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I just went through the latest 50 questions on the site. Of those 50 questions, 17 of them (34%) have been closed. Of those 17 questions, 10 or 11 clearly explain the reason the question was closed.

A majority of those reasons were copy-paste and did not give any suggestions for how to improve, de-localize, or otherwise broaden the use or appeal of the questions. Yes, many of them were "which job should I take?" which is pretty egregious, but a lot weren't (and many had comments questioning the reasoning behind the close votes).

Perhaps I'm also guilty of this, but don't we need to do a better job helping questions become viable rather than running around closing questions (especially those with multiple answers that seem to contradict the view of something being off-topic or too localized)?

Some Examples:

Need training, guidance, mentor-ship. Superior refuses to acknowledge [closed]

Honestly, the thing is not too long and he has a genuine work-related problem. I don't get the down votes and close votes at all unless people are just too lazy to read. Lots of pepoel have bosses wh are trying to make sure they fail. There is nothing localized about this problem.

– HLGEM

No reason for the close indicated in the comments. There is no reason that this shouldn't be able to be generalized/broadened, or otherwise made useful for the community.

4 answers with 27 up-votes to boot, and 9 upvotes on the question itself.

Should credit for company patents be awarded to those who did not contribute to the invention? [closed]

This question has a single comment that sort of describes why it may have been closed:

This sounds like a question of legality, which is not something we can answer on The Workplace.

– Paul Brown

Personally I think that while the question could use improvement, the question of, "Is there anything wrong with crediting someone for development of a product who wasn't directly involved in the technical aspects?" in itself is not too broad or otherwise too localized. And it certainly isn't a legal question (but rather one of assigning credit, which has wide application in the workplace).

Can a competing peer be your supervisor [closed]

Absolutely no indication of why this one was closed. It just has the generic off-topic closed label on it:

closed as off topic by jcmeloni, pdr, Jim G., Jeff O, gnat 19 hours ago

Questions on The Workplace - Stack Exchange are expected to relate to the workplace within the scope defined in the FAQ. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about closed questions here.

Boss does not answer questions [closed]

No reason on this one either. It has 14 upvotes, 6 answers with 88 upvotes, and was featured on the 'hot discussions' or whatever it is called across the whole SE network.

Employee Poaching

This was closed with 4/5 re-open votes. I issued the 5th and it has now been re-opened, but there was no reason for the close in the first place in the comments. At any rate, it had many comments, answers, and upvotes before the close as well.


Point is that while I'm all for closing down a lot of those "what job should I take?" questions, those that have promise (especially those that have several answers and upvotes) are being closed without reason a bit too regularly for my taste. If the active close-voters are being vigilant about marking things as off-topic, could we at least get some comments explaining why? Or even better, get edits and/or comments to try to shape a borderline question in to a good one?

  • 3
    we get lots of questions which are "popular" because people empathize with them even though they are really poor questions for this site. We get a lot of answers which are bad answers which are upvoted because people like them... – enderland Mar 21 '13 at 22:04
  • Also consider that 1/2 of the links from above are not actually questions based on the title. – enderland Mar 21 '13 at 22:10
  • If the quality of questions is so poor, then perhaps the FAQ should be updated to point to some good questions and an explanation of what makes them good? Or have some sort of article that actually explains what makes a good question (which is far more complex than it is on stackoverflow, for instance). – jmac Mar 21 '13 at 23:18
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    @enderland: Surely that's a case for editing the title instead, especially as there is a question in the text body. "Boss does not answer questions, how should I react?" "Should I report Employee Poaching?" – deworde Mar 22 '13 at 10:49
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    @deworde my point is if someone doesn't even think to phrase the title of their question as a question, it's likely a good indication it's NOT a well structured question – enderland Mar 22 '13 at 10:56
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    Or that they don't know the site well. Surely this site is going to reach out to people who don't use StackOverflow or a StackExchange site. – deworde Mar 22 '13 at 16:31
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    How many of those were closed for being off topic? advice cant always be given to improve them if they just dont fit the site – Rhys Mar 26 '13 at 9:14
12

One issue appears to be that the default behaviour is close, rather than edit.

enderland's comment was that some of these questions don't have a question in the title. In the examples above, it feels like that is trivially fixable. If a question has a good core, but is badly expressed, the edit button is right there. There is of course an argument about whether this is too much work, but anyone can edit.

Especially on sites like this one that skirt the subjective boundary a bit more by their nature, if there's a good question buried in bad style, the correct thing to do is to bring out the good question. Otherwise, you lose potential good examples, and the site acquires a negative feeling (i.e. "We don't like these sorts of questions in these parts")

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    We have a site FAQ and About page - if people can't be bothered to read them (or even attempt to read them) it's hard for a small minority of active users to turn their lack of effort into a quality post. – enderland Mar 22 '13 at 10:57
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    @enderland Sure, but you're falling foul of the basic UX principle: No-one reads the manual until after they've tried something. I'm not disagreeing that it's work, but it's no good stapling up a sign saying "Ask Better Questions". Showing them what their question would look like as a better question would be far more effective. – deworde Mar 22 '13 at 11:14
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    edit-vs-close dilemma has been discussed at MSO: Do you wait for edits before voting to close a question? "...vague wording is a road to closure anyway but while open, it can attract irrelevant answers which will make it difficult... to further edit the question into the shape allowing to... reopen it." – gnat Mar 22 '13 at 12:04
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    The volume of questions/answers in SO is quite different. If you close a poor question, something will take its place. Not the case here. Not saying that is a reason to allow poor quality, but it definitely should be a reason to look for more constructive methods of handling a borderline question. – jmac Mar 22 '13 at 16:24
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    The takeaway for me is that we're still a beta site. We need to convince more people to join the community. The way to do that is to be helpful. If we close off-topic and not constructive posts, which we should, we should also reach out to the original poster and try to help them turn the post into a good question. If they learn from the experience and come back, we build our community. I don't recall myself being the best SE user when I first started, and I'm sure we all can relate to that in some fashion. :) – jmort253 Mar 24 '13 at 17:50
  • @jmort253 I got myself banned from several other Q/A forums for not following their rules (click accept! read? who does that)... :) – enderland Mar 25 '13 at 23:40
  • I think anyone with less than 500 should be subjected to a questionaire that prompts them to evaluate their post for common faux-pas that drive closure and downvotes. This would solve 90% of this. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 27 '13 at 17:44
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There is a process in place for handling questions that were closed by the community or moderators, and it starts by doing one or more of the following:

  • Add a reopen vote. You just need 500 reputation to vote to reopen. If you don't have enough rep to vote to reopen, you may flag the post for moderator attention. If it's clearly a post that can be saved, I will try and edit or reopen the post.

  • Take the discussion to the Water Cooler Chat Room

  • Create a post on meta, focusing on the discussion on that particular question.

The challenge I see with this post is that there's so many examples, and aside from trying to leave more feedback when closing a post, I'm not sure we can come to an actual actionable decision about how to handle these posts since not everyone will agree or disagree that closing or reopening is the right move.

The big takeaway for me here is to encourage more commenting when questions are closed. The goal should be to educate folks and give them information they can use to turn their post into something that could be reopened.

One of the things I do when I see a post closed by the community with no comments is to leave a comment on their behalf. Even if you're not a close voter, if you see why a post might have been closed, you could offer up some helpful advice as to what to do to fix the problems.

The advantage here is that, as an objective third-party, the asker is more likely to view you as trying to help instead of being just one of the people who closed his/her post.

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    I agree with everything you said. I think it's important to note, though, that not everyone has the time or inclination to write comments about how to improve a post, or to just improve it, and that doesn't make us bad users. I cast a lot of votes, and often some of the first, because I can quickly scan and add my voice (in terms of the vote) to the mix, but I don't have the time at the same time to edit or lead people toward better questions. After doing so for a good chunk of the last 345 days, I'm personally just tired of it. That's why there's a community to help each other. – jcmeloni Mar 22 '13 at 15:20
  • For me the point isn't to re-open the questions, the point is to bring to the attention of the community that questions are often being closed without comment. Whether these questions are good or bad is far less significant, in my opinion, than the long term decision of the community on how to handle borderline questions (suggesting edits vs. voting close with no comments). – jmac Mar 22 '13 at 16:26
  • @jcmeloni and jmac - I didn't mean to imply one is a bad user if he/she doesn't make a comment. If you see something closed and know why it's closed, and it doesn't take long, your comment could add value where others may not have had the right words/time. Commenting is of course not a requirement, and I understand people can get too busy to leave them. :) Perhaps what we can do is revisit these posts and add comments just for the sake of having the close reason explained a bit better? – jmort253 Mar 23 '13 at 0:30
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    It takes more than one person voting to close. It seems to me that if one of those people can't/won't articulate what's wrong with the question, it's not really fair to close it, if only because it offers no guidance to future posters of similar questions. – Amy Blankenship Mar 24 '13 at 13:45
  • @AmyBlankenship - Excellent point. We also must not forget that we're a Stack Exchange 2.0 Beta site, which means we need more traffic, more visits, and more users. While it's great that our site has standards for question and answer quality, we need to make sure we guide new users to increase their chances of converting to a returning visitor. – jmort253 Mar 24 '13 at 17:27
  • @jcmeloni Bear in mind an initial downvote from a "power user" sets the standard and is nearly certainly the death-knell of a question. Other users will be inclined to also down-vote. If you don't have time to mental space to comment or help, don't just kill it. Leave it to people who do have time and do care. – Williams Oct 9 '17 at 2:39
  • @AmyBlankenship it does take more than 1 person, but if 1 person (particularly an established user) downvotes, that will encourage more downvotes from other established/power users or mods. – Williams Oct 9 '17 at 2:42
  • Not sure whether this was correct at the time it was written, but currently it takes 3000 rep, not 500, to cast a reopen vote. – user1602 Oct 10 '18 at 13:53
3

I don't think I actually voted to close any of these questions initially. In spite of that, here is my definition of what is off topic for this site. Regardless, from your examples:


Need training, guidance, mentor-ship. Superior refuses to acknowledge [closed]

From this, there is no question in the title. Imo this is a big warning flag for "help me plz" situations.

This started with a smartass comment at the bottom. Tl;dr: I wrote it, the least you can do is read it. Not a good way to get people to read a huge wall of text which is 95% irrelevant to the core question which is:

  • How can I get training when my boss will not match my training style needs?

The person used 100x as many words to say that.

Additionally, a lot of information which is ACTUALLY useful (and not that 95% fluff) was added in comments to answers. More relevant information being added in comments than the original question is a good indication the question was not the best.

(I actually didn't think this was an overly bad question worth closing, though the asker probably could - and should - have used 95% fewer words)


Should credit for company patents be awarded to those who did not contribute to the invention? [closed]

This "question" is bad for this site.

I'm looking for an objective answer to either justify the feeling in my gut (which I can than bring up in a professional and objective manner to our president), or to absolve the feeling of my gut so that I can come to terms with it. What is the standard in the industry for a case like this?

How you think this is even a good question is beyond me. The person asks a series of ambiguous statements which amount to "help me fix my gut feeling" (????) and then asks an industry standard?

All the while on a completely legal situation which probably is 100% legal considering if they never wrote anything up on this situation or developed documentation then how the hell should we know what is right about it without having a complete understanding of the invention status/contributions?


Can a competing peer be your supervisor [closed]

This has terrible format for here too.

Can this be harmful for me in long term? What should be done to avoid problems?

Yes. And??? .... oh, there is no problem presented at all. Literally none. A very very very brief situation is described. Then a generic question which has no answer (anything can be harmful) outside an entire MBA/book on "management techniques" - there is no specific question being asked to actually provide an answer.


Boss does not answer questions [closed]

I have a harder time justifying why this one is bad. But I guess I'll refer to this blog -

I can generally tell when a question is unreasonably subjective. I can’t always describe it, but I know it when I see it. Unfortunately, that’s not good enough to base a policy on.

This person is asking a really generalized question which is effectively impossible to answer without significantly more context (his examples are not helpful to even remotely explain what his boss is doing wrong - it really seems to me the person needs to be asking, "how can I better ask my boss questions to avoid being a help vampire?"


Employee Poaching

Ahhh, such a perfect example of a question which seems good at first but you then realize is basically "tell me what to do" and has no question. Well, actually considering the title, it's pretty obvious it's "tell me what to do."

Should I report what I suspect to be illegal behavior?

How is this even an answerable question?

"I think someone might be doing something which might be illegal and am not sure what to do, help me please"

The only meaningful inquiry this person has can relate to whether the community here thinks this is illegal (since the entirety of any answer to this question is based on whether the actions are illegal).


And I've said this before, but:

This site should not be "Dear Workplace, help me please" anymore than Stack Overflow is "Dear Stack Overflow, give me teh codez."

This is a question/answer site. NOT a discussion forum. Most of these questions above would be better suited on a discussion forum.

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    There are two issues here. The first is that these are closed without comment. Would it be so bad to explain that these are the reasons you would vote to close? Perhaps it is a horrible question with no redeeming value, but just closing it without comment will not help the asker understand that. The second is that there is no attempt to improve the questions by drawing out the fundamental issue in the question. Perhaps the question could be 95% shorter, so shouldn't effort be put in to draw out the good 5%, rather than close 100%? – jmac Mar 21 '13 at 23:14
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    @jmac I'm not trying to answer to you how people should vote. I nearly 100% of the time (with the exception of really bad questions - none of these are even close to this level of lack of work, effort, etc) put comments when I vote to close. This is intended to explain why these questions were closed/voted/etc – enderland Mar 22 '13 at 0:57
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    And I'm grateful that you are willing to leave comments. Others aren't. This is an issue. Question quality aside, the lack of feedback to potentially productive contributors is not a good sign (and not very friendly). I'd like to see that changed. – jmac Mar 22 '13 at 1:05
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    I would add that the Patent question was a dup of a questions on Patents SE where this question probably belonged in the first place. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 22 '13 at 3:04
  • @enderland That analogy breaks down on analysis. StackOverflow has lots of questions along the lines of "How do I solve this common programming issue" or "How do I approach this common problem". The fact that these can be expressed in non-"Give me teh codez" terms is more due to the subject matter than the author. – deworde Mar 22 '13 at 11:00
  • For example, what makes this: For example: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/3492/… not a "help me please" question? – deworde Mar 22 '13 at 11:01
  • @deworde I'm talking about questions like this one where there is no explanation as to what the asker has thought/tried/considered. In the interview one, there is a considerable effort on the part of the asker to develop the question. In "help me please" questions you need a ton of comments to clarify the question, get more information, etc, before you can even hope to really answer it. – enderland Mar 22 '13 at 11:03
  • @enderland Yes, that one's blindingly terrible (the platonic "forum post question"), and should probably just be straight-up deleted. I thought you were applying that description to the examples you referenced. – deworde Mar 22 '13 at 11:08

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