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Moderator's Note: The lock reason below is not entirely accurate: my apologies. I am locking this question because the issues raised is no longer relevant. This is especially since OP's suggestion for solving it has now been implemented system-wide. That said, I think it is important to keep this post around to document the discussion on this topic.

I asked a question $27$ days ago. It gave an example of a question which was closed with no explanation from those who closed it, but from the OPs point of view was a perfectly valid question.

My question was, unfortunately, slightly flawed. It was flawed because in the example I gave the OP was pissed that his question was closed and posted comments and a meta thread to this effect. And so comments were deleted, so we (or rather, we with not enough rep.) do not know the history. Also, no satisfactory answers were proffered.

The question I asked can be found here.

I would like to ask what is essentially an identical question, but with different examples. Examples which are not flawed. So, here we go:


I have just seen something which annoyed me very much.

I am wondering why this question was closed. I am also wondering why none of those closing the question took the time to tell the OP why the question was closed, even after I left a comment asking them to help the OP out by saying why they were closing it. These last two points are what annoyed me. Note: The comment was added after only one person had voted to close.

Another example of silent deletion is this question

In both cases, the given reason is that it is "too localized". So, apparently "(These questions are) unlikely to help any future visitors; (they are) only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet."

Okay, sure, fine, we are all experienced users and we all know that the real reason for closing is that the OP has shown no effort of their own. But the poor OP of my second example who has only just joined this site! He has just asked a question! What are they meant to do? How can they get help for this specific question when it is too localised! How can they generalise it? Surely every question is too localised? My point here is that, as far as the OP is concerned, their question has been closed for no apparent reason. As their mind tries to comprehend this reason for closure, they go elsewhere. This helps noone.

So, the reason that the thread was closed it because the OP has just copied and pasted some questions and not said what he has tried. However, one of the people closing the question should say so. Please, please give new (and, yes, old) users a helping hand rather than slamming the door in their face. Be friendly. Be nice. Be communicative!


Now, I have had a rant. I feel slightly better. However, just as closing a question does not rid us of a problem, me ranting about such situations does not make everything better. I have a question, and it is this,

What should be done about such situations?

I think naming and shaming would be going too far. However, I can genuinely come up with no other ideas. All I know is that something ought to be done.


Other examples can be found,

https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/375915/igcse-mathematic-october-november-paper-4-2011

https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/375165/collapsing-of-data-points-without-normalisation

https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/374376/how-do-i-work-out-this-problem

https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/362272/proving-that-r-lor-q-land-mathop-sim-r-to-mathop-sim-p-equiv-r-lan

and I am sure that there are many, many more. (Although searching through the first page of closed:yes questions, most closed questions have given the OP some feedback. Most, but not all...However, this made me feel better :-) )


Note: I am not saying that these questions should not have been closed. That is a different discussion. Rather, I am saying that instead believing that closing a question makes everything better, we should be helping the OP understand how to ask their question in a way that will ensure them a helpful answer. As this what we are here for: helping people.

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locked by Willie Wong Jun 25 '14 at 14:06

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

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  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Do you actually mean "no apparent reason" or "no given reason"? Your final note suggest that you would be happy if those who voted to close also provided some constructive criticism on how to make the question better. Is that the case? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 29 '13 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ I said "no apparent reason" because from the eyes of the OP that is so. Your interpretation of my opinion is correct. I apologise for rambling. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ (I should add that although my opinion is that "(I) would be happy if those who voted to close also provided some constructive criticism on how to make the question better", I believe that something should be done so that I am happy. The point of my question is: what should be done?) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ Would the proposal "When voting to close, if the 'boilerplate' reason for closure does not reflect exactly why you voted to close, please include a comment explaining the close vote and what the OP should do to have the question re-opened" or something similar be "something"? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 29 '13 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ It would be something, but I do not think it would work. What would work would be a new reason for closing which basically said "Please tell us what you have tried". Would this be possible? $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ "Would this be possible?" - not without badgering the SE guys, for sure. In the interim, we work with what we're handed. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Apr 29 '13 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ Closure reasons are standardized (I am pretty sure) across the SE network. I am pessimistic that we'll be able to get a Math.SE specific closure reason. (Though one can always post a feature-request.) $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 29 '13 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, I wasn't sure the powers of a moderator (in the Church of Scotland the moderator is, like, the Pope!). So, perhaps another explanation of @WillieWong's proposal would be in order, as I am not 100% sure what the proposal actually is. Where would the statement go? Would it appear when people are voting to close? $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 It will appears as a "Proposal" on Meta, the same way so many others have appeared in the recent past, and will probably be ignored by many the same way so many others were in the cumulative past of this website. :-p $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 29 '13 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ @WillieWong: Then I think it is pointless. Sorry... (I think it is pointless because what I have an issue with is something I believe people should not have to be asked to do, and therefore it is something that those people who do not do it will still not do even if they are asked to.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ (Also, I do not think such a proposal will work because, as I mentioned in my question, I left a comment inviting those voting to close to help the OP out. Four people saw the comment and yet voted to close without helping the OP.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ Now that a reason for closure has been given I have voted to re-close this question. I hope this doesn't turn into an open/close war. $\endgroup$ – Antonio Vargas Apr 29 '13 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Antonio: I have just become the third vote to re-open that perfectly good question. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 30 '13 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Antonio: Forgot to mention: the reason given is inaccurate. The question does not match the quality standards of some MSE users, but anyone reading the comments can easily see that other MSE users disagree. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 30 '13 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ Looks to me like the second one about data points was closed because the question was badly phrased. Somebody should have left a note explaining this. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber May 3 '13 at 18:05
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We are not here for helping people. You might be here for helping people. But that is not the intent of this space.

Some people are here to get helped. Some people are here to solve problems. Some people are here because they're too lazy to do their own damn homework.

Sometimes, question closures happen when a user exhibits a history of putting in no effort. Some users have low MSE rep, but are active on other SE sites and should know better.

In general, however, the site is suffering from quality issues in the questions that get asked. Math.SE has a very low closure-to-ask ratio, much lower than other mainstream SE sites. Users have been closing questions that show little OP effort, but the closure reason for doing so is inconsistent. Personally, I favor "not constructive," because I find it not constructive to the community to serve as a factory for solving homework problems.

But ultimately, we're not here to help people. We're here for our own reasons. Helping people is a happy consequence of those reasons, but it should not be a motivator for site policy.

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I disagree with your opinion that "(helping) should not be a motivator for site policy" in the strongest possible terms. However, I think "helping" is a bit of a tangent. If you replace every instance of "helping" with "not being unhelpful" then the question still makes sense and my point is, I believe, still valid. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 29 '13 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ "Helping" and "not being unhelpful" are very different things. If you ask, "what are the roots of $x^2+18x+17$", and I answer "$-1, -17$", this is not helping, but it is not "not being unhelpful." Ultimately, SE is a question and answer site. The utility of the questions and/or answers is entirely the perception of each individual user. $\endgroup$ – Emily Apr 29 '13 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ I have been making @Arkamis's point for some time now, and it is nice to see someone else saying it. There are plenty of worthy places that are there for helping people that would love to have your talents. This is a forum that exists because we simply love being here. But while we are at it, we shouldn't make life difficult for those seeking help. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Apr 29 '13 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @RonGordon Indeed. And at the same time, those seeking help shouldn't abuse the privilege of those willing to do so! $\endgroup$ – Emily Apr 29 '13 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Arkamis: totally agree. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Apr 29 '13 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ From my point of view you and some others want MSE to be actively UNhelpful. And a lot of the questions that you’d write off as being from people ‘too lazy to do their own damn homework’ demonstrably are not: I’ve had many of these people actively engage me when I supply a reasonable hint. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 30 '13 at 6:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian: And the belief is that those users would have no difficulty with showing prior effort. (and IMO will even benefit from getting into the habit of expressing what they're doing, and more importantly expressing why it's not working) $\endgroup$ – Hurkyl Apr 30 '13 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: No, that’s your belief. And in many cases it’s simply mistaken. I’m talking about people who are completely lost initially but capable of taking a direction if it’s offered. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Apr 30 '13 at 7:12
  • $\begingroup$ To get back on track: The point of this question is not whether such questions should be closed or not, nor is it to discuss the definition of "helpful", or to discuss why we are here. Rather, it is to discuss what should be done in the event of questions being closed which, from the eyes of the respective OPs, are perfectly fine. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Apr 30 '13 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ We should close the question until the OP figures out that it's not fine. The vast majority of these questions are undergraduate level questions. They should be able to figure it out. Or, they'll fail. Neither is a concern to this forum. $\endgroup$ – Emily Apr 30 '13 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Arkamis Students struggle should be with the concepts, not with bad notes and certainly not with getting help. We should not be putting up a barrier to students! $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 1 '13 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ I am here to help people. $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 May 1 '13 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ What if I post questions here related to my job, with the expectation that others will solve them, with no effort on my part? If this is the attitude we take, why shouldn't I pawn off the work I actually get paid for? $\endgroup$ – Emily May 1 '13 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ (I do not think requesting a student tell you what they have tried is a barrier though - knowing where they stand is essential to answering the question! And closing the question isn't a barrier - it can be got around. So I was not referring to the closing question stuff with my barrier comment.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 May 1 '13 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ I am here to help. It's like a big video game where I get points for assisting :-). Seems good to me. (Now, if I could monetize those points :-).) $\endgroup$ – copper.hat May 1 '13 at 17:49

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