open may lead to many answers and many upvotes. There is no guarantee that the majority of people will keep the number of upvotes down.

  • Please don't mix up things here. We are not talking about those clearly off topic questions as defined by or FAQ - these should of course be closed. This was all about those many borderline or beginner's questions that catch close votes like a flu, and sometimes even get closed. If we had clearly said we don't want beginner's questions then closing them would be fine, but we said the contrary! – Takkat Feb 12 '15 at 7:50
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    @Takkat: Can you then please refer to some examples of such questions in your question? – Wrzlprmft Feb 12 '15 at 9:55
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    @Wrzlprmft: no - I do not again want to reduce this more general issue to an endless dicussion on any special case. From the recent close/reopen queue only 3 are clearly poor or off-topic questions. The remainder are disputable, clearly on topic, or would do no harm to leave them open. Often people also erroneously believe they must vote to delete a poor post or closed question which further aggravates the issue. We don't have a storage issue here. – Takkat Feb 12 '15 at 10:29
  • @Takkat: But then what should we discuss here? Without any examples or at least some commonalities between the closed questions, there is nothing we can address or discuss here, as closed questions are very different. – Wrzlprmft Feb 13 '15 at 8:56
  • @Wrzlprmft for moderation being it for moderators or for the community mod we need at least evidence why people vote to close (and delete!) all questions that are less than optimal. What is our tolerance level? Why vote to close and delete all and everything somebody felt it was too basic or could be improved but wasn't. Can't we just leave them alone? Isn't it the whole point of voting to show appreciation of a good question? Why always vote to close if we don't find a question so terribly interesting? This is what bothers me a long time now because it highly irritates new users. – Takkat Feb 13 '15 at 9:51
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    @Takkat: I have looked through the closed questions of the last month (excluding duplicates) and I haven’t found only one question whose closure I would consider disputable (which I voted to reopen) and two or three which have been closed for the wrong reasons in my opinion. I never saw anybody voting to close a question for being too basic or similar. If you have the feeling that this happens, you have to discuss it on a case basis with the responsible people or on Meta. If you just ask people why they are voting to close so often, what answer do you expect? – Wrzlprmft Feb 13 '15 at 10:25
  • @Wrzlprmft: see edit of question for examples. – Takkat Feb 13 '15 at 10:37
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I really fail to see a general problem as to what questions we close here:

As already mentioned in a comment, I took a look at last month’s closed questions (except duplicates) and only found one closure I disagreed with and two or three cases in which I think a question has been closed for the wrong reason (but was closeworthy nontheless). There are a few corner cases, but most cases were rightfully closed in my opinion.

Taking a look at your examples, I fail to see any systematic problem here and in particular I do not think that any of these questions was closed or voted to close because of being too easy. Instead, all of those question’s were suffering from issues specific to the question or only a few questions on our site:

Now, most if not all of those cases are borderline with respect to closeworthiness and thus difficult to decide about. Also, most are specific and thus lack precedence cases, which makes the decision of closure a difficult one, which has to be made on a case-to-case basis. This is part of what the close queue is for and if closing always were an easy decision, we would not need five votes for closure. And as far as I can see, the closure of most of these questions was debated and not an unanimous decision – which is exactly what I would expect due to the above reasons and is something I regard as an indicator of a working community.

This does not mean that I fully agree with all the decisions made, but I really do not see any indicator of a generalisable problem. Most of this should be discussed on a case-to-case basis; some of those issues are more generalisable, but still specific to a small subset of questions.

I see that there could be some improvements as to how we close questions, but I cannot write about this right now due to time constraints.

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    Now again, I do have to ask what harm you'd expect for the site if we had not closed these questions. It is not the point that I am not aware of issues all of these questions do have but there are so many other questions here that have similar issues but nobody closes them. My concern is the inconsistency and the lack of transparency as to why we had closed a specific question. – Takkat Feb 14 '15 at 15:26
  • @Takkat: Since I do not find all questions closeworthy, I can in some cases only answer what harm other people see. Anyway, this is again case-dependent. For example, too broad questions tend to attract tons of answers answering only parts of the question, which again leads to problems of comparibility and redundancy. If you think that there is some inconsistency or need for discussion regarding the closures of questions of a certain type, I strongly suggest that you start a discussion about this specific type. – Wrzlprmft Feb 14 '15 at 16:07
  • Yeah you're perfectly right in that a specific issue is better discussed on a specific case. I know that you are a careful (if not the most careful) reviewer, taking enough time to judge a question, and you're among those who also cast a "do not close" vote. Sadly not all users are like that. There are overzealous users, there are users who dream of the perfect site where posts with issues have no place, and there are users who only spend a few seconds on any review. This in my eyes does make it are general issue. – Takkat Feb 14 '15 at 16:26
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YES

I think we are closing too much questions, and we are closing them too fast. I think that mainly question that was closed because of being »opinion based« or »too broad«, and even lots of »unclear what you're asking«-closings was not necessary. I can't see the benefit of closing those questions.

algorithm needs to be revised

And I think the close-voting-algorithm should be revised. When ever I click on »leave open« I recognize, that the questions close-counter didn't change. When the counter was 3 before I voted to leave a question open, I expect to increase it to 2 when I vote for »leave open«. But this doesn't happen. It stays at 3.

This means:
When 20 (or even 1000) people click on »leave open« but only 5 on »close«, then those 5 close-voters win, because the leave-open-clicks are simply ignored. And since it are always the same names that you can read as close-voters, a group of only 5 people could close any question without the possibility that anyone else could prevent them from doing so.

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    Leave-open votes will tremendously help to remove that question from the close-review queue but it will not stop people to add additional close votes. We should however vote or flag for re-opening in case we felt such a closure happened prematurely. – Takkat May 29 '15 at 7:53

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