I'm interested after reading the discussion Introduce a "General Reference" close reason on Meta Stack Overflow.

What kinds of questions have been decided "General Reference"? Which have been accepted? Has the close reason generally been accepted or ignored by the community? Do you feel the close reason adds more value or risk, especially in the precedent that it sets?

  • You can use the data explorer to get generic pictures of how it has been used (e.g. comparing to other close reasons: data.stackexchange.com/english/q/110193/…) or find all the questions. Except that we aren't in the data explorer because we're only recently non-beta. But soon!
    – Tony Meyer
    Jan 7, 2012 at 21:16
  • @TonyMeyer that's very helpful! I look forward to being able to use it on UX.SE too, we're recently graduated too so not on the list either :)
    – Ben Brocka
    Jan 7, 2012 at 23:17

2 Answers 2


I think all the meta questions about this close reason have the tag, you can browse them to see the history and discussion around this topic.

We've usually taken “general reference” to mean “obvious from the Wikipedia article”. We don't use it much; I think we average about once a month.

I do like having the close reason, and I miss it on other SE sites, but I have concerns about it being misused. In particular, I disagree with Borror0's diagram (pushed by Jeff): I don't think Google is a good test for general reference. I won't repeat my full reasoning here. The problem with the Google test is that often the top Google hits look good to potential answerers who know the topic well, but what the asker sees is an explanation that's difficult to understand and may or may not be correct or relevant. This is the crux of the problem: general reference implies that not only the asker can find the answer easily, but the asker must know that they have found a reliable answer. The short version is that general reference should not be “Google it” but “Wikipede it”.

On sites without general reference as a close reason, I sometimes vote to close as “too localized: This question is unlikely to ever help any future visitors.” Although the examples in the description of the “too localized” close reason don't apply, general reference questions are bad primarily because they are not helpful to future visitors: future visitors with the same question will have an easier time looking up the answer in the general reference than on Stack Exchange, so there's no need to duplicate the information on Stack Exchange.

  • Your point about easily understanding the Goolge answers is why the diagram includes "too hard to parse". It's particularly relevant for Programming stuff; often the official or comprehensive documentation for a programming language is very poorly organized or written, so even though it's first on Google it might not help anyone solve their problem.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jan 4, 2012 at 21:08
  • 1
    @BenBrocka The diagram omits a verification that the asker will have a good reason to trust the top answer. On most subjects, Wikipedia is reliable for the basics, so if you find a well-written Wikipedia article that addresses your question, there's no reason to look further. On the other hand, Joe's blog may be on the spot, or it may be complete bullshit: how do I know if I'm not familiar with the topic?
    – user56
    Jan 4, 2012 at 21:12
  • That's why I personally prefer to air on the side of just answering the question. When I see a Stack Exchange answer in a search it's usually good. I think our brand as a Q & A site justifies answering such questions if only for the air of authority.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jan 4, 2012 at 21:33

Currently, if the answer is able to be found on Wikipedia, IMDB or a Google search where, if you type in the question title exactly and are able to find the answer as one of the results on the first page, it has been voted to close for General reference.

There have been discussion to add Wookipedia, Memory Alpha and other easily find-able wikis to the general reference category, but those have all been denied due to the fact that most people don't know about them until they visit our site first and ask a related question.

Other than that, we don't consider it General Reference even if the answer is a quote in a book or found on a specific episode of a TV show.

  • I would say "are able find a high-quality answer", not "able to find the answer". A very important part of "general reference" is that the easily-found website presents the information nicely (it's not slow, covered with ads, requires an account, buried under other information, etc).
    – Tony Meyer
    Jan 17, 2012 at 21:57

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