Just looking a two most recent examples, both questions in their original formulation were unarguably poorly written, but I can hardly see how they were unclear.

Also other questions got voted to be closed as unclear when in my opinion were perfectly answerable.

I understand that the "community" has fixed the situation in all these cases, but my feeling that the "unclear what you're asking" close reason is abused around here has built over a quite long period of time. I do not know how to do it, but it would be interesting to run a query on data.SE to see which questions got closed as unclear and are now reopened. (*)

In summary, in this meta discussion I would like to discuss:

  • is this close reason abused? (and/or what is the "abuse" threshold)
  • is it a problem? e.g., do we lose users by closing their (first) questions as "unclear" when they are simply poorly worded?
  • if it is a problem, can it be solved?


(*)thanks to fooot for making the data query.

  • $\begingroup$ to whom has downvoted: care to explain what's wrong? $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    May 20, 2015 at 17:23

3 Answers 3


In my opinion, the problem arises when poorly written is taken synonymously with unclear what you're asking. New users may not be related to aviation and they might have a basic or very trivial question, but do not exactly know how to articulate it properly.

Sometimes, I do feel that there is a group of users among us who is relatively less patient and want to act promptly (deliberately not using abusing) to keep the site clean. Regardless, I agree with most of the points @fooot and @Pondlife have mentioned as I was about to say the same.

You mentioned about a query on Data.SE. I went there to write one but since there is not a schema diagram available (according to my knowledge), I could not visualize the relations by just looking at the tables and their keys.

  • $\begingroup$ for data.SE there would be this query as starting point. the problem is that I have no familiarity with databases $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    May 20, 2015 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ Query on the Aviation site $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    May 20, 2015 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, "poorly written" and "unclear" are often synonymous. In many of these cases a comment asking for clarification is a good option, but the interesting poorly-written questions may attract diverging answers based on equally-plausible interpretations of what's being asked. In those cases it may be better to close it, fix it, and then reopen it so it only gets answers based on the correct interpretation. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    May 20, 2015 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @fooot I did that already, my question is: can it be modified to show the ones that were closed as unclear and now are open? $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    May 20, 2015 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Federico Maybe this one? I think it looks for a close in the history but that doesn't have a close date. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    May 20, 2015 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ @fooot nice! thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    May 20, 2015 at 22:20

The close reasons are in part a matter of opinion. While there may be a general consensus, not everyone is going always agree about whether a question is not clear. The point is that if enough people find it unclear, then it needs some work. The users that tend to jump on things right away may have a different view from those that weigh in later.

In your first example, I agree with you. It seems pretty clear what they are asking and it could be answered as asked. I don't agree with your second example though. Just asking "how is this plane type doing" is broad and/or unclear. But I think that in both of these cases, the close votes served their purpose and the questions have been improved from their original form.

Putting a user's question on hold should not discourage them if it helps to improve the question to where it can be answered better. Have you noticed any cases where a question is still closed but you think is salvageable? We have some good editors here that seem to improve questions if the owner does not.

So if the question actually cannot be answered well, I think it's appropriate to put it on hold, since leaving a bad question open is not likely to attract good answers. However, I do think it is abuse if it is used to put questions on hold that are clear but just may need some improvement.

Personally I tend to lean towards leaving questions open when in doubt. It would be interesting to see if there is any data about close reasons.


I think that there is a tendency here to react too quickly, rather than giving the OP time to update/improve their question.

If a question is unclear then the appropriate action - in my opinion - is to leave a comment asking for clarification or, if you feel confident that you know what the OP meant, just edit it yourself. He can always roll back or re-edit if you change the meaning too much.

If the OP doesn't respond in any way and the question can't be improved without his input then I would vote to close as unclear, but maybe a day later or so. Not everyone checks this site multiple times per day, and the OP may even need to re-think the question in the light of feedback.

So my impression is that the closing votes are valid but they're made too quickly, without allowing enough time for the OP to respond. I'm not sure why that happens but one possibility is that because this is a relatively low-volume site (at least compared to stackoverflow!) when a new question appears some people feel that they need to do something with it quickly.

Anyway, to answer your specific questions:

  • No, but it is applied too quickly
  • Yes, because it may seem to new users that their questions aren't good enough for us (which may be literally true, but we should at least help them to improve before closing)
  • It can be solved if people request feedback and then wait before reacting further, but I have no idea how to promote that behaviour

This is all my opinion, of course, others may disagree :-)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Giving the OP time to improve the question is the point of closing it. A change was made a year or two back that closing a question puts the question on "hold" for a few days and then lists it as "closed". It is that "hold" period that the user has to edit/update/improve his question if he wants an answer. As long as the question is edited it is automatically put in the reopen queue. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    May 20, 2015 at 16:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @casey Thanks for that, I didn't know that was the thinking behind the on hold mechanism. It seems to be exactly what I described, although I suspect that for new users - and apparently for me too :-) - it isn't necessarily obvious what that implies. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    May 20, 2015 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ If the community is quick enough to put question on hold, the re-edited question would likely be re-opened quick enough. The review queue usually gets cleared pretty fast. $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    May 21, 2015 at 13:40

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