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In light of the debate going on regarding another question that was closed, I wanted to share something I found in the Skeptics SE FAQ, which was very persuasive to me.

https://skeptics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1345/faq-my-question-was-closed-what-does-it-mean

While not everything they say is appropriate to SA (as they have their own site specific issues with notability and such), they say (emphasis added):

Rationale: why do we close questions?

There are really two ways to do moderation. If you've been on any of the .moderated newsgroups you'll be well aware that to get a post on there, it needs to undergo a review process first and be accepted. The aim is to keep problem discussions from arising.

SE is slightly different - it works the other way. Anyone can ask a question on SE and closing a question is the equivalent of putting that question back into review/improve mode. It's a feedback mechanism designed to react to problem cases only, so the usual business of asking and answering good questions can just... happen.

I like this idea—closing a question is an invitation to improvement.

This does imply that we should perhaps give some advise in the comments when voting to close on how to make a better question, or why it is being closed, but that is an extra courtesy.

We should not feel bad about closing a question, even in borderline cases because they can be improved and re-opened, and that is what the mechanism is for.

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This shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The faq say:

Questions that are not a good fit for this site may be voted closed by experienced community members. Closed questions cannot be answered, but are eligible for improvement (and eventual re-opening) through editing, voting, and commenting. See How to Ask for guidance on editing your question to improve it.

Other sites' faq say the same thing. See also the second to last paragraph in the meta.SO faq on closed questions.

Many of us also always comment when we're closing questions, especially for new users. I think we're generally pretty good about noting when a different version of the question would be good, and suggesting editing, even if we don't explicitly say "...then it can be reopened."

With respect to directly using closing as an invitation for improvement: many larger sites do use that philosophy. They'll close a question quickly, even if a modified version will likely be okay, because they're also fast about reopening questions. Small sites often have trouble doing this, though. It takes us long enough to get to five close votes; it takes much longer to get to five reopen votes. So if a question can obviously be fixed up in a straightforward way, it's often easier to skip the closing and reopening.

I'd also note that it's often much friendlier to simply improve a question rather than closing it to try to get the OP to do it. If you're concerned about how it will be received, do let the OP know they can roll back the edit if they really want to.

So in general, the most important thing to take away from the idea of closing as invitation to improvement is that you should be eager to vote to reopen, and if you're in the habit of voting to close without an explanatory comment, you could try to be more helpful. (Same philosophy as downvotes!) The things you vote to close are the same ones you've always voted to close - it's just that you need to be thinking about salvaging them, not destroying them.

  • I think it is nice to edit questions to make them acceptable when the intent of the question is clear--but reading the OPs mind to find an on topic question in my mind is going too far. – SAJ14SAJ Jun 4 '13 at 2:15
  • And I didn't mean to imply that we are not good on this site at leaving helpful comments--in fact, I think we are. – SAJ14SAJ Jun 4 '13 at 2:16
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As this subject has been done to death on Meta Stack Overflow, I'll be blunt.

The definition of closing has been made abundantly clear almost since the inception of the network:

It’s important to note here that closing a question is a step on the road to deletion. Closing is effectively “nominate to delete”, as a question that can’t be answered is no longer truly “alive”. That said, some closed questions should be kept around. For example, duplicate questions that have totally different wording are sometimes useful. With the duplicates, people can find either variation with search terms and link through to the original. The majority of closed questions, however, aren’t particularly useful and are much more likely to eventually be deleted.

I flatly disagree that closing is merely a friendly suggestion to edit or improve, and repudiate the notion that most closed questions are even salvageable. Some are; that's why we still allow editing questions when they're closed, and give everyone with close privileges a set of parallel reopen votes.

Reopened questions are the exception to the rule. The vast majority of closed questions on any and every Stack Exchange site:

  • Get asked by users who do not subsequently engage with the site or community
  • Display little to no evidence of having read the faq or about page
  • Aren't edited or improved
  • Are never reopened
  • Are eventually deleted

That doesn't mean that we should never try to help people who get their questions closed. Some people do "get it" afterward and clarify or clean up their questions and sometimes even go on to become regularly contributing members. But again, these are the exceptions that prove the rule. As moderators (diamond and community) it behooves us to understand how the system really works, to see and treat things for how they are and not how we wish they were.

As a community, we already edit questions that are slightly off-track but still salvageable. I've personally done this hundreds of times and I seriously doubt that anyone could say in good faith that I don't try. Closing a question means that nobody who saw the question could think of any way to fix it - at least not with the information available. Even if the question could be reopened after a phenomenal edit, it's not necessarily the wisest or most pragmatic course of action. It's just as easy to ask a new question, taking into account the lessons learned from the initial closure.

Closing means "this question does not belong here". If you change the question, then sure, it might then belong - emphasis on might. It's not a promise, and any expectation of constant hand-holding eventually burns out even the most committed members.

All of that being said, I almost always do leave a comment when closing a question regarding specifically why it was closed and, if applicable, what changes might get it reopened. And I encourage others to do that as well. But much like downvotes, an explanation not be treated as an obligation; the close reason itself provides a clear explanation and the faq has more detail.

See also: My question was closed! What should I do?

  • I don't think closing being a the first step towards deletion, and it being an invitation to improve are mutually exclusive. And I am sorry if you feel I bring up old rehashed stuff--but I haven't been on the network since its inception. – SAJ14SAJ Jun 4 '13 at 2:30
  • @SAJ14SAJ: It wasn't meant to be a criticism of you or your question, just stating my reason for not going into elaborate detail. I can see your logic if I squint really hard at it, but the point I'm trying to make is that while the "improvement" option is a useful and necessary part of the process, we should see it in its proper context and keep that discussion at arm's length, because most of the time it's wasted effort. That's not cynicism, it's statistics. And it's a bit of a slippery slope because it leads to people clamoring for changing the terminology or not closing at all. – Aaronut Jun 4 '13 at 2:40
  • I think it's worth looking on the positive side here, and trying to find the good questions where we can. Obviously, some questions are unsalvageably bad, and closure is indeed the first step toward deletion; it's indeed bad to mistake this for a suggestion to improve. But sometimes we close questions because they're currently in a form that will invite awful answers, with full knowledge that after some editing we may reopen them - but that the editing requires some input from the OP. I think it's fine to keep that case in mind, and be on the lookout for how to save questions. – Cascabel Jun 4 '13 at 4:48
  • Also, for what it's worth, the faq and SO's description of closed questions do emphasize that closure isn't always permanent, and those statements were written a few years more recently than the blog post you linked to. I think the idea is that yes, we know that most of the time, closed is closed, but we should remember that's not absolute. – Cascabel Jun 4 '13 at 4:50
  • @Jefromi: It is fine to keep that case in mind. No question. But as of late I think there's been undue emphasis on what is essentially a remote possibility, and it strikes me more as a form of meekness and excuse-making than a genuine attempt at aid. We don't close questions so that we can reopen them; we close them so that we can delete them. If they happen to get reopened before getting deleted, then call it a bonus. – Aaronut Jun 4 '13 at 23:44
  • Hm, seems like some high-ups agree with the idea of giving questions a chance - see the "on hold" change here: meta.stackexchange.com/q/184154/133299 – Cascabel Jun 12 '13 at 22:28
  • This change is going live at the same time (hopefully in just a couple days) @Jefromi. So there'll be a brief period of time where closing looks a bit more gentle, followed shortly thereafter by deletion of anything that doesn't look salvageable. Because there are a handful of folks who'll take advantage of the opportunity to improve their questions, but the vast majority are never touched and just need to go away. – Shog9 Jun 23 '13 at 4:33

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