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I want to establish something along the lines of SO's "Questions asking for code".

There you were required to demonstrate your grasp of the situation and explain what attempts you made so far.

To me this feels similar to questions like this:

https://workplace.stackexchange.com/q/20451/10912

which is basically asking for a strategy to tackle a certain issue, much like asking for code. And with the same requirements (show that you understand the issue; explain what you tried so far) these might be useful.

Problem

Many of this type of questions are closed as too broad or opinion based, while I think they can be salvaged when viewed like explained above.

They fall on the side of Employee to Boss + Common Sense as described here and with some guidance, I think we can get answers of the good subjective kind.

Suggestion

Let's put a custom close reason in place, like this:

Questions looking for strategies to tackle a specific situation need to demonstrate a detailed understanding of the situation and detail attempts to solve the issue including how they didn't work.

I'm aware that the close reason doesn't exist on SO anymore, but I still think it is a good idea and I hope it will do a better job as a close reason encouraging posters to salvage these types of questions than too broad or primarily opinion-based do.

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  • related custom close reason worth considering for adaptation from SO is Unclear What Help You Need – gnat Mar 12 '14 at 7:33
  • @gnat Isn't that our unclear what you're asking? It reads very similar. – CMW Mar 12 '14 at 9:19
  • similar to some extent, but focus shifted quite substantially, as explained in that MSO post. Detailed message is quite worthy: "Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell what problem you are trying to solve or what aspect of your code needs to be corrected or explained. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question." – gnat Mar 12 '14 at 10:23
  • @gnat The difference are really subtle, "Unclear what help you need" vs "Unclear what you're asking" and "hard to tell what problem you are trying to solve" vs "hard to tell what exactly you're asking". I'm not saying we shouldn't adapt it, just tried to figure out the extend of it being different. Some times sublteties can make big difference. – CMW Mar 12 '14 at 10:42
  • How about instead of your close reason, Must demonstrate a real specific problem and a describe a target goal for the resolution. Our problem is not that there is not enough information about the problem, but rather we do not have a goal envisioned for solving the problem. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 17 '14 at 19:31
  • @Chad that one reminds me of another one from SO. I think that's a good idea, too, though a bit different form "Tell us what you tried so far". I think both have their uses but what you proposed will probably be the appropriate close reason far more often than mine above. – CMW Mar 17 '14 at 20:28
  • @CMW - Really the reason for saying what you tried on SO is because that gives more information about the root cause of the problem that was not there with my page is broke... why? We dont really have a problem with short questions that lack context, we have a problem with questions that lack goals. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 17 '14 at 20:36
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SO removed this close reason:

As of now, the "minimal understanding" off-topic reason is gone. Instead, the top-level "Unclear what you're asking" reason links to a new, Stack Overflow-specific Help Center page that focuses on guiding readers toward including the sorts of information that make for a good Stack Overflow question. This page is moderator-editable, and in addition I've started a discussion to solicit suggestions for improvement.

I agree with its removal and wouldn't want to see it added here.

The original version of this reason on SO was to basically tell the asker, "Even if I gave an answer, you wouldn't understand how to implement it". The example I gave in the discussion there was a question like this:

Putting on Toesy Socks

I am trying to put on my socks to keep my feet warm, but it isn't working. I can get them on my feet, but they don't stay well, and they don't fit properly despite being large enough to fit my feet. I know they are properly sized, and I definitely don't have them inside out. How can I fit this sock Insert Image of Glove on to my feet? I am new to Toesy Socks.

This question would definitely be eligible for a great big:

Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Include attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist

But here I am, no closer to getting the glove on my foot, and wondering where the heck I went wrong. I definitely explained my problem, my attempted solution, what my expected results are, and even included a fancy picture of my sock! Why is this question getting closed? SO users are mean! Why is everyone a fascist?!

I think the fundamental issue is that this is being used to say, "You are clueless beyond anyone's ability to help you", and there is no way to explain that nicely, especially to people who can't distinguish between a glove and a sock despite being a sentient being.

How does this help us get better content?

Let's say I am a new user who asked the question you refer to. I think it seems like a reasonable question, but now suddenly it's been closed with that message:

Questions looking for strategies to tackle a specific situation need to demonstrate a detailed understanding of the situation and detail attempts to solve the issue including how they didn't work.

So I edit my question to add the following information:

"I have sent e-mails to the senior management asking for their RSVP and attendance, as well as a proposed seating arrangement that would have them mingle more, but I did not get a response"

Does this make it a good question now?

There are two goals to closing questions:

  1. Closing content that will never fit (polls, 'what should I do?', legal questions, questions not related to the workplace, etc.)
  2. Explaining how the question can be improved and giving the asker a chance to improve the question for content that could fit

From where I stand, this reason would accomplish neither.

What's wrong with the existing reasons?

You may say that just adding the example of what has been tried and why it doesn't work doesn't meet the first half of your reason:

Questions ... need to demonstrate a detailed understanding of the situation

But what does this really mean? If this person explained that they have been in charge of social event planning for several companies for over a decade, they likely have a detailed understanding of the situation. But that doesn't make the question good.

What we really want to say is that the question is unclear what you're asking -- if there are details missing, then we should ask for those details, not close with a reason that will only serve to confuse. For instance, this is a great comment by thursdaysgeek:

How are you related? Are you putting on the parties, another member of managment, just an attender? In other words, what is your responsibility for solving this?

The goal should be to guide the person asking to an edit that can make it a good question. The close reason doesn't do that. Alternatively we need to be very clear about why the question will never be a good fit. Neither of the messages that we are delivering with this close reason provide that because they are just asking for effort -- no amount of effort will save a question unless that effort is properly directed.

Asking for Strategies

Many questions that ask for strategies either:

  1. Are unclear (they don't explain what they want to do, what their role is, and what limitations they are under making this hard to solve)
  2. Are primarily opinion-based (they are an open-ended request for suggestions rather than looking for a summary of how to deal with the situation to allow people to think up their own ways to solve it)
  3. Are too broad (effectively asking how to get people to trust you, or give you more responsibility, etc.)

Our job is to figure out which of these categories the question falls in to. If it doesn't, we need to think hard about what is rubbing us the wrong way about the question, and why we think it should be closed, rather than giving a one-size-fits-all close reason that allows us to close it without a thought.

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  • 1
    Ah, I almost closed the question as too broad, but unclear does indeed fit better. I feel like unclear questions are a subset of too broad in that both lead to answers where answerers make assumptions that lead to too many answers, or answers that don't quite solve the actual problem. Both types of questions can generally be fixed up simply by commenters asking the op the right clarifying questions. – jmort253 Mar 12 '14 at 1:02
  • I think Unclear can often turn in to Too Broad after they actually give the missing details. But sometimes Unclear is just that they aren't clear about what they want, and adding a quick comment or two as an edit clears it up. You can see my visual reference guide for close reasons which may help. – jmac Mar 12 '14 at 8:32
  • I think this question is actually pretty clear: How to get management's participation? This however can be done in so many ways that it will lead to a whole host of answers if thoroughly covered. That's why I'm looking for something telling the OP to list what hasn't worked so far. The part about demonstrating understanding is not that important to me, it just was part of the original, so I tried to adapt it. – CMW Mar 12 '14 at 9:05
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    @CMW, so the question is clear, but there are too many answers? Then it's too broad. Either way. Why do you need another reason for this, one that was misused on SO and removed as a result? – jmac Mar 12 '14 at 10:21
  • I just find it more encouraging and clear than what 'too broad' says. Providing extra details about the event for example wouldn't narrow down a thing, but please add details wouldn't immediately make me think to add what I've tried so far, when all I've described was the problem at hand. Also, taking SO as a template for how something works out for another SE is probably not the best approach, as the hot question debacle shows – CMW Mar 12 '14 at 10:37
  • @CMW, as an asker, when you get this message, what exactly would you do to fix it that you wouldn't do if you got unclear/too broad instead? And if you did that, would it fix the problem and make the question good for the site as a result? What is clear for you as a closer is less relevant than what's clear for the asker who it is supposed to guide. – jmac Mar 12 '14 at 23:40
  • When I got this message on SO, I immediately realized, that I didn't explain what I tried so far, which would result in suggestions that I had ruled out already. So I mentioned that, resulting in pretty great answers. I don't expect everyone to understand that the same way, but I also don't assume, I'm so far from the average. – CMW Mar 13 '14 at 9:28
  • @CMW, in the example I gave for the question you mention, would adding what's been tried really make the question suitable for this site? – jmac Mar 13 '14 at 21:55
  • If anything, I think that could, yes. – CMW Mar 13 '14 at 21:57
  • @CMW, 'if anything' implies that it won't necessarily fix it. Yet it's doing exactly what the message says. Isn't that a problem? 'Unclear what you're asking' is very clear -- we can't determine what you're asking and can't determine if it's on/off-topic. 'Too broad' is too -- you need to narrow the scope of the question. But the reason you have says, 'add what you've tried and it's okay', yet the problem may not be the lack of information, but that it's a bad question for another reason. – jmac Mar 13 '14 at 23:32
  • Of course no measure will necessarily fix all the things it's meant to fix. And yes, to me, adding what they tried so far, would improve the question to a point where it's answerable - assuming they did try some things, of course. – CMW Mar 13 '14 at 23:43
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    @CMW, agree to disagree. I would still vote to close as unclear even if they explained what they'd tried. The question is bad not because of effort on their part, but because they aren't clear about what the problem is and how they want to solve it. Explaining what they've done will never clear that up. Closing questions should not be done due to lack of effort on the part of the asker, only based on the qualities of the question itself. – jmac Mar 13 '14 at 23:54
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Describing what you've tried -- or including details -- does several things:

  • It removes assumptions others might have about your specific problem.
  • It eliminates the need for others to ask clarifying questions in the comments, since the problem description includes enough details to help answerers fully understand the issue.
  • It allows answerers to spend more time writing great answers, which eliminates lower answer scores, reduces the moderation burden, and creates more happiness in the community. Answerers either gain more reputation or a stronger sense of satisfication from helping others; less time is wasted.
  • Question askers get better, stronger, more targeted answers to their questions while interest in the problem is at its peak.

What you've done is clearly identified an actionable strategy an asker can use to prevent a question from being too broad. Include what you've tried and what happened, and you'll get better, more targeted answers. Saying what to do tends to work out better than saying what not to do.

If you find a question like the one referenced, I think your comment, one with a friendly, helpful tone, will yield much better results than one based on an authoritative you MUST do this or ELSE tone. Your comment is a great example of how to approach such questions as it shows you're here to help, not to be the Stack Exchange police:

Hi poster, welcome to The Workplace. This is kind of a hard question to answer, because we don't know your upper management, so we can't give you a right answer as to what works. Maybe if you mentioned what you tried so far, it can help narrow it down to what you could try. For example, have you tried just explaining to them, what you posted here? That without their example, people tend to not bother? – CMW

Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater

Lastly, keep in mind there are many great questions where a user hasn't -- or can't -- try something, at least not without changing the dynamics of the problem. Examples include work relationships or team dynamics where trying one thing makes it harder to try other things. Thus, it's important to tell the difference between a broad question that needs more details and a detailed, great question that doesn't mention what the user tried but doesn't necessarily require that information either. After all, we're only trying to prevent this:

too broad

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

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  • Making it easier to tell the difference is pretty much why I was suggesting this close reason. Too broad itself is a very broad close reason that at least to me, it doesn't clearly convey how to salvage a question. I'm also all for commenting and explaining problems a question has, but some people rather just vote for some reason. And in those cases, the question would gather a bouquet of too broad and opinion based votes, because it's also not clear which applies better. – CMW Mar 12 '14 at 9:16
  • @CMW - In general, close reasons are just meant to convey a general rough idea as to why a post was put on hold and further reading to clarify. Most situations are different enough to where a more targeted explanation from a veteran user is needed. In short, I don't think we can dismiss leaving comments by having a close reason for every situation. However, as an aside, the pro forma script is a lifesaver and a timesaver that brings the best of both worlds, a combination of the human touch alongside the ease and quickness of a templated message. – jmort253 Mar 13 '14 at 3:45
  • I wouldn't want to encourage anybody to not comment. It's just that there are a lot of people who vote but for some reason will not comment or be bothered with the question further. I suggest that their votes would become more useful with close reasons like this one. – CMW Mar 13 '14 at 9:41
  • @CMW - One idea is to use The Workplace Chat as a tool. As an example, I come across posts sometimes where I can clearly see some editing is needed, but they have some issues that I'm not quite sure I can fix as good as someone else might be able to. So I'll drop a link in the room, and someone else will dive in. I suspect comments could work the same way. If you're not sure how to advise the poster to fix the problem and can only say what's wrong, maybe a good strategy is to see if someone else can by getting the post some attention. – jmort253 Mar 14 '14 at 6:23
  • [cont'd] - It would be a good experiment to try: "Hey, can someone help user0123 with some ideas to fix this post. It really seems opinion-based, but it's an interesting question. Does anyone see a way to save it?". You could even take the ideas from chat and post them on the question/answer yourself, if you think your comment would help, and if you have time. :) – jmort253 Mar 14 '14 at 6:25
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    I totally agree with communicating with them. I'm just trying to offer an alternative to those who don't bother commenting/pulling people into chats. It's unfortunate that people on SO abused this particular close reason, because I found it very helpful on either side of the flag when I startet caring for these things. – CMW Mar 14 '14 at 9:26

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