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Background

Like other successful Stack Exchange sites, The Workplace gets a lot of questions. This is great! And we have a good-sized group of knowledgable users who answer those questions. This is great, too! Helping people get answers to their questions about the workplace is what the site is for, after all.

But sometimes questions that are obviously not good fits for the site as written get asked. Often, these questions can be improved with an edit or put on hold until the asker can clarify. A question put on hold is not a bad thing; it is how the community can help revise/clarify a question before reopening it. After a time, if a question cannot be salvaged (or there is no community interest), "on hold" changes into "closed." This process is by design -- questions that don't fit should be put on hold quickly with the goal of editing and reopening them whenever possible.

The Problem(s)

So what's the problem? As a site, we do not do this consistently. Some of us do, of course, and the moderators are not shy about unilaterally putting questions on hold when needed. But meanwhile, many answer those questions instead of voting to close them (or flagging to close). Often, by the time five users or one moderator see a close-worthy question, it has several answers already.

What is wrong with a question getting answers? Isn't helping the asker a good thing? The main problem is:

  • When we edit a question, we're not supposed to invalidate existing answers.

But if the existing answers answer a question that shouldn't have been asked in the first place it causes a lot of work for a lot of people. A couple times recently we moderators have made the decision to make the edit anyway and leave comments on the answers pointing out the change. That has not always been received well. But we will prioritize fixing a question so it belongs here over protecting answers that ought not have been posted yet. Keep in mind a large audience for this site is people arriving through Google. Well-formed questions with great, clear, relevant answers help these people immensely!

But there is another problem:

  • When ill-fitting questions with highly-upvoted answers remain on the site, other readers see them and conclude that this is ok -- even though the questions are closed.

Yeah, that question about how to avoid paying your payroll taxes totally shouldn't have been here, but the "dude, you need a lawyer not the internet!" answer still gets highly upvoted and causes broken windows.

Since graduation we have seen an increase in answered closed questions, questions whose closure was not ambiguous or controversial, questions that couldn't be fixed.

We want to break this cycle.

How you can help

There are two key ways you can help:

  1. First, actively use your site community privileges and vote to close unclear or off-topic questions. If you don't have enough reputation to vote to close you can still flag, which only takes 15 reputation. If you do not know how to best use these tools ask here on meta or in chat.
  2. Help with cleanup (see below).

We're going to try being more proactive with cleaning up old question. We moderators plan to post questions facing deletion every week or two on meta for the community to review. We want your input on these questions. Can they be edited and fixed? Should they be deleted? Many of you can vote to delete and nearly everyone can edit/vote or post replies to the meta discussion. Moderators are not the sole arbiters of content here -- we want your input.

Concluding thoughts

Just a note to anyone who consistently posts answers to these questions: with deletions being more timely, you will likely see more rep losses (rep is only lost from deleted content within a short window of time). So when you see a question that is pretty clearly a poor fit in its current form, we urge you to prioritize the needs of the community by helping to close and then fix the question rather than simply answering. But once the question is fixed and reopened, please do answer it -- and know that your answer will likely endure.

Please help us make The Workplace the best place on the Internet for focused questions with good answers about navigating the workplace. As said above, you can help by voting to close (or flagging) problematic questions, editing the ones you can improve, not answering questions that are obviously going to be closed, and participating in these deletion reviews.


Note: Moderators may still delete some questions outright, without going through this community review. This does not happen often but we are not going to tie our hands. Users with 10k rep are encouraged to periodically review posts with delete votes and recently-deleted posts. We want your help.

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A couple times recently we moderators have made the decision to make the edit anyway and leave comments on the answers pointing out the change. That has not always been received well.

We(or at least I) voted for you guys hoping you would do just that. There are times where it is only the moderators that should be taking those actions, and this is probably the primary one.

I understand that you are getting push back but I beg you to continue editing anyway. In fact I would say that if the answers are not updated to answer the new question delete them, or even delete them preemptively and allow them to make edits and flag for undeletion.

We can do our best to replace panes of glass but if the police sit around allowing people to keep breaking the windows without consequence nothing is going to change. Better to build a reputation as a site that does not tolerate bad answers than one that does.

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    +1 for deleting the invalidated answers. On Role-playing Games we close questions very rapidly when they need improvement. If the question changes significantly as part of this, moderators examine the answers and delete the ones no longer answering the question, or community members downvote and leave comments informing the answerer what's going on. This doesn't happen often or with many answers, due to how swiftly questions get closed. When it does, it's a learning opportunity for those on that end of the stick: don't answer unclear questions. – doppelgreener Oct 20 '14 at 2:20
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This statement:

Keep in mind a large audience for this site is people arriving through Google. Well-formed questions with great, clear, relevant answers help these people immensely!

...seems to be at odds with this goal:

Since graduation we have seen an increase in answered closed questions, questions whose closure was not ambiguous or controversial, questions that couldn't be fixed.

We want to break this cycle.

Users in that first group, who have typed a query into Google (who is supremely competent at directing users to content that is relevant to them, generally regardless of how well or poorly curated that content may be) and found that someone has asked their question, are not best served by finding a question with no answer(s). They're looking for an answer to their question, not a well moderated placeholder stating that their question will not be answered here for one reason or another. That last scenario can, in fact, be extremely frustrating for the poor Googler.

Thus I'm skeptical about whether not answering a question that is likely (or even certain) to be closed purely on the basis that the question is likely to be closed is really the best approach. Or whether every answered closed question is a broken window. It seems like some are, and some likely are not; a question can be clear and well formed and answerable yet still be an obvious candidate for closure. But if the goal is to help people (such as the OP, and anyone who asks a similar question through Google), then it follows that such questions should be answered when they can be.

  • FWIW google seems to show "repelling" summary for the closed questions -- "As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format..." – gnat Sep 9 '14 at 8:51
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    Questions "whose closure was not ambiguous or controversial" are likely to be broken windows. We don't want Google to direct people here for that content because that's not the kind of content this site is for. We want Google directing people here for our many excellently-answered on-topic SE-suitable questions. Not all closed questions are broken windows, but some are and deleting them would better serve readers than leaving them around, I think. I'm not talking about the reasonable-but-closed questions, the ones where scope changed, duplicates, etc; those all help people. – Monica Cellio Sep 9 '14 at 15:12
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While questions with multiple close votes are being heavily advertised to whole SE network and naturally attract attention (see The Trouble With Popularity), answering these makes easy repz.

Due to abundant, indiscriminate exposure, these questions and answers simply gain upvotes faster than we can close. It's easy to see how this happens on a timeline of a typical closed question that had a misfortune to even briefly pop up in the hot list.

  • We are not (and unlikely will ever be) like Stack Overflow, where over 20,000 users with close vote privileges guarantee that any inappropriate question that pops up at sidebar quickly collects enough votes to close, no matter when it gets promoted to hot list. To have similar effect at site of our size, close voters would have to be on a 24x7 watch, monitoring what gets exposed - but this is not how things are supposed to work.

Even if "hot reputation" becomes short-lived due to quick deletions (which I fully support), broken windows will remain. Majority of users won't see deleted questions, they will see answers like ones about properly flushing the toilet getting their 20+ score even though the question is a blatant, trollish dupe - and they will follow this as they see it as clear way to gain reputation easy.

You may probably hope that this problem is "self-correcting", that as site grows and we get more close voters this will somehow resolve but don't hold your breath. Per my observations on larger and older site (Programmers.SE), the problem will remain:

http://i.stack.imgur.com/wnfxS.png

  • ...or we can close our eyes, downvote this answer into oblivion and pretend that everything is okay and it's all our fault, pretend that it's because "site is full of crappy questions" – gnat Aug 26 '14 at 16:17
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    You make some good points to mention why this will not work, but what alternative do you propose? I agree with what you are saying, but my downvote is because I don't find this post useful as it doesn't suggest that we do anything other roll over and let it happen. – Matt Giltaji Aug 26 '14 at 16:21
  • @MattGiltaji see the very first link in my answer, at "questions with multiple close votes": At smaller sites, penalize hot questions having 3-4 close votes. As a site regular I am doing my best to lower the garbage level (900+ close votes, 4K+ downvotes, 900+ flags) but without fixing this large broken window it's all in vain. It simply incentivises users to post answers in bad questions and... guess what, I can't blame them – gnat Aug 26 '14 at 16:24
  • @MattGiltaji ...and I know full well that just-do-more-of-the-same won't help. At Programmers, I have more than enough of the same (15K+ close votes, 30K+ downvotes, 7K+ flags) and guess what? this doesn't help, see the screen shot. When system is designed to promote trash, individual efforts fail – gnat Aug 26 '14 at 16:33
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    What percentage of our problem questions are the result of hot lists? Its not that high. This is the 10% of the problem at most. It creates big broken windows for sure but this by it self is just going to leave the 90% broken. I am not saying your solution is bad, but its not a solution we can implement here. If this was the 90% or even 33% of the problem then I would agree this answer belongs here. But as it stands this belongs on meta.se. The problem is real and signifigant and if we can conquer the other 90% then this would take the forefront. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 7 '14 at 3:22
  • @ReallyTiredOfThisGame 33% or more very well may be. Of 40 questions reviewed so far in rounds #1 through #4, at least 7 (maybe 23 more) were hot. "Extra" 23 account for deleted questions, having over 10K you can check these yourself. Here's a breakdown by rounds: round #1 total 10 hot 0-9 (9 deleted), #2 total 10 hot 2-7 (5 deleted), #3 total 10 hot 2-7 (5 deleted), #4 total 11 hot 3 – gnat Nov 26 '14 at 20:06

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