In Mark Trapp's recent question about why the Tom Bombadil question was deleted, he mentioned a couple of points that really stood out to me. I never realized this, but apparently Scifi.SE is one of only two sites that use a "General Reference" close reason. Jeff Atwood's answer on SO.Meta states that

FYI, this close reason was implemented for testing on http://scifi.stackexchange.com and http://english.stackexchange.com. We've finished our evaluation.

and after his summary of what "General Reference" is,

I believe this close reason has too much potential for abuse and misunderstanding. It is unlikely we will ever adopt this close reason network wide.

I have agreed with Jeff's statement that "General Reference" leads to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding since I really began to use the site. As someone who is fairly a newbie to Stack Exchange, I've always been somewhat confused by the "General Reference" close reason.

One only has to look at a few discussions on Scifi.Meta, or even some of the questions closed for this reason to understand some of the confusion. It really seems like a very subjective reason to close something. I understand why it was implemented; having people ask things like "Is Anakin Skywalker really Luke's Father?" is unproductive and a waste of time. My issue is that things which are not evident with basic reading and/or viewing of the topic are being closed for nebulous reasons like "Googleability."

For instance, "Who is Tom Bombadil?" is an excellent question that has been discussed by Tolkien scholars since the books where released. Sure, a Google search leads to a lot of resources on the discussion, but why is it inappropriate to have a readily available and excellently researched answer (like Mark Trapp's was) on a Q and A site renowned for expert content? We bring a lot to the table that a Google search cannot: human made conclusions from experts on a subject, independent and ideally sourced research, and the all important element of provided context. A good Wikipedia article gives a summary of a character and what they did; a good Stack Exchange answer can give so much more: insight into the character's motivations, background, the author's insights on that character, quotes from source materials on that character, and a valid conclusion to a specific question provided by an expert on the story's canon.

I can see the argument to keep "General Reference" as a way to close questions that are just too simple. Questions like "Was Darth Vader really Luke's Father?" are obviously ridiculous and should be closed. However, if "General Reference" is to be kept for that purpose, it needs to be clearly and precisely limited to simple questions of obvious plot points. My personal feeling on it is to just get rid of "General Reference" entirely, as it is too fundamentally subjective. For instances of banally simple questions, perhaps it would be better to close them as "Too Localized," since it is unlikely that many people would need an answer to "Was Darth Vader really Luke's Father?", explaining to the asker that such a simple question is easily answered by watching the movie, and the answer won't be useful to others.

Now that Jeff Atwood's test of the feature is over, do we still need the "General Reference" close reason? Can we get rid of this generally confusing feature? Or should we greatly limit its uses to questions that are just painfully obvious and simple?

  • I'm closing this question as a duplicate of the one where this discussion was reopened and resolved, so that anyone who sees this question will know how the story ended.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    May 7, 2017 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


I think that GR reason for closing should be kept, but: (1) Extremely limited; (2) Enforce its use very judiciously (with full proof in comments or on META that the question fully fits the GR guidelines BEFORE closing, and letting the asker address the points).

As an example (I will ask as a separate META Q), the one you linked to about Batman and murder seems to me to be WITHIN accepted non-GR guidelines (while the data exists on Wiki, the relevant Wiki article is not a dedicated resource for the question, and more importantly, does NOT come up in Google search in top 10 for either the exact question title OR the obvious queries).

However, your other example (is Vader Luke's father) is the reason why I feel that GR should still be available. Otherwise, we as a site will be inundated with trivia, boring, useless but super-highly-upvoted content like "What car model was Back to the Future time machine based on". StackOverflow experience teaches that trivia content like that, sadly, has a tendency to be floated UP via upvotes.

Given SFF volume, the trivia might quickly drown out the expert content.

  • I personally think "Too Localized" covers the really simple trivial questions, since they are "unlikely to help any future visitors." As to upvoting, those of us that know better just need to get in there, DV, and say, "Hey, this is too localized for here, you can find an answer at Wikipedia." I've noticed that once a question is closed, or someone points out why it's bad, the votes typically follow. Jun 8, 2012 at 20:10
  • 2
    @GabeWillard - look at SO. Most voted questions (aside from "favorite pizza") are "how do you add 1+1 in Java" Jun 8, 2012 at 20:24
  • The most voted questions that I can see on SO are about Flash CS4, RegEx and JSON. Jun 8, 2012 at 20:53

I'm gonna go ahead and post my suggestion for what should be done; if you agree, upvote, if not, post your own solution. :)

I think that General Reference should be eliminated based on two main reasons.

  1. It's usefulness can be easily covered through other close reasons. As Gilles said, expanding Too Localized beyond just "space and time" would enable it to cover questions that are just too simple, while Off Topic could cover things easily answered by iMDB. Our site isn't about who acted in what, eliminating the "Who played character X in movie Y?" questions.
  2. In its current form, it's too subjective and confusing. If it's around, users will still assume that it's the same thing it was before, and use it the same way: subjectively. By getting rid of it, we are simultaneously preventing its misuse and encouraging closing for more objective reasons instead.

While keeping it and attempting to limit its scope is a valid solution, I think the better solution is to eliminate it. By eliminating it, we do not lose any functionality, and simultaneously simplify the closing process for all users.


I do find the general reference close reason useful, and I disagree with Mark Trapp's assessment that it is a failed experiment. However, I find the way it is worded too broad; see my post on the main meta for more exposition.

In the Tom Bombadil deletion meta thread, Mark Trapp refers to Jeff Atwood's position. I find Jeff's position inconsistent: on the one hand, he finds that the close reason is too broad; on the other hand, he opposes proposals to make it narrower.

I do not find the GR close reason absolutely necessary, because too localized can fill its role. We've been using it on French Language & Usage, for example; French L&U has the same kind of what-does-this-word-mean question as English L&U that is best looked up in any general dictionary, but unlike ELU, FLU doesn't have the GR close reason. GR questions are also TL, because having the question in a place that's harder to search for than a general reference, with no hope to get a better answer than the general reference, helps only the asker and not future visitors. Ideally, the wording of TL should be changed to make it clear that it is not only about space and time.

  • I'm not sure I follow. Are you for expanding TL or keeping GR or both? I agree with expanding TL's usage, so I'm not sure if I want to up or down vote this. :) Jun 8, 2012 at 21:45
  • @GabeWillard either :) I don't think GR is useless or harmful, but I can live without it.
    – user56
    Jun 8, 2012 at 21:49
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    Indeed, we could close GR questions as TL, but GR is more precise. We could also close everything as off-topic, but we would lose time explaining why they are off topic. Having a GR close reason tell more. We should just find a better, less suggestive, definition of General Reference.
    – DavRob60
    Jun 10, 2012 at 13:14

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