Call to stop answering off-topic questions seems not to have reached the goals it aimed to achieve. Out of the most recent 100 questions that were closed for any other reason than "duplicate", 76 questions have at least one answer. Heck, some of the more mediocre ones have up to 4 answers.

76 questions! That discourages me from close voting. What's the point of closing when the questions get the answers? As we clearly shouldn't answer off-topic questions, I won't dig in the philosophy unnecessarily.

For what it's worth, this became so huge a problem that people on larger sites effectively downvote answers to off-topic questions, even if they're correct. Let's not go that way. If you ever saw that the question fits one of the close reasons (even the ones not categorized under "off-topic"), please do not answer it! You're not helping the OP by answering, you're just throwing another bomb to the wall of ELL's quality. When that wall collapses, this site will lose its purpose.

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    +1 and also see related, DO NOT FEED THE BEARS.
    – choster
    Mar 2, 2016 at 21:49
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    The most confusing thing is when people answer questions and vote to close at the same time.
    – user230
    Mar 2, 2016 at 22:35
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    I don't think it's that confusing. Answering the quick and easy questions, even if they're going to be closed is the best way to get your rep up. Actually questions where the asker is only going to have one or two questions to choose from when selecting an answer to accept because it's closed probably can net you more rep on average than other strategies. @snailboat
    – ColleenV
    Mar 3, 2016 at 0:25
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    @Sally Delete what? Deleting an acceptable answer because it's on a bad question is not really a valid excuse to delete an answer...
    – Catija StaffMod
    Mar 4, 2016 at 22:54
  • @Sally How is that a good idea? There's a reason it takes five regular users to CV something. Closing it prevents the answers. This is about preventing answers before the question gets closed. There's no reason to further delete it once it's closed.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Mar 4, 2016 at 22:57
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    @Sally Now you're just questioning the entire SE system... The reason you close bad questions is so that the OP has a chance to fix them... most questions can be fixed. If they're deleted, the OP doesn't learn that fixing and reopening is possible.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Mar 4, 2016 at 23:00
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    @ColleenV Answering a question and voting to close it as off-topic is acting in bad faith and shouldn't happen. Mar 5, 2016 at 16:58
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    @DavidRicherby You realize that the correlation between folks that vote to close questions they answered and high reputation supports my assertion that it is a strategy to raise reputation. Don't confuse high reputation with expertise. It is a measure of participation/activity and generally acting as a good community member. Not saying high rep users aren't experts; Just saying reputation doesn't measure that.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 5, 2016 at 17:08
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    @ColleenV Sorry -- I was unclear. On each of the five questions I looked at, the 10k+ user who'd answered had not voted to close. And, while I agree that high rep doesn't necessarily imply expertise, the whole SE model of increasing privileges with rep assumes that it does. By the time a user has 10k rep, they ought to be familiar with how the site works and what the community expectations are. The picture I'm seeing here is that the community (even the high-rep community) doesn't have coherent expectations. That's not somethign I've seen on other SE sites I'm active on, and it worries me. Mar 5, 2016 at 17:17
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    @DavidRicherby The problem here is that every native speaker of English considers themselves an expert, and because the medium that we're using to communicate is English, learners have a difficult time distinguishing good answers from bad. We end up with a lot of up-voted answers that are at best mediocre although not exactly wrong. Folks get rewarded for these answers and want to keep the questions open so they can continue to help. I don't blame them because it feels good to have a contribution recognized, but their standards are a bit low.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 5, 2016 at 17:20
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    But how can we fix this standard lowering? @Colleen
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 5, 2016 at 17:26
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    @IͶΔ - In the title of your question here, you exhort the community, "Don't answer close-worthy questions!" All well and good, but not everyone will agree that a question is close-worthy, and therefore some will leave an answer instead of casting a close vote. I don't regard that as a sign that our "community is divided into two parts making opposite decisions," I regard it as a sign that we are dozens of individuals who don't always see eye-to-eye on what should be answered, and what should be closed, and what sits in the fuzzy grey area between the two.
    – J.R. Mod
    Mar 5, 2016 at 19:19
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    The problem is it's almost never @J.R. We never agree on stuff. That is not productive if we want to set policies on how we should deal with low quality questions in the future. This is also reflected on our meta decisions. We decide something that gets forgotten two days later on the site because there's no one adhering to what's being discussed. There's not much of a problem on the main site right now, but reaching a meta consensus is getting closer to impossible.
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 5, 2016 at 19:29
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    I don't think given the size and nature of our community that there is a huge consensus problem. Folks come and go, we're from all different corners of the world, as we gain experience with the site our views on certain things might evolve - there are many reasons that we aren't marching in lockstep on every question. I think it would be bad if we all agreed on everything. We just need to agree that we will be willing to listen and respectful of others. @J.R.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 5, 2016 at 22:28
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    Since one can only answer a question before it gets closed, there are exactly zero officially close-voted questions that get answered. Just because some people vote to close a question doesn't mean others can't disagree with that and go ahead and answer it. Mar 7, 2016 at 5:32

3 Answers 3


There are two sides to this coin. Some might wonder, "Why are people answering these close-worthy questions?" But others might wonder, "Why are we closing these answerable questions?"

Incidentally, I've talked about both of these situations in previous meta posts:

In this case, I see a mix of the two. I looked over your list of recently-closed questions, and I think a few of them might have been closed a bit hastily. For example, these may not be exemplary questions, but I don't think the answers are any more undeserved than the close votes:

In those examples, I found helpful answers to what I would regard as borderline questions – questions that perhaps could have been improved with some additional context, but questions that weren't entirely unanswerable, either, if someone put themselves in the shoes of the struggling learner.

I'm not convinced that each of these answers represents "another bomb to the wall of ELL's quality." And as for this site "losing its purpose," I think we need to be careful there, too.

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    Hmm. I was about to write an answer along the lines of, "Oh, it's just new users answering these questions because they don't know what's on-topic and what's not." Except that here, unlike other SE sites I'm active on, that isn't true. The first five I looked at had answers from users with 10k+ reputation (and that was four different users). I think we have a problem, when even the high rep users can't agree what's on topic -- some of them decide to answer a question that others vote to close. Mar 5, 2016 at 16:54
  • @DavidR - RE: when even high rep users can't agree what's on topic – some of them decide to answer a question that others vote to close. I think it's bound to happen sooner or later – someone will post a question that some will feel should be closed until it's improved, while others will find it answerable as-is. It stands to reason that this might happen a little more often on ELL, where most people asking the questions don't have a strong command of the language. Still, it's not strictly an ELL phenomenon. (cont.)
    – J.R. Mod
    Mar 5, 2016 at 18:11
  • See, e.g., questions on Academia, Biology, Chemistry, Drupal, ELU, Math, Physics, Servers. We're not the only community that gets answers from high-rep users on eventually-closed questions.
    – J.R. Mod
    Mar 5, 2016 at 18:27
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    Well, doing a search on Academia, and looking at the first five non-duplicate, non-migrate closes that have answers, the reps are 900, 6000, 170, and 1400 (twice). That's rather different from the 10k, 117k, 14k, 14k, 27k that we see here, don't you think? I'm not sure what to think about Biology (500, 24k, 21k, 200, 1200 and a much lower proportion of closed questions with answers). Math's probably not a good comparison as it's a hugely active site so has lots of very high rep users. Mar 5, 2016 at 19:05
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    @David - We may have to agree to disagree. I just don't see this as a serious issue. If a high-rep user sees some redeeming qualities in a question and answers it before it gets closed, I don't regard that as a heavy warning that the site is more dysfunctional than other SE sites, particularly when we are courting questions from people who don't have a strong command of the language they are asking questions in and about.
    – J.R. Mod
    Mar 5, 2016 at 19:09
  • Math is 17k, 7k, 800, <100, 4k, 382k, 61k, 5k, 300 from five questions, some with multiple answers. Mar 5, 2016 at 19:10
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    I agree that it's not a "heavy warning that the site is more dysfunctional than other SE sites" and I agree that having people ask questions in English when they are, by construction, not good English speakers does have an impact on question quality. I'd say that I'm "mildly concerned" rather than, say, "afraid the sky is falling down". Mar 5, 2016 at 19:13

OK I know some folks really dislike when I say "that's just how things are and there's nothing to fix", but I'm going to say it again.

First of all, it only takes 5 people to close a question. I don't know for certain, but I'm confident that almost no-one on the site is able to thoughtfully review every question that is posted. I'm lucky if I can do a couple more beyond what's in the review queue each day. I think it looks like there's more lack of consensus than there actually is.

Many questions get edited in response to close votes which makes them better, but they end up getting closed because some folks jump on the bandwagon if the close vote looks reasonable to them. I respect the folks in this community and sometimes I don't review as carefully as I could because I trust the other reviewers' judgment on whether something is a duplicate or off-topic.

You asked me "How can we fix this standard lowering?". Why do you presume that your standard for questions is the right one, and anything below that is broken and needs fixing? Yes, it's messy when you have a lot of diversity, but it's also a really good thing, because it makes us constantly evaluate why we do things the way we do them. Is it frustrating sometimes to have to constantly try to persuade folks to see things the way we do? Sure, but it's good for you :)

We not only have diversity in our community, we also have a lot of diversity in the questions and how they are posed. We could vote to close every question that asks "what does this word mean in this sentence?" as answerable by a dictionary, but is that the right thing to do in every case? Sometimes sentences are ambiguous to learners even after they've read their dictionaries but native speakers don't see it because we just know without thinking what the sentence means. Sometimes the folks asking should have put more effort in, but if their English skill is limited, a simple question may represent a lot of effort.

I think many closed questions aren't clearly "close-worthy", like Why is a "coat of arms" called so? I voted to close that question because I'm a little pedantic about etymology being off-topic because it's listed in the help center as off-topic. Does that mean that StoneyB and I have irreconcilable differences? No, not at all. I understand why some folks don't want to be that strict about that one word on one page in the help center.

  • Our standards should be high if we want not to be yet another forum on the internet. There's always chats and forums everyone can have fun in, so I wish ELL could've been preserved for more serious stuff. I feel there's something to fix because this isn't what's happening in any other SE, but I'm a quitter and I give up. This is just wasting our time.
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 6, 2016 at 11:44
  • @IͶΔ Do you participate in other language SEs or are you just comparing ELL to SEs where the questions aren't being asked in the language that the question is about? I think the language SEs are different. You say we should have "high" standards - who decides what is high and what is low? We should all act according to what we believe is best thing for the site. If we see something that is way outside the bounds, we bring it up and talk about it like you're doing here, but that's an on-going process. There's no silver bullet. It's like housework - it never stays done.
    – ColleenV
    Mar 6, 2016 at 14:04
  • It's of course the community that should do this. I like what Dam said the other day. It was something along the lines of "I joined ELL because I believed we're here to do something unique. We still are, but sometimes, I'm just not sure." All I want to achieve is make at least our more frequent askers believe that research before asking and trying to come up with a post as flawless as possible should be their aim, and I wanted to see what I can do as a member of the community.
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 6, 2016 at 17:38

I was going to write a comment but I am afraid it would get lost...

My opinion (as such) is that some questions to ELL recently have been of poor quality. Usually along the lines of:

Is A or B correct or are both correct?


Is there any difference between A and B?

without any specific concern (problem faced) stated, nor any research effort. Any answers seem to make severe assumptions as to what the OP meant, and as such may or may not be helpful.

But to me the bottom line is: Do you make this a "system choice" or a "personal choice"?

The concept is that "system choice" is more consistent and (if implemented correctly) fair than "personal choice", since it removes any possibility to act unfairly (for personal gain, for example).

Meaning the system (SE) could fix this, if appropriate, by removing question/answer reputation points when questions are closed. There is a process for reopening questions, and if reopened the rep. could be put back.
This would avoid the mixing of the two issues (reputation points vs. desirable questions/answers).

But I doubt this would be possible, since how SE manages these is basic to the SE logic and programming. So absent of any such system control, it remains a matter of personal choice, and needs to be accepted as such.

  • I wonder, though, if answerers would then vote to reopen more often to get their reputation back.
    – user230
    Mar 5, 2016 at 22:43
  • @snailboat Since reopening takes five votes, I think it would be reasonable. Short of some collusion between users anyway, which I doubt would be worth the effort. Question and answer improvement, (following SE philosophy) should be the primary goal.
    – user3169
    Mar 5, 2016 at 22:59
  • Maybe you can write it up as a proposal on Meta.SE, if it hasn't already been proposed by someone else. (I always have a hard time finding duplicates there, so I'm not sure.)
    – user230
    Mar 5, 2016 at 23:19
  • I don't particularly like this suggestion, except that it raises a secondary meta-question: would such a scheme motivate answerers to edit closed questions to make them reopen-worthy?
    – Scott
    Mar 14, 2016 at 17:35

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