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A lot of people vote to close (or just straight-up close) questions they don't find interesting, don't appear well-written, seem off-topic, or don't seem to have a clear answer.

Should we simply down-vote such questions?

If we're worried a question will foment an unproductive discussion, is it sufficient to simply down-vote it (ideally telling the asker why), and let closing wait until such an unproductive discussion is actually manifest?

Closing a question seems like the nuclear option, as it's pretty hard for the community to overturn it, especially a small community like ours. If our community finds a question interesting, that's ultimately sufficient for it to be answered, no?

I understand this site isn't Reddit, and I apologize for my question's rhetorical bent, but it seems like our community feels the down-vote button is only for users whose rep is too low to vote to close.

  • Interesting isn't good enough, in my opinion -- questions need to fit within the parameters of the site (and the general SO format) as well as be legible questions. I might find a question fascinating, but if it's off-topic, it's off-topic. – LittleBobbyTables May 6 '11 at 2:43
  • I've undeleted this, I hope you don't mind. I think this could be a useful discussion and I wanted to answer it. – Pat Ludwig May 6 '11 at 16:13
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A lot of people vote to close (or just straight-up close) questions they don't find interesting, don't appear well-written, seem off-topic, or don't seem to have a clear answer.

Should we simply down-vote such questions?

Those seem like reasonable reasons to downvote, but I wouldn't necessarily vote something down because it's not interesting; as long as it is on-topic for the site it should be interesting to someone.

The official tooltip for voting on questions was recently updated from

This question is clear and useful

to

This question shows research effort; it is clear and useful

Since what I objected to most in "bad" questions was that they were so lazily asked, indicating near-zero effort from the asker.

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    Thanks for mentioning this, I hadn't noticed the change. – Pat Ludwig May 9 '11 at 3:35
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When determining if the best action is to down vote or close, I think the best thing to do is to take cues from the hints on the site.

Closing, as Pat points out, doesn't kill a question, it prevents people from posting answers until it's cleaned up. Voting to close a question brings up a dialog box prompting you to select one of five reasons why the question should be closed. If it doesn't meet one of those reasons, then closure probably isn't the right answer. The whole point is that the closed question is put in time out until the problem is resolved, at which point it can be re-opened--or deleted if no one cares enough to fix the problem. I've seen questions get closed, fixed, and re-opened.

As for down voting, it really has a different purpose. Closure indicates a structural flaw in the question: it's an exact duplicate, it doesn't have an answer, it belongs on another SE site, etc. Down voting serves to suppress a question that doesn't meet the criteria for closure (i.e. there's nothing structurally wrong with it), but just isn't well asked.

Jeff points out a good criteria as he explains why the down vote hint has changed: a good question is not only useful but reflects a little bit of work on the part of the questioner. Now this isn't a coding site, so the idea of research is likely to be a little different, but I always cringe when I see someone ask a question that is answered by quoting a crystal clear sentence from the rules.

Take a strawman question like "How many dice do you roll in Monopoly to figure out how many spaces to move?" It's a board game question, so on topic; it's objective, a real question, not a duplicate, and not too localized. But, it's boring and lame an has an easy answer (and isn't even worded very well). I'd down vote that because the question is disrespectful of the time that another person might take to answer it.

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One aspect that doesn't seem to be widely understood is that closing a question does not complete it's life-cycle.

Ultimately there shouldn't be many closed questions, they should be reopened or deleted. Closed questions can still be commented on and edited. If there is useful content there, they should be.

I do periodically go through and delete what are, in my opinion at the time the "worst" of the closed questions. We still have 34 closed questions, I'm sure there are some potential gems in there.

Users are free to downvote and/or vote to close questions if they have the privileges for it.

This recent question is a perfect example of the process at work. I felt the question, as posed was quite poor and closed it while noting that it could be rewritten and opened. That's exactly what happened and I think refutes your assertion that the community won't reopen questions.

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    Indeed. However, in that particular example I think the closure by a moderator (you) was a little heavy-handed. If it had accumulated 5 close votes in the usual way, fine. But I think as a moderator, particularly as an unelected, pro tempore moderator, you need to be especially careful about how you choose to express your opinion. In fact, I think moderators should avoid actions derived from opinions whenever possible. In this sense, you are in fact more limited than a 'normal' user. Open questions are not especially dangerous. Trust the community to vote appropriately! – ire_and_curses May 10 '11 at 2:32
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    @ire - Thanks for your thoughts. I'm a strong believer in the Broken Window Theory. Open bad questions also get answers. I really feel for people that end up wasting their time answering a question that doesn't pass muster. – Pat Ludwig May 10 '11 at 5:03
  • Please be modest in deletion, we can no longer vote to undelete a moderator's deletion. – Lance Roberts May 20 '11 at 19:44
  • @Lance - If the community will handle the processing of closed questions (either delete or rehabilitate+reopen) then my services won't be required. Deleting a question that has been closed for a couple months ought not to raise too many hackles. – Pat Ludwig May 20 '11 at 20:08

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