I see a fair number of questions getting close votes, and even sometimes getting closed, because there's more than one possible answer based on different ways to take the question. Sometimes that's fine … if there's at least 17 completely different but completely valid answers you can imagine off the top of your head, that's very bad, and the question needs to be clarified before any good answers can come in.

But sometimes, there's really only a very few variations, and any given answer can reasonably cover most or all of them with simple distinctions made between the different cases. In these cases, voting to close makes no sense. In fact, it's precisely the confusion that can arise that's so valuable for a good answer. We expect askers to be a little ignorant, a little confused, a little mistaken about the details of the language. It's only if there's no way for competent answerers to dispel that ignorance effectively with solid, concise answers that we should close the question.

So if the question requires a book with different chapters for each of the different possible subquestions the asker might really be wondering about, sure, close it. But if it's asking about the difference between the infinitive and gerund forms of "make noise", or whether a comma makes a particular clause restrictive, or Correct possessive endings in names ending with 'y'?, not so much.

(P.S. As a proponent of rather strict moderation across SE, I feel a little strange being on an SE site with a reputation for loosey-goosey moderation and arguing for fewer close votes. But our custom close reasons have had misuses that I've called out before, along with others.)

(P.P.S. Lack of research is, of course, a possible reason for downvoting, here and everywhere. Laziness is not always to be rewarded. But if we can make ELL the first place to find a good answer, the question may even deserve an upvote.)

  • 2
    I don't disagree with your point that lack of research might be a reason to DV instead of close vote, but there is a point where the lack of detail can lead to a mish-mash of answers because the question isn't really clearly stated. Closing prevents those answers until the question is clarified.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:48
  • 1
    @ColleenV: Yes, the unclear questions are exactly what this close reason is for. If there's genuine muddling potential, close them immediately! But I see a lot of questions that really can't be muddled. Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:49
  • I would argue that you might be more perceptive than some? It's really a judgement call either way - in my opinion, we should be talking more about examples like you've provided and getting the temperature on where other folks are. Close/don't close doesn't say a lot about what we're thinking. I think this is a valuable discussion to have, but it should be an ongoing discussion, not just a "cut it out!" one :)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:53
  • @ColleenV: My intent here was to urge caution, but not hesitation; if you have ideas on how to rephrase to get that effect, I'd appreciate it. Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 21:01
  • 2
    It's a tough problem to get a group of volunteers to correlate (I'm assuming that my experience with image quality assessment can be extrapolated to question quality). The only thing I've found that works is to sit down together and go through examples and talk through them until we all get a sense of where "normal" is for the group. ELL has an even larger challenge because our group changes as time goes on. We need to have this conversations regularly, but I'd rather see us talk about what to DO than what to NOT DO. I'm thinking about it, but I don't have a solution just yet.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 21:21
  • 1
    So all of your examples have been reopened (or never closed). The noise question was deleted by the owner. I think we're doing OK, but maybe what we could do better is leave more explanation when we vote. Looking over the possessive endings question I could see how someone might think it needs more detail, but I can't think of specifically what kind of detail to add to it that would make it any clearer, so if I weren't a moderator, I would have voted to leave it open. The restrictive clause question would be better if it specified which clause, but I wouldn't have voted to close that either.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 0:16

1 Answer 1


What I notice about the questions Nathan has used as examples is that they are conspicuously bare of any explanation from the author of what prompted the question, what they find confusing about it, etc.

"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."

I don't think that close reason is completely unwarranted for the selected examples. There may be a very interesting question in each of them, and I would hope that someone (preferably the author with our help) would take the close votes as an opportunity to make them into better questions.

That said, questions should not be left open simply because they are answerable. Answerable (in the SE sense of the word) is a non-negotiable characteristic, but we are curating a reference and not just helping everyone that drops by and posts a one or two line question. Questions need to be detailed enough to warrant detailed answers and for learners to be able to determine whether their own question is really about the same thing, but maybe with different specifics.

A close vote is not a delete vote, regardless of how some folks misinterpret it. The solution to losing interesting questions to closures is not to stop closing questions that need improvement, but to build a community culture where we expect to improve and then reopen closed questions instead of just closing them and forgetting about it.

There was a suggestion on Meta for Flagging a question for improvement without voting to close. Maybe we could try to get some of that functionality by creating a thread here on meta and queuing up some salvageable questions for interested community members to look over with an eye to improve them.

  • Counter-examples: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/51042/…, ell.stackexchange.com/questions/40439/…, ell.stackexchange.com/questions/89101/in-on-or-at-github. Not only are these not closed, they have 50+ score and lots of great answers without any of the good things you say questions need to avoid being closed. Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:47
  • @NathanTuggy This is a community moderated site and I'm talking in generalities. Of course there are going to be specific examples that folks can point to that run counter to what either of us is saying. Is that constructive though? Admonishing folks doesn't really work well, because closing is always a judgement call. We should be trying to figure out a more concrete solution.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .