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I've seen many a times questions are put on hold as unclear within some hours of posting. For example, this question was closed within 3 hours of posting.

Suppose in some country there is a user who posted a question and slept. Meanwhile his question was put on hold after, say, 6 hours of posting. He got no time to improve his post in those 6 hours. And if he improves that question after those 6 hours, it may take up a while to reopen the question. And if another user finds the question interesting and knows the answer, he can't answer it since it is now put on hold and at later stage when question is reopened he forgot to answer that question which was not marked as favorite or lost the interest. We may lose a great answer. Sometimes, I wonder that this might also create a negative impact on the earlier user even when it is not intended to be.

In my opinion, we should cast close votes especially the most loved "unclear" vote at least after 2 days of posting when there is a scope of improvement in the question. Also, closing a question require 5 votes and if you are the fifth one to vote (from question page or even in review queue), I'd like to urge to take sometime and think before closing because that last vote might close the question (may be) incorrectly and indefinite time. Since closing takes no time and sometimes reopening takes appreciable time.

The main goal of posting this is to attract opinions of different users and aware others about that.

  • Think you have a point. 3x. Like you say, a post is more easily closed than reopened. I can't say I am innocent though. I remember quite a few occasions I shot on sight. – Jacob Vlijm Mar 19 at 17:54
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    Using a mint live session might be the cause. Mind that this probably also makes it likely he is using Mint as it is tagged mint too. Soooooooo in this case for that reason I might disagree with @JacobVlijm and your stance Kulfy – Rinzwind Mar 19 at 18:05
  • @Rinzwind But the screenshot looks more like of a typical Ubuntu terminal. The example might be wrong but my intention is not. You people are around for many years whereas I'm here since last 11 months. So, you might have seen more cases like that. – Kulfy Mar 19 at 18:14
  • @Rinzwind I wasn't referring to the specific case, even didn't see it :) – Jacob Vlijm Mar 19 at 18:23
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    I myself tend to close as unclear if it is a one-liner that spawns more than 3 questions so would not have closed this q (besides my earlier comment making it off topic ;) ) waiting 2 days though will also allow 2 days of crap answers to be posted. – Rinzwind Mar 19 at 18:31
  • @Rinzwind Agreed with your first point but in that case it should be closed as "too broad". Isn't it? Moreover, crap answers always find their way ;-) – Kulfy Mar 19 at 18:38
  • I posted a comment on that question, asking for clarification. I believe that I saw it in the 'unclear' queue, but I have seen an awful lot marked that way in the past few months, and even though I don't know how to answer many of those questions seem clear to me. – Charles Green Mar 20 at 19:58
  • Here's one from five hours ago. Clarification was sought shortly thereafter. I've just voted to close it as a "nudge" to the poster. I don't see any harm in voting to close even immediately if a question is unclear. Voting to close isn't something that can't be reversed later on if the poster is interested and can improve the question. – DK Bose Mar 21 at 6:00
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    @DKBose interesting example you give. All the info is already in the question. As the title sais, the application is Code or VSCode, OP even added an image to show us the application's icon and what he exactly wants. No reason to close as unclear for that. – Jacob Vlijm Mar 21 at 6:41
  • Note to downvoters: Consider leaving a comment or an answer with your opinion. – Kulfy Mar 21 at 6:44
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    @CharlesGreen That's what I meant. Instead of just downvoting/closing to vote, we should make a habit of leaving constructive comments and try to work with OP to make the post more clear. – Kulfy Mar 21 at 6:47
  • @Kulfy Another fairly quick "Unclear" https://askubuntu.com/questions/1127450/error-mysql-not-would-start-and-i-dont-know-what-is-the-issue - and oddly, the OP's account with AskUbuntu seems to be gone now. – Charles Green Mar 21 at 14:33
  • @CharlesGreen First unclear close vote was mine ;-). Since OP deleted his account and I believe there is now minimal hope that this question would become clear. – Kulfy Mar 21 at 14:36
  • @Kulfy Perhaps they figured it out on their own? With the OP gone, it would appear to have no hope have having an accepted answer. – Charles Green Mar 21 at 14:38
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    or suppose working joe has 12 hour shifts, and no interwebs at work. joe is an electrician, there isnt even light yet most of the time... joe forms a question, pops off to work, comes home and his thread is closed. its not just a developing nations problem, working poeple outside IT fields use this site too. – j0h Apr 1 at 2:32
6

Closing questions is well, even when it is too fast. But it would be preferable to leave a comment explaining what they can do to improve it.

Let's take an example here:

Environment still acting up
I tried running some code to reset my proxy, and it messed with my desktop environment. I had to put the permissions back, but even after that, my background is the only thing that loads after logging in. What should I do?

What's unclear about this question:

  1. What Ubuntu version and desktop version they are running
  2. What code they run to try and reset the proxy
  3. How it exactly messed up the desktop environment - does it boot to a blank desktop? I assume so
  4. How he figured out it was a permissions issue
  5. And how he tried to (in his own words) "put the permissions back"

Most questions are in this format and truthfully, there is nothing we can do but just close them down and explain why. If it is edited, it will be pushed to the reopen review queue.

If a question is simply un-answerable, the only logical course of action is to flag and close it as "Unclear what you are asking". The time difference between when the question was asked and when it was closed shouldn't make any difference.

  • You've got a nice example of a bad question:). I'd almost do the same, with the difference that I'd keep an eye on it for a day or so, only vtc if no further details are given. What is there to loose? Once a Q is closed, reopening can take ages. Even we are human so to speak. Would you wait to see if your Q gets reopened if you've only got a background? – Jacob Vlijm Mar 20 at 7:55
  • That's indeed "unclear". But I think before finally closing (before casting that last close vote) we should look at the activity of the user, like their last login. – Kulfy Mar 20 at 9:35
6

As always, it depends

Looking at a question like:


PLZ HELP ME ASAP

error: some-error another error -> some totally unclear error
....
50-lines-of-crap
....
some-unclear-result

I'd say Shoot on sight!. In such a post is no effort whatsoever to even write down a decent question. It shouts DO MY JOB!

On the other hand, we've got plenty of unclear questions, for various reasons, where OP obviously showed some effort to explain what is the problem. He or she just didn't succeed very well.

Different perspectives

From a high(er) rep user's point of view, all seems very simple. If your question isn't understood, edit it. If you think it is incorrectly marked unclear (or as a dupe or for whatever reason), shout out in chat or meta.

From a new user's perspective however, the site and its rules can feel very much different. To have a sincere first/second question closed as unclear in no time can feel intimidating and hostile, and the way to appeal is often unknown.

Do we need to change the rules?

No. We just need to be aware of the perspective of (mostly) new users. The criterion for a quick closure is then the (lack of) effort we sense in a question to explain what is the issue. In case user at least did an attempt, we should try to work with him or her to improve. If all fails, we can always close eventually.

In practice however, questions are often easier closed than reopened.

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    I believe there is no need to change rules but the habits. Like why you downvoted the question, why you think this question should be closed (not considering duplicate case) if you disagree/want to add in existing constructive comments. – Kulfy Mar 20 at 9:29
  • @Kulfy Exactly. StackExchange rules in general are fairly flexible, but users and their habits can be less flexible, and especially if users are stubborn and insist their way is the only way. That ain't right, so users should be fairly flexible as well. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Mar 20 at 23:11
6

Answers to unclear questions rely on guesswork. This can lead to answerers barking up the wrong tree, bad answers, good answers to the wrong question, and a host of confusion. It's best that unclear questions are closed immediately, until they can be clarified. Once they're clarified, they should be reopened, also as fast as possible.

Closing unclear questions quickly is a good thing. It helps to prevent wasted effort and confusion.

  • also think that unclear questions barely result in "great" answers. – Martin Zeitler Mar 30 at 23:21
4

There is no such thing as closing bad questions too fast. If a question is not a good fit for the site, it should be closed to both indicate that it is off-topic or a duplicate and to prevent it from being answered.

Suppose in some country there is a user who posted a question and slept. Meanwhile his question was put on hold after, say, 6 hours of posting. He got no time to improve his post in those 6 hours. And if he improves that question after those 6 hours, it may take up a while to reopen the question.

It's okay if a questions doesn't get improved before it's closed. Questions edited within 5 days of closure are sent to Reopen Votes review. Assuming you don't sleep for 5 days straight, you'll have time to improve your post.

Sometimes it does take time to go through the reopen process, but when you ask a question, it's important to be patient and accept that it might take some time to get an answer.

And if another user finds the question interesting and knows the answer, he can't answer it since it is now put on hold and at later stage when question is reopened he forgot to answer that question which was not marked as favorite or lost the interest.

Question closure means that the question shouldn't be answered, even if someone knows the answer. If the OP ends up improving the question after it gets closed and is then good enough for reopening, then it should be reopened pretty quickly.

In the unlikely event that someone comes across the post between the narrow window where the post is closed but should be opened and gets reopened, then they'll just have to wait for it to be reopened, or not answer at all.


Finally, closing questions slower isn't gonna make that big of a positive difference. If someone's not willing to respond to feedback soon after a question is asked, they should not have asked in the first place. The OP received constructive feedback on how to improve the question far before it was even closed; he should've edited first. And even though he ended up editing after, the question was still reopened.

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    "If a question is not a good fit for the site, it should be closed to both indicate that it is off-topic or a duplicate and to prevent it from being answered." The (this) question is about unclear, not about dupes or off-topic ones. "a question is not a good fit for the site" - You don't know yet, since the question isn't fully clear. Work with OP to clarify if that is applicable. As said, a Q is easier closed than reopened. If I have a real problem NOW, It is frustrating to see and wait if my Q gets reopened, or maybe not. – Jacob Vlijm Mar 20 at 7:37
  • You can't guarantee a question to be duplicate or off-topic if it's unclear. Secondly, "it's important to be patient and accept that it might take some time to get an answer.: But what if question is closed before getting an answer. This statement IMHO contradicts with the intention of the question. – Kulfy Mar 20 at 9:25
  • "Question closure means that the question shouldn't be answered": Shouldn't? I think you meant "can't". "The OP received constructive feedback on how to improve the question far": Sometimes that far is just few hours may be minutes.You can't guarantee a question to be duplicate or off-topic if it's unclear. Secondly, "it's important to be patient and accept that it might take some time to get an answer.: But what if question is closed before getting an answer. This statement IMHO contradicts with the intention of the question. – Kulfy Mar 20 at 9:25
  • "Question closure means that the question shouldn't be answered": Shouldn't? I think you meant "can't". "The OP received constructive feedback on how to improve the question far before it was even closed": Sometimes that far is just few hours may be minutes. PS: I ran out of limit while posting the comment. That's why I split that into three – Kulfy Mar 20 at 9:26
  • The close privilege decription mentions questions closure for sufficient similarity, closure for lack of clarity, or closure for being off-topic. The off-topic questions can be answered before they're closed and potentially migrated to other sites (along with your answer), or they could be made applicable to Ubuntu and then answered, but technically there's no requirement to answer those. There's no prohibition that you shouldn't answer any questions. Exception is of course questions about doing something illegal. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Mar 20 at 23:20
2

On a lighter note, would it be rude to post something like the following comment?

Please provide more information. As it stands your question provides insufficient data.

  • I don't think that it is rude. Asking for clarification is always better than closing it without asking (which sometimes do happen here). – Kulfy Mar 25 at 7:36
  • @Kulfy I was referring to the image ;) – DK Bose Mar 25 at 8:25
  • A picture is worth thousand words :) – Kulfy Mar 25 at 9:24
0

A lot of things are done too fast on Stack Exchange network, and close-voting is one of them. It is frustrating and bureaucratic from the point of view of of OP, who might be not on site at the moment or is simply new to everything - Linux, Ubuntu, Stack Exchange system, down and up votes. However, at the moment of voting the question indeed may be unclear, regardless of OP's situation. The good news is that there's a few ways we can approach this.

  • Establish point of contact with the user to ask for clarifications(so that you get notified when they're back), maybe mention to OP to not take close votes and down votes too personally

  • Bookmark the question or use "Favorites" feature to check back on the question.

  • If you know what this is all about, edit OP's post and try to find a duplicate or post an answer. Maybe explain in the comments what the question is so close voters can see.

Questions closed as unclear still can be voted to reopen once they're clarified or there's user who can explain what the user actually wants and edit the post for OP. The trick is that voting as unclear doesn't mean abandoning the post. More users need to get into habits of communicating with OP and watching for edits/clarifications.

  • More users need to get into habits of communicating with OP and watching for edits/clarifications.: Strongly Agreed!!! :) – Kulfy Mar 20 at 9:30
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    "Establish point of contact with the user to ask for clarifications" voting to close IS a way to establish contact to ask for clarification. – Rinzwind Mar 21 at 15:33
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    @Rinzwind It's not. When you communicate with the user directly, that's establishing point of contact. Think about how would that work if you have bug report or service ticket, but tech support just closed it without even telling you why, what's wrong with your submitted ticket. That's both rude and doesn't help neither the site to have better questions and better users, nor it helps the user resolve their issue. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Mar 21 at 15:40

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