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This question was asking why we currently close as "unclear what you are asking" when a question doesn't give enough information:

Lots of "unclear what you're asking" close votes

The answers there clearly explain why, i.e. we want questions to be answerable. So far, so good.

However, I feel like there should be a better option for this. Sometimes indeed a question is clear and understandable, but the OP didn't provide enough information. Even worse, sometimes OP doesn't respond even after someone asks for the output of a command or something.

I think there should be an option that specifically explains the closure is due to the OP not providing enough information like log entries, software version, etc.

Ideally there should be something that we could use to VTC immediately when a question lacks sufficient information, but is still written in clear English. Currently, I am a bit reluctant to VTC immediately as "unclear" if OP doesn't provide information because I feel like I should mention it first, before using a closing reason that is about clarity rather than completeness.

I know other communities follow a different approach. For instance, on ServerFault a question of mine got closed as "unclear" basically each time I edited it, until some mod was happy that I added enough log files. But IMHO this "insta-closing" approach cannot work here until we write a better wording for "your question is incomplete, please edit it as you were asked to do in the comments".

"Unclear what you are asking" is better for the "What do you want to accomplish? Your goal is not comprehensible" kind of questions.

What is the community consensus on this?

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    I'm pretty sure "unclear what you're asking" is intended to cover this. Seems it could be difficult to distinguish between unclear-what-you-want unclear and lacking-information unclear. Plus, we used up all our custom close reasons... – Zanna Jun 13 '17 at 14:11
  • Not sure if we "should be able to close the question immediately" for reasons of lacking info. Many times, inexperienced users are not sure what info is important. We should at least give them the chance to add it afterwards on request. Only close as unclear if it won't come. – Jacob Vlijm Jun 13 '17 at 15:22
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    @JacobVlijm questions are put on hold for a while before being labelled "closed" for exactly that reason - then edits by OP automatically kick them to the reopen review. We are giving them that chance even if we vote to close. – muru Jun 13 '17 at 15:33
  • @muru True, but when happy closers are on steam, voting is often done without even looking at it. I must admit in severe cases of lacking info I vot to close though. – Jacob Vlijm Jun 13 '17 at 15:37
  • @Zanna, yes currently it's meant to cover it because we don't have a better reason. If a question lacks information the motivation itself is currently unclear. Very meta I would say. :) – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 13 '17 at 23:06
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    @muru indeed but I would use the VTC more often (to get the "desired" on hold effect) if the motivation for which I am closing were actually available as a choice. 70% of the time when I VTC as unclear the question itself is pretty clear, it's just that the hold status comes handy in case OP does not provide the required information. But this is hardly good. Compare for instance with the similar, but better worded, "unclear" reason on ServerFault. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 13 '17 at 23:08
  • @Zanna also, the line is not so muddled as you seem to imply. If a question is in broken English or doesn't contain any question mark then we shall close as unclear. If OP clearly stated their problem and added details, but we want the contents of a very specific log file, we shall close as "please provide more information". Clarity is a thing, completeness is another. Regarding custom close reasons: the first one "not about Ubuntu" is pretty similar to the last one "this has nothing to do with Ubuntu". But I digress. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 13 '17 at 23:13
  • Sorry guys, my previous comments with the word "motivation" should be read with the word "motive" or "reason". I can't edit them anymore... Gosh, I hate false friends! I think too much in Italian. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 13 '17 at 23:15
  • Neither broken English (which I can almost always fix) nor the trivial lack of a question mark (even more fixable) is sufficient for unclarity. I don't see a "nothing to do with Ubuntu" reason - am I missing something? – Zanna Jun 14 '17 at 5:01
  • @Zanna when I talk about a lack of question mark I am not talking about typos. I am talking about questions that do not contain any question. Like posts that literally say "when I boot my computer, it shows this icon". Now those are "unclear what you are asking". Not posts that ask "I have a problem with WiFi dongle model blah, the connection drops after a few minutes, my Ubuntu version is X. How do I get a stable connection?". The latter is not unclear, it is perfectly fine even if we need to ask the output of lsusb or something. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 14 '17 at 7:29
  • Broken English can lead to a point when you read a paragraphs of missing articles, verbs, no punctuation... Posts that make you think "WUT?". Again, I am not talking about typos, really. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 14 '17 at 7:30
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    I'm not talking about typos either and it's true that occasionally questions stubbornly resist the human parse, but I find it's rare. I fix a lot of questions that have confusing English, because I can understand the intended meaning. When the post says "it shows this icon", the question can generally be assumed to be "what's this icon and how do I stop seeing it?" Even if such assumptions can't be made, all we have to do is ask OP what they are trying to do. How is that so different from asking for the output of lsusb etc? – Zanna Jun 14 '17 at 7:36
  • However, if you think the unclear message could be reworded to help OP more, I would be willing to support that... – Zanna Jun 14 '17 at 7:55
  • @Zanna the difference is between "I don't understand what you want" and "I do understand what you want but I actually need a little detail that you didn't mention". I will try to propose a different wording then later today or tomorrow. :) – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 14 '17 at 8:31
  • Interestingly, I just found a similar Q here, but it just asks "why don't we have this option?": meta.askubuntu.com/q/5628/271 – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 14 '17 at 12:13
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I guess my objection to your proposal is that I see no functional difference in terms of site management, as well as plenty of grey area, between the two kinds of unclear you describe.

An unclear question is one that requires further input from OP to become answerable. It doesn't seem to me to make any difference whether it's unclear because it's poorly written, or because it fails to include necessary information - the effect is the same.

The problem I do see is that when we need the OP to fix their question, we should comment to at least give them a hint on how to make their question clear, if we can, and that does not happen often enough imho. I'm guilty of voting to close as unclear without commenting myself, especially when I'm unsure of how to get the required information, but there are probably salvageable questions lost that way.

  • Well, there is no functional difference in any close reason except for duplicates. The point is not functionality but providing reasons that make sense. An unclear question is a post that either does not contain a question or one where the goal is totally not understandable. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 14 '17 at 7:25
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    @AndreaLazzarotto I don't agree. If the question is off-topic, the action is to migrate or send OP to a more appropriate site. If it's opinion-based, then maybe OP can edit to make it less so, and if too broad, they can split into multiple posts or narrow down the problem. The close reasons should tell OP what they need to do. Unclear means "you need to add something so that we can understand and answer". I think trying to split that into subcategories would lead to confusion. – Zanna Jun 14 '17 at 7:31
  • I don't share your definition. I would call both those categories "incomplete questions", but "unclear" is only one of the two. Can I actually post two different self answers here and let the community vote on those? Should I make them CW? – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 14 '17 at 12:15
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    @AndreaLazzarotto of course you can do that if you want, but it's pointless to make them CW :) – Zanna Jun 14 '17 at 12:25
  • OK I've finally found the time to write down two alternative suggestions. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 18 '17 at 15:37
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Clarity is different from completeness

The current explanation shown when a question is closed as unclear what you are asking is confusing if it's used under incomplete questions.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines clear as:

able to be understood

Dictionary.com defines complete as:

having all parts or elements; lacking nothing; whole; entire; full

Example of "unclear"

Posts like this one should be considered unclear:

When I boot my computer, it shows this icon. [Picture]

This kind of question is unclear because the goal of OP cannot be understood. Actually, this is a (made-up) example of a post that doesn't even contain a question. Therefore it should be closed using the current reason:

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.

Emphasis is mine. This close reason makes sense because OP did not clarify what is the goal.

Example of "incomplete"

Conversely, a post like this one should be considered incomplete:

I have a problem with WiFi dongle model [X], the connection drops after a few minutes, my Ubuntu version is [Y]. How do I get a stable connection?

This kind of question should not be considered unclear because the goal of OP can be understood. However, if it lacks relevant details like the output of lsusb for instance, it should be closed using a different reason like additional details required.

I suggest wording similar to this, inspired from Server Fault:

Questions seeking configuration or diagnostic help must include the specific problem or error and sufficient information about the configuration and environment to reproduce it. Please provide additional details and output required in the comments, if any.

Also, comments asking for this additional information should be left whenever possible.

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One close reason is fine, but we should clarify it

There is no need to differentiate between unclear questions and incomplete questions when closing. However, the wording should be tweaked a bit because now we are only focusing on unclear question (i.e. those where the goal of the OP cannot be understood).

Server Fault has much better wording that could serve as inspiration for our revamped unclear or incomplete close reason:

Questions seeking installation, configuration or diagnostic help must include the desired end state, the specific problem or error, sufficient information about the configuration and environment to reproduce it, and attempted solutions. Questions without a clear problem statement are not useful to other readers and are unlikely to get good answers.

We should probably be a bit less strict on the "attempted solutions" when dealing with beginners having complicated issues.

  • I kind of feel the English level required to understand that wording may be too high for some of the people writing unclear questions. Also, there are many very short simple questions that are good and useful, and many that don't describe what most people would consider a problem, I think. It feels a bit aggressive too! I see how it helps OP to understand what they need to do in the case that nobody comments to tell them, but I don't think we can expect the knowledge of how to do that from all of our audience, which unlike ServerFault's is largely non-professional. – Zanna Jun 18 '17 at 17:44
  • When I wrote “could serve as inspiration” I didn't mean to copy it verbatim, but just to write an explanation that makes sense for incomplete questions. It is indeed aggressive but we shall not copy it as is. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 18 '17 at 18:06
  • oh I'm sorry I think I misunderstood, I thought this was your suggestion... – Zanna Jun 18 '17 at 18:07
  • @Zanna no worries. I think it's difficult to come up with a general statement about any possible kind of missing goal/info in a few words. I will try to think about a specific suggestion if I can. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 18 '17 at 18:12

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