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I am delaying moving forward with this until we resolve the problematic parts as brought up by several users including Chad, jcmeloni, and mxyzplk. It isn't going away, but we want to make sure that we are all on the same page about what questions we want to have custom close reasons for, and that we agree as a community that we aren't tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

The Background

All sites on the SE network have the following fixed close reasons:

  • Duplicate
  • Unclear What You're Asking
  • Too Broad
  • Primarily Opinion-Based

In addition to the four default reasons, each site is given 3 custom off-topic reasons they can use to close questions. Currently we have two:

Questions seeking advice on what job to take, what skills to learn, etc. are off-topic as the answers are rarely useful to anyone else.

Questions seeking legal advice are off-topic as they require answers by legal professionals. See: What is asking for legal advice?

There have been recent meta requests for an additional two more:

Questions about how to handle specific interpersonal conflicts are not practical answerable questions. Interpersonal problems should be brought up with your manager or HR department who can actually do something about the person(s) causing them.

Discussion here

This question appears to be off-topic because it is about regulations or agreements that are company-specific and don't have universally applicable answers.

Discussion here

In addition, anyone with the close privilege can write in a custom close reason that is displayed as a comment and closes the question as off-topic.

The Problem

We have 4 potential custom close reasons, but only 3 custom close reason slots. You don't need to ask a question on math.se to figure out that there's a slight logistical problem there.

Since April 1st, the Stack Exchange Data Explorer has allowed us to create queries looking at close reason. Unfortunately, it doesn't distinguish custom close vote reasons for non-SO sites at the moment, which means we can't get an easy breakdown of which custom close reasons (or write-in reasons) we use the most to get a better grasp of what we are best to get rid of.

The Research

Since there were only 262 questions closed as off-topic according to the above query, I just went through the titles and make generous judgments of which ones I thought were likely closed as asking for legal guidance. This is not a very scientific approach (more like an educated guess), but it should give us a decent enough ballpark figure.

Of the 262 questions that were closed as off-topic, by my (admittedly simple) count, 52 of them were close as legal advice. That is less than 20%. That means custom reasons and the 'what should I do?' type questions take up 80% of our off-topic close votes. And most of those are probably 'what should I do?' questions (which becomes clear if you look at the titles from the query I linked above).

What Should We Do?

I propose the following three custom close reasons:


This reason is disputed, please continue the discussion here

Questions about how to handle specific interpersonal conflicts are not practical answerable questions. Interpersonal problems should be brought up with your manager or HR department who can actually do something about the person(s) causing them.

This would be used for questions along the lines of:

  1. How do I deal with the fact that I'm awesome and everyone around me sucks?
  2. How can I convince X to do Y?

Desired result: have the user edit the question to focus on a solvable problem, rather than the person causing it.


Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors.

This would be used for questions along the lines of:

  • If I work on the weekend, can I get time off during the week in exchange?
  • How many days of paid leave can I carry over until the next year?
  • What travel expenses can I receive compensation for? (etc.)

"What job should I take?" and legal advice questions would have their reasons combined:

Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", "what skills should I learn?" or "is it legal?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do.

This would be used for the same types of questions that we use the existing two reasons for.

Discussion

If there are no objections, I would like to implement this at the end of this week. If you have questions, comments, concerns, or potential improvements to the reasons I have provided, please share them here with a comment or answer.

For reference, the character limit for custom close reasons is 400 characters (the last reason I listed above is at exactly 400).

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    merging legal advice into "what to do" looks like a smart move, would be interesting to see how this reason would go – gnat May 20 '14 at 10:22
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    Seems reasonable to me. – Joe Strazzere May 20 '14 at 11:23
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    Sounds reasonable to me too. Thanks jmac. – Jim G. May 20 '14 at 11:42
  • Seems reasonable to me, except that I think the wording of the third is a little broad. I'd like to see phrasing which distinguished between "How should I handle this situation?" questions and "What job should I take?" questions - both are generally "what to do", but the first seems to me to be much more likely to be on-topic. – Bobson May 20 '14 at 18:18
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    Thanks for all your work on this, both the research and the wrangling of all the other discussions into a concrete proposal. – Monica Cellio May 20 '14 at 19:47
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    @Bobson, could you elaborate on that a bit, and perhaps add an answer with an alternative wording please? (draft is fine, someone else can always improve it). My main issue is with questions that don't ask how to solve a problem, but just ask what they should do. Hence the emphasis on "What should I do?" To me it doesn't matter if it's asking what job to take, or how to handle a work situation, if it isn't asking for an explanation, it probably isn't a good fit here. We are not an advice column, we aim to give people information to solve their own problems. Hope that helps! – jmac May 21 '14 at 3:55
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    @jmac thanks for the edit about the one disputed reason. Obviously there is some disagreement here and we need to find out what the community as a whole wants. – Monica Cellio May 28 '14 at 16:26
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We can combine the legal and company-specific reasons thus:

Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors. Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals; see: What is asking for legal advice?

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    With this change, we'd keep the "what to do" reason as it is (since it would no longer be necessary to fold legal into that). – Monica Cellio May 26 '14 at 0:29
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Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", "what skills should I learn?" or "is it legal?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do.

I am in support of this being added as an off-topic close reason. I think it needs to be modified to specifically bar asking "What should I do?" rather than "How can I accomplish X" which are both what should I do questions but the former is answerable and on topic(assuming X is a workplace navigation problem).

Questions asking for general advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions. Questions should seek answers explaining how to make a decision, or should include a specific goal you wish to achieve.

The off topic questions about skills to learn and jobs to take should be left in the current close reason as it is being used appropriately.

  • 1
    Got a suggestion? Like "Questions asking for advice about 'what should I do?' are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", "what skills should I learn?" or "is it legal?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do." Open to anything, not picky about wording, just so long as the concept is good. – jmac May 21 '14 at 14:00
  • Maybe add in parenthesis at the end "This should not be taken as a bar on questions asking how to accomplish a specific goal" – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 21 '14 at 14:14
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    How about: "Questions asking for advice about what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "What job should I take?", "What skills should I learn?", "Is X legal?"), etc. Questions should lead to answers that clearly explain why and how you can ultimately make your own decision (e.g. "How can I accomplish X?")." – jcmeloni May 22 '14 at 14:32
  • @Chad, I think I understand what you're saying, but could you edit your answer to include specific proposed wording? Thanks. – Monica Cellio May 23 '14 at 16:20
  • @MonicaCellio - I updated the answer. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 23 '14 at 16:52
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    @Chad - now you're losing the "legal question" close reason. – Bobson May 23 '14 at 17:10
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    @Bobson - While I am ok with that personally that is not what I am calling for here. This would be a 3rd close reason is my understanding. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 23 '14 at 17:17
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Having reviewed the linked question about the interpersonal reason (and noting its upvotes), I propose a variant on that version:

Questions about how to handle interpersonal conflicts are not practical answerable questions. Interpersonal problems should be brought up with your manager or HR department. Please ask questions about solving a practical problem rather than the person causing the problem.

  • I still disagree that interpersonal conflicts should be declared off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 27 '14 at 13:28
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Questions about how to handle specific interpersonal conflicts are not practical answerable questions. Interpersonal problems should be brought up with your manager or HR department who can actually do something about the person(s) causing them.

Could we reword this to something like:

Questions about solving interpersonal conflicts should be clear as to exactly what the problem is and what you hope to achieve as a goal. Posts without a clear goal are not practical answerable questions. Please see Good Subjective, Bad Subjective for guidance on how to reword this post to make it more clear, constructive, fair, and/or impartial.

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    Nice one! [15char] – Monica Cellio May 30 '14 at 2:40
  • Great! Though does this really fall into the off topic close reason? To me off topic items should be off topic no matter how you word them. Things like what job should I take? is this legal? no matter how you word the question if the core of the question is one of those they are off topic. That would not be the case here. To be clear I love the wording it conveys exactly what I think Jmac was trying to get across. I am just asking if this really belongs as an off topic close reason. It would work great as a specific unclear what you are asking close reason. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 30 '14 at 14:05
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    @Chad - Good point. I was thinking of this more as a clarification of primarily opinion based or unclear what you're asking, but you're right that this is for an off-topic close reason. So the next question we must answer is whether it's possible to edit an off-topic post to then make it on-topic. – jmort253 May 30 '14 at 14:30
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Questions about how to handle specific interpersonal conflicts are not practical answerable questions. Interpersonal problems should be brought up with your manager or HR department who can actually do something about the person(s) causing them.

I am against the implementation of this close reason.

I think this close reason will shut down a lot more questions than the intended SPECIFIC questions. I can see this close reason being used far more broadly than intended. We already have issues with more difficult, but answerable and on topic questions, being closed for primarily opinion based.

I would be in support of a close reason that was specific to the convincing another person to do something. These questions are rarely savable with out a heroic rewrite of the question.

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    These questions are being closed, but mostly as 'primarily opinion-based'. What questions do you think this will allow to be closed that should be left open, and what alternative (if any) would you suggest? – jmac May 21 '14 at 14:17
  • I can not think of a way that would not cast a net that is too broad. Questions asking how I can change my approach should be on topic. Questions how I get someone else to change should be off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 21 '14 at 14:32
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    Okay Chad. We'll see what the community thinks, and decide how to proceed. Even if we do end up tossing it in, it can always be changed if abused, and watched closely. I think the concept (having people ask about problems with solutions, rather than problems with people) is something we sorely need to be clear about, but I definitely don't want people abusing it to close good questions. – jmac May 21 '14 at 23:02
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    For reference, this is the type of question I'm talking about. Right now I would close as 'unclear what you're asking' (because it is), but even if the language was cleaned up the eventual question would be, "How do I get my boss to treat me better?" which is definitely not something we can really answer. – jmac May 21 '14 at 23:42
  • @jmac Or it could be cleaned up to ask how can I adjust my actions to meet my bosses expectations? That would be on topic and constructive. – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 22 '14 at 13:18
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    I don't think we can solve how to meet your bosses' expectations. Many times expectations are not met is because of a lack of communication, and unless we clearly know what the bosses' expectations are (and if the asker knew, what is the question really about? They would know what they have to do), we can't very well answer. It is a people problem, and while business is people, we cannot solve a communication issue through this medium. 99 times out of 100, the answer is, "Talk to your boss", it's just easier to ask here instead. – jmac May 22 '14 at 14:21
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    Here is yet another example. How can we really answer this? These sorts of questions are problematic because they are conflicts with people -- not practical problems we can solve. – jmac May 22 '14 at 14:23
  • I am not saying that the questions are good many of them are not. I think your first example could be fixed if someone was willing to expend the energy to fix a rant that the OP will probably never care return too(That person is not me). The second one should be shoved right back to SO. Maybe through a couple of our bad programming questions back with it. But this close reason would be an excuse to close many good answerable questions that are not easy. We have enough of that already with out giving another excuse – IDrinkandIKnowThings May 22 '14 at 14:26
  • I completely agree with the impetus to create a close reason like this one, but I lean toward agreeing with Chad that the wording might be too broad. Right this second I can't think of anything better, though. :( I wonder if at the core of all the really bad questions we'd want to use this close reason on there isn't another reason we should use, e.g. "what do I do"? – jcmeloni May 22 '14 at 14:37
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    Here is another example -- this isn't a question we can answer. I understand that you and @jcmeloni think this is too broad, but I'm starting to think it may be a difference in perspective. Have you guys read this meta post where I explained in more depth? – jmac May 23 '14 at 2:17
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    @jmac Yes, I read everything. :) What we may perceive as a difference in perspective or as a nuance, is not the same as what a user will "get" in the approximately 3-5 seconds they'll take to read the close reason, either get pissed off or take guidance from it, and take their next step. So, I think that the more extremely clear we can be, the better, and leave as little to interpretation as possible if we want these notices to be valuable. – jcmeloni May 23 '14 at 12:18
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    Chad, could you please post some specific questions that you think are good questions, but are worried that they would be closed with this reason? Preferably as an answer to this meta question? Thanks! – jmac May 26 '14 at 0:42
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    @Chad, jmac is asking you to help us understand your objection. (I don't think all interpersonal questions have been on-topic all along, by the way.) Yes it's a community site -- that means (a) you should want to help the community see where you're coming from, and (b) no one person -- not you, not me, not jmac -- decides site policy. We'll see what the community says, and in addition we have to consider the voting on the other question (from which this text arose). – Monica Cellio May 27 '14 at 23:00
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    Chad, @jcmeloni, I did an incredibly good job of expressing myself poorly in the other meta post, and have heavily edited it to try to address some of your concerns and clarify my intent. Could you please hop on over there and give me your input? You are both some of the longest-standing members of the community and have seen more questions than almost anyone else, so I would really appreciate your feedback. Thanks in advance! – jmac May 28 '14 at 5:27
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    While I'm sure creating a close reason around interpersonal conflicts would eliminate a lot of problematic posts, it could also send the wrong message that there are no good interpersonal conflict questions. I looked through the list, and most of those questions are about real problems with real people, and most got good answers in the spirit of Good Subjective. How can we reword the close reason to where it more clearly targets the poorly worded interpersonal conflict questions but without throwing out all of the interpersonal conflict questions? – jmort253 May 30 '14 at 2:28

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