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This is something that happens on occasion.

Someone asks a question, but the question is somewhat vague. Someone with some experience in the field, or rather in answering questions in said field, recognizes the confusion, and the actual point of the confusion, and posts an answer. In the meantime the question gets closed by other people as unclear (or otherwise, where the main voices against the current formulation are essentially lack of clarity); but the OP remarks that the answer given hits the nail on the head (via comments or edits).

So it seems that a question is not really unclear, if someone managed to decipher it exactly and clear the confusing issue. But we are talking about a situation where nobody edited the question thoroughly (yet) to make it clearer.

Should we open questions under such circumstances even without complete overhauls?

(Ideally the answerer can edit the question to clarify it, but as someone that were the answerer a few times, I sometimes feel a bit awkward to edit the question without permission, so while this is a solution, it's a solution I'd consider less desirable.)

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    $\begingroup$ The purpose of re-opening is what? To encourage more answers? To prevent deletion? $\endgroup$ – GEdgar Jul 16 '16 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ There is a question that allows five readings. An answerer happens to pick option 4. The guess happens to be correct. How does this make the question clear? Another user might write the exact same question, yet expect a different answer. $\endgroup$ – quid Jul 16 '16 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @GEdgar: Well, everything question on the site is unclear to someone, even to several people. Part of the closure system, as I see it, is sending a message to people browsing "this is unclear". But how unclear is something, if it received a very good answer? And also, yes, to prevent deletion. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 16 '16 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: This is why I brought this up on meta. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 16 '16 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: math.stackexchange.com/questions/1848343/… is an example of something like that. Is it really unclear? I don't think so. But five people do. Of those five, only one is fairly active in the logic related tags. Do I expect the other four to understand the question? Not really. I admit it's a confused question, but if you are willing to read it carefully, it's not hard to see that it is a natural question, and that it has an easy answer. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '16 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ The body of the post does not contain an explicit question at all. Right, the title does, but this is already very poor style. Edit the post and include an explicit question, possibly with som other clarification. Problem solved. I did read your parenthetical. But I think this is misguided. If you really do not want to edit right away make an explicit proposal to OP. If they do not react, I'd take it as they so not care about the post anymore. $\endgroup$ – quid Jul 17 '16 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: I've added the question into the body. However, I'm not sure what's unclear. It is true that the "axiom of consistency" is unclear and makes little sense from a formal point of view. But that is exactly the confusion on which the question hinges. So I'm not sure how to clarify this any better, because to me the question is very clear. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '16 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ I reformatted the final axiom, it was a bit hard to parse and felt a bit gibberish with all the 'this'es, Beyond that it is not made clear if OP wants to know it for the particular choice of other axioms ZFC or any theory (title vs body). Thus, it is not really clear. That this is not just an issue construed by some nit-pickers but a real one shows on the other answer. But, alright, it is not that bad. I cast a vote. $\endgroup$ – quid Jul 17 '16 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ Let me also say that what triggered this meta post is not my answer to the linked question; but rather something that came up in the review queue. It was closed as unclear, but had two or three answers that seemed to have hit the problem on the head. I couldn't say if it's one thing or the other, since it was far from my expertise and therefore I skipped the review. But the general conundrum struck me as worth of a meta discussion. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '16 at 11:23
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    $\begingroup$ Short answer: of course. I also am a bit uneasy about taking it upon myself to edit a question beyond improving formatting, fixing awkward ‘foreignisms’, etc., but I have done it when I was absolutely certain what was intended. There have also been times when I thought it perfectly clear what was being asked in a question closed as unclear; in those cases I maintain that clarification is not needed. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Jul 18 '16 at 6:59
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Someone could understand it well enough to answer it, so surely someone will be able to make it clear. If it is literally impossible to make the question clear, then it has no place on this site. Otherwise, then the question should be edited first and only then reopened. It makes no sense to reopen it when it is still unclear; that somebody managed to read the mind of the asker is no excuse.

There is nothing awkward about editing a question. Consider that this question will show up in search engines when people search for the same keywords, and that the OP apparently already got their answer. It will potentially be viewed by hundreds or thousands of people after that. If nobody can understand it clearly, what good is it? There's nothing more frustrating than finding a question that looks relevant to your problem, only to realize it is in fact phrased in a bizarre way and the answer isn't relevant at all. This is exactly the kind of problem SE was created for.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not disagreeing, however I would like to point out that often times when someone has an unclear question which receives a clarifying answer, many other people will have the same confused questions. Especially if those questions are "natural enough". $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '16 at 10:07
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    $\begingroup$ +1 but I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. I still support most of the points in an old answer of mine. But I confess that when I was a bit younger I was perhaps too proud of my ability to make sense out of non-sensical questions (sci.math gives a lot of practice, as does teaching freshman calculus/ intro to abstract algebra). At the time of that answer I was not familiar enough with the advantages of editing a post. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Jul 24 '16 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree. Making the question clear by editing the question is not the same as making it clear what the answer ought to be. Unclear questions should remain open in cases where it is clear what the answer should be. Sometimes it's better to make it clear what the confusion was rather than what the question is. Leaving the question intact will do that. $\qquad$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Jul 24 '16 at 17:46
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Once there is an answer that the OP says addresses his problem, that will usually make it clear enough what the problem is that others will be able to answer it too. Therefore it should be reopened.

Why would others want to write answers if there is already one? Because they may have a better answer than the first one written -- one with an easier solution, or a more useful perspective, or which identifies pitfalls in the approach that means the first answer doesn't generalize to situations that the OP may want to generalize it to. Or perhaps the existing answer managed to paraphrase the problem in an understandable way but nevertheless got a wrong result.

Editing the original question into a crisper mathematical statement of the problem is sometimes but not always a good idea in this situation. Often, the problems with OPs initial attempt to formulate the question provide valuable clues to what it is he needs to have explained. This information ought to be available both to new answerers and to future readers, to help make clear why the answers are explaining such-and-such, or why the answers are using unusual metaphors (which the question contained before it was edited).

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    $\begingroup$ There are cases where OP accepted answers that, as it turned out, did in fact not answer their question at all. There is an actual risk of users talking past each other. Especially if the answer does not contain clear information what is answered. I agree that there are some cases where the original needs to be preserved to some extent. However, preserving the originally and clarifying are not mutually exclusive. The one scenario you give is particularly curious: so we keep a wrong answer because it explains an unclear question, instead of editing the question in clear form and deleting answr. $\endgroup$ – quid Jul 24 '16 at 13:27
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I am against ANYTHING that encourages more low quality posts. For that reason alone I am against this. If a post is unclear, it should stay closed as a message to others that it is not a desirable question on this site.

Another reason why it should stay closed is that questions are not just for the asker. If no one else knows what they're talking about, it's of no use to future visitors.

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    $\begingroup$ I am against anything that leads to the deletion of useful mathematical content. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 17 '16 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I am against bad weather. $\endgroup$ – quid Jul 17 '16 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ @quid, April showers bring May flowers. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 17 '16 at 9:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry: That explains why Israel don't have flowers in May. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '16 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ Mashiv haruach umorid hagashem. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 17 '16 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry: That is said until Passover, which is generally between the end of March to mid-April every year. So most of the time most of April you bless the dew, rather than the rains. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 17 '16 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Asaf, morid hatal then. But in Australia, we don't know what to do about the seasons, so we say both, all year. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 18 '16 at 0:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think that the idea that this site is useful for future visitors may be oversold, but the idea of avoiding low quality questions is sound. I think it is reasonable to expect people who post questions here to take the time to write clear questions, and to take the time to improve their questions if they are closed as unclear. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Jul 24 '16 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ $-1$. This answer simply assumes the question was about "low [hyphen omitted] quality" posts. That's not what it was about. $\qquad$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Jul 24 '16 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael Hardy if a question is closed as "unclear" then yes, it is a low-quality post. $\endgroup$ – user223391 Jul 24 '16 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ @ZacharySelk : That is the worst bit of nonsense that's been circulating around here lately. Many questions that are perfectly clear to those with common sense who know about the ways in which non-mathematicians usually get confused about particular mathematical ideas are closed as unclear because people with expertise in mathematics who are NOT familiar with those ways find them unclear. That happens far too often, probably because those with expertise in mathematics but no expertise in popular misunderstandings do not suspect that anything besides$\,\ldots\qquad$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Jul 24 '16 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ $\ldots\,$expertise in mathematics is needed to assess these things. $\qquad$ $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Jul 24 '16 at 18:33

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