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All too often, I'm seeing close votes (or even closed questions) as "Unclear" on questions that are perfectly understandable to me. It seems to happen roughly once a week, and that's just in the limited number of questions I look at.

Today's example is How to refresh System information on wsl2, which gathered 2 close votes for "Needs details or clarity" before I answered it.

There's just, IMHO, no good reason to be closing (or even voting to close) questions that have enough detail to be answered.

The issue in that question is 100% reproducible without any additional information. Simply starting WSL with the default distribution will demonstrate the problem -- The MOTD shows outdated system information. I was able to reproduce this in less than 10 seconds.

Understanding the question (let alone answering) does, however, require that the reader have the appropriate subject-matter expertise in the topic being discussed:

  • Understanding what WSL is.
  • Knowing that the default distribution on WSL is Ubuntu.
  • Being up-to-date on WSL and Ubuntu enough to know that Ubuntu was just recently (in the last week) updated to 22.04 as the default distribution (this typically happens around 4 months after the release of an LTS version of Ubuntu).

One of the comments does ask for additional clarification (which is good and appreciated). Regardless, we shouldn't assume one way or another that a VTC came from the user who commented -- Nor does it matter. I do know that one of the votes came in well before that comment, so that earlier voter didn't request any clarification.

But again, even without any additional information, the question was clear enough to answer and IMHO didn't warrant close votes. It only takes 5 non-SME's that lack enough understanding to get from VTC to "Closed". And as we've established, it can be very difficult to reopen (short of mod-intervention) when that happens.

So to leave this as a question, to solicit responses -- What would be some good guidelines for voting "Needs details or clarity"?

Related Meta topics:

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    “I do know that one of the votes came in well before that comment, so that earlier voter didn't request any clarification.” - My close vote did and I found, the only way to get a question modified, is to ask for clarification and vote to close. Otherwise, commentary is submitted to “clarify” the question, which isn’t what’s supposed to happen
    – Ramhound
    Aug 25 at 12:45
  • "commentary is submitted to “clarify” the question, which isn’t what’s supposed to happen" That's an interesting viewpoint -- So if I'm understanding correctly, you vote to close without asking for clarification because too many users put the clarification in the comments? Aug 25 at 12:51
  • @NotTheDr01ds - Yes; Because the close reason has instructions to edit the question. Additionally, the close reason explains what the problem is with the question, so additional commentary isn’t necessary. I agree the system has problems but until it changes, I have chosen, to use the tools provided.
    – Ramhound
    Aug 25 at 12:53
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    "close reason explains what the problem is with the question" I strongly disagree with that. It simply says it lacks details or clarity, but the OP has no idea what details you feel it lacks. Even I have no idea what details you felt that particular question lacked! Aug 25 at 12:56
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    @NotTheDr01ds - I have seen cases where users will literally, argue with users who provide a comment, that something actually is clear and that the confusion must only reside in my head (i.e. I am stupid). I have also seen cases, where they will argue that something isn't relevant, even when it's clear they did zero research on the subject they are asking about. Due to issues in the past I choose not to deal with those types of issues. Safe to say, if I am asking for some information, there likely is a reason I am asking for it.
    – Ramhound
    Aug 25 at 23:25
  • I was under impression that when a question is not supposed to be closed, the other users can reopen it. If someone genuinely believe it should not be closed, raise the issue in the meta to gain more visibility. That's how the system works, I believe. But then perhaps a question here is closed too fast? Do we need more votes to close (but stay 5 for reopen?)
    – Vylix
    Sep 4 at 17:48
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    @Vylix In general, I think the main complaint is that questions are often closed (rightly or wrongly) within minutes, and then it can take days (if ever) to get reopen votes when it was wrongly closed. That's one reason for this answer I gave a few weeks ago. Sep 4 at 19:08

3 Answers 3

7

Some thoughts/recommendations on voting-to-close for "Needs details or clarity":

  • Does the perceived lack of clarity in the question lower Super User's quality as a question-and-answer site in general? If not, then is there harm in leaving the question open in the hopes that someone can answer?

  • To vote-to-close, we should have enough expertise in the areas being discussion to be absolutely sure that the question can't be answered with the given information. Even then it would be good to second-guess ourselves! And definitely - Ask for whatever information you feel is missing in the comments!

  • Questions that are not in English are considered (I believe) to be "Needs detail or clarity", but I would hope that the first person to vote-to-close on this basis would leave a polite comment explaining that policy.

  • I will likely vote-to-close if the question is missing the most basic details. For example, a question that says simply "When I do [xyz], I get *an error" (without specifying the error message or other information) might warrant a VTC. Even in this case, I might consider myself too harsh -- It's entirely possible that another user here could have experienced that and be aware of what the error is, and even have an answer.

    But IMHO that lack of detail is too egregious to make it a "helpful" question to others. It doesn't enable search-indexing on the error message, and it's ambiguous (there may be multiple possible errors with different root causes).

  • I may vote-to-close as "Needs details" if the user included only an image when the output could have been included as text. I may leave a comment in advance of the VTC, or I may just go ahead and do it. It should be noted that users with less than 20 reputation that attach an image are given a warning when doing so that they should include the relevant portions as text, so they have (intentionally or otherwise) ignored that warning already. I'm not sure another "warning" in the comments is justified, but I sometimes give it nonetheless.

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    I really don't like the idea that somehow superuser's overall "quality" as a Q/A site is based on the quality of other peoples questions/answers rather than on trying to reliably help people with questions find answers. Its like google is the customer, not the community itself. Sep 1 at 0:11
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    @FrankThomas what helps the community are quality QnA. And it's possible to have that + help people.
    – barlop
    Sep 3 at 17:34
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    You write "Questions that are not in English are considered (I believe) to be "Needs detail or clarity", but I would hope that the first person to vote-to-close on this basis would leave a polite comment explaining that policy." <--- Seems to me that if a question has poor English, that doesn't mean it lacks detail or clarity. Also if it is thought that something lacks details or clarity, it should be specified what details or clarity it lacks and why it is necessary
    – barlop
    Sep 3 at 17:37
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    @barlop Note that I said specifically "not in English". A question in Portuguese, unfortunately, needs to be closed here as it's not understandable in the required language of the site. However, a question with (as you say), "poor English" is different. Questions that have poor English can often be rewritten to be more clear, and I do so whenever possible. However, there are also questions that are just so unclear that they really can't be salvaged. Since you have 10k rep, I'll refer you to this one as an example. Sep 3 at 21:02
  • @NotTheDr01ds There is a fundamental issue here, which is, that clearly a bot(unless perhaps super advdanced AI), can't effectively judge whether a question is unclear or insufficiently detailed. And if a question were so unclear or so unsufficiently detailed that even a bot could tell, then the question has deeper problems than that.
    – barlop
    Sep 3 at 21:22
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I don't have much to add, but I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Questions (not spam/obvious duplicates/completely incomprehensible walls of copy/pasted text) should not be closable unless it has 100 (or some other reasonable number of) views

Even just this sample question has only 32 views, and that's after a meta question linking to it has made it to hot meta posts. Presumably it had gathered close votes with much less views. This only tells me that the question was looked at by only those that had no interaction with the question other than clicking the close vote button. Why should any question be closed, if it hasn't even had enough time to be viewed by someone who actually understands the problem?

As it stands, the close vote system is flawed, unfriendly and should be overhauled. Questions should only be closable after they have reached a certain age or have gathered enough views.

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    Algorithmically distinguishing incomprehensible wall of text from a valid question won't be trivial, I'm afraid. Questions that are obviously (for a human) not worth clicking would be uncloseable forever.
    – gronostaj
    Aug 25 at 10:58
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    @gronostaj That was my initial thought, but those are also good candidates for Mod-close (when done responsibly). I'm fully supportive of Mods closing those types of questions. I'm less supportive of Mod-closings on "borderline" questions - Those should be left to community vote. Aug 25 at 13:01
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    I would add that "off-topic" questions should be closeable regardless of views, since off-topic questions will often be answered quickly. Either that, or there needs to be greater "penalty" for answering (blatantly) off-topic questions (like answer deletion/hiding when the question is closed, eventually, as off-topic). Aug 25 at 13:10
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This behavior of bulldozing threads is destroying the community little by little.

I, for instance, can't make a SINGLE thread that is not edited, marked as off-topic, Minus Oned, or another BIASED/SUBJECTIVE reason moderators find to close them.

  • It's irritating
  • It's disrespectful
  • It's unconstructive.

Here's why it is also ridiculous: When a question is flagged as off-topic, instruction-seeking, opinion-magnet, or whatever, you can change a few words on the question and it "loses" the appearance that triggered that flag. This fact exposes the lack of interest in quality, but the clear fixation/obsession on appearances, forms and rituals.

No. That is NOT quality. Not even close.

The OP was sharp on his phrase: "Just because you don't understand a question doesn't automatically make it unclear"

Frank Thomas above also nailed: "I really don't like the idea that somehow superuser's overall "quality" as a Q/A site is based on the quality of other peoples questions/answers rather than on trying to reliably help people with questions find answers"

Well... I don't like either.

But then, there's the other guy above that had the gut to suggest to PENALIZE when someone answers a "off-topic" question.

I find this to be the pinnacle of an unconstructive behavior.

About the edits:

On many cases, all the editor does is altering my writing style to replace by theirs. Changing words that I disagree that give a better meaning, so on. In very few cases (I can't remember one) the changes are technical. I let them edit anyway, even disagreeing. Don't like being seen as stubborn.

Edit:

There you are: a perfect example of one of the "I didn't like your question, so I'm gonna downvote it, bash it, say it's not technical, and say it's not worth answering"

Revive dead SD Card

Question posted seconds before this answer

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  • Can you elaborate more about what you want to say? What I get right now is just a response to other users (including mod) editing/flagging as unconstructive and unwanted. If a question form can be improved by edits, that is the right thing to do.
    – Vylix
    Sep 4 at 9:20
  • It's probably useful to point out that I'm both the OP and the "guy that had the gut to suggest ...". No "other guy" here - Same guy, same opinion. Good moderation is good and helpful for the site. Bad moderation, where clear, answerable questions are closed as "Needs Detail or Clarity" is bad for the site. Sep 4 at 15:48
  • I did look through some of your questions, and it seems to me after looking at two of them that were closed that the moderation there was good. You've (reluctantly, since you call the moderation, "Gestapo") edited one of them which may be reopened based on the edits - That's how the system is supposed to work. Sep 4 at 15:49
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    If you do feel that a question has been wrongly closed, you can always bring it here for discussion, but I would encourage you to do so in a more calm manner. Edits, comments, or posts that are aggressive in tone usually aren't well-received here. We're not Reddit and don't want to be! Sep 4 at 15:52
  • When someone edit your question to give other readers clarity what you're actually asking is, it is a legitimate edit. Of course, their edit will incorporate their writing style, and perhaps you don't like it. The solution is to edit back your writing style, while keeping what the edit has solved. Remember that when you ask or answer a question here, it becomes community's.
    – Vylix
    Sep 4 at 17:41
  • Also, NotTheDr01ds, How do you judge "the moderation there was good", in my question ? How do you judge this as good moderation, and call a bad moderation when "they didn't understand my question" ? When you understand why I called them Gestapo (on the third futile edit), then you will see the parallels with your "they didn't understand my question".
    – Lucas BS
    Sep 5 at 4:15
  • And when they don't add substantial/relevant/worthy clarity to what I've actually asked for ? That IS the case, Vylix. A variation of the OP's complaint by the way I see. But anyway, out of all of them, Edits are the smallest of my complaints
    – Lucas BS
    Sep 5 at 4:21
  • It gets to a point where it's IRRITATING when EVERY question is bashed in a way. If I "feel that a question has been wrongly closed, you can always bring it here for discussion", then I would have to be prepared to make two posts everytime I need to ask something. One for the actual question, and a other one here. So fogive me for the "aggressive tone" (against moderators, not helpers), but I'm NOT sorry.
    – Lucas BS
    Sep 5 at 4:26
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    tbh, it's not the actual content of this answer that's getting the downvotes, it's the rant. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 5 at 17:51
  • “I, for instance, can't make a SINGLE thread that is not edited” - Your question being edited is a good thing, but if you have a problem with your question being edited, your going to be alone in your outrage. Editing contributions is something the community should be doing. The editing likely is correcting grammatical and spelling errors, which often lead to, downvotes because contributions with grammatical and spelling errors are often not clear due to their grammatical and spelling errors.
    – Ramhound
    Sep 6 at 12:40
  • Your linked question begins like this, “This is simply NOT an opinion based question. There is a T.E.C.H.N.I.C.A.L. reason why cards fail, and opinions are useless.” Yes, there are technical reasons (not T.E.C.H.N.I.C.A.L.; this is not some 133t hackerzzz board) why cards fail, but given the sheer quantity of SD cards out there all of varying qualities and from different manufacturers, the idea that anyone can clearly and simply state, “Well, this one thing on all SD cards fails and that is why your card is dead.” is ridiculous. (1/2) Sep 7 at 3:53
  • “I have no interest in recovering the data this time. I'm more curious about the mechanics behind it all.” Your question is simply (to be blunt) bad and unfocused. You’re asking questions that demand answers that few can ever answer. The only real answer here is SD cards and USB flash drives are seen as commodity items. They are so cheap to make that any effort to analyze failures would always take more effort than it is worth. Static? Cheap parts? Bad readers that shock the cards? Who knows. Your question is opinion-based because it can never be answered assuredly. (2/2) Sep 7 at 3:57
  • @Giacomo1968 - they can be analysed… back at the factory. I don't think there's anything one could really do at consumer level - or even care about at consumer level, as you say. My last job I got through thousands of these things every year. If we got a significant bad batch, the factory wanted them back for analysis [though they never told us the results, they just wanted to improve their QC]. For any small percentage that failed, they just went in the bin.
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 9 at 6:48
  • @Tetsujin “they can be analysed… back at the factory.” We are not “the factory” and the original poster seems to one purposefully buying SD cards that are flashed to fake storage capacity. I doubt “the factory” that sold the original poster this junk would care to test these cards or actually be honest in their assessment, “Oh! We are so sorry these hacked SD cards we sold you were defective! Please accept this other batch of hacked SD cards as a replacement! We hope you enjoy our hacked SD cards!” Sep 9 at 14:50
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    @Giacomo1968 - Guaranteed until you use them. No money back warranty. Caveat emptor.
    – Tetsujin
    Sep 9 at 15:03

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