I have seen many questions that have been put on-hold or closed with the message:

"This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level."

This links to the meta post "How to ask a good question." This post seems to be a great guide for new users and older users alike to make their questions more valuable to the community. This seems to be a trove of wisdom, but

Is it the standing policy of this community to allow a question only if they meet every single one of these requirements?

Aren't there questions that don't meet every single point of that post to the letter that are still of value to this community?

I didn't become active on this site until relatively recently, and when I joined and began asking questions I read the Help Center page "What topics can I ask about here?". This page also redirects back the the post about asking "good questions", which I read and try to abide by. But the Help Center does not say that questions are only allowed if they meet the guidelines of that post. Instead, it gives different requirements.

Recently I've been frustrated by posts that I have wanted to answer, but have been placed on-hold or closed because they did not meet the "good questions" guidelines perfectly, but they did meet the requirements defined in the Help Center. Many of these questions were good, interesting questions that I wanted to answer.

I understand that the issue of PSQ's has been raging since way before my time, but is it community policy to put on-hold/close questions that don't meet the requirements of the "good answer" post? If it is, why doesn't the Help Center say this? It seems to be enforced by a small number of mods and users with high reputation arbitrarily and capriciously.

Recent example: Question

This question was asked by a new user and is similar in nature to other questions with the tag "automata" or "formal-languages". Questions like this in these tags typically get quality answers. However, the question was quickly put on hold for lack of context. When another user edited the question to clarify a definition (which was clear to most users of the tag, but maybe not to the users who voted to close), the edit was rolled back.

The question, while not providing motivation or the poster's work, still gives plenty of context to make it answerable. The question is not a groundbreaking question, but it is certainly of interest and might be answered in a neat way and be of benefit to others. I don't know if the poster will edit the question or choose not to. I don't know if the poster has given up and will never look at the question again. But either way I think multiple users would like to answer it and it would be of value to the community and future users.

I flagged it for moderator attention (as this page explicitly tells me to do if a moderator voted to close), but I was told that the flag was not the appropriate action, and to ask on meta or C.R.U.D.E. (which I only recently learned about).

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    Although it is discouraged to post no-clue questions, some interesting no-clue questions are upvoted. Some of those question are closed, but a few questions are still open. – Kemono Chen Dec 1 at 9:34
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    The mathjax in the title is a really inappropriate use of that formatting. Please remove it. – Nij Dec 1 at 9:34
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    @PeterTaylor That was the first thing I tried, but when I posted the question and it didn't render properly, I switched to the Mathjax approach. Perhaps bold and italics don't render in titles? – Joey Kilpatrick Dec 1 at 11:17
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    Ah, right. Now that you mention it it's easily confirmed on Mother Meta. (Of course, the same arguments against it apply to MathJax). – Peter Taylor Dec 1 at 11:22
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    This is only tangential to the question at hand, but not using MathJax for formatting (bold, italics, etc.) is explicitly mentioned in the Guidelines for good use of $\rm\LaTeX$ in question titles. – Martin Sleziak Dec 1 at 11:23
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    "That was the first thing I tried, but when I posted the question and it didn't render properly, I switched to the Mathjax approach. Perhaps bold and italics don't render in titles?" Yes, they obviously don't. The conclusion to draw is that we do not want format in titles and to accept that. Not to work around it. – quid Dec 1 at 11:43
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    @quid Again, my apologies. I didn't realize this was an issue and was happy to fix it once the problem was raised. – Joey Kilpatrick Dec 1 at 11:44
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    Yes, sorry for piling on, but the misuse of MathJax for text formatting is a continued source of annoyance (for me); thus I am maybe not as patient as it should be related to this. – quid Dec 1 at 11:46
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    At Joey, What is the problem with waiting to answer well posed questions? There are plenty of them. – amWhy Dec 1 at 12:47
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    @amWhy The difference between a well posed question and a poorly posed question is not whether the poster gives their progress or whether they post motivation. Good questions are good questions. What if the OP never fixes the question? Will the question ever help anyone else? The linked problem is an interesting one that I want to answer, but currently can’t because it is closed. – Joey Kilpatrick Dec 1 at 13:03
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    @JoeyKilpatrick This site makes clear what is considered a well-posed question. So don't transport in your own notion of "well-posed question" when we are speaking about "good questions as they are deemed on math.se." – amWhy Dec 1 at 13:06
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    Besides, if you want to be able to answer problem statement questions, there's "yahoo answers" and many other "do my homework" site where doing others homework is not seen as a problem. Perhaps you'd be happier on one of those sites? – amWhy Dec 1 at 13:08
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    @amWhy What is allowed is not clear. As mentioned in the comments on one of the answers, I read the Help Center’s description of context as “enough detail so that the question can be answered”. This prevents ambiguous questions where it is unclear what is being asked. The additional progress or motivation is explicitly ideal, but ultimately appears optional. But this is not how it is enforced. I understand now that there has been talk of change to the policy, but that is currently how the policy reads. I am hoping to keep this conversation civil. – Joey Kilpatrick Dec 1 at 13:14
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    Re "enough detail so that the question can be answered" is however more complex and subtle than one might think. I argued frequently that in fact many question-posts some pretend to be clear are in fact not clear at all, as the scope is not properly limited. The answer-post then become guesses (granted, educated ones) regarding the implicit scope. But the scope should be explicit. For instance when somebody asks "I need to show that these three vectors [...] are linearly independent. Could anybody help me?" Then what does one assume as known to the asker? Do they know what lin. ind. means? – quid Dec 1 at 14:05
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    To participate here, there are expectations and rules to follow, and there are consequences for poor content. That's what makes math.se better than other math websites that entertain Q&A. – amWhy Dec 2 at 18:15

I believe that this issue of what and what's not on-topic, or what counts as a question deserving closure has cropped up too many times in MSE.

Is it the standing policy of this community to allow a question only if they meet every single one of these requirements?

First of all, let's go through all the reasons for closure.

  • Duplicate: this may not have anything to do with the quality of the question nor the context it has

  • Off topic:

    • Not about mathematics: this would probably be addressed to questions that are irrelevant to mathematics, such as this one where no mathematics is involved, just letters forming words of profanity. It could also reference questions that involve nonsensical maths, like proving the Collatz conjecture in a few steps (unfortunately I can't find the link to this question at the moment).

    • Missing context: I suppose that this is the one that you are concerned with the most. In just a meta answer, it is impossible for me to list out everything that counts as missing context, but I will give a few examples.

      1) Questions that do not show the asker's attempt, and are a blatant copy of the exercise problem. Such questions usually are of the form I, II or III. From my experience, this type is the most common. This is sometimes known as a PSQ - problem statement question.

      2) Questions that provide some context, but very insufficient. For example, questions on definite integrals where the user said that they used the hint for substitution/by parts as given in their textbook but do not show their calculations would be under this category. This is where some users dispute with other users, arguing that context is provided. A solution would obviously be to discuss with the asker, but it all comes down to whether the user takes it on board.

    • Seeking personal advice: these types of questions are not as common as the first two, but it should be relatively easy to identify these.

  • Unclear what is asked: this is reserved for questions that do not ask a question, or if what is asked is very hard to know. Sometimes this can be resolved by adding the tag.

  • Too broad/primarily opinion-based: I suppose that this is self-explanatory, given the descriptions for it.

Now if you look at all of these rationales for closure, it is not actually that hard to meet all these criteria. In short, the answer to the title of your post is yes.

Aren't there questions that don't meet every single point of that post to the letter that are still of value to this community?

There are! For example, there are ancient questions on MSE that are preserved due to 'historical reasons' like this one and this one. And there are also instances where the answers given are so insightful that it is not worth deleting the post, but instead closure suffices.

Regarding your linked question, it is a very poor one, and would definitely fit into section 1) of missing context. Even though I have rolled back the edit to include the definition of a Nerode equivalence, the question still lacks significant context, as the asker has not bothered trying to attempt it themselves. Hence I do not understand why, as of writing this post, that there are 4 reopen votes.

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    I think the reason why there are reopen votes is fairly obvious. Because it's a fun question that will have a reasonably interesting answer that can be useful. Yes the OP didn't do a great job, but the question allows for a nice explanation of how you would go about figuring out the equivalence classes and proving the minimality. Given that as I understand it SE aims to be a sort of knowledge repository this seems like a worthwhile goal. – DRF Dec 1 at 10:21
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    @DRF This does not defend the fact that the question is not up to standard. Sure, it might attract some good answers, but if we don't close it then it will mean that the question is acceptable. We simply can't have exceptions after exceptions after exceptions, and anyone can say that a PSQ is "fun". – TheSimpliFire Dec 1 at 10:30
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    @TheSimpliFire I understand every other reason for closure, except the missing context. From the way that I read what is written, the missing context is for questions that cannot be answered because there is missing information. The text says "which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem..." This does not say that they must include those things. I understand the rationale for using this flag to close these questions, but this seems to twist the original meaning of the text, enforcing an unwritten rule that is not nessecarily agreed upon by the community. – Joey Kilpatrick Dec 1 at 11:04
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    @TheSimpliFire Ok. I suppose I can understand that reasoning. I mean it's not like I can't just write a new question with the same statement that will be up to snuff. The only drawback is the OP will likely not get to see the answer, then again it's not like they put in much effort. – DRF Dec 1 at 11:07
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    @TheSimpliFire In response to your last comment, my question is exactly about this "standard". I cannot find it written anywhere and it seems to be enforced arbitrarily by what a very small group of people deem to be "low quality questions". If the question leads to good answers, then it seems to be the exact kind of question that this site strives for, even if the original text is not perfect. There seem to be many threads about preserving great answers to bad questions, why would this be any different? – Joey Kilpatrick Dec 1 at 11:09
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    @JoeyKilpatrick Sometimes questions that don't have context are impossible to answer, but that does not mean that such off-topic questions aren't answered. However, answering PSQs is highly discouraged as it says to the asker that they could continue asking these low-quality questions. We are currently in the process of changing the wording of the rationale: see here – TheSimpliFire Dec 1 at 11:48
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    @TheSimpliFire I appreciate this link. I think we inherently disagree on whether a PSQ is a low quality question. I think that there are plenty of questions that are incredible thought provoking and nuanced that could be phrased in only a few sentences. Open problems can often be phrased this way. The linked problem which you have said is a "very poor one", I think is quite complex and interesting. It's fine that you don't think its a very good question, but I don't think we should close or put on-hold the questions where reasonable people can disagree on its merits. – Joey Kilpatrick Dec 1 at 12:05
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    "there are plenty of questions that are incredibl[y] thought provoking and nuanced that could be phrased in only a few sentences" Sure, and it is not these that TheSimplyFire has in mind. For the questions of the type you are mentioning, it should be quite easy to explain why they are thought provoking and nuanced and/or to add the tries one has made to solve them. Personally, I find detrimental to the site to give a free pass to the tons of bad PSQs posted day in and day out here, partly due to some previously held laissez faire attitude. – Did Dec 1 at 16:09
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    I think there's a distinction to be made between (i} bad questions and (ii) good questions badly asked. Also you can have a good-but-clueless question, where someone asks something utterly basic and confused but the confusion is one which all beginners have. I know I've not been here long and probably everyone gets sick of them coming up as duplicates all the time, but I feel that in some ways they're the most important ones to answer since they help someone get started with their learning. But those questions seem to get downvoted quickly, when maybe they should get edited instead. – timtfj Dec 3 at 3:04
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    It would be nice if there was some sort of "temporary question" status, for situations where the questioner needs help but the question doesn't need keeping (and maybe expires after 24 hours of no activity, or remains visible only to the questioner and answerers) – timtfj Dec 3 at 3:15
  • @timtfj I would say that your idea/feature request is a slight aside from the intent of the OP's post so if you wish you could make a different meta post about it. But then there would be a problem with such a request: how do we know that the asker genuinely doesn't know how to do it rather than them simply copy-and-pasting homework exercises? – TheSimpliFire Dec 3 at 7:32

Is it the standing policy of this community to allow a question only if they meet every single one of these requirements?

Questions should strive to meet the guidelines laid out in the thread you mentioned. To say a question is only acceptable when every single point is met would be an overstatement. I'd say each point could be factored in to get an overall appreciation of the quality of the post, and then it's a judgment call.

The weights assigned to the different aspects are not uniform over different users. As for context specifically, the list in that answer gives examples of how context can be provided. There the idea is not that each and every point must be addressed; this would often not be possible. But there has to be some meaningful context.

That also means, when the feedback is that there is too little context. It'd make sense to add more context, and not to question the feedback.

As for the specific wording, a reformulation is in the planning. The new one will most likely read:

This question is missing context or other details: Please provide additional context, which ideally explains why the question is relevant to you and our community. Some forms of context include: background and motivation, relevant definitions, source, possible strategies, your current progress, why the question is interesting or important, etc.

To formulate such messages is somewhat tricky, not only but also as they must not be too long. In that sense I want to stress that this closing-message, and any closing message, is just a text-snippet that communicates roughly what the issue is. Finer points of the standing policies are documented elsewhere (and some arguably are standing practice that is not codified anywhere).

It seems to be enforced by a small number of mods and users with high reputation arbitrarily and capriciously.

It's enforced as resources permit. If more would join the effort, it could happen even more consistently and some confusions might be avoided. Of course, errors can happen, too. But, in my perception a majority of (perceived) large inconsistencies is due to some questions "getting through quality-control unchecked".

  • I think the "arbitrarily and capricious" impression does matter—even if its not the reality it affects the atmosphere on the site, which affects how users treat each other, and how willing people are to contribute. Probably it's about creating an easy way to be transparent when doing something that might be seen negatively, so the person on the receiving end thinks "Oh, OK" rather than "What did I do that deserved THAT?!" (The reworded missing-context messsge is a good positive example.) – timtfj Dec 3 at 2:38
  • Also, speaking as a new user (I joined about a week ago) the way the site works does need some acclimatisation time. It's easy to think as though you're on a typical online forum, where things like correcting someone's English will be perceived as hostility rather than a service to the site. This is another reason why sensitivity to how someone might react can be important. – timtfj Dec 3 at 2:48
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    @timtfj There's not much to be done about the arbitrary and capricious impression though. The moderation model (not talking about diamond mods, but moderation in general) on SE is that moderation is spread out over many people with differing opinions on how it should be done, which results in many people applying different standards. That said, I certainly approve of improving communication. – jgon Dec 3 at 15:32

This will be a short answer, since I generally agree with what quid and TheSimpliFire have already said, but I want to note several things before moving on to why I wrote a new answer.

  1. This is a long standing policy on this site, insofar as a highly upvoted meta proposal counts as a policy.
  2. As TheSimpliFire pointed out, it's not hard to meet the standards for a question. Moreover, I'd like to add that if the question itself doesn't meet those standards, but you want to answer it, then (assuming it's possible) you can edit it yourself to meet those standards. That way you won't have to worry about closure. See here for suggestions on how to do so, from yet another old meta discussion.

Now the main reason I wanted to add an answer is to explain why I think context is important to make questions and answers valuable.

While coherent PSQs can be "answered" in the sense that the mathematical content of the question can be resolved, many times these questions are asked by new users with limited mathematical background. In many areas, the answer an expert (or simply someone with a more sophisticated viewpoint) gives to a question that resolves the mathematical content of the question will in fact be incomprehensible to someone with limited background. This grossly limits the utility of the answer. In a sense, the answer doesn't address the actual question that the questioner wanted to ask. This is why context is important. It allows us to understand where and why the questioner is confused and address the root cause of confusion. This also makes the question and answer much more valuable to SE as a repository of knowledge, because many points of confusion and misconceptions are very common among mathematical learners, so a question that explains clearly where someone is confused and an answer that makes it clear how to resolve the confusion is much more valuable than just the solution to a mathematical problem.

Anyway, Willie Wong gave a much better, longer, and more detailed explanation of what context is and why it is important here, so I'll end with sharing that link.

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    Judging by past discussions, one should be a bit careful about editing other users' questions to add context. For example, see the discussion here: Editing someone else's question to add context. (So basically what I want to say is that are some limits to your point number 2.) – Martin Sleziak Dec 4 at 9:00
  • @MartinSleziak Certainly, and actually I should have been more clear. I was thinking of a situation where the OP had abandoned the question, and making edits as suggested in the link where you edit in a clearly distinct voice from the OP to make it clear what is your writing and what was the OP's original question. I'll edit some clarifications and that link into my answer later. – jgon Dec 4 at 12:20

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