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Recently, and by recently, I mean during the past month or so, we've had an emerging pattern of voting to close questions because they lacked research.

More precisely, questions used to be closed with this reason only for lacking context:

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.

Recently, the emboldened add your research has gained more prominence, to the degree of becoming a standalone close reason. To be clear, I've seen instances of questions closed with this reason that had nothing to do with context, or a lack of context.

I do not approve of lacking research being enough reason to close a question, because firstly, it's a slippery slope, and makes closing a burdensome task, when you just see a borderline answerable question and you close it because why not; and second, because real life doesn't work in a way that would make prior research a prerequisite to asking a great question.

Great questions asked by people who didn't see fit to provide noisy Google results for things they obviously know would take the greatest hit. Don't get me wrong — I endorse detailed effort, but only when the question benefits from it. And when containing effort becomes policy, naturally questions that don't benefit from effort, questions where effort would be fluff, would either have to be closed or noisy.

As for the question, should we be concerned about research-only close votes, or should we continue closing questions this way, because not much is lost in your opinion?


I didn't want to invoke the meta effect, but the comments and the votes made it mandatory for me to provide examples for this discussion to continue. Please don't alter the fate of the examples below (don't vote to reopen or close, or don't up- or downvote if you land on the question from this meta post)

Example 1:

This question obviously doesn't need further context in order to be answered. Sure, I don't like it the way it's phrased and it would've been closed if we had a homework policy, but the "add context" close reason is being used as an "add research" one.

Example 2:

By contrast, this is a question I answered, which in principle, has nothing different from example #1. It demonstrates something that's seemingly contradictory, and hence interesting, but still, there's no sign of effort.

Example 3:

Again, no research demonstrated, but certainly enough context was provided, so doesn't make much sense to close it as a reason primarily used for lack of context in the past.


Possible solutions:

  1. Come up with a homework policy, which is still itself some kind of a slippery slope and science sites have been trying to get rid of it.
  2. Separate the context close vote into two categories of 'research', and 'context', each standing as a separate close reason. This might not be possible as there are a limited number of custom close votes available to moderators to modify.
  3. Be more consistent with closing questions as lacking research and continue closing even older questions with an obvious lack of effort, to prevent double standards.
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  • Also relevant: meta.stackexchange.com/a/188067/280934 – M.A.R. May 12 '17 at 17:52
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    How about some examples you believe to be incorrectly judged? – user3169 May 12 '17 at 18:24
  • I'm not certain they're incorrectly judged. I'm inquiring whether they are. I am probably the culprit of voting to close some of these myself. I would prefer not to incur unnecessary meta effect, and this could serve as a reference for future. (The two paragraphs in my post are merely my stance, and I don't believe them to be site policy) – M.A.R. May 12 '17 at 18:32
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    This was actually brought up when the close reason was introduced, lo these many years ago. – Nathan Tuggy May 13 '17 at 15:06
  • Would you say this could use more research? Something else? When can I use “sum”, “amount” and “total”? – user3169 May 13 '17 at 19:58
  • @user3169 that seems both too broad and lacking context, actually. – M.A.R. May 13 '17 at 20:00
  • hmm... the accepted answer seems pretty clear. – user3169 May 13 '17 at 20:03
  • @user3169 different people set a different bar for answering, and that question needs an answer to cover all possible contexts to satisfactorily answer it IMHO. – M.A.R. May 13 '17 at 20:18
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    @user3169, The question that you referred to should probably have been closed on the basis of "basic questions about meaning...", as the dictionary definitions make a better job of answering the question than the accepted answer, which definitely lacks research. – JavaLatte May 14 '17 at 20:54
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    I've downvoted this question because I do think lack of research can be enough reason to close a question. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 16 '17 at 16:45
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    @Fumble I believe lack of research is enough reason to downvote a question, not close it. I mean, it can be a good close reason with some other combination, but how are we going to deal with good questions that don't show any research? Wouldn't leaving them be double standards? (Thanks for commenting on the downvote BTW) – M.A.R. May 16 '17 at 16:48
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    I think the key when reviewing a question is what is the OP trying to learn. This is ELL after all. For homework type questions (examples 1 and 3) with no additional effort by the OP, there is no learning effort. In addition, any answer can only guess at what problem the OP is facing. In my experience such answers often only do dictionary or basic research the the OP could have done with some effort. – user3169 May 16 '17 at 17:28
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    "repeating the history" because this was the same direction SO was headed to, and so has Chem.SE recently. And what's interesting is it's the very same argument every time, and even I used to make this argument myself. – M.A.R. May 16 '17 at 17:50
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    @M.A.R.: It's not ideal that I have to downvote your question to express my opinion re the central question being posed here - should we be concerned about research-only close votes, or should we continue closing questions this way. If you'd posted brief "answers" for each of those options (and toned down your own position in the question itself), I'd have upvoted one of them and your actual question, since I think it's an issue that benefits from being raised here. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 17 '17 at 12:34
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    As a follow-on to my previous comment, I'd like to add a link to this ELL question. I really appreciated the way the OP explained what they uncovered when researching their question. It's only a half-dozen words, but seeing I found that "way-out" means "unusual" shows me two things: (1) we aren't being consulted before a dictionary, and (2) I know why the OP is confused, so I don't have to guess at the source of confusion when writing my answer. – J.R. May 17 '17 at 16:06
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The "Please edit to add the research you have done" part of that close reason is easy to abuse, but it does have a purpose. I think that the "lack of research" attitude could be the start of a problem, so I'm glad you brought it up. However, we should not absolve authors of responsibility for the fate of their questions. If someone ignores guidance from the community, it's not entirely the fault of the close voters when the question doesn't get answered.

We shouldn't ask for research because we want someone to prove that they have made an effort before we will deign to answer their question. The primary reason we need to know what someone has found when they tried to answer the question is so that we can write a good answer. The research they did shows how they're thinking about the question and what they already know. Another reason is so that we can make sure that the next person with the same question will be able to find an answer here on ELL if they use a similar research tactic.

If the entire question is "What does this mean?" as in example 3, it's difficult to answer well because we don't know where the problem is. The "context" we're asking for is not just the words around the phrase being asked about. Context is also the answer to "Which part is confusing and what do you already know?". It can be difficult for fluent speakers to see the issue with language that seems quite natural and obvious to us. It's like the classic duck/hare optical illusion:

sketch that can be interpreted as a duck head looking left or a rabbit head looking right

Fluent English speakers might be predisposed to see the "rabbit" in a sentence and non-native speakers might see the "duck". If the question is "what is the mouth in this picture called?", the answers are not going to be very helpful unless we know the person asking the question is seeing a duck. It might also help to know whether they are aware that the picture could also be a rabbit.

Why do we close questions? That's what we need to agree on. In my opinion, we should close questions only when we want to prevent answers to them. We might want a temporary block on answers because the question may change significantly when we edit/clarify it. It might be a permanent block because we want to direct all answers to a similar "duplicate" question so that they can be grouped and ranked. We might want to prevent users from wasting their effort on a question that is completely off-topic for the site. If you can't come up with a good reason why someone should be prevented from answering a question, then you should probably just down-vote the question instead of close-vote it (in my opinion).

There will always be some disagreement on whether individual questions should be closed. Also, since almost all of the community is human as far as I know, mistakes will be made. Luckily, it's easy to reopen a question.

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  • It is a pity you don't suggest the same attitude towards answers also. Unresearched answers abound in this site and are commonly accepted. This disparity in treatment vs question, as far as research is concerned, is probably part of the site culture, nontheless not a good standard in my opinion. – user5267 Jun 4 '17 at 7:33
  • @AbsoluteBeginner: There is at present no means of "closing" answers, so I'm not sure what you're actually suggesting be done. Should people downvote wrong answers that they see? Certainly, but people should also downvote useless questions, and that doesn't always match closing questions, which is what this is about. – Nathan Tuggy Jun 7 '17 at 15:23
  • @Nathan Some context that might help explain. english.meta.stackexchange.com/q/10301 – ColleenV Jun 7 '17 at 15:35

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