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I refer to this question, which I was spending a couple hours preparing the answer for only to find it already closed by the time I could post it. This is not the only instance in recent memory – I managed to post an answer to this question before it was closed.

I note that there are four closers in common between the two questions, and none of them seem to have any relevant expertise. It would be nice if we could easily reopen wrongly closed questions, but even as a gold badge holder in the relevant tag it seems my reopen vote carries no extra weight (unlike for duplicate votes).

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    $\begingroup$ With regards to your last sentence, do you mean if we had a dedicated meta thread where you, as an expert, can raise awareness that a question being telegraphic is not necessarily the same as it being without context and ask people to vote to reopen it? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    May 7, 2023 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ Related: non-experts-closing-questions $\endgroup$ May 7, 2023 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ I think there is a problem of closing questions too hastily, not only for short questions. Too many hasty closers, often without a sufficient expertise. It happend to me that I answered a question, that was hastiliy closed, in my opinion wrongly, and I lost my upvotes, but this is not the problem. What annoyed me was that among the closers there was a user that didn't even know the difference beetween a bijection and an injective function, a high reputation user was trying to explain this difference to this user in the comments. This user after a minute voted to close the question. $\endgroup$ May 7, 2023 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Baker, you may lose upvotes when a question is deleted, but I don't think you lose them when a question is closed. $\endgroup$ May 7, 2023 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ I am neutral regarding suggestions to restrict close votes. If it were easier to undo closures it would not necessarily be a problem if some questions are closed too hastily. $\endgroup$
    – Zhen Lin
    May 8, 2023 at 5:32
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    $\begingroup$ @ZhenLin I don't think the closures are hasty : they were done keeping standards in mind that are not the same as yours, that is all. Can you provide an argument that the first question, for example, doesn't lack context? It was closed for that. It talks about categories having some properties, but doesn't give an example of such a category. It also doesn't talk about where and why the author wants to know about such categories or came across them. That could easily be enough to see a question closed. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2023 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ Examples are obvious to anyone who knows even a small amount of category theory. For example, any groupoid, or any preorder category. $\endgroup$
    – Zhen Lin
    May 8, 2023 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ That doesn't take away from the fact that these details are not present in the question. It's the same problem : something that appears "natural/obvious" to an expert isn't obvious to someone else. I can ignore that and skip these kinds of questions in a review queue : and have been doing so for some time. But I don't expect others to abide by that. Anyway, you can see this answer and this comment. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2023 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ I simply do not believe context is needed for such questions. If someone asks, “what is a matrix whose square is itself called?” without bothering to give examples, would you close it instead of actually just writing the answer? $\endgroup$
    – Zhen Lin
    May 8, 2023 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ Context is not needed because it is a simple question. There is no need for questions to be interesting to everyone – it just needs to be interesting to people who have the same question and people who could provide an answer. Full disclosure: I do not think the first linked question is by any means a good question. In fact, it seems I answered the same question before and forgot about it. I would not object to closing low-effort questions as duplicates. But we should answer these questions at least once so that the answer can be googled! $\endgroup$
    – Zhen Lin
    May 8, 2023 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a part of bigger problem, quality of moderation. $\endgroup$
    – kludg
    May 9, 2023 at 4:17
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    $\begingroup$ For some people, I’m sorry but I get the impression that closing questions is their main hobby in life. With a newcomer, there ought to be a very explicit indication of what needs to be rectified in this particular case, and an indication that if it’s not fixed in e.g. 3 days, the question will be closed $\endgroup$
    – Laska
    May 13, 2023 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ In my opinion people not familiar with the subject have no business voting to close. This is not a competition for space or attention. By all means, downvote bad questions – after all, downvoting is not a free action, so I think users would think twice before doing so, and downvoting is easy to counteract. $\endgroup$
    – Zhen Lin
    May 15, 2023 at 10:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Sarvesh, thank you for the edit, it indeed improves the question by quite a lot and indeed makes it accessible to a broader audience. However, I disagree with you that context was "inadequate" simply because "it failed to pique the interest of people not familiar with the subject". In my understanding, MSE is supposed to be a repository of high quality Q&A, and a "high quality question" is not necessarily a "question that can be understood by or interesting for everyone". $\endgroup$ May 15, 2023 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ I believe actually that the audience of a question should be all people studying or familiar with the underlying subject in the broad sense (i.e. the tags of the question), and certainly not "as many people as possible" (which trying to make all questions interesting to even those unfamiliar to the subject would suggest). If the question is clear, well motivated, and helpful for those interested in the topic in the topic, then there is enough context. Having to define every single term so that people unfamiliar with the topic can understand what is going on can create unnecessary clutter... $\endgroup$ May 15, 2023 at 10:42

6 Answers 6

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Thanks for bringing that specific Question (your first example, about category theory) to my attention (it has now been reopened). There is a dedicated thread for asking for reopen and related actions, see current Requests for Reopen & Undeletion Votes.

I added the reference request tag to the specific Question. While my criterion for context is de minimis for all such close actions, where a question concerns terminology or reference materials, this lowered bar is especially relevant. After all an asker has to have a starting point from which to ask more detailed guidance.

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This is partially answering a related question (if by harsh, you mean closing a question "too soon"): Yes, shorter questions are subject to harsher judgement.

According to this page, short questions and answers are recognized by the system’s quality checks to be "potentially low quality", and will enter the Low quality posts queue automatically. Reviewers with 3k+ can vote to close directly in the Low quality posts queue, and Reviewers with 2k-3k reps can flag and push the post into the close vote review queue.

Given that the close votes review queue are always in huge backlog (in the extreme case, some close vote reviews are never finished), shorter questions do got closed faster than longer questions (assuming that they have similar quality), since they enter different queues. I guess this is what happened to the first post you link: the LQ reviews is finished within the first 3 hours. In your second post, it enters just the close-vote review and the post is closed only after 40 hours.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't really know if the first post is short enough to trigger its entry into the LQ review queue (some others might had flagged the post). I guess the threshold is not public. $\endgroup$ May 7, 2023 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ so what is your conclusion? Did you say in your any that the current mechanism of handling queues is OK from your POV? $\endgroup$
    – Alex
    May 10, 2023 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ There's no conclusion here. I am really just answering partially a related question, @Alex. If you ask for my personal opinion: the current situation is okay, in the sense that most low quality questions are eventually closed. $\endgroup$ May 10, 2023 at 13:54
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My understanding is that MSE is supposed to be a repository of high quality questions and answers about mathematics. What constitutes a high quality question is of course (to some extent) a matter of personal opinion, but according to mine, a question which meets most of the following criteria is definitely "high quality enough" and doesn't deserve to be closed :

  • It is clear and understandable by most people who are familiar with the topic in the broad sense (i.e. the tags of the question). For instance the question cited by the OP is perfectly clear to anyone who has studied/is studying category theory, but it's totally impenetrable to me as I know nothing about this topic. That latter point should never be a reason to close a question.
  • It is well motivated by examples or some explanation of how the question came about (questions asking about terminology don't necessarily need to satisfy this by the way). For instance the question Quantile function is the almost surely left inverse of CDF I answered a while ago arose naturally as the OP was reading a Wikipédia article about the quantile function. I believe that amount of context is sufficient in general.
  • It is useful and/or helpful in the sense that either many students of that topic are likely to encounter a similar question at some point, or people generally interested in that topic are likely to gain valuable insights by answering this question and/or answering it themselves. Of course, this point is rather subjective and best evaluated by people who are familiar enough with the topic. I think that How discontinuous can a derivative be? is a good example of such a question, which is relatively short and full of technical terms which are not defined. I suspect some people would have voted to close it if it was posted today by a low-rep user, however it (and its answer !) is one of the most valuable real analysis questions on this site
  • It is an original question which hasn't been asked/answered before on this site. Not much explanation needed on this last point, but as an illustration consider the question $L^p$ and $L^q$ space inclusion : if it was asked for the first time today, I expect that it would be closed within 24 hours, however this is again an extremely valuable question for this site that should stay open and have an answer that we can reference to in the future.

As a rule of thumb, if 3 out of 4 of the above criteria are met, the question should not be closed. If you see an "edge case" and you're not sure whether you should vote to close or leave open, just skip that question and do not vote to close it. As a converse of the above list, I would say that any of the below reasons alone should never be ground for closing a question :

  • The question is not understandable/interesting for people who are not familiar with the topic.
  • The question doesn't include OP's attempt/thoughts on solving it.
  • The question is too short (some one sentence questions are extremely helpful and valuable).

Of course, this is only my personal opinion, and juding by the conversation so far, it seems like we won't reach a community-wide consensus. My suggestion would thus be, for people who see an interesting question they are afraid will get closed, to try and "protect" the question with a comment along those lines

to potential close voters : this may appear as a Problem Statement Question for those unfamiliar with [topic XXX], but it is in fact a valuable question because [reasons YYY] which, as far as I can tell, has not been asked here before. As others interested in [topic XXX] will most likely find this question useful, please do not vote to close it.

Of course editing the question to add more context, as Sarvesh Ravichandran Iyer did e.g. for this question, is definitely the most effective way to have it remain open, but in my opinion it shouldn't be necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ For your comment to the close-voters: it is not always easy to check if a question had been asked before, since there's 1.5m questions out there. So think twice before making that statement. Also, simply saying that it's a "very challenging/insightful/valuable question with no justification does not help. A more useful approach is suggested by Mosher here $\endgroup$ May 15, 2023 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ArcticChar you are right that it is quite easy to miss duplicates of a given question, so some question should be exerted (if the question is found to be a duplicate, it can (and should) of course be closed for that reason anyway). Regarding your second point, you are right that it's not convincing to claim that the question is "useful" without justification, so I edited my answer accordingly. The point of leaving such a comment is mainly to dissuade people in review queue from voting to close simply because they (wrongly) perceived the question as missing context. $\endgroup$ May 16, 2023 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, if done properly, it is almost always better to directly edit the question to add more context : it can make the problem clearer, more interesting, attract more audience and thus potentially better answers as well. Edits which improve the quality of questions should always be encouraged, however they should not be necessary for questions such as the one discussed in the OP to remain open. (again, this is only my opinion) $\endgroup$ May 16, 2023 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ re "...a repository of high quality questions and answers..." refer to @uhoh's lemma #1: Stack Exchange is a collaborative effort to generate good answers to on-topic questions. The idea that we should close questions thereby blocking the entire community from an opportunity to post answers because the question post itself is not independently deemed to be of sufficient "high quality" is a myth. It's all about the answers. Unless it's really attracting bad answers, give folks a chance to answer. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 17, 2023 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ "...and doesn't deserve to be closed..." We do not punish questions! They don't "deserve" or not "deserve" to be closed. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 17, 2023 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I wholeheartedly agree with you, questions on MSE are meant to attract high quality answers (this is what I wrote in my post, but I only focused on questions, since we're discussing when it is appropriate to close them). Again, what is a high quality answer (or "good") answer is partly subjective, but I believe that if a question follows most of the bullet points I've listed above, then it will most likely attract "good" answers, as in answers that will be helpful to other people interested in that topic in the future. So, ultimately, I believe we are making the same point. $\endgroup$ May 17, 2023 at 8:39
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Just a sort of mental guide I use to choose whether or not to recommend closing (feel free to edit) :

  1. If a question contains things like "Prove", "Find", or "Solve", without the OP's work, context, etc., the question is better closed.
  2. If it contains things like "I was reading ..." and "I do not understand how/why ...", and contains some work or ideas, then it looks ok. If it does not contain any work or ideas, then skip (if you don't know much about the topic) or use your judgement skills (if you know about the topic).
  3. Questions asking for terminology need not be closed.
  4. There are some questions which do not fall in Category 1 but appear to do so. As in, "The definition of so-and-so says we can't have $x=0$. However, when I plug in $x=0$, I get this. How to prove this does not follow the properties of so-and-so?". In such questions, better skip if you do not understand the terminology.
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    $\begingroup$ (+1) point 4 in particular should be emphasized in my opinion. These are the typical questions which fall in a "grey area" and get too hastily closed by people who didn't read/understand them carefullly and treat them as if they were plain Problem Statement Questions $\endgroup$ May 15, 2023 at 18:01
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I personally am not but "We" perhaps yeah I have definitely seen many short questions closed even though they showed in their comments how the question was relevant, that they had thought about it some, and had a nice question. But yeah personally I don't have enough rep to close questions personally so No to that, but for "We" perhaps yeah I could see the closing on short questions happening a bit too hastily lately.

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  • $\begingroup$ I meant to write this as a comment, but as I no longer have enough reputation to write comments, I will write this here as part of the discussion $\endgroup$
    – Snared
    May 18, 2023 at 0:47
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Yes we are closing questions too hastily in another sense.

I will not comment here on the speed with which the decision is reached.

Rather the speed of implementation is too quick. Instead, particularly for a newcomer, I think it does no harm to give a day or so warning to a poster that their question may be closed. This warning, rather than general boilerplate would indicate specific issues perceived with this question.

I also think there should be a stub "Context:" already appearing in the question template, so that newcomers understand that this should be supplied.

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    $\begingroup$ This defeats the entire point of closure - the question in that form cannot and should not be answered on Math SE, so answering is blocked, until such time as the community determines it has been brought up to the required standard. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    May 15, 2023 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the template, see here for details about the Stack Overflow "Ask Wizard". $\endgroup$ May 15, 2023 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @SarveshRavichandranIyer. How did that experiment work out? $\endgroup$
    – Laska
    May 15, 2023 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Nij. Does this hammer approach actually work? What’s the data on the number of repairable questions which are repaired vs abandoned? (Ignoring ones which are obviously beyond hope - my interest is in questions that can very well be answered but some feel should not). $\endgroup$
    – Laska
    May 15, 2023 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ Some of the reopen/close data can be found in the moderator tool, available to users with sufficient rep. Some statistics: 40 questions were reopened this month (May 2023), while at least 40 questions were closed within the last 8 hours. The no. of closed post that is edited subsequently is harder to find, but from the history of the reopen review queue, that seems to be around 10 each day. And around 1/4 of them are reopened (I hope some ppl more capable in SEDE can find the data). $\endgroup$ May 15, 2023 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @ArcticChar that summary already gives some context $\endgroup$
    – Laska
    May 15, 2023 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Laska There were improvements, particularly for first time askers. I think the "Ask wizard" will make a difference on this website, but they're still developing it, apparently. $\endgroup$ May 16, 2023 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ (+1) In lower question-rate sites (~10/day) this often happens naturally; someone posts a suggestion for improvement or a warning that it might be closable for reason X. Often within a day or so the OP responds, often by fixing the problem. It's common for unattended/unimproved questions to get closed days or weeks later. However at over 300 questions per day, it's really hard in practice to give authors of problematic questions a few extra days, and then the attention necessary to close. You are right in principe, but it may require some changes to SE's workings to make this workable. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 17, 2023 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh thanks for this. However the sheer volume also means that once a question is closed, it’s a real struggle to get it open again. If someone comes and browses historical questions, they do not see the kind of context present which some current members demand as a measure of what they term “quality”. And yet those questions were happily answered. So it’s very easy for new folk to end up posing a question which is immediately slam-dunk blocked. Bottom line: the sheer volume of questions which prevents proper follow-up is exactly why hair-trigger close is inapproapriate for newcomers’ posts $\endgroup$
    – Laska
    May 17, 2023 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Laska you are absolutely right about the problem. Definitely some new users are lost forever because of this. I think we're on the same page here. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 17, 2023 at 6:36
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    $\begingroup$ No, that doesn't follow at all. If there is such a volume that each post will only be addressed once (not twice where it is closed and then reopened, or twice where it is commented and closed because nobody fixed it) then the decision must be in favour of what type the majority of such posts tend to be. If most posts were of okay quality despite needing improvements, then "default leave open and forget" would be viable. But they're not - the majority of posts relevant here are not appropriate, and they need to be put down fast, or forever sit amongst the sludge that they contribute to. $\endgroup$
    – Nij
    May 19, 2023 at 5:46

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