The two questions that inspired this post (primarily this one here, but also this one) are both story-id questions, and although that's a type of question that does get closed for being unclear, my question to the community extends beyond that tag.
If a question gets closed with 'unclear/needs detail', the post notice currently says:
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.
By this point it's usually attracted comments asking for clarification (and I'll be assuming this for my future points), usually posted by the community members who voted to close it initially.
What happens in the best case scenario is that the question is edited to add at least some of those details (with the option to push the question back into the review queue), and/or the original poster then also comments (or sometimes edits) explaining that they can't remember extra details requested.
Now, it can be completely valid to re-open these questions without any extra details or comments, regardless of whether it was closed in error or something else.
But when there are unanswered comments asking for clarification, it feels weird to me to re-open the question, when none of the above is addressed.
To me closing questions come in two main flavours, and serve two separate purposes:
- Chocolate: This post will probably never be productively answerable (it's completely out of scope, like a non-SFF question, or it's a duplicate question, and some opinion-based questions)
- Vanilla: The question might be answerable in the future. Like it "Needs more focus" or "Needs details or clarity", and some opinion based questions live here too, but if so they tend to change a lot to make them answerable.
The purposes are mainly to:
- Prevent 'bad' answers; answers that don't benefit the asker or the community. These can be answering things out of scope, 'polluting' the scope of the site's content. Or an unclear question collecting a lot of noise that doesn't address what the asker intended to ask about. Or even splitting up good answers to the same fundamental question spread across multiple posts. Users are free to vote on these, and may even really like the content despite being off-topic.
- Leveraging the user to improve their question; perhaps it makes them clarify or narrow down what they're asking, so as to get it opened and be able to be answered again. Whether that means the question now has more details, it only asks one thing, or the users has specified how it's not a duplicate.
Then, by my understanding, closing an unclear question (story-id or otherwise) serves BOTH these purposes:
- Prevents 'guesses' based on not having enough detail, which increases noise and potential for false positives
- Encourages the user to add the detail required by the previous point
So, as I said previously:
it can be completely valid to re-open these questions without any extra details or comments, perhaps it was closed in error or something else.
And although it's not mandatory to leave comments, for any actions, it seems unhelpful to not address the issues raised when closing the question? It says to me, the re-open voters disagree that it's unclear or needs more details, but unlike the close voters, don't want to explain why, or refute the arguments already posted? Maybe I'm reading these votes wrong.
Explaining your actions can be a really good way to build the community towards a common understanding of self-moderation, or indicate where a meta discussion is needed.
Separately, I'm also not clear on the 'rush' to re-open question. Sure there might be a limit on how long the original poster will hang around and be bothered to accept any answers, but if we're not ready to answer (the hypothetical question is unedited and still lacking in details) there's no benefit in opening it 'early', right?
I'd really like to elicit some discussion on the points raised above, and gauge whether our community has different opinions on unclear questions to myself, or each other.
Let me know your thoughts.