Summary for those lacking time to read the Great Wall of Text:

We need to treat questions posted by new users differently than those by veteran users, and be a little less trigger-happy with the close votes. If a question deserves to be closed but is by a new user and shows clear effort was made in asking the question, please don't immediately closevote. Instead leave a comment, explaining to the user why their question isn't the right format for SE and how it could be improved. Check back a little while later to see if the question was fixed. If not, go ahead and cast that closevote. If it was fixed, you might have just helped keep a new user here to contribute at ELL instead of chasing them away.

A couple hours ago this question (now deleted and only visible to higher rep users) was posted as the first question by a new user. The basic content of the question was asking when to use "you" and "you're", saying the OP was confused about the difference between the two. They asked how to know when to use each one, and for definitions.

Now obviously this question is not a good enough question for the site; I'm not arguing that. The way it was asked, especially asking for definitions, made it clear that it was general reference and that some research could probably answer their question. Here's the problem I have with what occurred:

  • When I viewed the question, 9 minutes after it was posted, it already had 2 close votes and 0 comments. When we see that a user is new, if we're still going to immediately vote to close the question (which again, was admittedly fair game to be closed) we should at least leave a comment.
  • I then posted a comment, welcoming the new user to StackExchange and asking them for more information. I explained that their question in its current format wasn't really a good fit for the site. I asked them to edit in any research they'd done before, and to explain what they'd learned from that research and why they were still confused. I agree the question was fair to be closed; I equally believe that it's entirely possible that such an edit could have changed the question into something worth leaving open.
  • I came back to my computer a couple hours later, to find that the question had been Voluntarily Removed By Its Author. I have a problem with that. This is a user who could quite possibly have become an active and valuable user of the site, and their first impression was that their input wasn't valued here to the point that they removed their own question. This should not be their first experience within hours of joining. The problem is that such a reception doesn't encourage new users to stay, and we should want them to stay--we should be actively finding ways to help make them want to stay. Giving great answers to good questions is only part of that. The question wasn't a good fit for the site, but it wasn't badly or carelessly written. It was written by a new user who probably didn't read the FAQ and made an honest effort at a question. This is the kind of user we should try and teach, not turn away.

So, what am I saying?

  • We need new users, and we should want new users to feel comfortable and want to stay. That means we need to take the time and effort to teach these users what works here at ELL instead of jumping to the closevote button.

  • There's a difference between a question that is clearly spam or has no effort put into it, and a question that just doesn't belong on the site. Please try to differentiate between the two and handle accordingly. If a question is really, really bad, then sure, just closevote it. But if it is both by a new user and seems like an honest attempt at a question, let's talk to them first! Reward effort with effort. Explain to them what they did wrong, and try to help.

  • I understand that a question being closed does not equal its death. It can be edited, and reopened. I'm equally sure that most new users do not know that. Having your first attempt at a question summarily closed (and you have to admit, 'closed' sounds pretty final to those who don't know otherwise) isn't going to encourage you to come back (and you're not going to edit to get it reopened, because you probably don't even know you can). Closing a new user's question immediately without time to react is not going to do anything but chase that user away.

  • Closevotes are a very important part of the site, especially in beta. We want to define what the site does and does not accept, and reining in the unacceptable questions is important. But it's not the only important thing. If you have the time and effort to put into watching new questions on the site, determining what belongs and what doesn't, and casting your closevotes--I'm going to go ahead and say you have time to monitor a new user's question for a little while. You have time to post a comment, and then check back in on the question after an hour or two (maybe even a day!). If the user doesn't respond or edit the question, fine, cast the closevote. At least you tried! If you don't have time to monitor the question, then please just skip it. There are plenty of people out there with closevote privileges, and I think it's been made quite clear that questions we don't feel are on-topic get closed quite quickly. We seem to be under the misapprehension that questions have to be closed immediately, though--like they're some sort of virus that will spread. I think leaving it open for a little while (after leaving a comment letting the user know that they need to improve it or it will be closed soon) can only be a good thing. You're giving new users the chance to learn, and then become contributors to the site. And if the user doesn't want to learn, their question will still be closed--just a little later, after they've had a chance to make a change.

I'm not sure if all that came out coherently or not. I just think we're being a little trigger-happy with the closehammer, not in that we're closing questions that shouldn't be, but in that we should give new users a chance to get their footing before we close their question. At the very least, the person to cast the final closevote should leave a comment explaining why it was closed and letting them know it could be reopened if they do X-Y-Z. But I think even that is a negative initial experience; editing your question and then finding five reopen votes (when you don't yet have privilege to speak in or perhaps even knowledge of chat) is quite a tall order for a new user.

I think we need to take a look at how our current closevoting practices are going to impact our ability to retain new users who could be valuable community members, and act accordingly. If anyone else has an idea on how to handle this situation, I'd be more than happy to hear it; please post an answer. (Or of couse feel free to post a disagreement!) But I think this is something we very much need to discuss. So please, let's!

  • Related discussion in MSO: It seems leaving a comment is a good way to welcome a new user before closing the question.
    – Mistu4u
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 4:52
  • @Mistu4u The comment could be left also after closing the question.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 9:52
  • 2
    Hear, hear! I wish I could upvote this a couple zillion times. Hmm, any chance of turning this into a blog post somewhere? With just a little editing, it would apply to pretty much any site.
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 20:42
  • @Martha Thanks! You mean on the SO blog? If the Powers That Be are interested, I'd be glad to let them edit at will. If you mean somewhere else, I don't have a blog of my own, but I'd be willing to post it elsewhere if you have suggestions!
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 23:53
  • @WendiKidd, I don't have an "in" with the SO blog, but I can put you in touch with the folks who run the ELU blog. (Or you could just post to the meta thread on the topic, and/or ping people in the chat.)
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 4:18
  • Three years after you wrote this, I'm so glad I stumbled across it. Commented Sep 18, 2016 at 23:26
  • @P.E.Dant Thank you! I'm glad it was helpful to you :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 2:01

3 Answers 3


What (s)he said. Really.

Step away from the close button. That should be your last resort, not your first knee-jerk reaction.

You know that closure isn't final. I know that closure isn't (necessarily) final, although I've lost enough idealism to know that the vast majority of closed questions will stay that way. A new user DOES NOT KNOW that closure isn't final.

Let me repeat that, with emphasis.


They really don't, and there's nothing you can do to change that fact. So closing the first question asked by a new user is completely, 100% equivalent to saying "Go away, we don't want you here".

Is that really what you want to say? I hope not. If it isn't, don't hit that close button. Leave a comment, edit, or go have a cup of tea. Those are your choices.

If you come back after having that cup of tea (make sure it's a very big cup, so that it takes you at least 24 hours to drink it), and the question is still sitting there unimproved, then (and only then) you can consider voting to close it.

  • Well, tell them it isn't final. Comments are there for a reason, aren't they?
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 7:22
  • @kiamlaluno: except the behavior the OP and I have observed is that people gang up to close a question, like, instantly, without bothering to leave a comment.
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 15:44
  • Everybody can leave a comment; it is not the responsibility of who closed the question. If nobody leaves a comment explaining why the question has been closed, that is not a problem with closing a question, but rather with explaining to new users what they are expected to ask.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 15:58
  • 2
    @kiamlaluno: I disagree. If you want to exercise your question-closing privilege, it is your responsibility to make sure someone explains it to the OP. If someone has already left a comment, and you can be reasonably certain that the OP has had time to see said comment and react to it, then you can go ahead and just vote; but if no one has commented, and/or if you're casting the first vote, then it is on you.
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 4:40
  • I disagree: The responsibility is of all the community. "I would have voted to close the question, but the question was already closed when I saw it" is not an excuse not to explain the question closure. Then, should be the first user voting to close to explain that, or the last one, who effectively closes it? Let's not create special rules when there isn't any need.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 11:07
  • @kiamlaluno You can't be sure that anyone else will see the question after you close it. At this point our question flow-rate is slow enough that it's reasonable, but if you look at StackOverflow for example... There are so many questions being posted there all the time. Someone votes to close, others see it in the review queue and close. No guarantee anyone else will come along (or even if they do, they might not understand why you closed it so they won't know what to write!) You close it, you comment. I think that's true regardless of whether or not we wait to close new users' questions.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 0:35
  • @WendiKidd That is not exactly true: A single user who is not a moderator doesn't close a question. Five users close a question, and until all the five users cast their vote, the question is not closed.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 0:39
  • @kiamlaluno I know; and one of those five users needs to leave a comment, IMO. :)
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 0:51

Closing a question is not a punishment for who asked the question. In fact, a closed question can be re-opened, if it is made a better question.

Suppose a new user asks a question that should be closed as not a real question. Is it preferable to close it as soon as possible, or wait somebody (maybe a new user) tries to answer it? I would say it is preferable to close it as soon as possible, preferably before somebody has the time to answer it.
Closing it before somebody has the time to answer it has two purposes:

  • It avoids somebody wastes his time answering a question that should be closed
  • It allows the user to rephrase his question, and make it acceptable

If somebody would have answered the question before it is closed, rephrasing it would invalidate the given answers, and in this case, a question would not be re-opened.

That said, nothing forbids to leave a comment, even after the question is closed, explaining to the user why the question has been closed (if there is anything more that needs to be said), or explaining how the question can be rephrased to make it a better suit for the site.

As side note, which would the criteria to call a user a new user be? Would we look only at the reputation on ELL?

  • 3
    1) I know closed questions can be reopened; I don't think new users know that. 2) Presumably if someone spends the time to answer a question, that person doesn't think it should be closed. It doesn't hurt them to spend time answering a question they think is valid. 3) Can you explain further why an improved question can't be reopened just because it has answers? 4) The close reasons can be difficult to understand for learners, and I think it's too high a barrier-to-entry to ask a brand new user to find 5 reopen votes (when a new user can't even access chat).
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 15:06
  • Regarding how to determine new users, ELL rep is the most immediately visible factor. If they have very low ELL rep you at least know they're new to this site; they maybe have some previous SE experience, but you don't know for sure. You at the least know they don't have previous exposure to what is specifically allowable on ELL. You can quickly click their profile if you want, and see how long they've been a member and if they have accounts with higher rep on other sites, if you want. That should give you a pretty good idea.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 15:08
  • If you are not sure the OP knows a closed question can be re-opened, just remind that to the OP. Reputation on ELL doesn't say what users know about Stack Exchange. Every user starts with a reputation of 1, or 101, in a Stack Exchange site, and you should call them new user. What you need to watch is the global reputation a user has; it is probable that a user who is a 20K user in at least two SE sites knows well a question can be re-opened.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 15:33
  • 3
    If a question is about the meaning of, for example, cake in a specific context, and the question is closed as too localized after somebody answered it, it cannot be changed to ask the meaning of a different word in a different context, as that would invalidate the answers already given. There are some questions about this on Meta Stack Overflow. At the end, waiting to close the question asked by a new user would not be of any benefit for who asked the question, and the new users who probably are the ones who answer any question, even the ones that are going to be closed.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 15:35
  • 1
    Well that's not a proper edit, though. If the question is about cake in a specific context, and is closed, then it should be edited to add more information about what they don't get about cake. Changing it to a completely different question isn't at all valid in any case. That question would never get reopened, they'd be told to ask a different question. My point though is that it shouldn't have been closed in the first place.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 15:45
  • 3
    Why should not it be closed? If it is too localized, it needs to be closed.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 15:47
  • 1
    It's trivially easy to tell who is a new user: look at the their profile, it says right there how long they've been a member.
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 20:45
  • 2
    Also, @kiamlaluno, the point is, yes, some questions need to be closed, but (and this is the important part) they don't need to be closed five minutes after they're posted. Given the OP a chance, for heaven's sake.
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 4:15
  • 1
    @Martha How long they have been a member doesn't say much: If a user's global reputation is still 3000 (in three sites) after a year, that user didn't use much Stack Exchange. Also, users have all the time to edit their questions, even after they were closed. It could take them even a week, but at least nobody is trying to answer before the questions are put into shape.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 7:21

I agree with the main premise of this question.

  1. New users often have a minimal grasp of English and turn up here by mistake. They may also be unable to find or understand the guidelines.

  2. They often (as I did) come from a forum with a completely different way of dealing with questions. They have become accustomed to the other site's ways and don't immediately understand how to fit in.

  3. If you are nervous about your (foreign) language abilities, it is an act of courage to come on a website in the first place. To be slapped down can have further reaching effects than just for Stack Exchange.

  4. Some of the newbies are clearly just kids. They need a little more in the way of sympathetic handling.

Voting against newcomers without a welcome and a simple-to-understand explanation is likely to get the site a bad reputation and to deprive ourselves of new participants.

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