In the last year, I made several attempts to sanitise our close reasons or capture some common denominator as to when we close questions, in particular regarding which questions must indicate prior research. All of this did not really work out. For example, despite an overwhelming vote against requiring questions about differences to indicate prior research, questions about differences not indicating prior research still tend to get closed with fire. (Mentioning this to some people caused the vote to be balanced now, but still the vote does not reflect our closing behaviour.)
Moreover, some people hold the opinion that we should have close reasons for prior research effort, but should not strictly apply them. I think that this is a bad idea as it leads to inconsistencies, arbitrariness, which in turn result in confusion and disappointment of whoseever question was closed, in particular new users.
After another long chat discussion about this, I make with the following suggestion: Let’s ditch our current custom close reason¹ and replace it with something along the lines of this:
We feel that your question can be answered by a dictionary, a grammar book, or a similar general reference. To have your question reopened, explain what you found when consulting these references and why they did not help you.
So, if we want to be vague and do not want to precisely define what we consider closeworthy, let’s at least have our close reasons reflect this to some extent.
This close reason does not really cover bulk translation requests anymore, which would probably need their own close reason (which could then include bulk proofreading requests as well). As I am not aware of anybody disagreeing on closing these, I consider this a side effect and not the core of this proposal.
What are the practical consequences of this?
- We can still close any translation question that does not indicate prior research. Moreover, we can close almost any other kind of question that doesn’t. But, we can always not close them, if we feel that prior research would not have helped or, e.g., if we are confident that a word whose translation is requested is not contained in a dictionary. Most importantly, if we do not close, we are not being inconsistent – subjectiveness is worked into the close reason.
- Indicating prior research, if done properly, prevents closure, but it is not the only way to avoid closure.
- Essentially, we can close any question if we think a general reference can answer it. In particular the native speakers amongst us may overestimate the power of general references from time to time, but that’s not a problem: If we do, the asker can always prove us wrong by indicating prior research. And properly indicating prior research from the beginning would prevent such an error and thus closure in the first place.
¹ “Questions asking for translations are off-topic unless prior research effort is clearly indicated; we're here to help you learn, not provide a bulk translation service. See: Are translation requests from German allowed? / Sind Fragen nach Übersetzungen aus dem Deutschen erlaubt?