We get a lot of great questions and a lot of great answers on ELL, and I'm super happy with that. But one thing I've been noticing a lot recently is we have a tendency to post answers to questions which are very obviously off-topic (ie. have a custom close reason which clearly applies). The questions do end up getting closed, often by the community without moderator intervention (which is awesome, by the way! I love seeing that. Go community!) But they're getting answers before the closing.

This encourages people to post more off-topic questions; if I post a block of proofreading text as a question and it gets closed without an answer because it's OT, chances are I won't try that again. If I post a block of proofreading text, get an answer, and then it's closed... Well that worked out for me. What do I care if it was closed after? I got the answer I wanted, didn't I?

So by answering clearly off-topic questions (mostly in the categories of "proofreading" and "clearly answerable by a dictionary") we waste time on answers that aren't really useful, and we encourage users to return with OT question instead of improving their question to make it on-topic (which would be a great positive contribution to the site!). So if you think you can edit the question to be on-topic, please do. If you think the OP could edit to make it on-topic, leave a comment with your close vote. But please don't answer if the question is in a state where it's off-topic. This just encourages bad question-asking.

What say you, Oh Great Community? :)

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    There's been previous discussion of the problem at MSO. Apaul's answer seems to best fit. Ultimately, though, we need to be aggressive with closing off-topic questions. We might even want to drop friendly reminders not to answer along with the close votes. And of course it needs to be made clear to the asker that closure isn't an attack on them. – Jonathan Garber Feb 6 '14 at 21:58
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    @JonathanGarber Thanks so much for the link! I think MichaelT's comment on that question is really important too, and something I didn't think about: "If you don't answer, your answer won't be upvoted. The upvote makes it more difficult (someone needs to downvote you) to have the automatic cleanup of the question take effect and thus requires manual delete votes to destroy." So that's definitely another reason not to answer! – WendiKidd Feb 6 '14 at 22:34
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    You seem to assume that everyone actively follows the decisions which "you guys" make. Suppose I come across a question, how would I know that "you guys" think this is off-topic? Maybe "you guys" don't like answering proof-reading questions, that's your preference. I may not mind answering them, so what is the problem? Do I need to learn every single rule that "you guys" have made regarding what questions are accepted, before I attempt to answer? – Masked Man Feb 12 '14 at 5:45
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    @Happy Proofreading questions are absolutely 100% off topic. This is not because anyone arbitrarily decided it, but because it has been discussed on meta and that is what the community as a whole has decided. Yes, you should learn what is and is not on-topic before answering (checking the common OT reasons listed on the Close dialog is a good place to start) because if you answer a question that ends up being closed, it will be automatically deleted after a certain period and you won't earn any reputation from your answer anyway. So it (cont'd) – WendiKidd Feb 13 '14 at 20:57
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    would be a waste of your time to answer such a question. The reason proofreading questions are off-topic is because they do not help anyone but the OP, and the goal of SE is to build a searchable knowledge base that helps future users and "makes the internet better", not just to help one person. If you ever disagree with a category of questions that is off-topic, or even an individual closure, you are more than welcome to start a meta thread. Policies can always be changed! But the community creates a consensus, and moderators and users alike are expected to follow it (whether the individual – WendiKidd Feb 13 '14 at 20:59
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    agrees with it or not) until the community reverses the decision on meta. I'm not sure if by "you guys" you are referring to moderators or to the community as a whole, but the effect is the same; moderators help enforce the community's decisions. Each SE site is the sum of all its parts, and cannot be maintained if community consensus isn't created. We have to have consistent quality standards, or the whole thing just falls apart! :) – WendiKidd Feb 13 '14 at 20:59
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    @Happy - These are not arbitrary decisions made by some "guys." I believe Wendi is referring to questions that are clearly off-topic, according to this help page and this help page. – J.R. Feb 14 '14 at 2:23
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    @J.R. and WendiKidd You guys are still missing the point. You are effectively saying that before I attempt to answer any question, I have to go through ALL the help pages and ALL the meta pages, and figure out what is allowed and not allowed, and then decide whether I should answer or not. Do you seriously believe that is practical? If a question should not be answered, then just delete the question, don't make the users waste their time figuring out what "you guys" decided in some meta post. – Masked Man Feb 14 '14 at 10:22
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    @Happy - I believe you are missing the point. Every Stack Exchange site has a two help pages: one says, "What topics can I ask about here?" The other says, "What kinds of questions should I avoid asking?" It would be great if people read those pages first. If not, though, no big deal – an off-topic question can be closed, either by a mod, or by five votes from community members. That's just the way SE was designed to work. As for why questions get closed instead of deleted, that helps others learn more about the boundaries of the site over time. – J.R. Feb 14 '14 at 14:31
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    Moreover, nobody expects all users – particularly the newer users – to read every meta post. However, there is a core group of regular members who understand what is on- and off-topic, and who regularly follow the evolution of a Stack Exchange site on its meta pages. This post is directed at them. – J.R. Feb 14 '14 at 17:44
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    I'd be surprised if any new users read anything in the help center before posting questions. I think that when the FAQ became the help center, it was specifically designed with the expectation that users wouldn't read through the whole thing when signing up, and would instead only refer to it when they run into problems. (To be honest, I just ignore the help center and assume everyone else does too.) – snailplane Feb 24 '14 at 21:58
  • You think E L L has problems! – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '17 at 9:58

I hate to disagree with WendiKidd here (we don't often disagree, and I think it's a good point, well made).

But whereas I hope I don't often fall into the trap of posting an answer to a question that's subsequently (correctly) closed, I do often "answer" in a comment while closevoting. Maybe this does encourage more Off Topic questions - but at least if a question is egregious enough, we can downvote and eventually delete it without (I think) needing mod intervention.

So - in many cases, providing answers via comments to OT questions doesn't seem unreasonable to me. Arguably, it makes the site seem friendlier, so people who originally came here with an OT query might be encouraged to come back again with one that's on topic.

I will admit that I sometimes get quite annoyed when I see actual Answers posted to questions I really don't think should be here. So annoyed that once in a while I even downvote them, regardless of whether they're "correct" or not. Certainly I'm much more likely to judge harshly in such circumstances, and I would encourage others to do the same.

If you see a question has been closed, don't just ignore it. Obviously, first check to see if maybe you can tweak the question so it might get reopened. If not, and you strongly endorse the closevote, check if there are any Answers you can reasonably disagree with - and if so, hammer them.

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    -1, huh? (Someone's obviously taken my final suggestion to heart! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 24 '14 at 23:52
  • I actually do agree with this, I think! When it is clear that thought and effort have gone into an off topic question, I sometimes answer in a comment with a close vote as well (or at least point them in the right direction.) If the same user keeps posting OT questions, I suppose that's an issue for the moderation team. There are 2 reasons I think a comment is better; 1 – WendiKidd Feb 28 '14 at 23:17
  • 1) you've got the character limit, so the answer is unlikely to be a huge time investment in an OT matter, and 2) an answer seems to encourage the question; a comment accompanied by a close vote still denounces the question, but rewards the OP's effort. – WendiKidd Feb 28 '14 at 23:18
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    @WendiKidd: Thank you for that - you've probably summed up my position in a couple of comments better than I did in the answer itself! Which just goes to show that the character limit for comments isn't that onerous (though you did need 2! :) It's a relief to come back to the Q (prompted by your comments, obviously) and see that initial downvote wasn't representative - but reading it again now I think I'll add a caveat to the final sentence. – FumbleFingers Mar 1 '14 at 0:04

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