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!