This stems from another comment thread: The idea of questions being "closed" seems to rub some users the wrong way. They don't understand that a question that is closed can be reworded and reopened by the community. The terminology itself implies a finality, that their question has been deemed unworthy and is being shut permanently.

Should we consider a better turn of phrase to replace "closed"?

Edited to add: This site encourages people to ask questions without any prerequisites -- no FAQ reading, not even signing up for an account. This is to reduce the barrier to entry as much as possible. We should not be saying to these people (many who are not tech savvy and don't even know that there is a FAQ that can be read!) to RTFM when something confusing happens. Instead, we should be making it less confusing.

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    Please, users should not take offense for having one of their questions closed. It doesn't mean we don't like them, it's just that the question wasn't suited for the website.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Sep 1, 2010 at 18:05
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    I agree, but the very act of something being labelled as "closed" is going to cause some people to get upset, simply because they don't understand what that means, exactly. The site encourages people to ask questions without having to read a FAQ or even create an account. We shouldn't expect that everyone will have done these things. Rather, we should try to be more clear about what is going on, using terminology that is appropriate. Sep 1, 2010 at 23:25
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    The terminology is appropriate. The first thing we want people to think about is not "can I get it reopened?" but "why wasn't it accepted?" And rest assured that many if not most of these people will get upset no matter how you word it. We are sending exactly the right message with the terminology; basically, read the FAQ and understand what this site is about before taking any further action. We don't want to hold their hands and make it clear that their question can be reopened if it's not already obvious to them. We want to get them to think for themselves.
    – Aaronut
    Sep 2, 2010 at 1:44
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    We certainly want to make this information available to find for those interested, but for everybody else, closing really is just one step on the way to deletion.
    – Aaronut
    Sep 2, 2010 at 1:46

6 Answers 6


I don't see this happening. This is simply how the site works. Some people are going to get all in a bunch no matter how we phrase it. As long as we remain polite and helpful, people who we want to be on the site will handle it like adults.

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    Agreed. I think pretty much any word that would be a synonym could be taken the wrong way if that's how the user wants to take it. I like the idea of linking to an faq or meta page about what closing means, or the meta CW hobodave started here: meta.cooking.stackexchange.com/q/690 Sep 1, 2010 at 5:43
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    honestly, i think we need to stick the link hobodeave's cw in the faq if possible. It would help to head off that knee jerk reaction that some people seem to be having about it. Sep 1, 2010 at 9:17
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    I agree. It's not the wording of "closing" that rubs the wrong way. As long as we remain helpful and courteous when closing a question, it should be fine. Sep 1, 2010 at 12:17
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    I don't think "simply how the site works" is a good enough answer. We should be trying to make people feel welcome, and repeatedly the term "closed" has alienated people. Don't shut down a discussion before it starts. Sep 1, 2010 at 14:03
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    @Tim: Please don't accuse me of "shutting down a discussion before it starts". You started a discussion; I voiced my opinion. Others are free to do the same.
    – hobodave
    Sep 1, 2010 at 14:18
  • @Mike: Welcome back! Where'd you go?
    – hobodave
    Sep 1, 2010 at 14:33
  • @hobodave: your response was "I don't see that happening", which isn't a discussion, it's a conversation stopper. You didn't justify the current wording, you didn't entertain alternate wording, rather you implied that even if better suggestions come up that they won't happen. That diamond beside your name holds power, and your choice of words matter. You should be encouraging this kind of discussion, not merely stating your opinion that it's not worth discussing, which you did whether you meant to or not. Sep 2, 2010 at 1:14
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    @Tim: We simply don't agree that the current wording needs justification, or that an "alternate" wording would actually be better. The barrier to entry for these sites is intentionally low; you don't need to read the FAQ or even register to ask a question. But the quintessential closed question is like a "WRONG WAY" sign on a one-way street. It says "whoops, we thought you were doing fine up until now, but you seem to have taken a wrong turn; better get off this street ASAP and look at your map again." That's a message we want to convey; it's important to convey.
    – Aaronut
    Sep 2, 2010 at 14:50
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    ...and if somebody is offended by that, if their reaction is "damn it, why do I have to read all these signs!?" or even "screw you, I'll go whichever way I want!" then that is not our fault for being confusing. Some people just naturally "get it" and for those people we make it incredibly easy to join and contribute; a closed question (esp. by a new user) indicates that they aren't paying close enough attention to the street signs, and we need to be polite but still firm with them in those cases - not try to gently nudge them in the right direction while 20 other cars pile up.
    – Aaronut
    Sep 2, 2010 at 14:56
  • This isn't about offence, it's about clarity. For all the douchebags who get their panties in a knot and post ridiculous things in meta about "closed" being offensive, there are a dozen or more average people who are confused by the term and turned off the site because they're not interested in learning the site, they're interested in finding out why their soufflé is falling. It is always the fault of the teacher if a willing student doesn't understand. "WRONG WAY" has a direct and obvious meaning. "CLOSED" does not; it's ambiguous. Sep 5, 2010 at 14:12

I'd like to take a few steps back from this issue and ask people to look at the bigger picture.

I know that our community is not bursting at the seams yet, and I want it to grow as much as anybody here - the other moderators and I have already invested tons of our personal time doing everything we can to make the site succeed.

But there's still a balance we have to maintain. If you're not already familiar with the term "Eternal September", please take a moment to read about it. If new users start to stream in faster than we're able to teach them how to properly use the site/system, then we are doomed to become Yahoo Answer Fail.

So in both the site's design and the moderation of said site, there has to be a certain element of tough love. It's like a permissive-but-not-quite-open-borders immigration policy: We want you here, no matter who you are, but only if you take the time to learn our customs and become a functioning member of society.

Or, to put it another way, we're a meritocracy, or at least we try our best to be.

Being part of a big, global community means that people will disagree with you sometimes. They may even be total jerks. Although all of us here today all try to be as polite as possible and want other people to be as polite as possible, eventually all users start to pick up occasional anonymous downvotes, or unexplained close votes. If somebody panics and throws a hissy fit when they get a downvote or close vote that is explained, then they are not going to survive here long. It's just the nature of the internet. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Allow me to outline the basic SE philosophy as I currently understand it:

  • If you use the site well, you earn reputation.
  • If you earn reputation, you get to use the more "dangerous" features of the site.
  • If you're unwilling or unable to learn how to use the site properly, you shouldn't be earning any reputation.

Some people just don't have much to contribute. It's a fact. It's been proven on SO, SF, SU, and just about every other SE. Some people can't handle any criticism and engage in comment flame wars and revenge downvoting. Some people refuse to put any effort into their questions even after several downvotes, warnings and a week-long suspension. Some (many!) users "hit and run", treating the community as their personal servant, asking one question or half a dozen and not bothering to thank or even upvote/accept any of the people who helped, then disappearing for months until the next round of questions. Some users even come to these sites just to troll, rant, or generally cause trouble.

I'm talking about help vampires, and the internet is full of them. And when we cross the line from professional courtesy into ingratiating sycophantism, we are no longer helping the people who need help; we are simply lowering the bar for those that don't care.

Sure, you say, but we don't have any "help vampires." I say that is precisely because we moderate the way we do. If we start trying to be politically correct and smarmy everywhere, we'll lose this.

Again, I am not advocating rudeness or ignorance of usability problems. I tentatively agree that it would be nice, when a question is closed, to offer a link to a meta help page. That way, those users who actually care can read it and learn from their mistake. We should do everything we can to help those seeking help.

But what I absolutely don't want is for us to start acting like every single clueless and impatient help vampire we lose is an unmitigated disaster. We do not need to be coddling newbies and telling them "Oh, hey, your question was kinda sorta closed, but don't worry, it's OK, that doesn't mean what you think it means, honest, we still love you, please don't go, here we'll even help you get it reopened!"

So yes, maybe the wording might confuse a few newbs. No, I don't want to see it changed into something softer. As much as we want to retain our user base, we also need to send a clear message: "Hey, this site isn't a free-for-all, go read the FAQ and follow our rules if you want to participate here."

  • While I agree with the majority of what you're saying, I disagree that we shouldn't be constantly struggling with how to make the site better. What works for a programming site, or a user interface site, or an RPG site may not work for a cooking site. A link to an explanation of what closed means is a good start, but that doesn't mean we can't come up with a better term. Maybe we can't, but geez, shouldn't we at least try? Sep 1, 2010 at 23:23
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    @Tim: Did I say we shouldn't be trying to make the site better? I believe I said that trying to soften the wording isn't going to make the site better, it'll ultimately do the opposite. People should be a little discouraged when their questions are closed; the ones who are actually committed to integrating with the community here will find the FAQ themselves or follow the link or even just read the comments and quickly discover that with just a little bit of effort, they can still get their question answered.
    – Aaronut
    Sep 2, 2010 at 0:17
  • I don't want to "soften" the wording, I want to clarify it. Saying something is "closed" smacks of "case closed!", which does not imply that the question can be reopened. Sure, someone can do research and find out more information, but isn't it better to be more clear from the get go? Sep 2, 2010 at 1:11
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    @Tim: It only smacks of "case closed" if you interpret the site as some sort of trial. A closed door can be opened again. I'd say that in 99% of cases where the word "closed" is used, it's frequently accompanied by the word "open[ed]". "Under review" doesn't clarify anything, a typical user's response to that would be "uh, so what?" I don't mean to sound brusque but there is no evidence that your opinion is representative of the community as a whole. It just represents a few people who prefer to lash out and make excuses than to simply admit their mistake and learn from it.
    – Aaronut
    Sep 2, 2010 at 1:36
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    How about, rather than writing off the people who are confused by the terminology as people who "lash out and make excuses", you instead try to have some empathy for the people who are confused and brainstorm some suggestions. I never said I had the answer, but I'm appalled that the two people who are supposed to be helping the most to build the community are the ones who are most actively resistant to making a suggestion as to how this could be improved. Unless you think that "closed" is the most perfect of terms, perhaps contributing some alternatives would be helpful. Sep 2, 2010 at 2:35
  • (Also, I think I'm a pretty good user of this site, I've tried to be helpful and particpate as much as I can, and I'm also an active user of SO, and I was confused by the term closed. People shouldn't have to do research to understand something simple like "this question needs clarification/improvement/fewer f-words before we can let people answer it") Sep 2, 2010 at 2:38
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    @Tim: I think you should take a step back and stop interpreting people's statements in the worst possible way. There are countless members of the community that have been confused at sometime or another, they have been guided and taught, and learn from their mistakes. There is a small subset that cannot handle constructive criticism at all, that lashes out either in comments or meta.
    – hobodave
    Sep 2, 2010 at 2:51
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    @Tim: No one is shutting you down here. No one is trying to stop a discussion from happening. No one is trying to stifle improvement. Try not to be so defensive. You have proposed an idea; we think it is bad. The voters in this discussion seem to agree. There are currently several active meta topics going on about how to best deal with closing, new users, confusion, etc. Feel free to participate in those. Feel free to continue giving feedback or ideas in this discussion, but please don't take it personally.
    – hobodave
    Sep 2, 2010 at 3:00

I don't believe that the designation of an unsuitable question as "closed" is the issue here; the explanation of why a question has been closed matters more to a new user because it helps that person understand how the site functions, and providing such assistance is inherently welcoming. Its implication is that the closer expects the new user to continue using the site and wants to help that person become familiar with it.

Warning people that their questions might be closed, explaining why, and providing them with an opportunity to edit their questions appropriately is always nice when a question has potential, but it's also important for the continued good functioning of the site to discourage the asking of those questions that will never be suitable (such as recipe requests). When such questions are closed, however, explanations are given.

It's unfortunate that some people take the closing of their questions personally, but I don't think, if such closings are coupled with clear, polite explanations, that there is anything else we can or should do to mitigate people's hurt feelings. It isn't unreasonable of us to expect that new users learn how the site functions. Toward that end, pointing people to appropriate meta help entries seems like a good idea; changing already clear wording to something vague does not. (I say this because "open" and "closed" are very clear, especially when coupled with explanations; "under review" has no clear opposite and engenders more questions than it answers.)


Another approach would be to add a more friendly standard text to the closed explanation text.

"Your question can be reopened...

  • Duplicate questions: explain why your question is not a duplicate.
  • Not a question: please reformulate your question see FAQ
  • etc."

That's 0,04€ now.

  • Showing such a text only to the asker would be a good idea.
    – user4697
    May 6, 2011 at 19:18

Some question [Flagged]

I believe the word "closed" to convey a meaning that doesn't correspond to this sites inner workings. I propose to use "Flagged" in the question line, instead for questions that can be improved and still use "Closed" for questions that are to be, eventually, erased.

Below the actual question you could put something like Flagged for improvement with some explanation.

My 0,02€

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    Flagging is already used and has a far different meaning on SE. Not only does "Flagged for improvement" fail to describe the actual situation (that no more answers can be added), it also fails to convey that it's the author's responsibility, and now sounds scary and patronizing instead of just a little scary. Flags are for spam, offensive content, and moderator review - in other words, major problems. They are much worse than closures.
    – Aaronut
    Sep 2, 2010 at 20:15
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    Resistance to Change. You are trying to convince yourselves that there is no problem. I'm proposing a different wording. Do try to appreciate what we're trying to transmit: There is a problem and we should do something about it. Sep 2, 2010 at 22:47

Under Review

This question has been voted as Under Review because it's subjective and argumentative. Consider revising the question and it may be restored.

  • The important thing here is that this has been voted upon, not simply that "some mod" has closed the question, and that it can be restored by fixing the question. Sep 1, 2010 at 14:07
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    @Tim - the word "closed" in titles helps me as someone who knows the site (and even when I didn't know SO as well) to expect that I - not the question owner - can't do much to it. I don't go to that question looking to add an answer, for example. Isn't that something we want to convey?
    – justkt
    Sep 1, 2010 at 14:11
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    A comment would work for this case. Sep 1, 2010 at 14:38
  • @juskt: I don't think that we need to help people who already know the site, we need to help people who do not. Additionally, as an active member of the community, you'll be well aware of the implications of another term within minutes of seeing it. Sep 2, 2010 at 1:16
  • @Tim - when I was an SO newbie I needed to understand that about other people's closed questions :).
    – justkt
    Sep 2, 2010 at 15:37
  • @justkt: Yes, but but programmers are, by nature, problem solvers with a technical curiosity. People asking cooking questions are not fascinated with figuring out how a site works, they expect the site to simply make sense, which is why comparing SO to cooking.se isn't wise. Sep 5, 2010 at 14:07
  • "Under review" doesn't describe what is really happening; to me, it would sound like "we are deciding if your question is worth being in this site; please wait for our decision." What is happening is that the question has been closed. If the question was too subjective or off-topic, then the OP can rewrite it to be less subjective or on-topic; it's not the community who is deciding on something, and the OP must wait for that decision. The decision has been already taken, and the OP needs to do something (e.g. change the style of his/her questions).
    – apaderno
    May 6, 2011 at 0:09

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