Why are we so strict with closing questions, can't we just leave them open? It seems like it would be a lot better if we worked with the person asking the question to improve it. On PICList people can either just ignore the question or help to improve it, why don't we just take this policy instead of closing questions?

Note: I am not asking this question for myself, rather I am playing the devils advocate in order to create some discussion that we can reference in the future. The question was spurred on by comments in this question: https://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/17909/how-can-i-use-a-transistor-with-two-circuits

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Shouldn't Russell be asking this? He's the one that seems to care. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 12:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olin I have seen it come up before with other users who were asked to take it up in meta and never did. It is a lot easier to just point someone to a meta post then having to keep discussing the same issues over and over again with people. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 12:03
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that some people are way too trigger-happy with the close button around here, but this particular example needed to be put out of its misery quickly. \$\endgroup\$
    – endolith
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just looked at the account of the OP. The system says he is suspended for 2 years!! I didn't see anything in his activity that warrents suspension, and I can't imagine anything anyone can do that would warrant 2 years of suspension. What is going on here? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 20:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin This is because of the OPs age, they have to be 13 to have an account. This is a legal issue from COPA. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Question is deleted; it makes it hard to tell. But if deleted due to OPs age, I guess I understand. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 23:53
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ Totally support you there, but the community seems to be dominated by people who prefer closing and even deleting, often single-handedly which is rather dictatorial. Alas. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 19:55

7 Answers 7


I think in some cases we are a bit too quick to close questions, but not in that case. The question was a nonsensical pile of gibberish. We are here to help people with electronics, not english or the self-evident logic of how to ask a question. Even if some are so inclined, this isn't the place. It's just noise and clutter for the rest of us.

There is also the other aspect of teaching someone a lesson. People are basically lazy, or to put it more politely, seek the shortest path to a desired result. If someone dumps gibberish on us and some misguided do-gooders go back and forth with the OP, fix the question, and it eventually gets answered, the OP will likely be back doing exactly the same thing again. Worse yet, the many people silently watching this will learn that it's acceptable or at least that it works.

I ref youth soccer on the side. The coaches tell kids many times at the U10 level and under what a proper throw in is. The refs for that age generally give a kid one do-over if they mess it up. As a result, the kids sortof try but there are many bad throw ins. On the second try, they almost always get it right. At the U12 level I don't give any do overs, just give the ball to the other team. I see a few bad throwins the first week or two, but the kids quickly learn to pay attention. You take the ball away from a kid and give it to the other team, and that kid will probably not mess up a thow in that way again. Giving the throw in to the other team is relatively harmless, but the message gets thru clearly.

Fixing peoples bad questions is like letting them re-do throw ins. They're not going to take it seriously until the bad questions is closed.

  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ very interesting anecdote. We really struggle with this on some sites, where bad questions frequently get amazing answers.. and that teaches some unfortunate things. :( \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 15:04
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with @jeff, and this forms a large part of my logic. I find when I put a comment explaining what needs to be said and a few users put really long detailed answers in guessing at what it might be one person often gets it right and the users learn to just be lazy. If we say, "Stop, you shall not pass; Until points A, C and K are fixed" we run just a few users away whom just posted on 3 different SE sites and 10 forums but gain users that believe in quality over quantity and our great answers are saved for great questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olin - We often remind the users that the question can be re-opened if it's improved, but the second try rarely happens. Does this represent a breakdown in your analogy, or should we try to improve quality on the first pass by not mentioning this possibility? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 18:17
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin: I think we need to let people know they can fix things and try again. The slap on the wrist is still there and will hopefully be remembered, and the answer is still closed until they fix it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 21:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin, in most cases if the question has no votes or answers, just asking new better quesion is easyer then trying to get the 4 reopen votes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 11:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ian - You're probably more familiar with SO, but here the mods do a lot to accelerate the close/reopen process. If the question is improved sufficiently, one of the mods will step in and cast a super-vote. Your comment would be worth acting on (by changing comment text) if we had people asking new questions instead of fixing closed ones. The problem is that this is unheard of: Usually, first-time users don't bother to come back and either fix it or ask a new question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 14:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What is so completely overlooked by the close-then-fix clique is the psychological effect of closing someone's questions. No need to keep wondering why those posters don't come back when you have told them to go away. If you cannot see how the close vote does that, you need to get off the site and spend some time in the real world, observing ordinary interaction between people. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let me say this up front: the close process is a sham. If a certain group of users gang up on a question they don't like, the odds of it actually being reopened are slim, and none. It feels like a clique, and it is in fact. Rebranding as 'on hold' is lipstick on a pig. That sends the wrong message. New users and their seemingly-lame questions (usually they're not, if you bother to dig deeper) are the lifeblood of a site like SE. Unfortunately, the closing system is broken because it intimidates rather than encourages. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ My personal approach is to look past all that. Every seemingly-bad question is an opportunity to enlighten. I take it as a challenge to not only craft the best answer I can, but also to meet the user where they are. That is, use non-technical communication skills to really help enlighten the asker. One of those skills is emotional intelligence: recognizing that question askers are human beings with their own challenges, and placing value on enlightenment over process. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 20:27
  • "All models are wrong - some models are useful"

    George Box

Olin and I have a long history of mutually disagreeing with best method over this. His soccer analogy has its place - but the differences are significant enough that it should be used with care.

The approaches are essentially either

  • Working with beginners to help them improve their questions and, as bad questions very often reflect a woefully poor knowledge of electronics, helping them improve their basic understandings


  • Shutting down questions and questionsers which fail to meet some threshold until they manage to meet our minimum standards.

Nobody should pretend that closing "bad" questions rather than tutoring the questioners will stop some people from asking questions, or more than one question.

Olin's approach ("writ large" here, albeit less so than it may seem, to make the point clea) is to beat them until they bleed. If they then crawl back, beg forgiveness, follow the master's steps faithfully and learn their lesson well then they may well become productive members of the group.

That's certainly one approach and it certainly does work.

Those who survive this often do become productive members and it certainly does weed out early on those who can't tolerate having their feeble failings shoved back in their faces. Those who equate simple rejection and an invitation to resubmit their question as gross rejection and personal criticism will be driven away and be unlikely to try again.

It can be argued (and very actively is by some) that

  • The loss of such people is of little or no consequence to the group - they are just cannon fodder to be winnowed out for the greater good.

  • Those who fail to pass this "test" are unlikely to make good engineers anyway and its better for them and the group if the are driven off early before times is wasted trying to educate them, when the outcome is nearly certainly going to be that they don't make the grade.

  • Allowing questions of this sort encourages sloppy behaviour. If we encourage it people will never learn and will take advantage of our largesse and will never make the effort to improve themselves. People should learn to ask questions well and if they can't do so their questions should be kicked out until such time as they learn to meet an acceptable minimum standard. Answering sloppy questions is pandering to laziness and abuse by the question asker and they will never learn better if they are not disciplined.

There are several "problems" with this perspective. Whether they are deemed important will in major part define the group long term.

  • I'll comment first on the "encourages laziness" claim, as this is an understandably big one to some people. It's a big one with me too. I do not want to encourage freeloaders, to do people's homework, to allow people to ask sloppy questions and to cut corners or to fail to rapidly improve. If you look at my comments you'll see that a frequent refrain is "please provide more information / please tell us what you are trying to achieve / please ask better questions." I am all for getting users to a better level of asking and informing as rapidly as possible. Some highly intelligent people, regardless of how much I have explained otherwise, deny that I am wanting any of these things. [Such persistent assertions sometimes make me wonder about the proponent's ability to learn :-) ] I no more like bad questions and lack of precision than anyone else - my aim is to provide the best possible means for respondents to better their own lot. It is not obvious how cutting them off at the knees (as it were) and isolating them from assistance with bettering themselves will achieve this more rapidly than allowing those who wish to to spend time on educating them.

  • Some questioners have "English as a second language" and find difficulty in communicating their desires well. Closely allied with this is the fact [tm] that some with high IQ's and great technical ability have little or no ability to perceive when this is the case, or may not care. Social adeptness and technical capability are less well correlated in engineers than in society in general :-). The result of this is that the technically most competent may be unable or unwilling to accommodate the needs of people for whom the English language is a barrier. The present practice discriminates against members whose first language is not English

  • The present practice takes no account of international time scales or thye real world realities of many people's lives. This is (obviously) an international forum and involves (obviously) real world people with other demands on their lives than just group involvement. A person may live in any world time zone, have limited hours in which they are able to access the forum and it may quite reasonably be days between accesses. Whereas, the admins and those with very high involvement tend to access the forum many times per day or, in some cases, close enough to continually (you know who you are :-) ).

    This effect can be seen even on questions where the questioner is very actively involved and is interacting to refine the question and arrive at an optimum solution. Even in such cases there may be a day or two between responses.

    The effect for the asker of a "bad question" is that they may ask a question and then return one or two or three days later, eager to see what answers they may have got, and instead find a series of negative comments, no answers, and that their question has been closed. The degree of discouragement that this can cause is seldom appreciated by those who are much involved and to whom it seldom of never happens. Which leads to ...

  • The present practice will be seen as much much much more as a disincentive that it will seem to those of thicker than normal skin. This isn't mainly about Olin but he serves as well as any to exemplify what this is about. Not everyone has as thick a skin as Olin. By far !!! :-). I have come to genuinely respect and appreciate Olin over many years - not only for his technical expertise but for his willingness to spend time and effort assisting others and for his willingness to support the PIC development community by providing high quality PIC development environment software to all comers at no charge. Along the way I've come to understand that his "does not suffer fools gladly, nor anyone that looks in the slightest way like they may be one" approach and his "kick them till they bleed" approach to education are based on his only genuinely thck skin, tolerance for abuse and ability and willingness to shake his head after an "encounter" and get on with the job without in most cases holding (as far as I can tell) grudges. (Some exceptions but not relevant here).

    The "problem" is that his incredible tolerance for abuse and straight speaking blinds him to the fact that many or even most others are not made of the same material. The same applies to various extents to others in "positions of power" who are isolated from the effects of their own actions. When a first questioner, or beginner, or one who mostly lurks and listens, ventures into asking a question and is criticised roundly (in their perception at least) and then has their question closed or is similarly treated, the effect is very often out of all proportion to what those 'on the other side' would think was reasonable or sensible or even likely. Olin probably 'leads the charge in this respect', but few in positions of power probably (indeed apparently) realise how significant a bvlow something like closing a question can seem.

    Most questions that are closed with an invitation to reopen are in fact never reopened - Consider - how many questions that are closed with the comment "this question can be reopened if you xxx" are in fact ever reopened? In my briefish time here I've seen a number of closures but do not recall have seen a reopening. The percentage of reopenings may not be zero, but it's probably not high.

    If it is felt "that the number involved is few" it would be useful to check to see how true this is.

I assert, and this is the sort of thing that can be checked against records and by talking to people, that the disincentive to trying again is very high. I base this not just on n=my brief observations here, but on years of user interaction elsewhere. As an admin elsewhere I get to try and "pick up the pieces" after newcomers have been roughly handled after asking questions "poorly". Many are extremely traumatised by the experiece - even though the treatment that they have received may seem of no great import to others. If we decide we don't want or need such people here then by all means drive them away. A good 50% of humanity is in this class. If this is an elitist meeting place with no place for stumbing beginners then 'go for it'. Otherwise, the vagaries of human nature have to be taken into account.

If this group does not give a damn for such people or their perspectives then shutting them down before they start is certainly one way to deal with them. That's the effect of the present rapid rush to shut qustions down.

  • Suggestions:

  • Give respondents two chances at responding. ie at least a small amount of dialog. (Most closed questions evoke no response at all from the questioner in the brief time available).

  • Leave questions open for some predetermined period if no response received at all. Say 1 week but maybe less.

  • Have a standard reference which is ALWAYS referred to when questions need improving. This can be tailored to this list if desired.

  • Recognise that some are more interested in helping the more hapless.

    Let those whose time or reputation is too important to waste on such people just leave them alone and

    Let people who seek to encourage them do so. (Note that "encouragement" does not mean "featherbedding". Encouragement can be extremely robust but kindly.)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ When this site was proposed, it was intended to be aimed at professionals, that has adapted to also include "serious hardware hacking enthusiasts". Currently that is the scope of our site and I don't think either group should be babied along in any way. We have allowed questions from people who fall outside of that group, but in order to keep the quality of this site up, we have to close poor questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 13:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @russellMcMahon, This could lead to a very long discussion which would be easier in chat, but I have opened closed questions when the poster has flagged me back probably 5 times over the last 3 months. In those cases I normally err on the side of reopening as the user whom asked a poor question is making it clear they are here and will work to improve their question as they already have. You are correct that it almost never happens, this is not proof the approach is wrong, I consider it the opposite, often this user never returns to the site. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume this style of basic question is a case of the user finding the answer as they wait for an answer written. In the case of never returning they never saw that their question was closed or that they received comments. You are correct that their is some sort of a feeling that those that cannot deal with a closed question probably are better off to be filtered. I do not consider myself a part of the group but I understand their reasoning. The reason I do not leave a comment and then check back later is from experience of the results. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ When closing a question and explaining the standards and offering to reopen users whom need help are willing to take a moment to clear it up and write a great question for us, or clear up an missgivings. I will admit that I have often edited rude comments for users when they are rude to someone whom wrote a poor question. Lets hold to the standard of being nice but firm. We require great quality and will hold both answers and questions to that. I would enjoy a longer discussion of views and I can fill you in on my experience and approach. I always listen to peoples views and would enjoy it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon, I did mean to mention, on the note of being biased towards English speakers. There is really not a way to avoid this right now. Users whom only speak another language cannot read anything on the site. If you have a solution for that, I am interested. Having users whom speak English at only a very basic level are going to have a challenge communicating with others, this is really not something I have a simple way to solve, but until we understand what the user is asking we cannot help them. If someone posts a question in french it is not going to get answers on the site. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ SE is having a french site made for programming questions based on my memory, hopefully our site becomes large enough that related sites in other languages can easily be formed from the small groups of the community(small in relation to the size of our entire community, not the language) that speak the languages. Right now I believe we have a rather large Portuguese speaking group. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk Noted. Thanks for taking the effort to comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 12:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon, I do not want an elitist meeting place either. I do not think that is the result, we take very basic questions. But for the great answers that are lurking and available you have to show "you gave it a try." Not really that you attempted the issue yet, but that you are willing to take the time to communicate your issues so that others can resolve them. Pin the tail on the donkey is something that uses time that could be used to write more excellent answers. Excellent answers are the only way that the complete newbies are going to learn the material in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 12:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Russell Thanks for taking the time to voice your opinion, but it seems to be very universal that people are agreeing with Olin's answer here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 16:03
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm with Russell, personally. The idea of obsessing over being "for experts only (or primarily)" or "for professionals only (or primarily)" is, IMO, counter-productive. I mean, I get the idea... a large community of expert level folks talking back and forth with each other does have a lot of appeal, on paper. But I'm going to guess that there simply aren't enough experts (in pretty much any field, not just this one) who want that (as opposed to saying they want it) to keep a Q&A like this active. The n00bs, beginners and amateurs are actually needed. Driving them away doesn't help, IMO. \$\endgroup\$
    – mindcrime
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 2:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ A superb answer, and a crime that is has received downvotes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 29, 2012 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rocketmagnet Downvotes represent disagreement with the idea on meta, not that the answer is bad. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 13:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk - I mean it's a crime that anyone disagrees with this. Can we make it site policy to agree with this post? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rocketmagnet I disagree. This site is an SE site and we close if a question does not meet criteria. It is then improved and reopened. Otherwise I agree we should try our best to work with people, but closing happens if it does not meet quality until it can be improved. It would be nice to tell people it can be improved. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 21:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk - Oh. Is that a 'no' then? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 21:32

Please note: this is to address the general question. The cited example was no longer visible when this answer was posted, and is in no way addressed by it.

What many who so readily vote to close forget is that closing isn't an expression of personal dislike for a question, it's an expression of an opinion that no other person on the forum should be permitted to answer the question or work with the poster to improve it.

Few of the closed questions actually rise to that level of needing to be so fundamentally "banned" - in many cases it would be better for the objectors to state their objection and then simply ignore the question. For those with the power to unilaterally close questions, the general response should be even more strongly towards stating an objection, with unilaterally closing reserved for spam-weeding and similar cases where leaving the question up is harmful to the site.

Part of what negatively sets this site apart from the original stackoverflow is that the desire to "curate" the collection of questions so heavily plays a positive feedback role in keeping the site and it's empowered user-community small. On a healthy stack exchange site one normally reads through topic or question-status filters. Here, the volume of permitted questions is so low that the same people have time to see and answer or object to almost everything. While this has produced some extremely high-quality answers, it also slows the rate at which new members of the community gain reputation by limiting not only the overall opportunity to contribute an early suitable answer, but especially the opportunity to answer questions requiring uncommon knowledge or experience, which are often closed by those without the familiarity to understand them.

I would argue very strongly that well intentioned questions which are not unquestionably a stronger positive fit for another stack exchange site be allowed to "age" and collect comments or answers for at least two business days before people start casting close votes. And even questions which do seem like a better fit elsewhere should have some migration delay to make sure that there aren't overlooked aspects, for example what look like generic programming questions that actually require embedded-systems expertise, or what look like PC-hardware questions that really require circuit-level analysis skills.

Finally, the idea of "closing a question until it is improved" is a very poor one, for both psychological and practical reasons. To the poster, especially new posters, it's extremely unwelcoming. Practically speaking, even when the question is improved, it's hard to get enough people to take a second look to re-open it. Many times when a question has been re-opened, it's not so much because the question has been improved, but because the failure of judgment that lead to its closing has been exposed.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree that closing is to prevent further work on the question. It's more of a statement of Your question is poorly worded and described. By closing it we put you and everyone else on notice this is not tolerated here, or You just threw us a pile of gibberish and therefore don't deserve a answer, or sometimes simply This question is off topic here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 16:51
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - the problem is that you are looking at it from your perspective. To judge the effect, you have to look at how it feels to the generally new poster who feels they've been told that they do not belong. At least give them (and others) a few business days to improve the question before closing it. Once a question is closed it's usually dead - those that get resurrected do so more because the mistakes made by those who closed it are exposed, than due to improvements made by the asker who tends to be driven away by the act of closing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 17:25
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Those that write bad questions in fact don't belong here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 15:16
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - to a degree, almost all questions are "bad" because with modern web resources, by the time someone has refined the question to a "good" form they have most of what they need to research the answer themselves. Since that would lead to not having a site, if we want to have one, we have to welcome people who are still learning about how to solve problems, in large part by using comments to lead them to identify the key question - rather than reject them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 15:29
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Good or bad question has much more to do with how it is asked than its content. And yes, we can and should demand that people ask well, regardless of what they ask. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree we should encourage people towards better stating questions (which tends to move them towards being able to answer more of their own). But I completely disagree that closing questions is an effective way of doing so. Use comments, and in some cases even edits to generate improvement in the question if it's one you would like to participate in answering if it were well stated. If it's not of interest, then just ignore it. Banning others from attempting to work with the questioner - which is what voting to close does - is warranted only rarely. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 20:09
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton that is not what closing does. Closing is saying, "Your question currently does not meet our quality guidelines, we need you to improve it, or another community member to improve it, before it will fit on our site." The truth from moderator standpoint where I can see activity of users, most users never realize their question was closed and did not register an account to access the site from another computer. They never return and made the crap post probably in the heat of wanting easy answers immediately, this is why you see them idle. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton Many sites require you verify your questions before they become public through a review queue and allow you to bypass after making it through a few times, our site allows anyone to post without review, well, no review until they post. The site then reviews and kicks back the post if it does not meet guidelines. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sadly, you refuse to see how your beliefs harm the site. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 14:24
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton, That is a very sure view of what harms the site. I can see all of the google analytics and I am never that sure of site policies. I dont think any action except those that leave rude comments hurt our site significantly. The google analytics show steady growth upwards, which I am told is the ideal. Most of our site policies are from what has been learned by stack exchange administrators that help communities grow as a full time job. I can understand not agreeing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 22:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The difference betweeb the poor quality of your over-managed site, and the greater vitality and utility in solving real world problems of the generally looser main stack overflow site should be obvious to anyone with an open mind. Its ironic that the focus on "quality" here has achieved the opposite, by stressing conforming questions over issues of real relevance to the practice of engineering. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 4, 2012 at 23:47
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton I was on this question due to a link, do you know that if you dont put an @ kortuk in your reponse(no space) it does not let me know you have responded. It is perfect to leave it off if you are just wanting to talk at large and look as though I have no response. Again, I am glad you feel so sure of yourself, enjoy that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 12:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Given your steadfast refusal to consider the disconnect between your views and the problems encountered in actual engineering, you would probably be much happier building a wiki type site than moderatinga Q/A one. Only it sad is than your clique has claimed this topic area and seeks to prevent others from meeting the real need here. But the question that don't conform will keep coming - one can hope someday you will grow tired of resisting the real world of engineering and move on to a setting more suited to extreme curation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 13:08

Olin's mention of "the self-evident logic of how to ask a question" suggests that, while he may have great experience in Electrical Engineering, he has little to no experience asking questions on a forum. (I assume one is due to the other)

I do have a lot of experience asking questions on many forums, and I have seen all kinds of answers to all kinds of questions. The one thing I have learned is that there is no correct way to ask a question, and it can be hard to predict the sort of response you'll get. I have asked quick one-liners, and been rewarded with great answers, bad answers, answers to different questions, arguments, and suspensions. I have also asked in-depth questions, which carefully lay out what I know, what I assume, what I don't know, and what the question is, and been rewarded with the great answers, bad answers, answers to different questions, arguments, and suspensions.

Isaac Newton, no Mr. Thickie himself is claimed to have said: "I can calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people."

Let's try to re-word Olin's quote:

"The self-evident logic of how 45 people will each read the question in a different way, from a different perspective, and react emotionally to it."

We can see that the words "self-evident logic" have no place here.

To see why it is pointless to punish questioners who apparently don't follow the "self-evident logic", let's look at something else with self-evident logic, software. There is really no good excuse for writing an incorrect algorithm. The logic is quite evident, yet I'm sure all of us has written a laughably incorrect algorithm and wondered for ages why it doesn't work.

Now, imagine that whenever this happens, some self-important busybody who has never written any software comes along, scolds you, and deletes your code. This is essentially what happens when someone closes a question.

In my humble opinion, closing a question should be a last resort, and should only happen when we're sure all other avenues have failed. If I could make one change to the Stackexchange sites, it would be this:

Before a question is closed, there should be a purgatory period where the community helps the questioner improve the question. Currently this period is not explicitly implemented, instead there's a period where the community shouts at the questioner and tries to make them feel bad about their failure.

A couple of ways this could be implemented are:

  • When someone downvotes a question, they are required to give a reason. There could be a few common reasons to click on, and a text box to write your own.
  • When someone votes to close a question, they should give specific reasons, and should also say what changes should be made to the question for the close vote to be removed.

The question would be labelled as [needs improving], and the questioner should have a few days in which to make the changes before it's finally closed.

Don't think "bad question - close it", think "unfinished question - fix it".

  • \$\begingroup\$ You are favoring volume over quality, which is completely the wrong approach. I'd rather have a better site with 90% of the questions than yours, than 100% of the question including all the bad ones people had to spend effort to get to the good enough status. That's not our job. Each person has a limited amount of volunteer time here. Spending it on patching bad questions is a lot less useful than providing good answers to questions that are already answerable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not at all. I'm saying that there are some questions which are just one step away from being good. E.G. this question which was badly worded, but which is actually a great question and something I wondered many years ago. Or this question which some people thought was terrible but which was actually excellent. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 16:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - My point is that people are too quick to pull the trigger. There's really no harm in allowing a little time to improve questions. You don't have to be involved at all if you don't want to. By all means, take the easy pickings. I am happy to help those who need a little help. By being helpful rather than agressive we encourage new people, who may become great contributors themselves one day and thus improve the site. I'd rather have a site with 10% extra bad questions if it helped improve the community and growth of the site. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 16:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Neither of those questions were closed. The first I thought was OK, but the second I downvoted because it is so clearly answered in the datasheet right where you'd expect to find it. The datasheet does a great job explaining what the hardware does, and there are various app notes and example that show how to hook it up in a system. It was therefore a poorly researched and lazy question. And no, 10% extra noise to help "grow" the site somehow is the wrong tradeoff. Better quality and high signal to noise make the best site, which may mean lopping off some bad questions. No loss. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 16:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - The first was actually closed because it was so badly worded that hardly anyone could understand it (except me apparently), then re-opened when Kortuk fixed it. The second was an example of a question which you thought was bad, but in fact has a surprising answer which many people don't know. The point being that it can be hard to judge a good question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 7:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - Also, where exactly in the datasheet does it mention the transceiver? The word "transceiver" doesn't actually appear in the datasheet at all, and from a brief flick through the ECAN module, I didn't see any mention of the physical layer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 7:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Roket: Like I said, the datasheet documents what the hardware does very nicely. Other things document the CAN bus electrically, and there are appnote and lots of stuff out there about what goes in between. I remember not knowing anything about CAN, reading the PIC datasheet and the CAN spec and everything was quite obvious. It's all there and easily accessible. This was basically a dumb question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 10:51

A response to a poor question should remain constructive. A poor question should be treated in two ways which depends on the intentions of the author/student. Enough time and communication through comments should be given to assess which course of action to take.

If the student is being lazy, their question should be ignored and/or voted down. Their laziness should become apparent when they show that they have no intention of incorporating feedback from others to improve their question.

I believe that there has to be reciprocity between the student and teacher. The student must be willing to learn and put in the required effort. A person chooses to be a teacher in good faith with the assumption the student will do their part. A lazy student is not open to learning, they are just looking for the easy way out. I believe that lazy students are harmful to this site because they destroy the bond of trust between student and teacher. This can go on to effect hard working students by discouraging potential teachers. Laziness shouldn't be rewarded and thus these questions should be ignored.

If the author simply does not know enough about a topic to ask a sensible question, then working with them to help better define the question is the right and constructive course of action. It will become clear that the student is not lazy if they respond to comments and work with others to redefine the question. Closing a question from someone with good intentions is unethical as they will not understand why this has been done to them and they will learn nothing from it. At best it is useless. At worst it will be humiliating and crushing. Do we really want to take a potential engineer and encourage them in a different direction such as towards a career in law, finance or banking? ;)

Users of this system can choose to answer a question or not. Closing a question allows the majority who voted it closed to decide for the minority that they do not have the option to help an author of a question. This author may be of the type who has a genuine desire to work hard and learn with some guidance. This has the potential of needlessly depriving someone of advice when they need it most, i.e. when they are taking their first steps towards an understanding of a topic.

An indicator of the quality of a question is also the number of up-votes the question has. An old question with no up-votes or many down-votes is obviously a poor or esoteric question. For this reason, I'm not sure I buy the argument that closing questions is necessary to maintain quality so that the bad questions don't overwhelm the good. Maintaining quality can also be accomplished by improving the questions not closing them. Maybe the site should consider giving points for this! If one wants to maintain quality then questions than have no or few up-votes or answers after a long period of time can be automatically closed by the system. This strategy maintains that a bad question is one that leads to no activity on the system. That sounds like a pretty sensible definition of a bad question to me for this community.

The automated system to close questions would only kick after an extended period of time when it is clear that no progress will be made with the question. In this way the bad questions will never overwhelm the good.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As to your comment about how closing of questions work... It takes 5 votes to close a question, once it is closed people can vote to reopen, and it again takes 5 votes to reopen. You can only vote once per question and this helps to avoid a question flip flopping between open and closed. A mod is able to over ride the system by only needing one vote to close or open. Because of the mods power, they will only close in extreme circumstances or when they see that the question already has several votes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 13:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kellenjb Thanks, I updated the question with this new information in mind. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 15:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would love to upvote this otherwise great answer to counteract whoever downvoted it, but feel I cannot as long as that "punishment" idea remains in there. Closing is more effect at pushing people away than at educating them in how to write better questions - that's what comment are for. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 21:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton: Feel free to upvote now as I've removed references to punishment. I thought the idea of punishment was too harsh anyway, but, that seems to appeal to some here. lol... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 21:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton: Actually, I believe that there has to be reciprocity between the student and teacher. The student must be willing to learn and put in the required effort. A person chooses to be a teacher in good faith with the assumption the student will do their part. A lazy student is not open to learning, they are just looking for the easy way out. I believe that lazy students are harmful to this site because they destroy the bond of trust between student and teacher. This can go on to effect hard working students by discouraging potential teachers. Laziness shouldn't be tolerated. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 22:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaveMechGuru - I think it's better to ignore people you don't wish to reward than to prevent anyone else from choosing to help them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 23:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton: That is a fair point. I also made this point, however, I limited this principal to questioners are not being lazy. I am also okay just ignoring the lazy ones too. But, there should be some mechanism in the system for eventually removing dead or ignored questions from the system to keep them from out numbering the good questions. I suppose I described such a mechanism in my last paragraph. I will update my answer to reflect this. In fact, I prefer the overall approach better to my original one. Thanks for the input. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 0:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chris: No, since that doesn't solve the problem because someone else will come along and reward them. We have to set a bar and stick to it, else this site will descend into drivel like other places have that tried to be "nice" to everyone. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 0:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - I see the point where many people choose to read a site through a filter for topics or question states of interest as a sign that it has finally taken off. This particularly stack exchange site still hasn't, and won't until the hyperactive close voting ceases. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 3:59

But if a question about a good topic and with a good base concept is badly written, or for any reason requires a complete rework: isn't better to reward the editor instead of the OP, and somehow show him that he had a good idea but who does the work is awarded?


Noting on JMEYER10's account the following:

  • I am a ten year old programmer that plays baseball and piano


  • This account is temporarily suspended to cool down. The suspension period ends on Aug 9 '14 at 0:23

It seems I may have been closer to the mark than I expected in this case.

Is he really 10 years old?

Do we really encourage 10 years olds this way?

  • \$\begingroup\$ How is this an answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 12:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ But, I do stand by what I said before. I was once in his same situation. Being treated exactly as he is being treated caused me to mature online very fast. Age shouldn't matter on this site. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 13:39
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @Kellenjb, see this clause in the network ToS: Subscriber certifies to Stack Exchange that if Subscriber is an individual (i.e., not a corporate entity), Subscriber is at least 13 years of age. This is because of COPPA; all SE moderators are therefore required to suspend anyone who claims to be under 13. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Michael Interesting. I remember that being the case back when I was that age, but I knew parents could give written permission so I assumed that was the case here, guess I was wrong. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 1:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kellenjb, the work to support the written permission is quite thorough, SE last I heard is just not allowing users under the age of 13. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kortuk
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Michael (And Dori) - Thanks for catching that, I didn't notice at the time, or I would have done the same thing. Kortuk and I weren't intentionally violating the TOS. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 18:13
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @Russel - "This account is temporarily suspended to cool down." is, unfortunately, the standard suspension text for any reason, including a TOS violation. A discussion has been started in the mod channel to have make this text changed/changeable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 18:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kellenjb - re "How is this an answer?" -> Parse question for key content. Parse response for related content. Check level of correlation. The degree of match that you get in eg this case makes the response an answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 2:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Russell A response is not always an answer. Plus in this case your response is about account suspensions which has nothing to do with my question of closing questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kellenjb
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 11:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .