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A lot of the close votes are "unclear what you're asking". Just a refresher, here's an explanation of what this option means and tells the asker:

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.

My problem is that I think this option is being used in an incorrect way, and I want to make sure I'm getting this correctly. This option should be used if there's no real question, and the asker does not really give a clear problem that he needs to fix, right? That's what I'm thinking.

But I feel that people are using this option when the asker has not put enough information about his problem. As in, we'll most likely need to ask him for output, specs, or what he "sees" for example. I don't think this type of question falls under the "unclear what you're asking". Am I correct?

Example question:

Unable to play video and mp3:

I tried VLC, KM player and Movie player as well. None of them work.

Movie player shows error. VLC and KM player do nothing. Whats the solution?

I use Ubuntu 12.04. Please explain elaborately.

The problem is crystal clear, he doesn't need to add additional details to highlight exactly what he needs, and it's easy to tell exactly what he's asking. It's just that there's not enough information on the actual problem.

Is this question being flagged correctly? I've been seeing a few of these in the close votes queue. I started opting to leave them open, and add a comment to give us more information. Is this the correct action, or am I understanding the "unclear what you're asking" close vote the wrong way?

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    I'd consider lack of information to be a cause of non clarity. The OP can always add more information to clarify, and this autoflags for reopening – Journeyman Geek Sep 1 '14 at 0:57
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    @JourneymanGeek True. However, part of the problem is, many people see an incomplete or lacking question and simply flag as unclear, without leaving any comment telling the OP how to fix this. – RPiAwesomeness Sep 1 '14 at 1:02
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    @JourneymanGeek what kind of information though? Lack of information on what the problem is = yeah, flag it. Lack of troubleshooting information, or information that will help us fix the problem that they clearly stated = shouldn't be flagged. – Alaa Ali Sep 1 '14 at 1:13
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    "Lack of troubleshooting information, or information that will help us fix the problem that they clearly stated = shouldn't be flagged" so, you are saying that unanswerable questions because it lacks critical information shouldn't be closed? IMO, that's the reason why we close at all, whenever it can be answerable using the SE Q&A format. – Braiam Sep 1 '14 at 15:57
  • @Braiam So, you're saying that if an unanswerable question, such as a "WiFi not working" question that doesn't have any information on hardware should be closed? – Alaa Ali Sep 1 '14 at 16:45
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    any information on hardware != all the required information (which in some cases are not even hardware related, but included nonetheless). Some cases where I vote "unclear what you are asking" miss at least one critical piece of information that would help to solve OP problem, or help to point out the causes of the problem. Now, there are other cases where there's no information at all to diagnostic the issue. – Braiam Sep 1 '14 at 17:16
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The criteria to close posts have one common goal: improve findability of good posts / answers and prevent useless weight on the site. In some cases, you are pretty sure a post will become useless weight, although it does not fit 100% in one of the existing criteria.

In the case of "unclear what you are asking" that includes the situation in which a question or problem is clear, but cannot be answered without additional information. The poster however seems to have left the building, and does not reply on valid requests for additional information within a reasonable amount of time. In these cases, many times I vote to close as "unclear what you are asking", simply because you cannot split the criteria to close into a list of two pages to fit all possible (valid) reasons to close.

At the same time, to judge if the quality of a request for additional information is sufficient, you need to be familiar enough with the subject to decide. If not, the review should be skipped.

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    This. I don't know how many times I have to shout that the objective is quality, not helping OP. – Braiam Sep 1 '14 at 15:52
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Y'all (except Jacob) are missing the fact that "Unclear what you are asking" means not only literally "is unclear what your question is" but also means "is impossible to solve your problem with the amount of information provided". This is the complete usage of the close reason as explained by Stack Exchange Community Manager Shog9:

There are three types of questions:

  1. Those that clearly state a specific problem and provide sufficient information for knowledgeable answerers to identify a solution.

  2. Those that fail to state a specific problem, but provide sufficient contextual information for knowlegeable answerers to guess at both a problem and a solution.

  3. Those that fail to identify either a problem, a context, or a desired outcome.

Only #1 is not "unclear"! #2 could be edited by any sufficiently-skilled person to make it clear. #3 requires input from either the author or a psychic to become clear. Therefore...

Barring the intervention of an editor, #2 and #3 should be closed as "unclear what you're asking."

So, the question you refer to are of the mix of #2 and #3 (is that even possible?), they identify the problem and what they want to accomplish, but lack the required information to give a concise and precise answer.

Answering a question shouldn't be a guessing game. That lowers the total quality of the site and shuns experts.


Now the specific example:

I tried VLC, KM player and Movie player as well. None of them work.

Movie player shows error. VLC and KM player do nothing. Whats the solution?

I use Ubuntu 12.04. Please explain elaborately.

"Movie player shows error" why in the world you don't post the error message as well? I can phantom several, thousands of errors from "file not found" to "segfault (core dumped)" and each of them would have their specific solution. I wouldn't write an answer without being at least 99% sure it would totally solve the problem as written, the probabilities that it could are the same that it could not. So, at the end of the day, nobody would be sure what exactly solves the problem as posed in the question as any answer would do.

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I think if a question seems very unlikely to be answerable by anyone, because it's missing details, then closing it as "unclear what you're asking" is the right thing to do.

Many, though not all, questions currently being closed as unclear fit that description.

But if a question would simply benefit from more details--even if the benefit would be very great--but looks like it could or might be answerable without them, it should not be closed.

If a question is clear, specific, and detailed enough to answer, it's clear. Otherwise, it's unclear.

Sometimes this is a judgment call, and knowing whether or not a question provides sufficient information for an answer often involves technical knowledge on the part of the reviewer. When we really don't know, we should click Skip.

  • ...then closing it as "unclear what you're asking" is the right thing to do. I would disagree on that. If a person asks "I just installed Ubuntu and there is no icon to connect to WiFi!" (of which a lot of variations we see), the most logical thing to do is ask the user for some output. This is a question that is "very unlikely to be answerable by anyone, because it's missing details", but it should definitely not be closed. Yeah, you could say that it "involves technical knowledge on the part of the reviewer", but we don't even know what WiFi adaptor he has. – Alaa Ali Sep 1 '14 at 1:40
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    @AlaaAli If a question doesn't have enough information about the problem to be answered, then at least most of the time--including in your example about wifi--it's not a clear description of the problem. In a certain sense it's clear: we know what the words mean. We also know what "There was some error at some point while installing Ubuntu. It was shown in an error message. I don't remember the details" means. That'd be closed as unclear, without controversy. (Regarding "technical knowledge," I just mean that sometimes to know if something is clear or not, one has to know about the subject.) – Eliah Kagan Sep 1 '14 at 1:44
  • I'm thinking about it from the asker's perspective. There was some error at some point while installing Ubuntu. It was shown in an error message. I don't remember the details. How do I fix it? If you tell them Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking, ... – Alaa Ali Sep 1 '14 at 1:51
  • ... they'll be thinking um, my problem is specific. I can't install Ubuntu. Highlight exactly what I need? I need to install Ubuntu. It's hard to tell exactly what I'm asking? I'm asking how to fix my Ubuntu installation problem. Right? This also applies to the example question in my post. I know this might be...too "extreme", but it's the truth =). A new user would be confused. If everyone agrees with what you're saying, then I would say the "unclear" explanation text should be reworded because it does not explicitly say "give us more details on the problem". – Alaa Ali Sep 1 '14 at 1:52
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    @AlaaAli We should usually comment to explain how the question should be improved. Such comments should address specifics of the question, and usually cannot be precanned. Most of the time, commenting on unclear questions to request clarification is quite necessary. (In extreme cases where the OP is clearly putting forth no effort, I'd consider it optional.) But commenting and VTCing as unclear are not mutually exclusive--we can do both, when both are appropriate. Keeping truly unclear questions open may also fool askers into thinking they might get help when really no one can help them yet. – Eliah Kagan Sep 1 '14 at 1:58
  • I completely agree with all that. What I'm arguing is that users have been using "unclear" votes far too many times, when only a comment is necessary. – Alaa Ali Sep 1 '14 at 2:03
  • Do you have the ability to tell how many "unclear" votes are in the queue right now? – Alaa Ali Sep 1 '14 at 2:04
  • Darn, your last comment should be in the answer. – Braiam Sep 1 '14 at 15:45
  • BTW, bold to "When we really don't know, we should click Skip." Reviewers should love that bottom, I use it several times. – Braiam Sep 1 '14 at 15:51
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I've noticed this as well, but on the Raspberry Pi Stack Exchange, not here (I don't have the rep to view that review queue here on AU.)

However, I believe what I've seen on RPi.SE holds true in this case.

Point 1:

This option should be used if there's no real question, and the asker does not really give a clear problem that he needs to fix, right? That's what I'm thinking.

I would agree with you there. Unclear what you're asking means that nowhere in the question (title or body) does the OP give a clear (to the flagger) question, and neither does he give any clear indication with what his issue pertains.

Point 2:

The problem is crystal clear, he doesn't need to add additional details to highlight exactly what he needs, and it's easy to tell exactly what he's asking. It's just that there's not enough information on the actual problem.

As JourneymanGeek said in his comment

I'd consider lack of information to be a cause of non clarity. The OP can always add more information to clarify, and this autoflags for reopening

This is very true, but part of the problem is, many people see an incomplete or information-lacking question and simply flag as unclear, without leaving any comment telling the OP how to fix this. This is a key part of the issue. If more people commented, many of these questions could be resolved without closing them and then re-opening.

Point 3:

Is this question being flagged correctly?

I would say, in the case of the example question, no. The question is quite clear. We just need more information on exactly what the issue is. I can see quite clearly that the issue is that VLC, KM Player, and Movie player (guessing it's the default, Totem) won't play videos or MP3s.

In this case, I wouldn't flag as unclear what you're asking, I would simply comment, asking for more information.

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    "If more people commented, many of these questions could be resolved without closing them and then re-opening". Yes, this! If a simple comment was posted, asker updates question, someone posts an answer. Closing and re-opening is just useless. – Alaa Ali Sep 1 '14 at 1:31

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