I've seen a lot of discussion lately based on how a question is asked, not what is asked, and I feel questions are getting unfairly closed because of how they were asked, not because of the actual question being asked.

There seems to be an opinion floating around that users should ask expert questions, as well as provide expert answers, and I don't think that is healthy for the growth of this site.

A Q&A site needs questions to survive, and the users seeking advice are usually not aware of any rules regarding how to ask a question. I think by downvoting and closing questions just based on how they are asked is going to drive users away from the site, and I don't want this site to get closed before it leaves beta due to lack of user participation, like some other sites did recently.

Of course, there'll always be some questions that should be closed as low quality or off-topic, however they should be questions that really can't be answered at all because of lack of information, or are off-topic for this site. They shouldn't be good questions that are badly phrased.

Jeff even has a blog post about how to ask good questions, and it provides some things to look for in a question, not a list of words/phrases that should/shouldn't be used. To summarize, valid questions should:

  • provide enough detail so we know what you're talking about
  • tell us the reason for your question (note, idle curiosity is mentioned as acceptable)
  • don't give us your whole life story - just the basic context for the problem
  • share what you've already done/tried/researched

There are other guidelines around about how to ask good questions, but keep in mind that they are guidelines, not rules.

For example, we discourage asking questions disguised as a rant, however asking "wah wah wah, am I right?" is basically saying "I'm frustrated with this situation and am looking for sympathy" and should rightfully be closed, while saying "wah wah wah, what can I do about this" is essentially saying "I'm frustrated with my situation, what can I do about it", which I don't think should be closed. If you care that much about the fact there's a rant there, edit it out, but don't downvote and close an otherwise good question just because of how it's asked.

Similarly, questions asking something like "what is the best way to do X" shouldn't get attacked with downvotes/close votes because they didn't specify the best for whom, or best in what way, but should instead be guided in comments if more information is needed, and answered to the best of our ability. Per Area51, "in a healthy site, questions receive multiple answers and the best answer is voted to the top". Which one is the accepted answer is up to the user.

I mean, you can have a site that requires both expert questions and expert answers if you want, but then you'll have a very small site and need a fairly large editing squad to maintain the question standards, and there's a chance the site won't make it out of beta. I spend a lot of time on SO, and there's no way it would be nearly the success it is now if they decided to limit questions to only well-phrased questions, because of the majority of users seeking answers do not know how to write a good question (by SE standards).

So please, judge questions based on the question being asked, not how they are asked. Many users already do this (as seen by some highly-upvoted, closed questions), however it only takes 5 people who judge a question based on how its written to get it closed.

If you see a good question badly written, and have time to edit it, please do so, but don't downvote and vote to close unless the actual question being asked is off-topic, undefined, or just plain bad. Save your downvotes and close votes for questions which really don't belong here, not for questions that are simply phrased badly.

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    All well and good, but unless you point us to some actual questions that you think were mistreated, this just a rant.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 0:03
  • 3
    @Yannis, I see more than just a rant here. Examples are always helpful, but I also see principles, analysis, conclusions and advice. Maybe you don't agree with it, but it's not just a rant.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 0:51
  • @NickC No, sorry, I just don't see it. If you see a good question badly written, and have time to edit it, please do so, but don't downvote and vote to close unless the actual question being asked is off-topic, undefined, or just plain bad. That's an unfounded accusation as is the whole question: Insofar the close voters are doing everything Rachel suggests, and most of them are going a step further than just doing the obvious (editing, commenting). There is no basis for anything in this question, this is a rant, with some good (but redundant) advice in it.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 0:58
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    @NickC However, with a couple of solid examples, this will be a potentially very helpful Meta discussion.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 0:59
  • @YannisRizos - cut across all history. Today's fresh example: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/1029/… See the close votes? Explain me why? Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 22:04
  • @DipanMehta You've opened a separate question, and you got several answers. That's how it should be done, the community seems to think the question is on topic, and if it gets a drive by close vote it will be re-opened asap (now that we have your Meta question to point to). However that's not the same as passively aggressively accusing everyone who voted to close. You did the right thing here, Rachel has a lot to learn from you.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 22:28
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    How it is being asked matters. Commented Apr 28, 2012 at 4:23
  • I think it's more effective to address the behavior directly, than to keep creating meta posts about specific questions one at a time. This is something I've noticed in a few users only, but a few is all it takes to close questions.
    – Rachel
    Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 12:40

3 Answers 3


I agree completely. It's not just on this site, programmers suffers from this to a large extent as well. At the moment, it feels like a majority of the comments on each question here is if the question is well-formed enough and fit into some narrow definition of the faq.

Is this site being overly pedantic at the moment? Yes, I think so.

Do you want an example? Look at comment #1-4 of this question, all about whether or not this is an appropriate question. And this is meta! Where we are supposed to be able to discuss these things.

I'm not going to point fingers, but I think there are some people on this site that should probably spend a little less time closing questions and commenting on style and a little more time addressing the vast body of subject matter questions that is being posted here, subjects I'm sure they could contribute greatly to.

I'll leave you with this, the first line of the FAQ:

Stack Exchange is for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting.

To me, that covers a very wide area of subjects and I firmly believe that a tad less rigidity from the community moderators will benefit this site on the long-run.

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    If anything we need particularly rigid moderators on this site because there's a very good potential for this site to crush itself under the weight of bad subjective questions.
    – Rarity
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 21:30
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    And this is meta! Where we are supposed to be able to discuss these things Discussions are perfectly fine. Unfounded accusations are not, this is not what Meta is about. Also Programmers doesn't suffer at all, thank you very much. Our statistics (the real ones) show a steady growth, and our overall quality is rising, thanks to a very dedicated group of regular users who silently do the minimal effort required cleaning the crap. Don't be fooled by the few crickets that enjoy making noise, it's quite easy to check who actually does edit and improve and who just likes the sound of their voices.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 22:35
  • Who voted to delete this answer?
    – Jim G.
    Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 20:29

Impossible and not entirely reasonable. Poorly worded posts need to be closed and improved. The wording is the content, and if I have to peel away multiple layers of poor English, awkward phrasing and one-sided wording, that's not good. If I have to work to understand it, your question is bad.

That's not to say these questions are unsalvagable, but these questions absolutely should be judged harshly and improved aggressively. I would agree that people should edit before downvoting but that's expecting a lot of more casual users.

Questions and answers should be posed thoughtfully the first time around. Edits are supposed to be minor to correct typos, mistaggings ect. There is not supposed to be an expectation that you can post whatever the heck you want and the community will save your post.

If you think a post is really saying X, which is on topic, when it looks like it's saying Y, edit it. But for the love of Pete, if you're asking, please just say X very clearly the first time.

As for whether downvotes/close votes are appropriate...of course they are. This is a great way to signal that something is wrong with a post and discourage the behavior. I've edited and salvaged a lot of posts across the network but I also don't particularly enjoy encouraging the "post crap and let the community fix it" attitude.

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    I'm not referring to questions where you can't tell what is being asked, but rather questions which are asked using phrases like "Is it best practice..." or "Is this fair...", which I have seen some conversations where people say those phrases make a bad question
    – Rachel
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 22:40
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    @Rachel We have absolutely no idea to what questions you're referring to as you didn't provide a single example. Please edit your question to tell us exactly what you're referring too, otherwise this just seems like vague on purpose, so everytime someone points the flaws in your premise you can say stuff like "ah, but I wasn't referring to that". A couple of actual examples however will protect your question even from the most cynical bastards out there...
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 28, 2012 at 5:28

It is important to note that closing is not a permanent end-state. It is a temporary limbo to give the question the opportunity to improve. The two eventual possibilities are deletion of the question (if it really is a bad fit, or never gets improved) or reopening of the question.

In the case of a poorly written question that asks something useful/interesting, closing is a very viable option. The ideal, of course, would be to edit/improve it beforehand, but if it gets closed in the meantime, it gets closed. No big deal. The question can still be improved (without half-baked answers flowing in from people who misunderstood the question). Once the question is improved enough that everyone can easily understand what is being asked, it can be reopened, and become a meaningful addition to our site.

  • 1
    Deletion is really fairly rare unless a closed question got no answers (or was really, really bad). But it is automatic for unanswered, downvoted closed questions
    – Rarity
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 16:19
  • @JimG. - It would be great if you could find an example, or if a 2k rep user who can see deleted questions could find an example, that would help. I would think the moderators here wouldn't delete questions that they closed unless they were truly unsalvageable, but neither of us has any proof either way.
    – jmort253
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 3:31
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    @jmort253 of the first 15 deleted questions in a search (there's 70 total) 12 were deleted by their owners, and 3 were deleted by moderators: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/2556/… workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/2144/… workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/1860/… all of the mod deleted questions were rejected migrations, so all that was really deleted was the "stub" on our site, the content returned to the migrating site.
    – Rarity
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 4:29
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    @JimG - It's also worth pointing out that closing is never wreckless. If anything, posting here is easier. Many forums put your question into a review queue before it's visible. Here, we only do that if it's needed. As Jim (the other Jim) pointed out in his answer, closing is not permanent. It's SE's version of a review queue.
    – jmort253
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 4:59

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