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This page (requires 2k to see) breaks down recent closed questions by close reason, and also shows what happened to those questions after closure. In the last 90 days we have closed 87 questions as too broad (the largest single bucket, about a third of the closures in that time). Of those, 24 were edited. Of those, 7 were reopened. That's less than 10% edited and reopened.

Worldbuilding, by its nature, attracts broad questions, so naturally a lot of those rightly get put on hold. But ideally it doesn't end there; in an ideal world the question gets improved and reopened.

What can we do to help askers produce answerable, not-too-broad questions? Do we need better guidance up front? (If so, what?) Do we need to provide better feedback in comments? Do we need to be more active in editing? Do we need to be more clear that "on hold" is meant to be temporary and the asker shouldn't give up? Something else?

Presumably some of the questions really aren't salvagable, but 90%+?

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  • $\begingroup$ Relevant earlier discussion: meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/2661/28 $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 9 '15 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ As someone who has access to the moderation tools but doesn't use them much, is there a way to see a list of questions that are closed for a particular reason? The results of that might reveal a trend we can address. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 9 '15 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I don't know a way to find only a specific close reason (other than duplicates), unfortunately. This search shows all the non-duplicate questions that were last active in the last few months; it's coarse, but maybe a starting point. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 9 '15 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre It looks like I wrote this query a while ago to see some information on closed questions. You can change the sort order to group by close reason. Come to think of it, did I write it for you? $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Nov 9 '15 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh I don't remember asking anyone for a query, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 9 '15 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre My mistake, it was Aify. Back when I was interested in how many questions were closed during the weapon-design challenge. Either way, I found the query useful, perhaps it can help you too. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Nov 9 '15 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh thanks! Anybody who wants to tweak that query: might be helpful to accept a date range or age cutoff as parameters. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 9 '15 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh Ah, yes, it was for me. Thanks for writing that up, btw! $\endgroup$ – Aify Nov 13 '15 at 17:43
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One additional thing I have noticed is certain users tend to be less than cordial when commenting on closing questions. This is particularly irritating when we are talking about someone brand new to the site (I generally focus on <200 rep).

When you are new you are likely going to ask bad or malformed questions...we all know getting used to the SE format is a challenge...rather than berate people we need to make sure we are offering suggestions and help.

This is true for all users but in particular for new people as new blood means new questions and a healthy site.

Otherwise I pretty much agree with what @frostfyre said.

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After doing a limited investigation of the questions closed as too broad (thanks for the query, DaaaaWhoosh), I noticed a few trends:

  • New users
  • Author didn't contribute meaningfully to the discussion
  • No discussion for close reasons

I don't think there's a lot more we can do about this specific issue.

New users are presented with the tour when they start and I saw plenty of direction to the tour and help in the comments of potentially-closed questions from new users. We can't force them to go through the tour and the entire history of questions on the site is available for anyone to look at in their spare time. The resources are there for new users and the community already tries to point them out. We're also great about providing constructive criticism of questions from new users, though we do tend to get carried away when an idea presented is wrong. (Feel free to detail the many reasons the word "wrong" should not be used as bold and italics here. :) )

If the author doesn't contribute to the discussion about the question, there's nothing we can do. Sure, we can make edits, but those will probably be in conflict with the author's intent, let alone in conflict with each other. We'd end up turning questions into tennis balls at the National Tennis Championship.

I did notice one concerning trend: the lack of discussion from the close-voters. I've been guilty of this one myself a few times, but mostly when the community is already hip-deep in discussion. Perhaps the community could be more explicit about why a question is too broad and conveying suggestions for improving the question, but there's not much we can do if the author doesn't respond to commenters (a sub-trend I noticed).

There were a few other trends I noticed (e.g., author adamant it's not too broad), but those three were the most widespread.

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As a new user (long-time lurker, first time poster) I can speak to this, as my very first question was first posted in the wrong exchange (writers) and when redone here in worldbuilding was slapped with a hold so fast it made my head spin.

Specificity is great as an aid in answering a question but isn't always necessarily a requirement to do so. Case in point: while responders in worldbuilding were busy shooting down my question and giving broad examples to demonstrate how my question wasn't specific enough (irony!) before it was finally thrown into hold status, responders in writers were actually answering the exact same question with perfectly valid and helpful answers.

Is specificity necessary for all questions? Only if the answer(s) need to be specific. Also consider that no matter how specific a question is phrased chances are it can always be made more specific. At what point do you stop worrying about specificity and get down to actually attempting an answer? Be careful in your pursuit of specificity that you don't miss opportunities to genuinely help the questioner.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I understand that you're new to this but generally don't cross-post. And if you do, please indicate it. That being said, you'll notice that your question is opened right now. And not being closed as too broad (but being voted off-topic) on writers isn't a proof that it would not be here. Some comments explained why it is too broad and you simply handwaved the objections away. I'm not sure that is the most positive attitude. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Nov 23 '15 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ While my post above could be misleading @bilbo_pingouin the accidental cross-post was corrected within an hour or so. That was not the point of my comments. And yes, my question is open right now because I reworded it for those who felt it a requirement. And yes, I did "handwave" the objections away because my whole point HERE is that sometimes if a poster is looking for generalized information then forcing them to ask extremely specific, and therefore limiting, question(s) is counterproductive to the information they hope to glean. $\endgroup$ – J.R. Nov 23 '15 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ And if I may point out the one individual who cared to respond to the question itself provided exactly the type of information I was looking for - and by the way couldn't find on Google - rather than trying to force me to rework my question. I'm all for specificity when it matters but I posit again that it's not always a requirement. Which was what I stated above. $\endgroup$ – J.R. Nov 23 '15 at 17:42
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We could also close fewer questions. When questions are closed, it keeps new users from being able to answer them which might be just the thing that the OP needs to get the inspiration or information they need. Sometimes, questions need to be broad because the OP is feeling their way through something and this forum could help with that. Instead of closing the question, I recommend creating a review list (similar to the lists for reviewers to check the quality posts from new users) for broad questions to help the OP get a better sense of the details they need to find the best answer.

Closing a question is too abrupt and doesn't serve the community. Creating a mechanism that helps the OP refine their concept would be much more useful and would serve beginners immensely.

We could have a "broad" tag for questions, and then give points to people who help the OP refine their questions to something specific.

In the end, some people don't know enough to know specifics, and I think we can create a way to help them

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  • $\begingroup$ Refining questions is what the Sandbox is for, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 17 '15 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ Questions that are too broad should be put on hold because they are so imprecise that they are hard to answer. These question and their answers are unlikely to be considered useful for other users. An example of situation: the asker comments on an answer saying that it's not what he wanted. In some cases, he wants something specific but never mentioned it in the question, therefore the answer is pretty much useless. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 17 '15 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ Putting a question on hold isn't meant to be permanent (though sometimes it is if a question really can't be improved). For a question that's too broad or unclear, we should put it on hold quickly so people don't answer the wrong question, and then help the OP to address the problem so that we can then reopen the question. That's the goal, but I don't know how well we're doing on it. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 17 '15 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent, That's certainly a tough situation and one that arises, but even in that, there's a chance for other users to read something and gain some inspiration for a trouble or question similar to their own. This doesn't always happen, but it happens far more than never as I have personally experienced. I also know that some questions are marked as too broad despite having a clear request and despite people being able to answer it. If the OP isn't getting their answer then I say let the broad answers show the OP what is missing from her question, and let other visitors possibly find answers. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Nov 17 '15 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio, I am also probably responding the strict enforcement on the StackOverflow forum. So far, WB seems much more relaxed. I like the pace and the people and haven't found those with power to be stringently enforcing the letter of the rules with an ungenerous interpretation of those rules. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Nov 17 '15 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ Oh yeah, SO is huge, nobody can see more than a small fraction of the questions, and thus (I suspect) you pretty much get once chance with a question -- if it's put on hold and you come back and fix it people still might not notice. Every site is a little different, and I'm glad that you've found the Worldbuilding community to fit your style better. We do put questions on hold but strive to also leave helpful comments explaining what's unclear or too broad or whatever, and my impression is that we do reopen them when the OP edits to address. Please feel free to raise specific cases on meta! $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 17 '15 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Will do. Thanks @MonicaCellio! $\endgroup$ – Andrew Nov 17 '15 at 21:26

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