Some questions are completely unclear and it's fairly obvious that they need to be closed.

But I've seen some votes to close as unclear that could really use an explanation - and sometimes the person voting to close does provide one, but sometimes not.

I think it would be helpful to the OPs and also to fellow moderators to provide a short reason why something is unclear, when it isn't obvious.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The picture suggested is (1) explain why you're voting to close as unclear (2) unless it's obvious why it is unclear. This raises the question of obvious to who[m]? If I don't explain why, the reasons can range from (a) someone else has already done it (best, as in @Glen_b's answer) through (b) I am hoping that someone else will do it to (c) question is doomed or shows so little effort that I won't give my time to the OP or (d) question is so unclear that I can't begin to explain what is wrong. ("Not even wrong": Wolfgang Pauli's put-down on very confused physics). $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 8:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Stephan Kolassa's answer written at the same time makes broadly similar points. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ Those are good points, but i think that sometimes, the lack of clarity is due to something that most moderators may not know. $\endgroup$
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ So, given that their vote is decisive, moderators shouldn't cast a vote on these grounds if they don't have a clear view on where the lack of clarity lies? $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know. I just think it make it easier to vote to close or not if we had a better idea what was unclear. I would skip fewer review tasks. $\endgroup$
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick Agreed. Whenever I don't have the time to really understand the question--which is often these days--then I just skip making a decision. This feels like an abdication of responsibility, so I have to remind myself that none of us claimed to be omniscient when we ran for election (or even to know much about statistics at all), that we are a community, and that I am constantly grateful for the ongoing help of the myriad people who make this site work. $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @whuber Indeed. If I see 3 or 4 people have voted to close I am more likely to vote to close if (and only if) the question looks unclear to me AND I think I know something about the territory. In principle that is wrong as each vote to close should be entirely on the merits of the case. In practice one learns from looking at closed cases that the vast majority of votes to close are from very experienced people known to contribute positively to the site over a long period. So, there is a Bayesian flavour in combining a prior from trusted others with one's own assessment. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick A key part of my job is to understand and act on behalf of the community, so I frequently compare my votes against any existing votes and think hard about the situations where I am in the minority. Take some care with that Bayesian approach: some of the most active reviewers here are consistently in the minority with their voting. One might call them "idiosyncratic." $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ @whuber Fair comment. My point is that the forum depends on trusting others as well as logic and evidence. I couldn't, and wouldn't want to, quantify any trade-off. In principle logic and evidence should be enough. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ How often do you all skip on voting to close? $\endgroup$
    – Peter Flom
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 17:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think that comment is a good new question, but I am not sure how far you will get good data. There are at least two modes here (1) just looking at questions and voting to close, or not (2) looking at the review queue, and voting to close or not. (2) is conditional on someone else having voted to close! $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 18:45

2 Answers 2


I agree -- where feasible we should try to help the poster understand how to fix their post, including trying to explain what's unclear whenever we're able to do so.

However, if someone else's comment covers the main issues, I think it's fine not to add anything when voting to close, though as amoeba points out it would be good to upvote the comment that explains the problem.

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    $\begingroup$ (+1) Re last sentence: I would suggest to upvote that comment then. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 14:18

In an ideal world, yes, we would patiently sit down with each poster, discuss what in particular is unclear about their question and guide them to a clear question, which we would then proceed to answer.

Unfortunately, it appears to me like the supply of unclarity is unlimited.

To be honest, we get questions that are so confused that I wouldn't even know where to start asking for clarifications. And my bitter experience is that sometimes when you do ask, the "clarifications" confuse me even more. In addition, sometimes the OP seems to have way more time to write up obfuscating "clarifications" than I have to deal with them.

And if I wrote the original request for clarification, I feel like I should deal with the follow-up discussion, which can take way more time than I have. Rarely do I request clarification, the OP provides it, and a different user answers the now-clarified question. (I may need to work on this notion of mine that commenting on a question confers some kind of "ownership" of it on me.)

So I personally will continue working CV as I have been doing: if the original question gives me hope that it can be clarified reasonably quickly (as in: the OP obviously invested some effort to create a decent question, as, e.g., here), then yes, I will comment and ask for clarification. Questions where I fear a fruitless time sink I will continue to close-vote without explanations (no examples here, but yes, I could provide them). For time is limited.

Based on a completely non-scientific survey of my close votes queue, it seems like others on this site proceed in the same way.

Yes, this is a classification problem, and Peter notes that some questions

are completely unclear and it's fairly obvious that they need to be closed.

However, there is a continuum here. A question may cross the subjective threshold to complete unclarity for one user, but not for another. If I come across a question that someone else has VTC as unclear without leaving a comment, nothing keeps me from providing that comment myself.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ (+1) I also get the feeling that once I've started helping to clarify a question I'm then responsible for seeing it through to the bitter end. All the same, I try to shake it off: some guidance is better than none, & if the OP only makes a start on improving their question, someone else may pick up where I've left off. (There are some questions, of course, though not all that many, where there's nothing useful to be said beyond the "unclear what you're asking" boiler-plate.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ Sadly enough, the thread I used as an example - where the OP obviously went to quite some effort to craft a good question, and where Scortchi and I left comments asking for clarification - has been deleted in the meantime. The OP never answered our comments, and so Community did a RemoveAbandonedClosed on it. Another nail in my motivation to leave a comment next time, to mix metaphors. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 19:20

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