I find that some questions that are voted off-topic most certainly should be; for example if someone is asking something that can be easily looked up in a dictionary. On the other hand, questions that are too open-ended are often indicating a deeper unasked question that is more specific.

This is the most recent example; I am impelled to post this because I have found myself writing useful answers to questions that are under consideration for closing on several other occasions.

The OP is asking if we might come up with some cool expressions that will impress the jury on his writing exam. Of course, that's too open-ended for us to be able to come up with anything useful. However, the OP is laboring under the misconception that he needs to find some fancy expressions that will impress the jurists in order to get top marks. This is obviously untrue, so he can be usefully told that he needs to focus on stating his position clearly instead of writing to impress. Since this may not be true in the poster's native language (their local culture might place an emphasis on beauty over clarity, for example), it fits the purpose of ELL to make this clear.

People often come up with "half-solutions" to the problems that they perceive, describe those half-solutions, and ask for help on making them whole. In such a situation, it is often the case that the half-solution is entirely the wrong approach. If we are to help as well as we may, it is often necessary to step back and assess why they are asking the question, and answer in such a way as to undo a misperception further back in their line of reasoning.

As a general point, I submit to the group that looking for reasons to vote to close is not as conducive to growth as looking for reasons not to. I'd like to suggest that we work a little harder to "read between the lines" and pull out the underlying question that is really being asked before voting to close a post. While discouraging "help vampires" from wasting everyone's time is a great idea, driving people away when they are sincerely interested in learning is a bad idea.

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    Can you think of any other examples you'd like to add to the post? I think that would help people decide if this is a trend or not.
    – user230
    May 5, 2014 at 7:49
  • I'll add them as they come up, if they do.
    – BobRodes
    May 7, 2014 at 18:38
  • ell.stackexchange.com/questions/22911/… . The guy isn't asking someone to write something for him, he's asking what the right word is, as most of the answering posts seemed to understand when WendiKidd closed it. Strangely, I couldn't edit it to make that clear either.
    – BobRodes
    May 7, 2014 at 18:39
  • That's a bad example because it's a rejected migration from ELU. Additionally, it has FOUR 1-3 line answers without any references or sources. That alone is a red flag. May 8, 2014 at 16:21
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    @JonathanGarber I'm not sure I agree with you, and here's why. First, the migration was rejected from ELU because the topic was closed, not the other way around. Next, while I agree these answers could be longer, I don't see that that issue is relevant to the concern I'm raising in my post. Again, I'm concerned that we are perhaps too quick to close a question when some advice or a request for clarification would be more appropriate. Since I believe I could have answered this question appropriately; I submit that it is a good example of the point I'm trying to make.
    – BobRodes
    May 8, 2014 at 16:49
  • Perhaps I should have said "whose answers are ALL 1-3 lines long without cites". I don't deny that there are 1-3 line answers on the site unclosed. But most of those are alongside other answers that DO expand. Additionally, the whole POINT of closure is for the asker to edit the question into shape. If clarification is needed, the question should not be answered, since those answers could later be invalidated by edits. (And yes, I know that that won't work in this specific instance because the question can't be edited. I'm fully confident you could have written a fine answer for it.) May 8, 2014 at 16:54
  • I guess I'm saying that I have rather more often than I like found answers that have been closevoted and for which I, personally, do not need further clarification to understand. I don't find myself special, either. :)
    – BobRodes
    May 11, 2014 at 15:06
  • Another. The suggestion to close this one as off-topic because it "appears to be a request for a software recommendation" stems from an OP asking if there are "techniques or web tools" to find better words. I suggested that she use a thesaurus. Strictly speaking, this is a web tool, and web tools are software. However, if recommending a thesaurus is off-topic, then we deprive ourselves of a solution that many ell's will find useful.
    – BobRodes
    May 14, 2014 at 19:03
  • @BobRodes "First, the migration was rejected from ELU because the topic was closed, not the other way around." Actually, just so you know, I closed it because I was intending to reject the migration. Had the question been posted directly to ELL, I might have asked for clarification and coaxed the OP into coming up with a better question. But low-effort migrations are going to be rejected. Only questions which are already high-quality should be migrated. So there are different standards for migrated Qs :)
    – WendiKidd
    May 21, 2014 at 3:00
  • @WendiKidd No offense intended (and none taken either), but I don't see anything in your explanation that gives me cause to change my statement. Perhaps we can have a reason to close that says that there isn't enough effort put into the question?
    – BobRodes
    May 21, 2014 at 3:47
  • @BobRodes We do have a close reason like that: This question should include more details than have been provided here. Please edit to add the research you have done in your efforts to answer the question, or provide more context. See: Details, Please. That's part of the intent behind that one, anyway. To clarify, my comment was not directed at your entire meta post, simply at your comment about the rejected migrations: I don't really pay much attention to which close reason I select when it's a migration rejection. I know that the Q doesn't meet quality standards for migration (which is
    – WendiKidd
    May 21, 2014 at 15:32
  • a different level of quality requirement than if it had been originally posted to ELL, because you have to really be above the bar to be worthy of migration) and all I'm trying to do is reject the migration. To do that, the question has to be closed--that's the mechanics of migration rejection. I haven't really paid much attention to which reason I use, but now you've made me start thinking about it, and I'll use the Details one in the future to prevent confusion; that reason is re: quality, which is usually why I reject migrations. (And no worries about offending; discussion is good!)
    – WendiKidd
    May 21, 2014 at 15:33
  • I hear you. I don't know why you have to be "above the bar to be worthy of migration", though. Seems to me that if someone is trying to learn English, and we're trying to help him, and he puts his question in the wrong place, we should try to help him if we can. I don't see the relevance of holding him to a higher standard just because he put his question in the wrong place.
    – BobRodes
    May 21, 2014 at 15:48
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    Also, if we're trying to help a person learn English, I don't see how not paying attention to which close reason you select when it's a migration rejection supports that cause. If I'm on the other end of this, I'm the OP let's say, and it seems to me that I'm not asking anyone to write something for me, but that's why y'all won't answer my question, then how am I going to get a sense that this site is interested in helping me? I'd be better off being simply told that I need to repost the question in the ell site. So maybe we need to bag the whole migration idea altogether.
    – BobRodes
    May 21, 2014 at 15:51
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    I missed the "I'll use the details one in future" in your last post, sorry. Still, that begs the question of how the poster can provide details. If I can't edit a rejected migration, can the OP? One other thing, for simplicity's sake: why do we need two standards of question anyway, one for migrated ones and one for original ones? Wouldn't it be simpler to just tell the poster to repost in ELL, and forget about migrating questions?
    – BobRodes
    May 21, 2014 at 15:57

1 Answer 1


I'd like to suggest that we work a little harder to "read between the lines" and pull out the underlying question that is really being asked

I concur. Sometimes we answer the presented question, and miss the underlying issue that confused the O.P. to begin with. (That said, more often than not, the O.P.s are partly responsible, because they fail to provide sufficient details and context.)

That said, I don't think we are necessarily "overusing" the close tool. When those who answer are forced to work harder and harder to discover the underlying issue, O.P.'s can potentially become lazier and lazier by asking some bare-bones question, putting the onus on everyone else to figure out why they are confused, and then provide an answer to their question.

Closed questions are put on hold, not deleted, thereby giving O.P.s ample opportunity to revise their questions and provide the more details and context. This not only improves the question, but also improves the usefulness of the site as a whole. For every carefully crafted question that is eventually put on hold or closed, I can probably show you two others that simply fall into that other category, like this one:

The ignition swith [sic] is hard to turn on.

Does the sentence above sound correct?

I think it's imperative for questions like that to be closed until they are improved.

There's a famous expression that goes: You are what you eat. Here on the Stack Exchange, we are what we tolerate. If questions with scant details are answered, then questions with scant details may become all we get.

(As a footnote, in the case you point to in your question, I think the O.P. actually did a pretty good job of writing the question. There are indeed two sides to this coin, which is why I upvoted your question.)

So, are we overusing the close tool? Maybe, on occasion – but the tool is still doing its valuable job, too.

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    I think it's imperative for questions like that to be closed until they are improved. This. It's very important to remember that closure isn't permanent. (Neither is deletion, technically, but that's a different issue.) Question closure is simply a communication of "this question needs improvement. No answers can be added until this improvement occurs." It's certainly not "you are bad and should feel bad", or anything of the sort, but I think we tend to lose sight of that. May 9, 2014 at 14:49
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    @J.R. I'll agree entirely with your last sentence. :) My reason for posting the question was not to say that we are doing it wrong, but that we probably need to think about this a bit. OP's often don't have great English skills, and we don't want to drive them away by requiring them to have good English skills before we will admit their questions. On the other hand, we need to curb any sort of careless thinking in the formulation of questions as well. Balance in all things and all that.
    – BobRodes
    May 11, 2014 at 15:11
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    @JonathanGarber I don't disagree with your comments, but I'm afraid that I can't see what they have to do with the point that I'm making. You are justifying the closing of questions that ought to be closed; I have said the same in the first sentence of my post. To use the standard you put forward, a communication that "no answers can be added until this improvement occurs" is a miscommunication if answers can in fact be added without such improvement. My point is that we need to perhaps be more careful to avoid miscommunications such as this so as not to drive people away.
    – BobRodes
    May 11, 2014 at 15:27
  • Very well then. I see what you mean, but I think we'll have to disagree on where the line is drawn. At this point we should see what the community in general thinks that line should be. (Now if only there were a way to encourage more Meta participation...) May 12, 2014 at 12:50
  • @JonathanG - Everyone has their own place where they draw the line. That's generally a good thing, so long as the overall community stays balanced. It's probably best that not everyone is so easy to please, and that some have a keen ability to find the question in the confusion. If everyone drew their line in the same place, what would be the point of needing five votes? I appreciate diversity of opinion; we don't need an army of clones.
    – J.R. Mod
    May 12, 2014 at 13:56
  • @J.R.: Indeed. In no way do I wish to diminish that. My remark was more of a "we aren't going to convince each other where the line is, so now that this discussion has occurred, the community at large needs to weigh in." If I am taking a harder line than the majority here at ELL, that's useful information. Same thing if Bob is taking a more lenient stance. But so far it's just the three of us having a conversation, and you can't get useful consensus from three. That's more what I was trying to get at, is that we want MORE than just the three people talking. May 12, 2014 at 14:15
  • I agree. Consensus without bias is the goal. :)
    – BobRodes
    May 14, 2014 at 19:06
  • @JonathanGarber - There may be only three people talking, but the question has 80 views now, so maybe more people are following on than we realize.
    – J.R. Mod
    May 15, 2014 at 21:12
  • @J.R. For the record, I just voted to close a post in which the person asked what "top" meant, in the sense of an article of clothing. Of course, this is easily findable in a dictionary. So yes, the tool is indeed doing its valuable job. Even I use it. :)
    – BobRodes
    May 16, 2014 at 20:45

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