There have been instances where the OP posts a vague question that cannot be answered without further specifics. In most such cases, we have been using comments to seek clarifications and have been providing answers once the OP clarifies the question.

However, there have been a few cases where we have been providing answers despite a lack of clarification via various devices such as making assumptions, offering generic answers etc. (I have also been guilty of this sub-optimal practice.)

But, I am not sure if such a practice is optimal. If we do provide answers to vague and unclear questions then the OP has no incentive to improve the question which results in poor quality content on our site. Thus, I propose the following convention/policy for the consideration of the community:

To the extent possible, do not provide answers to questions that are vague or unclear. However, we will seek clarifications via comments to the question so that the OP can improve the question till such time that it is focussed enough to provide specific answers. If the OP does not respond to comments seeking clarification we will close the question.

Obviously, we can tweak the above policy as desired. However, a fundamental question is: should we have something like the above as part of our policy? What do you think?


I'm not sure that a formal policy is necessary, but we should not answer these questions; they are a massive waste of time as they inevitably lead to revisions. In fact, I would suggest downvoting them since the OP did not put enough effort into the question, but then reverse the vote once the question is clarified.

Part of our role is to guide people toward asking good questions.

  • $\begingroup$ "Part of our role is to guide people toward asking good questions. " this is the key ! $\endgroup$ – robin girard Aug 16 '10 at 9:44

I completely agree with Shane, but we have to be very careful that we don't put people off the site. A hasty comment could easily result in people not returning.

Also, I suspect that many of the questions may be from people with no formal statistics training. Therefore, the questions may be badly worded.

  • $\begingroup$ As someone with minimal formal training, I'd like to add that I find it extremely helpful when someone is kind enough to tell me why my question is vague/doesn't make sense. Sometimes, that explanation alone is enough to help me understand why I was confused in the first place. For beginners, many questions that we would know how to word "correctly" we can just look up on Wikipedia or a textbook. and it's precisely the questions for which we don't know the correct terminology--or only have a nebulous grasp of the concept-- that lead to a SE post, because it's hard to . . . $\endgroup$ – OctaviaQ Oct 12 '11 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ . . . find information on your own when you don't know the right terms. $\endgroup$ – OctaviaQ Oct 12 '11 at 4:34

I disagree. Sometimes when we attempt to answer an unclear question we make it more clear to the OP what it is they need to clarify than if we just commented asking questions.

  • $\begingroup$ That is sometimes true, but more often the OP simply didn't put in enough effort (in my experience). $\endgroup$ – Shane Aug 18 '10 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ The other point is that an answering a vague qn reinforces the perception to future posters that to get an answer they need not take the effort to ask a precise question. The goal is to get high quality content which means good questions (that are clear and focussed) and high quality answers. $\endgroup$ – svadali Aug 18 '10 at 15:31

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