At the moment, one of the off-topic close reasons is as follows:

Basic questions on spelling, meaning or pronunciation are off-topic as they should be answered using a dictionary.

There is nothing wrong with it per se, but I just feel that it is too "direct" (for lack of a better explanation).

Would the following be better?

Basic questions on spelling, meaning or pronunciation are off-topic as they should be able to be answered using a dictionary.

To me, the addition of "able to be" makes for a more friendly and encouraging message.

  • 3
    Hmm . . . Dunno, it just seems, too minor.
    – M.A.R.
    Aug 30, 2015 at 9:24

3 Answers 3


I think your proposed change is a good one.

That said, I think the main problem here is not phrasing of the close-vote justification, but the myriad of questions that are written without including these definitions.

Hover over any downvote button on the Stack Exchange, and you'll find:

This question does not show any research effort...

The words are plain, and the implication is simple: questions should show research effort.

As I said in my comments on that question, showing research is the right antidote for question closures. If a question closed for the "dictionary" reason – however we decide to phrase that in the future – the cure is simple: (a) share what you found when you did your research, (b) explain why you are still confused and where you would like further clarification.

Let's break down the question that prompted this meta post:

Is there any difference in meaning between insurrection and uprising? Are they completely synonymous?

In my mind, that's worthy of downvotes and/or close votes, for two reasons:

  • Where is the research? As someone who might answer that question, why should I be the one to go the dictionary first? Save me the trouble.

  • Secondly, the O.P. hasn't really explained why they are confused about these two words, or how they might be planning to use them. In fact, as it's written now, I could fully answer the question like this:

No, they are not completely synonymous. Yes, there is a difference.

And there's the rub. The question is written such that I can either answer it directly (which makes for a pretty boring and unhelpful answer), or else I need to speculate about what the O.P. does not yet understand (which means I might spend a lot of time composing an answer that doesn't help at all).

Now I'll show how I think this question should have been written:

Is there any difference in meaning between insurrection and uprising? Are they completely synonymous?

I looked these words up in the dictionary, and this is what I found:

insurrection a violent uprising against an authority or government
uprising an act of resistance or rebellion; a revolt : an armed uprising.

At first, I thought maybe insurrection was just a way of saying that the uprising had been violent. But then when I read "an armed uprising" as an example, that made me wonder if the two words were more interchangeable.*

*(By the way, I don't know if that's the O.P.'s question or not – and that's the point. I'm having to guess how the words might be used, which makes it hard for me to say if they are "completely" synonymous. The O.P. might be wondering about something completely different; there is no way for me to tell from the information given.)

At least the revised question shows some research. This means:

  • I already understand what the O.P. knows about the two words, so I won't be wasting everyone's time by telling them some factoid that they already know
  • I don't have to look up the words in a dictionary myself, because I already have an authoritive definition handily available
  • I have a clearer understanding of what the O.P. wants to know – what couldn't be found during their own research.

If properly conducted, research should do one of two things: either it will clear up the problem, and you'll be able to find your own answer, or else it will verify that your problem is not trivial, and make it easier for you to express why you are confused.

There is no need for a revolution here...

As an aside, when I looked up these two words in my Mac's on-board dictionary, I found this usage note under uprising:

There are a number of ways to defy the established order or overthrow a government.

You can stage an uprising, which is a broad term referring to a small and usually unsuccessful act of popular resistance (: uprisings among angry workers all over the country).

An uprising is often the first sign of a general or widespread rebellion, which is an act of armed resistance against a government or authority; this term is usually applied after the fact to describe an act of resistance that has failed (: a rebellion against the landowners).

If it is successful, however, a rebellion may become a revolution, which often implies a war or an outbreak of violence (: the American Revolution). Although a revolution usually involves the overthrow of a government or political system by the people, it can also be used to describe any drastic change in ideas, economic institutions, or moral values (: the sexual revolution).

An insurrection is an organized effort to seize power, especially political power, while an insurgency is usually aided by foreign powers. If you're on a ship, you can stage a mutiny, which is an insurrection against military or naval authority.

But if you're relying on speed and surprise to catch the authorities off guard, you'll want to stage a putsch, which is a small, popular uprising or planned attempt to seize power.

That pretty much answers the O.P.'s question, I think. I realize that not every dictionary has the same usage notes, so the fact that I was able to find this in five minutes doesn't mean the O.P. should have been able to do the same. Still, the lack of any display of research effort is disturbing. At least a few definitions pasted in the question itself would have assured me that the O.P. has made a good-faith effort into answering the question.

Two wrongs don't make a right

Lastly, this question's comment thread had several comments worth commenting on:

Native speakers don't understand how it can be hard to discern the difference between similar words which are explained by each other even in dictionaries.

Actually, I think most of us do understand this; it's what makes ELL an interesting place for us. But if an O.P. won't tell us what they already get, and what they don't understand, then we as a community must start from scratch. (I've seen plenty of questions where someone composes an answer, and the O.P. leaves a comment beneath it, "I already understand that, but..." sigh)

Why is the same question was not put on-hold whereas was mine. I deliberately used the same format.

That question already had three close votes, which probably should have been a clue that it might not have been a format worth copying. Moreover, not every user sees every question. Some will slip through the cracks. Don't feel like you are being singled out if your question is closed while another was left open. Chances are, that means the other question should have been closed, not that your question should have remained open.

  • 1
    +1 Very well thought out and detailed. I certainly agree with you about posters including their research. I always seem to be advising users on ELU to include definitions in their answers!
    – Dog Lover
    Aug 30, 2015 at 10:36
  • 2
    Also +1, despite the fact that I don't actually agree with the first sentence (for a non-native speaker, any hypothetical increase in "friendliness" is probably more than offset by the increased opacity of the construction, so the net effect is they'll probably stop reading at that point anyway). But I'm just impressed that you can find the time to write such a lengthy, cogent, and balanced answer, noting that you also seem to be handling the lion's share of the moderation duties here lately. Aug 30, 2015 at 13:25
  • @Fumble - I don't think we can be overly friendly to new users. Not everyone who stumbles on the Stack Exchange will understand its nuances in their first week here. Anything that can be done to decrease an image of rudeness, snobbery, or elitism – real or imagined – is a good thing.
    – J.R. Mod
    Aug 31, 2015 at 9:18

I think that JR makes some great points. I would like to suggest that we do make a more major change to this close reason and include something similar to the text I included as a note to the OP. I noticed that JR almost simultaneously included a nearly identical comment on a similar question that was closed for the same reason:

My version:

If you have used a dictionary already and don't understand the differences, please edit your question and include the definitions you've read and what specifically confuses you about them.

J.R.'s version:

I'm sorry, but just about every dictionary I checked explained this pretty clearly. If you already looked this word up in a dictionary, and are still confused for some reason, then, please, paste the definition here, and explain in more detail why you are still confused.

Both of these comments were added by users and they both tell the OP how to make their question better rather than simply saying "you can't ask this question here". In our efforts to help users, we should always give them information on how to improve questions that get put "on hold".

So, my counter-proposal to your change recommendation is to make the close text read:

Basic questions on spelling, meaning or pronunciation are off-topic as they should be answered using a dictionary. If you already looked this word up in a dictionary and are still confused for some reason, then, please, paste the definition here, and explain in more detail why you are still confused.

The link to the "Details, please!" meta question is so important to this site and deserves to be viewed by every new user, so I really encourage including it in our close reasons whenever possible.

  • +1 I really like your version of the dictionary message. It's both firm and friendly.
    – Dog Lover
    Aug 30, 2015 at 22:08

This is a good discussion, and I'm going to have to think a bit to decide how I feel about it. In the meantime, though, I think there's a very important point we're missing, and I'm going to come at this from a different angle entirely:

You can not change a custom close reason.

That just isn't how the feature works; if you don't like an existing close reason, two moderators must agree to disable that close reason, which means it no longer can be used. Then a moderator must create a new close reason with the adjusted text, and then two additional moderators must approve this close reason for it to go "public".

What does this mean for us? It's not just a background process: it means that all existing questions that were closed by the old "dictionary" reason will not show up when you query the new "dictionary" close reason. When we look at our stats and try to see a pattern between these questions, how we can help users who post them, how many times that reason gets used... We're going to lose the ability to easily compare those stats, because the history has essentially disappeared (it still exists, it just isn't linked anymore).

So the question is: are the proposed edits going to change the definition of the close reason? Or are we just trying to word it in a more friendly way? If we're changing the meaning and criteria for using the close reason, then okay, it's a different close reason entirely and we ought to make a new one (provided we don't find the old one useful anymore). But I suspect in this case it's the latter--it's the same close reason, with the same closure criteria, we just want to make it sound prettier. And I understand that desire, but the system is set up to discourage such edits (by requiring the process of creating a new reason, which is supposed to be the big blinking check-yourself sign that says "Hey wait a minute! You're really making a new close reason?" So before we start debating the new wording, let's ask ourselves if it is 1) really new and 2) important enough of a change to lose that history. I don't know if it is or not, but it's definitely important to consider.

  • 1
    To have reasons that are actually helpful and not so closed-ended, yes. I think it's worth it. The two current close reasons that are under discussion both really need better wording. Maintaining bad close reasons because of data (that doesn't actually disappear) seems like a really silly reason when editing them will make the close vote process more open-ended to the users and actually tells them how to fix their questions rather than only sending them to links (which they likely don't follow).
    – Catija
    Sep 1, 2015 at 4:12
  • 1
    I have considered this in the past (for Proofreading, mostly). Keep in mind, though, that once the changeover happens, it's not going to keep causing trouble indefinitely: within a few months at most the stats should be pretty much back to full consistency. So while it's a problem, it's not an insurmountable one; it's just inconvenient for a while, then after that the problem mostly just fades away. Sep 1, 2015 at 8:01
  • @cat, Nathan: Certainly, I don't mean to imply this is a reason to never change the text at all. Simply something to keep in mind as a guide to decide if the change is significant or not.
    – WendiKidd
    Sep 9, 2015 at 14:07

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