The general reference close reason reads as follows:

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

Fairly straight foward, however, I've noticed it is being applied inconsistently across the site. The questions Which Doctor Who episodes were written by Steve Cole? and What two TNG episodes does Ashley Judd appear in and does she say she didn't? were closed as General Reference since they are answered on Wikipedia. However, the questions Who was the judge in The Dark Knight Rises? and Is there an older Doctor Who series? are also answered via their respective Wikipedia pages and have not been closed. I flagged the latter two questions in case they were just overlooked, and although the flags were marked helpful, no action was taken on either them.

The above are just a few examples, I'm sure there are more. Is their some reason to keep the latter two questions open while closing the first two? If not the latter two should be closed (or the first two opened, in which case the general reference close reason may need to be refined).

Being inconsistent with closing questions can be a serious problem. Not only will it cause confusion for users, it also aggravate new users whose questions are closed while other nearly identical questions remain open. This problem has been experienced over at Gaming.SE, and normally results in a very sour new user (who sometimes decide the site is not for them).

  • Questions on this site fall into a few categories: identification, easily Google-able, speculation, requiring the author to create more material, or the rarest category of all "answerable via expert knowledge of the subject". The first four are by far the most common. Oct 26, 2012 at 22:31
  • I don't know about the Batman one, but the Doctor Who one really should be closed...
    – Izkata
    Oct 27, 2012 at 1:00
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    General Reference is a wretched beast of subjectivity. May it be slain. Oct 28, 2012 at 2:10
  • @GabeWillard - see also: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/2249/… Oct 28, 2012 at 21:31
  • 1
    @GabeWillard - I had a proposal on how to make G.R. very objective. People nearly universally hated it. Oct 28, 2012 at 23:15
  • @DVK That meta post you linked to is very highly upvoted. Why was nothing done as a follow through on it? Oct 29, 2012 at 7:36
  • @GabeWillard - because the emphasis is on making it EASIER to put down other people's questions. God forbid we have a non-subjective methodology and rules for marking content as undesirable. Oct 29, 2012 at 16:22

3 Answers 3


This Question

I personally believe the question should be closed. While Gilles brings up the point that the word "trial" could be edited out of the article, it wouldn't be. Why?

This scene is a plot point in the movie, a crucial moment of tension in the narrative. The movie/franchise has already demonstrated by this point that anyone could die. Crane's insane sham of a trial is a critical part of the last act of the film.

Given this, and given that any reasonable person would have read the entire film summary before asking a room full of strangers this type of question, I would have to say that this question really should be closed, whether as General Reference or Not Constructive is up to the community.

General Reference as Enforced

As for the rest of your question: Is general reference being applied inconsistently? My own observations say no. I believe, for the most part, that the application of General Reference is usually in line with how it was agreed upon when General Reference was introduced, that if a "quick Google search" answered the question, then it was to be closed as general reference. However, in general, it seems to be that the actual application of the GR close reason usually comes when the question is answered in the opening sentences of the Wikipedia article.

In my opinion, these two positions are not mutually exclusive. It's not a case of one or the other -- the two feed into one another. That said, I feel that the position advocated in that linked answer is somewhat "softer" than the Stack Exchange philosophy.

It's worth noting that "interestingness" is wholly determined by the community. This is an important thing to note because it's part of the upvote hover text:

This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear.

How "interesting" a question is can usually be elucidated from the upvotes it receives. A good question that is suitably interesting should demonstrate ways the asker has attempted to answer or "logic" out the answer themselves. This is the same "show your work" standard we apply on any site.

Thus, the tension is: how do we maintain our site quality and provide excellent answers while still making this site welcoming to new users? General Reference is one way to fill this gap.

However, it's prone to being abused, as some users in the comments above noted. Personally, I don't think GR is misused or even overused on this site. I think it's usually applied as it should be: sporadically and only when "Not Constructive" isn't the true issue.


To sum:

  • That DKR question should be closed.
  • I don't think "general reference" is being inconsistently applied.
  • As a bonus: I think "not constructive" should be used BEFORE "General Reference" is considered.

I'm interested to see what the community thinks of this.

  • One of the problems with your answer is that, when I DO post a question which show my own research, they get DVed and more rarely VTCed as as "your question already contains an answer". And frankly, what SFF site needs is more people asking questions, not more people "purifying" the meager existing ones by downvoting and VTCing anything their expert opinion subjectively deems "obvious" (which not everyone agrees on - if it's so obvious, it should be obvious to everyone). Oct 29, 2012 at 10:59
  • Frankly, this community became positively toxic to those asking questions. As I said on chat, I'm very strongly considering not asking any more of them. Oct 29, 2012 at 11:01

Perhaps, but like on SO, perhaps Scifi.se is becoming a better resource?

Both the ones closed are based in misinterpretations that would have caused them to be non-questions (i.e. Ashely judd didn't deny anything, and Stephen cole wasn't a TV story writer).

The Dr Who one provides genuine new information it seems; A very quick browse of the wiki page for Doctor Who doesn't bring up the fact that the series is split into an old a new.

Someone searching for 'Judge' on the IMDB page, for instance does not bring up 'Cillian Murphy ... Dr. Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow'. However it's not really a big enough leap that it warranted a self answer.

Perhaps I could edit the Dr Who series split into the first line of the wiki page, but then it would be general reference.

  • 1
    +1. You can not possibly figure out the judge issue from IMDB or Wikia unless you already know what you're looking for - nether supports search by an image of an actor, which is what the question was about. Oct 26, 2012 at 17:30
  • 3
    @DVK: Yes you can. It's in the synopsis (spoilers): The wealthy and powerful are dragged from their homes and given show trials, presided over by Dr. Jonathan Crane, where the "convicted" die no matter the sentence.
    – Wipqozn
    Oct 26, 2012 at 17:31
  • 3
    @Wipqozn - as I said, "... unless you know what you are searching for". Having to dig through a long Wiki page for this un-googleable snippet is NOT AT ALL what G.R. is about or was meant to be about. "On the Wikipedia" is NOT a sufficient G.R. reason by itself - there are other conditions. Oct 26, 2012 at 17:32
  • 1
    -1 I disagree that these questions provide new information. Both answers can be found by spending a few minutes on the Wikipedia page for each franchise.
    – Wipqozn
    Oct 26, 2012 at 17:33
  • 2
    @dvk All you needed to know to find that was that the character was acting as a judge, which is something the OP of the question knew (And you would discover from watching the movie). Furthermore, although your second point about digging through a long wiki page makes sense I don't see how it applies in this case. If you're looking for information on a character you should expect to find that answer in two places: The casting list, and the synopsis. The plot and cast are only a few paragraphs long, and so...
    – Wipqozn
    Oct 26, 2012 at 17:37
  • ...I don't think expecting a user to read those is too much.
    – Wipqozn
    Oct 26, 2012 at 17:38
  • 7
    That people would not know who the judge was in DKR would be a lot more credible if the person asking the question didn't self answer it. It's straight up seeding with very little evidence there was a real problem trying to find that information.
    – user366
    Oct 26, 2012 at 18:27
  • 3
    @DVK To put it another way, you/Pureferret says it's not easily knowable and something people would be looking for. But the one question we got was known by the guy who asked it. It'd be a lot more convincing this is a question people are searching for the answer to if we actually got a question about it from someone who, in fact, didn't know the answer; or even had something showing people can't easily find the answer (links to other Q&A sites?). But right now it's just denying the claim without anything to disprove it, and without that, the question pretty much fits the GR close reason.
    – user366
    Oct 26, 2012 at 20:40
  • 3
    @MarkTrapp et al. I somehow missed the self answer, well caught.
    – AncientSwordRage Mod
    Oct 26, 2012 at 20:46
  • 2
    @Slytherincess I think this instance seemed to be 'seeding'. The user didn't have a real issue, they just wanted rep. I don't know where it's discussed. Probably here.
    – AncientSwordRage Mod
    Oct 27, 2012 at 12:30
  • 1
    Yes, but how do you know that the user merely wanted rep? And, well, isn't that why we're here, in addition to making the internet a better place? For example, I asked my recent question on Muggle-repelling Charms because the subject of Muggle-repelling Charms had come up before and I happened to come across the information about dragons and their effects on such charms. I left the question open for quite a few days and didn't get an answer including the dragon aspect, so I answered it myself. (cont.) Oct 27, 2012 at 13:22
  • 3
    @Slytherincess The issue isn't that it was self-answered; self-answering is good. But we have no evidence to demonstrate that there are people who are actually confused about the judge in DKR other than a bunch of high-rep users—who knew the answer—saying there are. So the issue is with using a self-answered question as justification alone that the question is something people are actually looking for, because it's begging the question.
    – user366
    Oct 27, 2012 at 17:50
  • 4
    @Slytherincess It has nothing to do with motive. 1) A claim has been made that the question is General Reference. 2) The claim was rebuffed, ostensibly claiming the existence of the question is proof positive people had trouble finding the answer. 3) But the question was self-answered immediately after asking, demonstrating the person asking didn't, in fact, have trouble finding the answer elsewhere. Therefore, it does not entail, from the existence of that question alone, that it is a burning question people are actually having trouble finding the answer to.
    – user366
    Oct 27, 2012 at 19:18
  • 2
    @Pureferret The Doctor Who one makes it explicit in the 3rd paragraph before the TOC: The programme originally ran from 1963 to 1989. After an unsuccessful attempt to revive regular production in 1996 with a backdoor pilot in the form of a television film, the programme was relaunched in 2005 by Russell T Davies
    – Izkata
    Oct 28, 2012 at 4:24
  • 1
    @Gilles I've added the source.
    – Wipqozn
    Oct 28, 2012 at 21:56

First, a note on “general reference”, because if you're only familiar with the SO blog and not with this site, you might have a wrong idea of what it means.

The general reference close reason as used on this site is not exactly the one that was proposed by Borror0, nor even exactly what Jeff had in mind when he made it a feature.

  • The original diagram proposed to close any question whose answer could easily be found on Google, with the proviso that only “basic and trivial” questions would be closed, not “complex and interesting” ones.
  • The general reference close reason is restricted to questions that “can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information”. Google doesn't enter into play. This avoids getting into the Google hell where the top hits are all saying “google it”, but it's not the main reason. A bigger problem with “google it” is that it's difficult to judge the reliability of the search results.
  • On this site, only Wikipedia and IMDB are considered “general references” that people should check before asking. See What sites should be considered general references?, Is Wikia.com general reference?. Furthermore, we are fairly strict for “definitively and permanently answered” — not unlike Borror0's easy-to-find criteria (“scattered across the page, hard to find, answered with too many technical terms” → answer).

Another point is that part of the reason to close a question as general reference is not to waste time composing an answer when the Wikipedia editors have already done it. There is a little less mileage in closing a question once it's been satisfactorily answered, though there is no reason to keep an answer around if it's a mere Wikipedia copy-paste. We do, however, generally close the questions and later delete close questions to avoid creating broken windows.

Who was the judge in The Dark Knight Rises? is now closed as general reference, since a few minutes ago. However, it doesn't seem like a general reference question to me. I looked up the Wikipedia page and the IMDB page.

  • On Wikipedia, I can't find any mention of a judge or of exile. After prodding, you point out that searching for trial does provide the answer. I don't think this is a good reason to close the question, because:

    • this fails the “hard to find” test that is even in Borror0's stringent version of the close reason: having to try many different synonyms of a word does not fit the spirit of the general reference close reason, which is that it is easier to find the answer in the general reference than to ask the question;
    • this is the sort of buried detail that may be lost in an edit — we only apply the general reference close reason when we have confidence that the general reference will last, for Wikipedia that would typically mean that the article as a whole, or a section, or at least a fundamental part thereof answers the question.
  • On IMDB, I can't see a judge character on the full cast page; there's a tiny photo of the actor among a very long list, but I can barely see the resemblance even knowing the answer, the information is impossible to find if you don't know the answer already.

So I don't see how this question should be considered general reference. Note that asking questions about a movie does not require having seen the movie, let alone be intimately familiar with every character.

Is there an older Doctor Who series? is a different beast. The obvious Wikipedia article does clearly retrace the history of the series; the introduction of the article explains the 2005 relaunch. We have the information in the tag wiki as well, though that doesn't really help since 99.9% of visitors don't know about tag wikis.

Since you've apparently spent some time doing community moderation on a Stack Exchange site, you should know that posts occasionally fall down the cracks, and that it's impossible to be completely consistent even with perfect information since different people will make different judgements. You raise the issue of people who complain about inconsistent treatment — your question is part of the problem. I recommend that you adopt a more constructive attitude. Rather than bring on a generic complaint about how we aren't doing our job properly, search the meta site for prior discussions (they should be easy to find: browse the tag), and if you think a question should be closed when it's been left open or vice versa, leave a comment on the question and open a meta thread about that question.

  • 3
    "Note that asking questions about a movie does not require having seen the movie," Yes it does: "Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!" Watching the movie upon which a question is based is the least one can do before asking.
    – user366
    Oct 28, 2012 at 21:56
  • The answer to The Dark Knight Rises question is located in the plot synopsis, which I would expect a user to look at when looking for the answer to this question: he wealthy and powerful are dragged from their homes and given show trials, presided over by Dr. Jonathan Crane, where the "convicted" die no matter the sentence.
    – Wipqozn
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:01
  • 3
    The purpose of my post was not to "bring on a generic complaint about how we aren't doing our job properly", but to raise awareness to the fact that the General Reference close reason appears have been used inconsistently across the site and determine what the reason is. If it's just a matter of questions falling through the cracks (which happens, and why I flagged all of these questions), then it isn't a problem. However, if it is a case of a larger problem across the site then it requires discussion outside of commenting on questions.
    – Wipqozn
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:13
  • @Wipqozn I don't think your citation justifies closing as GR. See my edit. My opinion remains that the Dark Knight question isn't GR, and the Doctor Who is one that fell through the crack, or perhaps was consciously kept as a search magnet.
    – user56
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:14
  • 2
    @MarkTrapp I disagree, your interpretation of the FAQ seems completely ludicrous. There is no requirement to have watched the movie, any more than there is a requirement to, say, have read the complete standard of a programming language before asking questions about it on Stack Overflow. You seem to be proposing a new community standard on Science Fiction & Fantasy; please voice your thoughts on this meta question.
    – user56
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:20
  • 3
    @Gilles I'm not: doing basic research is the cornerstone of why the GR reason exists. Wipqozn even refuted your claim that the Wikipedia article doesn't mention the answer—one of the two sources you've insisted only counts. To add, the the last part of your answer is way, way over the top condescending and defensive. Is it because Wipqozn happens to be a low-rep user? Because this was about getting the community to deal with questions, but you've now, with your answer, made it about mods not doing their job, which is to help the community handle exceptions like this, not tell them to sod off
    – user366
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:24
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    @Gilles Mark Trapp isn't expecting anyone to actually have consumed all there is to the Batman franchise, like you seem to be implying with your flawed analogy. Rather, it would be expected that if you wanted to ask a question about using X in language Y, you would at least have read the documentation for X. That is definitely expected of you when you ask a question at Stack Overflow.
    – Arda Xi
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:29
  • 1
    @Wipqozn - it is, indeed, a "a case of a larger problem across the site". However, a large proportion of us here feel that the problem is the opposite - too liberal of an appliation of G.R. VTC and closing questions that are not G.R. at all. Oct 28, 2012 at 22:39
  • 1
    @ArdaXi - that is a completely ridiculous statement that is wrong. I hang out on SO for far longer than on SFF, and have NEVER seen any sign that questions that can be answered with "RTFD" are ever closed ot even DVed. Reading documentation for "X" is never ever "expected" by the community as a whole. (arguably, having read the documentation and shown that gets you more upvotes for the efforts, but that's different kettle of fish). Classic case study: Joel's TURTLE in LEGO question. As a side note: I'm one of the few people who actually DOES hold "RTFD" opinion on SO, but I'm a small minority. Oct 28, 2012 at 22:42
  • +1 - Fully agree on all points Oct 28, 2012 at 22:45
  • 3
    @DVK SO also does not offer General Reference as a close reason. Oct 29, 2012 at 0:44
  • 3
    While I feel the last paragraph was unnecessary, nonconstructive, and unnecessarily accusatory, I agree with the rest of the post. I'm not convinced that the DKR question isn't GR, but I think this is a reasonable argument in favor of the question. I also agree that the Dr. Who question pretty clearly falls into the GR category.
    – Beofett
    Oct 31, 2012 at 12:24

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