I believe notices such as "closed as unclear what you're asking", "closed as off-topic", etc. on a closed/deleted/flagged question should be more specific. Closing questions with the one-line generic indication "closed as unclear what you're asking" is counterproductive: if the aim of such action is to improve the quality of the site, making sure questions adhere to some rules/guidelines, but no specific indication is offered, the offending user has no opportunity to learn, and will probably be driven off the site—or maybe the aim of such interventions is to keep it restricted to some elite group of "good-askers"?

Moreover, supposing the aim of such interventions is indeed to improve the content quality of the site, with so little amount of explanation the user will probably commit the same error again, thus "wasting" the intervening users' time again—which I don't believe is the objective.

And no, just "read the help page on allowed questions" isn't sufficient. It's extremely frustrating to see that a question that one thinks adheres to every rule/guideline specified on this site, including the request for sufficient specificity and clarity, is closed with no more justification than "unclear what you're asking". There should be at least a comment from the user closing the question as to why they think the question should be closed—perhaps before closing it, but maybe that would be asking too much.

The thing that makes it so much more frustrating is the (apparent) inconsistency: sometimes a simple question without much context is received well, and then another perfectly sensible (at least to me) and specific question (or at least more than others) is marked as "unclear what you're asking". If a user thinks that question is not appropriate for whatever reason, they should say why, because, alas, maybe not everyone thinks the same way.

What I'm trying to say is that voting-to-close is way too much one-sided. Ironically, this question itself will probably be closed/deleted/downvoted within a matter of minutes, and the only reason I'll get is something like "off-topic" or "inappropriate" or who knows what.

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    $\begingroup$ Why do you insist it is users' on this site's responsibility to determine and construct, and walk each individual through an individual education plan, specifically designed for each individual, and only that individual. Why do so many have problems with the expectation that users have actually read what they checkmarked as having been read? All the primary bases are covered and addressed (if the asker reads it), before an asker submits a question. Why expect more than pointing out the general reason why a question fell short? $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ I have a novel idea! Let's hold askers responsible for improving their questions which have been put on hold and taking the initiative to read any relevant comments, and taking the initiative to read what is written when they actually click on the links suggested in the scripted reason for closure, and if still unclear, to ask in a comment what they remain unclear about, below their "on hold" post. Let's not expect other users to mind-read, and do for the asker what any asker over the age of 13 years old is fully capable of doing, if they have the will to do so. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ "Why do you insist it is users' on this site's responsibility to determine and construct, and walk each individual through an individual education plan, specifically designed for each individual, and only that individual." That is in fact what is done every time a question is answered. Nobody claims it is anybody's "responsibility" to answer questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy Thank you for the kind, empathetic comment. You know, the best thing you can use to convince somebody and make them see reason is usually a bit of sarcasm and maybe a sprinkle of condescendence and scorn. In any case, I totally agree with you that askers should try to investigate by themselves why the question was closed. The first thing I would have done, after reading through the appropriate documentation and still not understanding the reason, is to ask in the comments in what way my question isn't appropriate. Alas, comments on deleted questions aren't allowed. $\endgroup$
    – Anakhand
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy My main point is not to present myself or others as a victim, or to whine about some kind of unjustness. I'm expressing my frustration regarding the unilaterality of certain dynamics. The whole "reputation" system, while having many advantages, sometimes results in an absurd meritocracy where some high reputation users—I'm not generalizing—are seen as some sort of deity whose time is not to be wasted with the contemptible inadequacies of new users. High reputation means more experience, but it shouldn't mean a prerogative for skipping any kind of consensus or cooperation. $\endgroup$
    – Anakhand
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ Dear Anakhand You're welcome: You know, the best thing you can do to get a point across on meta is to link and example or two of posts you are concerned about that were closed. Posts must be closed before deleted, if ever, they are deleted, and deletion is seldom swift. Users of closed questions (on hold) usually have plenty of time to improve the question, following, as you describe in hindsight, your realization to read appropriate documentation, and then ask if they don't understand it. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ If we have concrete examples in which you are perplexed, that you provide, we can answer your questions about closure and/or deletion, specifically. To ask a general question, and suggest generally that all closed questions are void of appropriate information in all cases. That sounds rather unreasonable, and overgeneralizing. It would have been much more helpful for us, and for you too, if you had posted a link(s), as needed, to suggest maybe the "canned reasons for closure" missed in your case, and/or why you found them insufficient for you. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ The system is hardly perfect. There is much to be improved, and it never hurts to ask someone to slow down and hear you out. I appreciate you're speaking up. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy Sorry for the tone I adopted in my previous comment. It's difficult to communicate this in a text-based anonymous comment, but please believe me, this time I'm not being sarcastic: thank you for taking the time to respond. You're right regarding the need of a concrete example; the reason I didn't add one is because the [last] concrete case that made me want to write this was a question of my own, and I didn't want to make this self-centered or portray myself as a victim. But since you are willing to help in any case, here it is. $\endgroup$
    – Anakhand
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy You're also right on the fact that there is a time margin between closure and deletion. $\endgroup$
    – Anakhand
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ The first thing that comes to mind would be that it would have been helpful to include context, like, in what section or chapter (titles) you have been reading/studying/. What class is it for? The axioms tag is somewhat helpful, but it would be more helpful to have included the axioms you have been introduced to at that point in time of asking the question. I assume you were working with the natural numbers. Background information is very very helpful, so we can gear answers to the level at which you are studying, not aiming to high, nor too low. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ Also, keep in mind that there is no penalty for being wrong, when you ask a question, show your work up to when you get stuck, or merely share with us your thought processes. Don't be afraid of being wrong. It helps us tailor the help you need precisely where you need it. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ Somewhat related older post: When closing question for lack of effort, leave a comment to OP explaining what to do. (And perhaps there are a few more similar discussions. Since I remembered this one, being the OP, it was relatively easy for me to locate at least this question.) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ I am agree that there is a problem, but that can not solve easily. Any case I encourage to you that contact to the site to tell they your opinion. I feel happy that most users are have good feelings/faith like you. As aside remark, to emphasize that really your good intentions are the right way, recently I saw the comment of an asker that said to be less than 13 years old. The Tour says Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level... thus the most of users as you are careful and fair in their activity $\endgroup$
    – user243301
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 8:36

1 Answer 1


It is desirable to help new users understand why their Questions get placed on-hold (closed), and in many cases to assist with changes that address short-comings.

The StackExchange mechanism for voting-to-close imposes categories that broadly make sense for all Communities here. The opportunity to specialize these categories is limited at present to one or two custom entries under "off-topic", and the new user (along with many other Readers) may find that unintuitive. But it has been discussed here many times, and does not bear repeating.

You wrote "flagging is way too much one-sided." Note that flagging and voting-to-close have different options, and it is possible to fill out a custom reason for flagging a Question (or any other post). Right now I think it best to focus on the mechanisms to explain to (new) users what needs to be corrected in a Question that has been closed.

Basically the "custom" critiques for users appear in Comments. I don't know any way to have a general mechanism to guarantee highly customized information. The closure of a Question requires (with some exceptions) five votes from different Community members each with 3000 reputation points.

Often the choice of close reason is not unanimous, and the system may not fully represent the spectrum of opinions. It is my practice to leave constructive suggestions as Comments from Review (even when I don't vote to close) unless there's already another Comment available for me to upvote. These may account for a majority of the 10K+ Comments I've written. Their reception is uneven, ranging from stoney silence or umbrage to the occasional helpful Socratic dialog.

In any case the goal is to arrive at content that meets the site's standards and contribute "excellent content" for learning mathematics at all levels. I think it more often than not appropriate to point new users to this part of the Help Center.

You've reached a level of reputation that allows commenting on the posts of others, and you've used this privilege in helpful ways. While I can understand the frustration expressed about new users not being guided to specific areas of concern to fix their posts, the other side of the coin is users not being clear or diligent in posting Questions.

Keep in mind that having a Question placed on hold is not intended to eliminate that Question from Math.SE. One hopes that when a Question is asked in good faith that a way will be found to provide help with learning.

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    $\begingroup$ I will just add to the suggestion about commenting that if some of the comment templates fits the given situation (or if a comment template suitable for some type of posts can be created), then an explanatory comment can be posted rather quickly - simply by copy-paste and minor modifications where needed. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 5:39

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