There have been some recent changes to the closing process for questions and will be rolled out to our site some time over the next week. While the linked post has lot of details about what exactly has changed, this post is specifically about the following two changes:

  1. "Too localized" is no longer a close reason.
  2. Each community is free to pick its own list of off-topic reasons (moderators will add/delete)

TL was probably the most used close reason on this site, especially for lazy documentation lookup/missing semicolon/read this paper and solve for me/etc. type questions. While I think its use has been very fair on our site, I do agree that network wide, there has been some abuse which justifies its removal. This means that we will have to find a place for a similar reason under the "Off Topic" banner.

This brings me to the primary purpose for this question — What should our off-topic reasons be? Now that we're 1.5 yrs old, we have certain identifiable patterns in questions that get closed and have a history of meta discussions to serve as a starting point for our choices. There are some relevant discussions in the following posts:

that are worth reading before participating in this one.

With these in mind, what additional granular close reasons (under off-topic) would you like to see? An answer should, preferably,

  • justify having the suggestion as a built-in reason (i.e. identify a clear and present closed question pattern that will be addressed with the suggestion)
  • provide a short and concise description of the close reason, which will be displayed under the "closed" banner (we'll figure out the word limit later).

Please use comments under the answer (and up/down votes) to discuss the usefulness of the suggestion (we don't want 10 different reasons, which makes it a giant mess) and to alter/modify/mollify the tone and increase the clarity of the description, which is what the user will see.

The end goal should be to convey to the user politely, but firmly and clearly, that their question is not a good fit for the site.

enter image description here

  • 2
    I really like the new "unclear what you're asking" category. The "too broad" category is good, but I'm disappointed there's no "too narrow" to go with it to take care of the questions that really will not benefit future people searching the site for an answer. I'm also worried that there seems to be no category for the "here is my code, tell me what's wrong with it" questions that are accompanied by a huge code dump. Would it be reasonable to have "this is not a free debugging service" as an "off topic" sub-category? – m_goldberg Jun 13 '13 at 2:08
  • 4
    @m_goldberg Certainly! Since we're not a debugging/coding service, any question that treats us as such should be off-topic and closed as such. I might perhaps word the official statement a little more softly/politely/diplomatically (although I certainly don't mince words in my comments) – rm -rf Jun 13 '13 at 2:21
  • "Math doesn't parse" and "English doesn't parse" are trending issues too – Dr. belisarius Jun 13 '13 at 14:24
  • I suspect this issue is better dealt with by those community members who have been around for a while; however for the recent Mathematica.SE visitors, is there a way to comb through the [Closed] questions? – bobthechemist Jun 13 '13 at 23:48
  • @bob You can search with closed:1 and that gives you about 719 results, but there's no good way to separate dupes from that list (dupes are ok, if they're well written). With a mod only deleted:1 operator, I see about 759 closed Qs that were then deleted and these were probably the worst offenders (the existing closed Q list needs pruning). You can also use this data.SE query to sample the recently closed list. – rm -rf Jun 14 '13 at 1:39
  • 1
    I stand by my comments about a "No archival value" reason in the question you linked, as well as my disagreement with Shog9's response. More recently, I've come to a realisation that such questions do have a trivial sort of value, in that they allow similar new questions to be closed as duplicates (if anyone still remembers the original, of course), but this isn't a good justification. Anyway, this reason can only be applicable after a question has been answered, so maybe it doesn't fit into the system. I'd like to see it included if we could be confident that it would be used appropriately. – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 1:46
  • probably they still underestimate just how significant the tone is, but good of them to begin to recognize :) – amr Jun 15 '13 at 17:50
  • While I agree that ten different reasons does seem a bit much, I think arguably it's better to provide these reasons in a list rather than force people to pick a catch-all option or enter their own reason. The latter will result in many closures for identical reasons but with slightly different wording. Although I don't think it's necessary to include every eventuality, those listed here so far all seem to be sufficiently frequent occurrences to acknowledge them as such. – Oleksandr R. Jun 16 '13 at 1:12
  • Do you suggest we also down-vote on answers we deem none-too-relevant? Just looked at the +/- stats and there seem to be only upvotes. – Yves Klett Jun 18 '13 at 9:00
  • 1
    @YvesKlett On meta, downvotes always indicate disagreement, so I think it's reasonable to downvote proposals that are not relevant. – rm -rf Jun 18 '13 at 10:17
  • Just saw the new close choices but somehow they do not really leave me euphoric. I really miss some of the options below (like: go away and press F1). Are those changes already the last word or just an intermediate SE-related change? – Yves Klett Jun 26 '13 at 7:52
  • @YvesKlett These were added by SE. Apparently we can have at most 3 custom reasons which can be edited by moderators (and 2 mods need to approve a reason for it to become active). So it is a highly restricted feature as of now... we'll see how it evolves and I'll also ask around if we can expand the #of reasons to 4 or 5. The usual routine (with SE) is to go with what we have and demonstrate with proof that there are X questions of Y total closed as OT that should've had a new custom reason – rm -rf Jun 26 '13 at 8:14
  • Should we then preferrably make use of the "custom" OT option in some coordinated way? – Yves Klett Jun 26 '13 at 8:40
  • @YvesKlett AFAIK, the custom OT reason leaves a comment and the final closure links to it. Let me get hold of one other moderator at the same time and we'll try to play around with the new toy (since it now takes 2 to assemble the lego). We'll try to do our best to make them closer to what was discussed here. – rm -rf Jun 26 '13 at 15:00

10 Answers 10


Question does not relate to the Mathematica® software


The question either does not concern the technical computing software Mathematica by Wolfram Research, or does so in a way that cannot be effectively addressed by the Mathematica user community (e.g. licensing issues).

For example:

  • the question exclusively concerns concepts from a specific, narrow field of study, which are not meaningful/relevant/interesting to the broader Mathematica user community, and to which the fact of using the Mathematica software is purely incidental
  • the OP is asking about licensing, specific support arrangements, or something similar that only WRI can deal with
  • questions concerning other WRI products that we consider explicitly out of scope, e.g. W|A
  • 1
    Would a trademark symbold (Mathematica®) in the title give another clue as to the product nature of Mathematica? – Yves Klett Jun 18 '13 at 11:48
  • @Yves, well our banner logo already has that mark, and yet a number of people glibly ignore it anyway... :( still, I agree that that mark should be included. – J. M.'s ennui Jun 18 '13 at 14:22
  • @J.M. and given that closing votes will mostly appear after the question has been posed it might only serve to drive the point home post festum. – Yves Klett Jun 18 '13 at 16:40
  • @J.M. I think this is overkill, myself, but if you think it'll help--sure, go ahead. – Oleksandr R. Jun 19 '13 at 4:58

Simple mistake

One common use of "Too Localized" is for questions arising from a simple syntax error, for example using the wrong type of bracket, failing to capitalize a built-in function, or omitting the space between symbols being multiplied.


  • This question arises due to a simple mistake such as a trivial syntax error, incorrect capitalization, spelling mistake, or other typographical error.
  • 1
    Omitting a space isn't a syntax error--the code is syntactically correct, but produces a different result to that which was intended. So, I agree with the concept but think it should be called "Basic error" (or "Trivial mistake"), not "Basic syntax error". – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 1:29
  • 4
    Somehow, I think I'd prefer the adjective "common" (that is, "common error") instead of "basic" or "trivial"; those last two would sound a leeetle bit like talking down the asker. – J. M.'s ennui Jun 14 '13 at 3:42
  • 2
    @J.M. this class of errors is not necessarily distinguished by frequency, so I prefer not to use "common". I don't consider "basic" or "trivial" to have any emotive connotations, but it may be that I'm an insensitive clod. Maybe "simple mistake" is a reasonable compromise? – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 3:45
  • 1
    @Oleksandr, I'm personally not offended by those two adjectives either, but I have found that labeling users' mistakes as "trivial" on support fora... has an uncanny way of setting them off. (I've been on the receiving end of sharp words, so I have some amount of experience.) "Simple" might work, unless y'all have nicer adjectives. – J. M.'s ennui Jun 14 '13 at 3:53
  • maybe just "typographical error"? but i do like "common error" – amr Jun 15 '13 at 18:02
  • I'm not keen on "common error", as there are errors which are common but which don't fit this category. I agree that "syntax error" is inaccurate too. "Simple mistake" is a reasonable description and unlikely to cause offence. – Simon Woods Jun 15 '13 at 19:36

Here is my idea for a sub-category that I hope will help to suppress Tom-Sawyer-ism.

  • This question is more suited for a professional consultant.

The justification for this sub-category is given in Can we do something to suppress Tom Sawyers?

  • @belisarius OK, it's gone. – m_goldberg Jun 13 '13 at 13:12
  • Perhaps this can be called "Unclear or incomplete question". One thing I would be wary of is having questions about genuine Mathematica bugs fall foul of this close reason, perhaps due to misunderstanding of the phrase "requests for debugging". – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 1:31
  • @OleksandrR. I have your concern too. That's why I prefixed "debugging" with "general". Perhaps that's not good enough. Maybe "unspecific" or "unfocused" would be better. – m_goldberg Jun 14 '13 at 1:47
  • I just realised that (my interpretation of) this possibility is already covered by the awkwardly phrased "unclear what you're asking" option. So, perhaps something more along the lines of "Question is not asked in good faith", applicable to "hurr durr just do my work for me and don't make me think" sorts of questions? – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 1:51
  • 1
    @OleksandrR. I originally wanted to use "This is not a debugging service", but rm -rf said I had to be more polite. – m_goldberg Jun 14 '13 at 1:58
  • I would even go further, to make that "This is not a consultancy service". Perhaps we can make this more polite somehow, because I think we need this reason. – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 2:11
  • I've changed "general" to "poorly formulated". I that better? – m_goldberg Jun 14 '13 at 2:29
  • I still didn't vote for your answer, since although I understand what you mean, I think it isn't particularly clear from the phrasing above. If the reason we vote to close is really that we don't want to be treated as consultants, I think it's better to say that explicitly rather than try to obfuscate our intentions in order to seem more polite. Nobody has ever complained that I wasn't polite when I wrote in a comment that I voted TL because the site isn't a consultancy service. Probably the wording can be finessed, but for the purposes of this meta question, IMO intent is most important. – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 2:52
  • @OleksandrR. Would you accept "Using this site as a free consulting service is off-topic"? I use "consulting" rather than "consultancy" because I'm an American. – m_goldberg Jun 14 '13 at 3:03
  • Yes, I would be happy with "consulting". ("Off topic" is already in the category name, so I suppose it's not necessary to repeat it. Perhaps "This question requires the services of a professional consultant".) My problem is with the suggestions to produce a clear and concise question, a minimal working example, etc.: these are certainly prerequisites, but that's not why we need this close reason, since we already have the unclear/incomplete reason. – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 3:09
  • 2
    I think "This question requires the services of a professional consultant" sounds good and is mostly accurate. – rm -rf Jun 14 '13 at 3:14
  • @OleksandrR. So it should be boiled down to just "Requests for free consulting services are not acceptable"? – m_goldberg Jun 14 '13 at 3:16
  • @m_goldberg requests for paid consulting services also are not acceptable. :) – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 3:17
  • maybe "too involved", with "answering this question is likely to require unreasonable effort, making it unlikely to be answered" or "this question requires substantially more effort than is befitting our Q&A format" – amr Jun 15 '13 at 17:59
  • 4
    @amr we discussed this in the chat yesterday. The problem isn't that too much effort is required in absolute terms (as there are many answers on this site that clearly represent a lot of effort), but rather that the effort required is incommensurate with the reward to an answerer. Usually this is because the problem at hand is especially boring or convoluted, or the OP hasn't put in any effort to make their question appealing. In these cases, if they want an answer, I think it's fair to direct them to hire a consultant instead of asking here. – Oleksandr R. Jun 15 '13 at 23:37

From time-to-time we get questions because there is nothing wrong with the code posted. Even though the real problem in such cases may be that there are free variables in the code which have not been cleared, I think such questions should still be closed.

  • The problem posed in this question can not be reproduced.
  • Looks like a job for 'too localized' (there's a free variable parked outside my house). Oh, wait... – cormullion Jun 15 '13 at 12:05
  • 2
    "The problem in the question is irreproducible." – J. M.'s ennui Jun 17 '13 at 14:54

This question is not self-contained


This question cannot be answered without knowledge of additional external sources. All essential information necessary to answer a question should be embedded to make it permanently useful for future visitors. Especially any sensibly representable data used for programming examples should be put permanently into the body of the question.

This is still rather vague, but would concern:

  • External linking to bits of data that might just as well be hard-coded into the question, expecially for small bits of data.
  • Extensive referencing of material (e.g. "algorithm xyz in link uvw") which contains essential informations relevant for any try to answer the question.
  • External data that cannot be accessed freely or which might not be available for the (forseeable) future, especially considering mutating URLs.
  • Downvoting. Your answer cites "algorithm xyz". It isn't self contained. – Dr. belisarius Jun 19 '13 at 15:33
  • @belisarius :-P – Yves Klett Jun 19 '13 at 15:59

Question is too basic


The answer to this question either is sufficiently addressed in the documentation, or can reasonably be considered common knowledge.

For example:

  • questions about the meaning of sigils such as /@, _, @@@, /., etc.
  • the OP is asking how to do something that can be accomplished through a single call to a well-known core function, where this appears directly as an example in the documentation or can be inferred from it straightforwardly and without any additional knowledge
  • the question concerns the use of a well-documented argument or option for a particular function
  • simple questions about basic mathematics or programming, knowledge of which can be considered a fundamental prerequisite to the use of Mathematica

This is an attempt to combine the putative "No archival value" option with the "Already thoroughly treated elsewhere" reason in a way that may be more palatable to most people, although these two are intended to be mostly orthogonal. It can be thought of as an analog of the "General reference" close reason appearing on English.SE, e.g. here.

  • 2
    Perhaps "common knowledge" may cause some debate. I think the "The answer to this question is sufficiently addressed in the documentation" part is clear enough – Dr. belisarius Jun 17 '13 at 0:44
  • 2
    Sometimes functions are well-documented, but difficult to find. I think FindDivisions to be a good example. Its functionality is difficult to catch in searchable keywords and it can take you quite a while before you find it with only the concept of what you are looking for in mind. Another example: searching for // leads you to Postfix and no useful explanation at all. – Sjoerd C. de Vries Jun 18 '13 at 5:29
  • @SjoerdC.deVries of course I am not suggesting by proposing this reason that just because a question technically meeting these critera could be closed, it necessarily should be. I think the reason needs to exist for those cases where the question is clearly inappropriate, since there is no good alternative otherwise. Naturally we also need people to apply it judiciously, but I don't think this should be a problem given current closing trends. – Oleksandr R. Jun 19 '13 at 5:01
  • Because it came up in chat: There should be a way to remote-trigger the F1 key on users posing these questions. – Yves Klett Jun 19 '13 at 16:02
  • 2
    @YvesKlett Perhaps we could rework this to say "Have you tried pressing F1 again?" and make users check a "Yes, I have tried" box and press continue before posting a question? – rm -rf Jun 19 '13 at 19:09
  • @rm-rf Bliss! Also: youtube.com/watch?v=Yi_2020LJQo – Yves Klett Jun 19 '13 at 19:27

Requires extensive discussion


The question does not seek a concrete answer, but rather is an attempt to start a discussion. Although difficult to accommodate in the question-and-answer format, discussion is welcomed both in the chat and in other Mathematica communities, to which we direct you instead.

For example:

  • questions asking about the advantages/disadvantages of particular design choices, or for the reasons behind them in cases where the definitive answer is not clear
  • "rants"

This is not the same as a subjective or opinion-based question. Subjective questions that rely on personal experience and resulting preferences can be answered concretely and should not necessarily be closed, while those seeking to survey opinion should be closed using the new "primarily opinion-based" reason.

  • I may be misinterpreting "too broad", but that closure reason seems to me to cover this. – m_goldberg Jun 16 '13 at 0:54
  • @m_goldberg I understood the "too broad" reason to be applicable to questions that do have a concrete answer, but not a specific one. – Oleksandr R. Jun 16 '13 at 0:56

Thanks for all your input. The moderators have compiled this into the following three cases (we were only allowed three).

This question arises due to a simple mistake such as a trivial syntax error, incorrect capitalization, spelling mistake, or other typographical error and is unlikely to help any future visitors, or else it is easily found in the documentation.


This question cannot be answered without additional information. Questions on problems in code must describe the specific problem and include valid code to reproduce it. Any data used for programming examples should be embedded in the question or code to generate the (fake) data must be included.


The question is out of scope for this site. The answer to this question requires either advice from Wolfram support or the services of a professional consultant.

  • Any reason for not including the highest voted answer? – Sjoerd C. de Vries Jun 27 '13 at 5:36
  • @Sjoerd Yes. The "default" off-topic reason reads "This question does not appear to be about Mathematica, within the scope defined in the help center.", but this can't be explicitly chosen. It is used only when no 2 OT votes are alike (which is rare) or if users choose the "other" option. Having Oleksandr's suggestion as an explicit reason would've lost us one slot. I've reworded the default to be more in line with the suggestion above, but that's the best we can do now. I've asked SE if it would be possible to change it so that this reason can be explicitly chosen... we'll wait and see. – rm -rf Jun 27 '13 at 6:53
  • Also, the latter part of Oleksandr's answer (licensing issues) is covered in the "out of scope" option. – rm -rf Jun 27 '13 at 6:54
  • 1
    I think this is a very good compilation (and not just because of the huge bribes involved). – Yves Klett Jun 27 '13 at 7:16
  • Thanks very much for your efforts. It would have been nice for us to have been told in advance that we would only have three choices. Now we're left with two rarely chosen options ("too broad" and "opinion based") but without any equivalent of "too localized", so I feel on balance that the changes are not a significant improvement over what came before. – Oleksandr R. Jun 27 '13 at 12:04
  • 1
    @OleksandrR. I concur, but this is a network-wide change, so lets make the best of it. – Verbeia Jun 27 '13 at 13:02

No answer can be given for this question


The question is clearly and correctly stated, but for theoretical or strong practical reasons, it is known to be unanswerable.

For example:

  • the question asks for something mathematically impossible, e.g. to find the inverse of a singular matrix
  • it is desired to perform an impractically large computation, for which no reasonably efficient algorithms are known (such as where a solution can be obtained efficiently only with a quantum algorithm, or iff P = NP, etc.)
  • (perhaps controversial) to give an answer would for some reason require an illegal act, or would be illegal in itself

N.B.: these questions are not very common, and may perhaps be better "answered" (in the SE sense) by stating that an answer (in the usual sense) does not exist. Please consider this when voting (or not voting) for this close reason.


Already thoroughly treated elsewhere


This question has been so exhaustively addressed elsewhere in the Mathematica literature or user community that no meaningful further contributions can be made here.

If possible, a field should be provided for a link to the referenced material. If this isn't feasible, closers must be reminded to leave a comment containing this link.

This should only be used in cases where both of the following apply:

  • nothing can usefully be added to what has already been said (i.e., by thoroughly, we really mean exhaustively: an answer could not possibly do more than repeat the prior treatment, and all related discussion, verbatim)
  • the external resource and the link to it can reasonably be considered stable (e.g. official documentation; MathGroup, preferably linking to the archive at wolfram.com and not one of the many other newsgroup archive sites; The Mathematica Journal; SO posting that will not be migrated)
  • 3
    I think that's a little too far-reaching in the definition of "elsewhere". I fully support this close reason for straight up documentation lookups (e.g. "What does /@ in f /@ list mean?"), but I wouldn't consider something being written/explained in the Mathematica journal or MathGroup as sufficient grounds for closing a question. The SE model's success is largely due to its ability to cut out the noise, and if we're redirecting people to trawl through pages of newsgroup postings (and rants) to get to their answer, we're moving away from what made this successful in the first place. – rm -rf Jun 14 '13 at 2:28
  • 1
    I strongly feel that in such cases (MathGroup/ Mathematica Journal/well answered SO question), the right thing to do would be to 1) credit the source and link to it 2) provide a decent summary + a minimal example, if possible (or necessary). Note that all closed questions without answers will eventually be deleted by the system (which is why I strongly discourage people from posting "pity answers" to crappy questions — it doesn't auto-delete and forces the 10k users/mods to delete the question, leaving them grieving for the loss of their rep), so the pointer + closure won't help future users – rm -rf Jun 14 '13 at 2:28
  • @rm-rf I understand your concerns. Perhaps my description wasn't totally clear. I think that if the essence of a treatment elsewhere can be condensed, clarified, and applied concretely and didactically to a particular situation, that in itself is a meaningful contribution that should be included here. I really meant for this reason to apply only in cases where the question has been answered so completely and appropriately that one cannot imagine doing anything more than copying and pasting from the external reference. – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 2:41
  • @rm-rf if you still disagree and want to limit this strictly to the documentation then please post your own answer for that purpose. My suggestion is fundamentally different in spirit and I don't think I can make it much clearer than it is now. – Oleksandr R. Jun 14 '13 at 3:16
  • @rm-rf FWIW, I can take this reason or leave it. The others, I either have voted for or would vote for if possible. – Oleksandr R. Jun 16 '13 at 1:15
  • I like the other alternative you provided (1018), even though your intention was for them to serve different purposes. I'm downvoting this suggestion for the reasons I've given in the first couple of comments . – rm -rf Jun 18 '13 at 14:12
  • @rm-rf that's fine--I suppose we don't need the reasons to be extremely specific, and the documentation is anyway by far the most commonly referenced external canonical source. My main reason for suggesting this in these terms was to avoid copyright infringement, which can be the result of repeating something from elsewhere without adapting it in any way. Since it doesn't look like people like the reason, we'll have to be careful of that pitfall when choosing to answer questions of this sort. – Oleksandr R. Jun 19 '13 at 5:27
  • You're right about copyright infringement. We shouldn't encourage wholesale copying/quoting, but insist on paraphrasing the content and quote only the most pertinent parts (which falls under fair use). – rm -rf Jun 19 '13 at 6:34
  • @rm-rf when thinking about "fair use", we should take care to remind ourselves that many jurisdictions do not have such exemptions, or have them in a much weaker form than the USA. Given our global reach, I think the focus should be on avoiding anything likely to be seen as problematic, rather than permitting by default whatever is allowable under US law. – Oleksandr R. Jun 19 '13 at 6:44
  • While we shouldn't willingly infringe upon someone else's copyright, it is well beyond our means to decide what is and isn't fair use. I take a much more liberal view that we try to follow "fair use" in the spirit of the law and let SE Inc deal with DMCA take down requests instead of being overly restrictive. – rm -rf Jun 19 '13 at 6:48
  • @rm-rf that's fine from SE's perspective, since as an American company running English language websites, they are quite well protected from copyright suits, either in law or in effect. But SE can't and won't protect any of us from being sued as individuals in e.g. France if we decide to do something for which French copyright law doesn't grant permission on the basis that it would have been acceptable in America. I suppose this is arguably the individual's problem and as such we don't have to consider it in how the site is run, but individuals should look out for their own interests as well. – Oleksandr R. Jun 19 '13 at 7:20

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