I wouldn't be surprised if this has been extensively discussed in the past. I wonder if it would not be possible to correct and refine the taxonomy of questions which should be closed. The possible reasons: "duplicate", "unclear what is being asked", and "too broad" are OK and deserve their independent places on the list. Then there is what appears to be the grab-bag reason "lacking context...". This is more or less a vague way of saying "just plain low quality". First of all, it doesn't belong under "off-topic". Clearly many of the questions closed for this reason are perfectly clear mathematical questions, which are on-topic but nevertheless bad questions for a number of possibly quite different reasons. For example, they might even be good exercises for some mathematical subject, and clearly on topic, but pretty obvious, and their being asked means that the asker hasn't learned to sit and think. Could someone more involved in the site, perhaps by making a survey of bad questions, propose a better taxonomy of unacceptable clutter, so that one would have better boxes to check off, i.e. better criteria for closing.

Edit: I’ll summarize what I have learned from the discussion.

1) Custom reasons have to be under “off-topic” and we only get maximum 3 custom reasons.

2) We already have 2 custom reasons, namely “lacking context or details” and “seeking personal advice”.

3) It probably would be rather difficult to reach a consensus about a third custom reason (and I have to say I wouldn’t even be able to formulate a proposal).

4) We already have the possibility of using the “off-topic/other” reason, with a comment, and when we do the comment gets placed as a comment to the original question, which has the form "I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because…"

My own suggestion would be to make more frequent use of the “off-topic/other” category when “off-topic/lacking context..” doesn’t quite fit, or in order to give more specific feedback. The likely outcome will be that anyone who does this regularly will eventually have his/her own small collection of useful boilerplate responses.

Thanks to everyone who gave some feedback.

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    $\begingroup$ Related post: Why is a question needing more details called "off-topic" $\endgroup$ – amWhy Mar 22 '18 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ There have been many posts on meta, too many to list, about the close reason category of "off-topic". $\endgroup$ – amWhy Mar 22 '18 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ You presume the topic of MSE is "everything related to mathematics". Some (including myself) consider the scope of this site to be more narrow than that. In particular, that there is a gap between asking questions about textbook problems and simply posting textbook problems for others to solve, and the boundary between what is on and off topic lies in that gap. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Mar 22 '18 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ I upvote because the notion of a taxonomy to mirror close vote reasons is attractive. But Questions are not so distinctive as species, so I'd be less than optimistic about being able to articulate my personal "keys" for such a classification. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Mar 23 '18 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ I looked into this just a little more, and have learned that site specific reasons for closing have to be choices under the heading off-topic, and there's nothing to be done about this. But that doesn't prevent having more choices under the heading off-topic that might more accurately reflect the real reason for closing. When someone just posts a textbook problem, it is not context or detail that is lacking, but rather correct attitude and effort. (By the way, I think it is disrespectful to tell someone what they think, as well as almost surely wrong.) $\endgroup$ – fredgoodman Mar 23 '18 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ We get a choice of three custom close reasons. That is not something we can change, except with extremely cogent arguments that have consensus in the community, so practically speaking, it's not something we can change. You're not the first one to think of this, and you're not the first one to be unaware of why the system is currently this way before trying to change it. $\endgroup$ – Nij Mar 23 '18 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the explanation. My question was fairly useless in that case. I'll leave it here since it may head off the next question of the same sort. $\endgroup$ – fredgoodman Mar 23 '18 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ What about the questions which have no paragraph breaks and become hard-to-impossible to read? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Mar 24 '18 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Nij, when you say we get a choice of three custom close reasons, what does that mean? Are the constrains under which our close reasons have been constructed available to read somewhere? $\endgroup$ – fredgoodman Mar 24 '18 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ I do note that under "off-topic" there is a menu item "other", which requests adding a comment to explain what is wrong. So each of us might, if we want, have a small collection of boilerplate reasons of our own. Thus I have no reason to complain that I am forced to endorse a reason that doesn't ring true. $\endgroup$ – fredgoodman Mar 24 '18 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @fredgoodman in general case, the number of custom close reasons is set to 3. Further discussion on Meta SE, which pointed to Meta AskUbuntu $\endgroup$ – Andrew T. Mar 29 '18 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ That things are called "off topic" when the reason for closing is "lacking context or details" is an abuse for reasons that I've explained on these pages, and I proposed that we create a new menu item for "lacking context or details". Several of the moderators explicitly supported my proposal when I asked them about that, as did (I think) one or two other people. But nothing has been done. I will contact stackexchange about this. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Mar 31 '18 at 21:59


The only place for custom reasons to close is in the off-topic category. The default off-topic reasons are:

  • This question does not appear to be about mathematics, within the scope defined in the help center.
  • This question belongs on another site in the Stack Exchange network
  • Other (add a comment explaining what is wrong)

In addition, a site can have three custom reasons. Two of the three slots are taken ("This question is missing context or other details" and "Seeking personal advice"). I find these two custom reasons useful.

So, there is only room for one additional class of questions to be closed, and it has to be in the off-topic category. Any question closed for a custom reason will come with the banner saying that the question is off-topic for the following reason. While missing context does not make the question really off-topic, we cannot avoid sending the off-topic message when closing for that reason. The same will apply to the new one, if we are to add a third custom reason.

These are our constraints. If you want to change them, you can post a feature request at the mother meta.


What would it help to have more taxonomy? (This is not a rhetorical question trying to prove that we shouldn't have more. It is a genuine question without a hidden agenda.)

I think the point of the on-hold banner is to give the user an idea of how to get the question reopened or how to ask more suitable questions in the future. Taxonomy for the sake of taxonomy is not that helpful. What is helpful is giving actionable feedback to newer users. What is the additional thing that we should be communicating to newcomers with the new taxonomic class?

Remember that there is always the "Other" option, and question-specific suggestions are best given in comments. I forget the exact details (I'll be happy to know if someone finds them), but if the voters-to-close disagree on the reason, only the most popular reason (or sometimes two) is shown. If you want to communicate efficiently, leave a comment.

I can't see anything we could communicate better by having a third custom reason. But it might be just my blindness.

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    $\begingroup$ This is helpful, thanks. I intend to use the "off-topic/other" option more and find out if there is a pattern in my own reasons. In my opinion, it would be helpful if other users would do this as well, if they find that "off-topic/missing context" doesn't quite fit. $\endgroup$ – fredgoodman Mar 28 '18 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ @fredgoodman I agree, it'd be useful if people were more specific. It takes five people to close a question, but they don't have to agree on the reason. I don't recall the exact method, but roughly only the most popular reason is eventually displayed. Therefore the "other" reason might only show if you are among the first to close and others click to agree with you. (I'd be glad to learn the exact details of what determines the banner on a closed question if someone finds how it works.) I think the most efficient place for specificity is in the comments. $\endgroup$ – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 28 '18 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ Re communication I think it would help users write better questions if the flaws in their original question were communicated with an absence of confusing and contradictory information. $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Mar 29 '18 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ ...but this is all moot if we should be discussing on the mother meta to achieve that. $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Mar 29 '18 at 7:05

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