10

We have a new member who posted a question - it was put on hold as too broad, and rightly so, since it was incredibly brief and generic. Two other members made good comments with suggestions about additional details to add.

The member then self-deleted that question and posted a new question, including the specific details and backstory asked for in comments on the first question. It was immediately put on hold - within an hour, with no meaningful comments, answers, or further help offered.

I know putting questions on hold is somewhat subjective - and clearly, some new members are just here to do a drive-by question and we never see them again anyways. But when we have a new member who is actively putting in effort to follow our guidance, how can we help them - besides just shutting them down?

14

This is a great question. Even as an older user that recently became more active, I've felt pretty unwelcome at times after comments and actions around my own posts.

I think there are a number of factors that contribute to negative experiences for new users:

  1. Questions are closed very quickly. Given the number of individuals with the ability to cast close votes, and the low number of questions, the votes add up quickly.
  2. Rescuing a question is rare. Once a question is on hold, or even before, substantial edits to questions are rare. We wait for the asker to refine the question instead of intervening directly.
  3. Downvoting has come to represent "dislike". When a question asks about a situation that readers find unflattering of the asker, it gathers downvotes quickly, even when it's a well-framed question.
  4. Unfounded criticism is common in the comments. Comments like "You've messed up" or "That was wrong" are common, offer no guidance for improving a question, and don't seem to rise to the standard of "unfriendly" to our moderator team.

If these really are factors that matter, there are several things we could do:

  1. Improve the definitions of "off-topic" posts to specific characteristics of posts instead of subjective judgements (e.g., "multiple questions raised" instead of "unclear what you're asking" - the former is objectively discernible while the latter allows for much broader application of judgement).
  2. Encourage editing instead of voting to close when a question can be salvaged - even if an edit would be substantial (more than just correcting a typo).
  3. Come to the aid of questions that accrue misguided downvotes. A simple statement like "This is a great question, why are folks voting down?" in the comments has an impact by drawing attention to the desired use of voting.
  4. Revisit our standard for "unfriendly." A comment or post that criticizes an asker as an individual (vs. the content of a question) is certainly unfriendly - why do we let these persist on the site?
  • 3
    On #4, it's important for people to flag those when they come across them. Moderators do not see most comments. – Monica Cellio Aug 15 at 3:27
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    This is a great answer. "Encourage editing instead of voting to close" - but how? – Joe Strazzere Aug 15 at 21:14
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    @JoeStrazzere, visibility & role modeling go a long way. Seeing substantial edits to questions from high-rep users gives some credibility to the action. Communicating in the comments appreciation for question-rescuing edits reinforces editing as a positive behavior. – Jay Aug 16 at 20:19
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    @Jay - I understand. Unfortunately, lots of close votes occur extremely quickly - well before any substantial edits could. And those who are close-vote happy, haven't seemed to respond to edits and comments so far. – Joe Strazzere Aug 16 at 20:25
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    If this site is like other SE sites, “unclear” is too often used when what is asked is actually perfectly obvious. – WGroleau Aug 16 at 21:52
  • I agree this is a good answer and I upvoted. I will say that aggressive edits are not always plausible without the OP providing clarifications. – TheGirlHasNoName Aug 17 at 17:03
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    @JoeStrazzere Unfortunately, lots of close votes occur extremely quickly - indeed. I cut back on trying to rescue-edit new questions several months ago because I got frustrated that they'd be closed before I was even finished typing the edit. – dwizum Aug 20 at 17:32
  • There are, of course, organic things we can do (e.g., encouragement in the comments). @MonicaCellio, are there feasible structural changes that could be made as well (e.g., changing the pre-populated close vote reasons, changing who can cast close votes)? – Jay Aug 21 at 0:13
  • @WGroleau if you see unclear votes on a question that seems obvious to you, then it probably means that you're perceiving something the voters aren't. If you can edit to clarify the question, you can help the OP and fend off further votes. I find it best to leave a comment explaining the edit, so that both the OP and reviewers will see it. – Monica Cellio Aug 21 at 0:50
  • @Jay we can change the custom off-topic reasons but not the others. Changing the off-topic ones starts with a meta post. We can't change who can cast votes. If people aren't aligned in close/reopen voting (seems to be the case), we can try to reach consensus on meta and informally discuss in chat. I think our biggest problem is on the reopen end; lots of questions legitimately get put on hold because key information is missing, but when that's fixed people aren't voting to reopen. – Monica Cellio Aug 21 at 0:53
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    How can I clarify a question that’s already perfectly clear? – WGroleau Aug 21 at 2:54
  • @WGroleau, I believe the point of Monica is then to assume that it is clear for you, but not to others (in good faith). So you could edit to reformulate trying to make it even clearer. Emphasizing the important points, etc. – bilbo_pingouin Aug 21 at 9:13
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    I’m not convinced that it was good faith in the ones I complaint about in review queues. Maybe not malicious, but if you don’t like the background info under a perfectly clear and concise title question, the appropriate response is a downvote, not a vote to close. And if it’s off-topic, say so instead of saying it’s not clear. I haven’t seen it often, but it’s irritating when it happens. – WGroleau Aug 21 at 14:39
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    Here's an example from today's queue in another stack: voted closed because "unclear what you're asking." The question is quite obvious: "Is (address) the correct place to mail a UK visa application?" travel.stackexchange.com/review/close/123511 – WGroleau Sep 2 at 18:58
6

It was immediately put on hold - within an hour, with no meaningful comments, answers, or further help offered.

Well, he was bypassing our site policies by re-asking a question that was already closed. I'm not sure there's a need to post the same comments again when the question is identical and the first comment links back to the at-that-point-deleted question. If the OP wanted to make a good-faith effort to improve his question he had the information he needed for that and could have engaged with the comments instead of doing the same thing again and hoping for a different outcome.

I agree that there are still too many cases where questions are closed without meaningful feedback being given to the OP. This topic has unfortunately been raised several times before. While most of the time we're fairly good at leaving comments for the OP to improve the question or that explain what parts of it are on/off-topic, we could still improve there.

I'm just not sure this instance is an example of such a situation.

  • Ignoring the validity of the example, do you have thoughts on what we can do to support new users? – Jay Aug 14 at 21:21
  • @Jay A difficult question because there's not much we can do that isn't eventually up to individual users. If you see a summarily closed question that lacks feedback, "be the change you wish to see in the world" and provide some context. As I said I think we're mostly handling these questions well and we have plenty of regulars who will put in the extra effort of welcoming new people and explaining what they can do to get their question reopened / received better. But as Joe says we can do better. – Lilienthal Aug 14 at 22:20
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I'm one of the users who VTC'd the second instance of the question - I think it's borderline as to whether it's too broad to answer here if I'm honest but I think it was made to look less appealing (for want of a better word) by the fairly rant-y nature of much of it.

I've done an edit to try and boil it down to the most answerable form I could think of and have voted to re-open.

3

It was immediately put on hold - within an hour, with no meaningful comments, answers, or further help offered.

We can do better...

Unfortunately many can't be bothered.

  • yeah, I noticed when I posted a few things – Tina_Sea Aug 22 at 16:05
-1

But when we have a new member who is actively putting in effort to follow our guidance, how can we help them - besides just shutting them down?

That's a long-standing fundamental problem, not just in workplace but in most other stackexchange sites as well.

This happens because enough VTC-ers value strict adherence to "the rules" (*) above their empathy for whatever the OP is going through.

That's mostly OK for QA sites focused on, for example, the finer points of regular expression usage. The Workplace, however, is a human issues topic where people, sometimes, are hurting and looking for some direction.

The solution to this is to loosen up on the strictness and make an effort to moderate the harshness of downvotes, VTC's, dupe-marking. Moreover, it goes without saying that there should be actual consequences for moderation behavior that turns out to be wrong. Should the people who VTC'd a question that is later reopened get some percentage of points removed? I think so (even though I could not care less about "points", I expect that VTC police probably do value them).

That said, I am not optimistic anything can be done given the culture fostered by game-ified QA sites.

(*) By "adherence to the rules", I mean their own interpretation of the rules. Usually in systems with rules, even games, there is some mechanism for normalizing rule interpretation.

  • 1
    "Should the people who VTC'd a question that is later reopened get some percentage of points removed?" No, of course not. The ideal scenario here would have been that the new member edited their original question to fix all of the problems, and it was then reopened. The goal of some VTCs is a future reopen. It makes no sense to punish people for doing the right thing. – Peter Taylor Aug 14 at 8:44
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    If the goal of VTC is to prompt the op to edit their question, it would be more effective to first kindly tell them what is actually wrong first and give them an opportunity to edit. Too much trigger-happiness with vtc, downvotes and dupe-marking.is hostile to newcomers, and yes, many of these actions are at least heavy handed and sometimes just wrong. – teego1967 Aug 14 at 12:00
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I think penalising people who vote to close a question that is later re-opened is a great idea, in addition I think a far higher number of votes should be required to close a question especially for a new user.

  • New users can't vote to close questions. It requires, IIRC, at least 2000 reputation to vote to close. However, sometimes those newly 2000 users tend to be more trigger-happy regarding close votes compared to other, higher-rep users. – DarkCygnus Aug 19 at 17:44
  • I meant close a question asked by a new user. – Alan Dev Aug 21 at 13:51

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