When voting to close a question there are five options you can choose from:
The ones that interest me here are the third and fifth choices. While I don't think this is a pervasive issue, I have seen it enough that I think it warrants a discussion. It seems to me that specifically these two close reasons are applied improperly at times.
Let's start with the third one
unclear what you're asking
Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.
I understand this to refer to a post where you cannot see what the question being asked is. Such questions are closed because if we don't know what the question is then we can't provide good answers.
However, a question can be a clear question (i.e. we know what is being asked) but still be a bad question, an inappropriate question, or closeworthy for some other reason. In such a case I do not think this close reason should be used.
Yet I have seen questions closed with this reason that appeared (at least to me) perfectly clear. The most recent example is this question:
Granted, I know basically nothing about Marvel, but it seems to me that the question is about as clear as you can get. The title reads:
Are there plans to make the Iron Man title less sexist?
And the opening sentence reads:
Does Marvel have any plans to make the Iron Man title less gender exclusive?
These are both simple explicit yes-or-no questions. Either there are plans or there aren't. And the question even gave examples of what would be less sexist and less gender exclusive:
has Marvel indicated they will go with a more progressive mantle like Iron Person, Iron Human, or Iron Individual*?
Now, of course, there may be other issues with this question (which probably explains the 23 downvotes at the time of this writing). Some comments, both to the post and in Chat (starting here), point out some issues with the question, particularly that it might not have been asked in good faith, that it is confrontational, that the premise that the title is sexist is incorrect, etc. But to my mind none of those points make the question unclear, and thus I don't think it is proper to close it as "unclear what you're asking".
Now let's look at the fifth choice
Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.
I understand this close reason to refer to questions that are inherently subjective. For example, a question that asks who your favorite character is, or who the best character is. These questions are primarily opinion-based because they cannot be answered using objective methods. As the reason tells us, these questions cannot be based on "facts, references, or specific expertise" because concepts such as "favorite" or "best" are not subject to facts, references, or specific expertise.
However, I have seen questions closed using this reason that were not fundamentally subjective. This usually seems to happen when users think that there is not enough known information to provide an answer. Yet one could only know that there is not enough information by already knowing the answer to the question – that there is not enough information. I.e. the fact that there is not enough information to give a clear-cut answer doesn't make the question opinion-based. It means that the answer is that there is not enough information for us to give a definitive answer. Many times a question can get a good answer, even when there is no clear-cut explicit answer, by expert extrapolation from the limited amount of known facts.
It is true that if there is limited information with which to answer a question then it is probably more likely for people to post their own opinions. However, that does not make the question an opinion-seeking question. That is a problem with the answers and there are other ways to deal with it. The opinion answers can be deleted, the question can be protected, etc.
A recent example of this is:
The question asks why a certain thing in Harry Potter is the way it is. Such a question can be answered objectively. You simply have to go through the Harry Potter books (and/or other Harry Potter content) and see if there is any information that can shed light on this. If no such information can be found then the answer to the question is "we don't know because not enough information about this is ever given". (In this particular case, I think there was enough information to answer the question, though of course I might be biased as it was my answer.)
I think a relatively easy (if perhaps somewhat oversimplified) test to see if a question is opinion-based would be to imagine whether the author/creator/producer would be able to answer the question if you would ask it to him/her. If they would be able to answer it then it's probably not opinion-based; if they would not be able to answer it then it probably is opinion-based. In this case, for example, if we would ask JK Rowling she could conceivably answer the question in many ways, and thus the question is not opinion-based.
If we grant that these are improper uses of the close reasons, then I see two issues:
- The integrity of the system is undermined.
If people are using close votes for something other than what the reason is meant for, it is possible that questions that should remain open will end up getting closed. It is also possible that users will use their votes as a personal tool to close questions they don't like or to close questions of a user they don't like. (Please note, I am not making any accusations here.)
- When a question is closed a statement is attached to it explaining about reopening:
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.
Yet if a question was closed using an improper reason then this statement is misleading because you won't necessarily be able to reword the question in a way that pleases the close-voters.
So for those who have read this far
Is there actually such an issue? You can disagree with me about the specific examples I gave (I could give others but the post is long enough as it is and some of the other examples are my questions, so I'd rather it not seem like I'm trying to get my questions reopened) but still agree with the general point, or you can disagree entirely. Perhaps I have completely misunderstood the close reasons.
If there is such an issue, is there anything that can be done about it?
Again, this is not meant as an accusation/attack against any users, even those who voted to close the example questions. It is also not particularly about reopening any specific question. I would simply like to understand if/how others disagree with my understanding.
Note that if there is in fact a situation where a question should be closed but does not fit into any existing reason, I see several options for dealing with it that do not involve applying an incorrect reason:
- Flag for moderator attention and specify what the problem is
- Use the custom close reason (available under the off-topic selection) and explain why the question should be closed
- Request a new close reason that would cover such cases (I don't know how feasible this is)