So, yesterday a dumb question was asked.. It was closed as Not A Real Question in less than an hour, and reopened mere minutes later. This isn't the first time that this has happened. It usually results in lots of arguing and acrimony and generally all comes out of a simple misunderstanding.

There are 5 reasons you should close a question:

  • If it's a Duplicate of another question.
  • If it's Too Broad. Questions are expected to be reasonably scoped. A request for a complete walkthrough of a 20 hour RPG is Too Big for a single question. Other examples include requests for very large, or itemized lists, questions that don't have a clear focus, or when multiple questions have been buried in one text box. I've written elsewhere, extensively about question scope. As a very simple and not always accurate rule of thumb, ask yourself the following question: If I knew the answer to this question, would I be willing to sit down and write it up in a single sitting? If the answer is no, the question is probably too broad to be reasonably answered.
  • If it's Off-Topic and outside of the scope defined in the FAQ. Note that the FAQ does not prohibit Stupid Questions, much as I might like it to.
  • If it is Not Clear What The Question Is - that is to say, if it is ambiguous, vague, and not clear what the actual question is, as opposed to merely poorly written. In short, 'Unclear' is for 'questions' that don't have answers. If there is a Real Answer (and not just a poll or discussion), it is a Real Question, no matter how stupid it is.
  • If it is Primarily Opinion Based. Note the definition here - POB is meant for questions that will incite arguments or opinion polls. This is not the same as merely 'Not Useful' - POB is specifically defined in this context as likely to solicit argument. If the answers to the question are capable of being supported by facts and evidence, it is probably not POB. Note however, that inciting arguments about the propriety of the question itself is not grounds for a Not Constructive closure.

Now, mouseover that there little down arrow next to this post. See the tooltip? Read it recently?

This question does not show any research effort; It is unclear or not useful.

Note how that doesn't have much overlap with those 5 close reasons. While a question that deserves closure for one of the reasons generally isn't useful, there are plenty of other useless questions that don't meet any of the criteria above.

What am I getting at here? The point is that it seems that every time one of these Very Stupid Questions comes along (and this wasn't the first, and it won't be the last), people rush to close it. This is not the appropriate response. A Close Vote is not a Super Downvote. It is a new and seperate tool entrusted to 3k users because after earning 3,000 reputation, you should be able to tell the difference between the two, and not use them interchangeably whenever a question comes along that grinds your gears.

Quite frankly, I'm tired of having the same exact argument every time one of these questions comes along, so I'm putting this on Meta so I can stop repeating myself and just link this reminder in the future. And I hope, that in so doing, I can make it happen in the future just a little bit less.

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    A thousand times this. One of the things that bugs the ever lovin' heck out of me is people going "I don't like this" and then trying to fit a close reason to it, or worse yet, a meta question that bans the entire class of questions. – agent86 Nov 9 '12 at 13:27
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    The problem is constructive means useful. So if we have a close reason essentially called "Not Useful", how can we expect people to not cast their votes accordingly? – user9983 Nov 9 '12 at 14:12
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    @Origami new users don't get close votes though. Users with 3,000 reputation do. By the time you've earned 3,000 rep, you ought to know better, even if new users don't. – LessPop_MoreFizz Nov 9 '12 at 14:29
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz Yes, I know better because this lecture comes up each and every time. I am saying I don't think we are allowed to get mad when people put red things in the bin labeled "red things" just because it says "green things go here" under the label. If you want people to put things in their proper place from the start, get the right labels. Getting 3000 rep is nothing. I can easily get 3000 without ever going to chat or meta. I don't understand why you are making the assertion that 3000 rep translates to knowing that our close reasons are mislabled. – user9983 Nov 9 '12 at 14:56
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    @OrigamiRobot I think the point of this Meta is to educate. Sure random 3k users might occasionally get confused - but it takes more than one vote to close. I think the hope is that of the percent of 3k users who view a bad question, a high enough percentage can be made aware of the correct interpretation of NC, so as to prevent erroneous closure. Try to invent an idiot-proof name if you want, but the internet will always invent a better idiot. – EBongo Nov 9 '12 at 21:15
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    @EBongo What sense does it make to say to yourself "We'll just teach people that when we say apple we mean orange." There is no point in having people start off confused and then lecturing them for it. – user9983 Nov 9 '12 at 21:19
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    This is confusing, downvote "it is unclear or not useful" vote to close "not a real question"-> unclear, "too-localized"->not useful general, "not constructive"-> causes arguement, not useful.. As being a sub3k this does not help me understand the difference between downvotes and vote to close. Can you clarify better? – Brian Nov 9 '12 at 21:29
  • @Brian Downvotes are for things that are not useful in general. Close votes are for things that are not useful because of the reasons described in the close reason text. – user9983 Nov 9 '12 at 21:31
  • @OrigamiRobot We're not talking about apples and oranges here. Constructive and useful, while synonyms, are in fact different words. Moreover, there is whole context brought on by the sentences each are used in, sentences I expect educated users to read before they act. I understand the difference, but I also get why you think new 3kers won't. I'm just saying I have low faith in the improvements a new name would bring. But by all means, if you've got one to propose - answer LessPop's question. – EBongo Nov 9 '12 at 21:32
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    @EBongo The fact that they are synonyms is my entire problem. Apples/Oranges is not referring to the words Constructive/Useful. It is referring to the term "Not Constructive" and the actual close reason text. The actual reason for NC is far closer to subjectivity than constructiveness. The problem with calling it Too Subjective is that a lot of the times there are good subjective questions. I am not saying changing the name would solve all the problems. All I am saying is garbage in, garbage out. – user9983 Nov 9 '12 at 21:35
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    @LessPop Again, I am not the one you need to explain this nuanced idea to. I have seen people lectured over and over about it. If things aren't clear from the beginning, you will have to lecture people on this again. – user9983 Nov 10 '12 at 15:28
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    @YellowMegaMan That question is absolutely NARQ. There is no way to know which 94% you've completed to know which 6% you're missing. It is ambiguous, vague, and cannot be reasonably answered in it's current form. It's practically the definition of the close reason. – LessPop_MoreFizz Nov 21 '12 at 3:00
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz: That's true, but it's a harsh way to fix a question. And getting a closed question reopened can be arduous. (Perhaps less so now that I finally have 3k rep, but it was virtually impossible before.) – YellowMegaMan Nov 21 '12 at 4:05
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    @fbueckert: I'm glad my example question is (sort-of) resolved, but my issue is much broader than a single question. This site is far too quick to close questions. The down-vote/comment/edit cycle is much longer than the close-vote cycle, whereas I think it should be the opposite. Askers should be given reasonable time (and help) to fix their questions before they are closed. Close votes should be a last-resort, not a first approach. Isn't that what this thread is about in the first place? Closing questions too quickly is off-putting for new users. Help them, don't punish them! – YellowMegaMan Nov 22 '12 at 1:24
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    @YellowMegaMan That's not what this is about at all. Questions that warrant closure should be closed swiftly. There's no point in letting a question that should be closed linger open just to 'provide time to edit'. The entire state of closure is specifically meant to do that as is. The point of this post is that sometimes, closure isn't appropriate at all. The valid reasons to close a question are specific and narrowly defined. Stupidity, while frequently coincident with a valid reason for closure, isn't one in itself. – LessPop_MoreFizz Nov 22 '12 at 1:30

Here's a quick reference for the tools we've got for handling questions and when we should use them:

Downvote (Requires 125 reputation)

This question does not show research effort, it is unclear or not useful.

Close (Requires 3k reputation)

This question meets one of the close vote criteria, as LPMF has already described. More generally, if answering the question is likely to be harmful in some way then it should be closed (and there will be a close reason that reflects this).

Protect (Requires 15k reputation)

This question is likely to attract lots of views and newbies are adding "me too!", "thanks!" and possibly even spam non-answers. (I tend to do this if it's attracting "forum style" non-answers or a ton of low-quality "not really answers" as well, given the number of drive-by users we've got that do this sort of thing)


A question needs closing or deleting fast and/or you can't cast a close/delete vote on it. It is evil, weird, or in any way exceptional and deserving of moderator attention for any reason.

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    @Desaivv perfectly acceptable. – LessPop_MoreFizz Nov 11 '12 at 13:32
  • @desaivv There has been discussion on this topic before. For the record I agree that question should have been deleted and the flag approved, but the community is divided on that. – Wipqozn Nov 11 '12 at 17:32
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    @desaivv, "not an answer" means it's not even an attempt at an answer. A wrong answer is still an answer. Sometimes it's good to know that a particular/popular opinion on the subject is generally regarded by the community as incorrect. This is also a good read on the subject. – agent86 Nov 11 '12 at 18:22

I want to add one more tool to the list that @agent86 didn't mention:


The power of a little communication is great. Often times I see people try to close a question because it is asked in the context of an architecture or design they feel is bad. That is not a reason to close a question. It is still an answerable question. If you want to tell them to not use that architecture, then do so in a comment. If you feel it should be closed, provide some rational so that the asker has an opportunity to make a correction, or often times clarify a misunderstanding of what they are asking. Be a little tolerant of the non-native english speakers and make an effort to understand what they are trying to ask. Comment with some clarifying questions.

If someone asks "How can I cut down a tree using only bone and stone tools?", don't close it because you think that's a terrible approach. You really have no idea the context of the question, and IMO that is irrelevant. For them to elaborate on those unrelated details invites a discussion that is probably of little interest to the asker and detracts focus away from the answer they are looking for. They have scoped out a specific context for the question, and would like to focus on that question. If you think the context/pretense of the question is somehow stupid, then comment offering a constructive suggestion.

It may be they haven't considered an alternative that would allow them to sidestep the question entirely, and thus your comment would be useful to them.

However. the context of the question(maybe they inherited a project with certain requirements they have no control over) doesn't make it an unanswerable question. Nor does it make it useless. I just today saw a question with over 9000 views that was closed for being to localized/narrow to be of use to others. It certainly was of use to me and likely some others.

I really see no reason to vote for a close without first making a comment, unless it was blatant abuse, in which case it'd be a flag instead anyhow.

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    I agree that closing a question when a simple rewording would suffice is the wrong thing to do, but I disagree that context is irrelevant. You said yourself they may be ignorant of the alternatives. That is a perfect example of where context can turn a bad question into a good question. – user9983 Nov 14 '12 at 13:19
  • Indeed, if the question seems to be asking for ways to do something in a weird way, asking why they want to do it that way can lead to some important insights as to what the actual problem is. We're here primarily to solve problems, so knowing the root cause of the problem is important. – MBraedley Nov 14 '12 at 15:43
  • I'm not against people offering alternatives that don't directly answer the question. Usually a question will reflect someone's confusion and it is clear there are alternatives they haven't considered. I am against people adamantly trying to steer the asker away from their question, that it detracts from the question. If they aren't interested, then walk away. – AaronLS Nov 15 '12 at 2:32
  • Someone might say, "Stone tools only? That's a stupid question, just go rent a chainsaw." No, that's an answer to a different question along the lines of "I don't have any power tools or saws, what is the easiest/cheapest way to cut down a try?" And it's put so abrasively that now the asker is swimming upstream. It's one thing to try and get some more background on a question, that's fine. It's a totally different thing to blindly judge a question as stupid, or pushing unrelated answers just because you don't like the pretense of it, before finding out why it is scoped that way. – AaronLS Nov 15 '12 at 2:40
  • "It's a totally different thing to blindly judge a question as stupid" - absolutely this. And it seems to happen a lot. I think some people get a power trip from closing questions and achieve this goal by asking their minions to "vote to close" on questions they don't like. – BunjiquoBianco Nov 15 '12 at 12:06
  • @AaronLS: The forceful hand approach is bad, but that's not what OrigamiRobot and I are saying. Asking "Why stone tools only?" is a Good Thing. Understanding a problem is the first step in solving a problem. If you don't understand the problem, then your solution might not solve it. Saying "That's a stupid question, just go rent a chainsaw." is arrogant, hurtful, and simply not welcome. But asking "Have you considered using a chainsaw instead?" (usually in a comment) might lead to "No, that's interesting, though." or "Yes, but I can't/don't want to because...". Both responses are good. – MBraedley Nov 15 '12 at 13:42
  • I think we are in agreement. Like I said "I'm not against people offering alternatives that don't directly answer the question." – AaronLS Nov 16 '12 at 4:53

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