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Recently I stumbled on some 3-month-old low quality questions (just unclear what the OP is asking for, not enough details) without any answers (impossible to answer) and no votes on the question.

I thought there was some automated system by which they would be removed, or am I completely wrong in this? (The questions were about 3 months old and I presume abandoned.)

And what is the best course of action when I encounter one?

(I am wondering if flagging/downvoting/let-it-die-in-peace is best. At the moment to preserve reputation I do choose flagging, but is that best?)

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    $\begingroup$ Flagging and downvoting a Question are equally cost-free and not mutually exclusive. Within the first day or so that an unclear Question is posed, I often leave a comment asking for clarification and skip a close vote, esp. if the topic seems to have potential for an interesting problem. So stuff slips through. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Mar 10 '15 at 15:35
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There is an automatic system that deletes simply abandoned questions, but it takes a while for the system to judge a question abandoned. From the MSE deletion faq:

  1. The system will automatically delete unlocked, unanswered questions with score of zero (or one if the owner is deleted), fewer than 1.5 views per day on average, and fewer than two comments after 365 days.

So it takes one-year for the system to automatically delete unclosed abandoned questions. (And even then there are restrictions.)

Closed questions with zero score and no answers, on the other hand, will be automatically deleted at a much faster rate. I suspect that the questions you stumbled upon weren't closed, though without knowing which questions this is just a guess.

If they were not closed, flagging them to be closed (or voting to clsoe when you have sufficient reputation) would push them into the close votes review queue, and at least more users will see them and possibly answer/improve/close them. Alternatively, posting in the Reopen? Undelete? Close? Delete? chat room could serve a similar end.

As a final note, remember that downvoting questions is free! (for the downvoter)

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    $\begingroup$ Also "8. The system will automatically delete unlocked, unanswered questions that have negative score after 30 days." So just downvoting would likely lead to deletion in this case. $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Mar 10 '15 at 10:40

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