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Back in 2017 M.A.R. highlighted a 'pattern' of close votes because of lack of research, detail or context. He suggested this was being done too often, and in cases where a question wouldn't be improved by any additional detail or research. In such instances close votes appear to act as a 'lack of effort' value judgement that takes little notice of whether the question can actually be answered quickly and simply, and within the remit of this site. Yet the site has no 'homework' or 'effort' policy, and the intention of 'details' is only to assist with providing a good anwer. Should we consider revisiting this question?

Going through the close vote queue, I find 'details please' or 'needs more detail or clarity' make up the bulk of close votes. I have to admit I may take a more lenient view of posts that some, and that's why there's a voting system after all, but it seems often questions receive close votes that could be quickly and helpfully addressed for the questioner without creating additional work for people with review permissions.

It seems to me that it would be helpful to at least discourage close votes that border on the uncharitable. We are dealing with a learners site after all. We can't expect perfection, and we can't expect questionners to be able to make the connections we can make as expert speakers and writers of English.

The subtle naunces of meaning that escape learners, even if they are technically available in dictionaries, create a lot of questions on ELL, and also a lot of close votes. But it is exactly this area, in which 'speaking to a native speaker' gets to the nub of a subtlety that is difficult to discern in any other way, where ELL excels.

Examples from recent posts:

"What does 'to come over one's hoot' mean?"

This post seems particularly undeserving of receiving 3 quick close votes. It is detailed and asks a question that proved both interesting and difficult to solve, involving a specific piece of financial industry jargon. The only logic for closing appears to be that the OP did not explicitly demonstrate what research they had done to answer the question. But would that have added anything in this case? The question is well formatted, and, except for failing to mention the source of the quote, shows that the OP had consulted dictionaries.

What does 'I know what's right but that can get me' mean?

This questionner provides full context for the problem words, and mentions that they had used a dictionary to try to understand what 'get me' means. I'm not really sure what else the OP could have done to make the question more helpful to answerers, and yet it has still received three close votes at time of writing, two for 'lack of detail', made after the OP added a lengthy quotation from their source.

“Thank God” in past tense narrative

I voted to close this question, after some thought, but I still don't think it is clear cut. The question definitely fails the 'effort' test (although that has never been an official reason to close to my knowledge). There is no indication that the OP has done anything to answer the question, they don't explain why they can't work out the answer, nor is there any indication they particularly care why a present tense subclause should be used in this past tense sentence.

Being more charitable, it is also a matter of a few seconds to provide an answer, and the answer, once provided, might be useful to others. And that's a key element that seldom appears to be included in the process of voting to close. Is an answer going to be useful to future English language learners as part of the growing corpus of this website?

In Summary ...

I certainly don't want to trigger a huge argument, but as I go through the close queue I often feel like work has been created for us that we really don't need to be doing, primarily because some users click close on anything that they suspect shows insufficient effort, even when 'effort' would bring no advantage.

Possible solutions:

  1. Could the close reasons be restructured or rephrased to encourage detail where it is needed but not make that a blanket justification for closing any question that doesn't show extensive effort to solve the problem before arriving at ELL?

"This question cannot be answered without more details than you have provided. Please edit to provide more context or detail about the reasons you need help with this question. See: Details, Please"

  1. There are currently two 'lack of detail' close reasons - SE's generic "Needs details or clarity" and ELL's "provide context/details please" reason. Could the apparent duplication in close reasons be eliminated by using SE's "needs detail" for questions that need more information, and rewording ELL's question as follows:

"Please expand on the reasons why you need help with this question and any efforts you have made to find an answer. At present, your question cannot be answered because of a lack of information about the exact nature of your problem."

It is worth remembering that in the original "Details Please" post linked to whenever we close a post for lack of detail, it explicity says, even about very simple "which sentence is right" questions:

"Such questions are fine, of course (except in the case of asking for a word meaning that can be obtained from a dictionary)". [My emphasis]

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    I agree it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between need detail and needs research but closure only depends on five votes, not five votes choosing the same reason. When you visit the review queue you can always vote to leave open if you think your co-reviewers have been too hasty.
    – mdewey
    Aug 2 at 15:48
  • Yeah, obviously it is ultimately a vote-based system, so maybe I'm just complaining that not enough people agree with me! However I wonder if there are some people who misunderstand the intentions of some close reasons, or see it as a duty almost to close as much as possible. This was somewhat the implication I took from a comment elsewhere which said "I'm gonna keep doing my part to clean up the crap". It implies a somewhat dismissive and hostile view of the average user, who would not be here, after all, if they were skilled at writing questions in English.
    – fred2
    Aug 4 at 21:13
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I think that you are focusing too much on the reasons someone might put something into the close queue versus the reasons a question actually gets closed.

For What does 'to come over one's hoot' mean? there was an even split. This is probably because there wasn't enough context to know that "hoot" wasn't some made-up word valid only in that TV show. People involved in the financial industry know "the hoot" is a real thing you can broadcast over, but others might not and I can't fault them for wanting more context.

fred2 reviewed this Jul 30 at 15:59: Leave Open
ColleenV reviewed this Jul 30 at 12:54: Leave Open
Mari-Lou A reviewed this Jul 25 at 16:57: Leave Open
mdewey reviewed this Jul 25 at 13:07: Close
Void reviewed this Jul 24 at 18:14: Close
fev reviewed this Jul 24 at 17:54: Close

The What does 'I know what's right but that can get me' mean? wasn't closed either. Questions about lyrics and poems are often too subjective to be answered well, and pop music is full of slang often coined in the song that is being asked about. I think it was perfectly reasonable to vote to close that question. It's (in my opinion) of very limited usefulness to most learners because of the very specific-to-this-song wordplay and slang.

None reviewed this Aug 2 at 8:56: Leave Open
fred2 reviewed this Jul 30 at 17:08: Leave Open
mdewey reviewed this Jul 29 at 14:00: Leave Open
fev reviewed this Jul 28 at 18:23: Close
Void reviewed this Jul 28 at 17:07: Close

For “Thank God” in past tense narrative it was in my opinion properly closed, but I agree with you that it is in a gray area where it could have gone either way. All it really needed was an explanation of why the author felt that "thank God" might need to be "thanked God".

Chenmunka reviewed this Aug 4 at 12:12: Close
fred2 reviewed this Jul 30 at 16:48: Close
mdewey reviewed this Jul 29 at 13:59: Close
Void reviewed this Jul 28 at 19:35: Leave Open
fev reviewed this Jul 28 at 18:23: Close

Looking over the examples you provided, I don't see a problem. I think everyone seems to be reviewing things thoughtfully and that there will always be some questions that don't neatly fit into a single close reason, but still should be closed until they can be improved. Even if we make a mistake because we didn't understand something about the question or we didn't read it carefully enough, it's easy to fix by retracting your close vote, or helping to get the question reopened.

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  • Thanks for your careful and detailed answer. I appreciate you going to the trouble ;-) Upvoted. I don't think there are armies of people who share my opinion, so I'll defer to those better qualified and more consistent contributors to this site.
    – fred2
    Aug 12 at 19:52
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    @fred2 Looking at these examples, your votes weren’t out of step with the rest of the community. The only way this works is if we all participate and use our best judgement. That way when I have a cranky day and vote to close something too quickly, someone who is having a better day might offset it. It’s better if we aren’t too tightly correlated so there is room for different perspectives.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 12 at 20:05

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