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I imagine that this has been asked already but searching here on meta and on google I could not find the deep reasons to why someone votes to close a question. The stack exchange information on vote closing explains the how and what but not exactly the why. Sure when closing there is a list to choose from for the reasons to close the vote but as far as I understand these messages do not explain really the intention, purpose or endgoal of the vote.

I understand down-voting and closing questions that lead to subjective debate or that profoundly go against the values of the community. I understand closing a question to prevent getting notifications of edits when the value of the edits are likely to be of little significance for the community but I do not understand the reasons for closing a question due to lack of clarity, or lack of focus for example.

What are the underlying intentions or goals in closing a question that lacks clarity ? What is there to prevent ? If we just want the person to fix their question then a down vote and a comment suffices. Closing a question affects the entire community not just the person that asks the question.

I ask because I can not wrap my head around what is expected of someone that closes votes or what is the mindset concerning responsibility towards the community that one should have.

Vote closing just takes 5 members out of thousands that might want to keep a question. It is a huge power and so a tremendous responsibility and yet, all I got from stack exchange was basically "hey you have 3000 points now you can close posts this is how it works"

I also do not understand why duplicates are closed rather than just flagged as duplicates.

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    For duplicates, I suppose it's so that answers are all in one place (assuming a rapid closure -- of course, that does not stop others from gaming the system for extra rep by answering quickly before closure). This seems a better question for meta.stackexchange.com, since the policy applies to all/most SE sites and where it's probably been asked and answered already.
    – Michael E2
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 3:10
  • For the idea of all in one place for duplicates I still do not understand why a flag or community wiki answer "check out these other links" would not be enough. New members and new functions keep appearing and a user might be more inclined to answer question "B" that is a duplicate rather than question "A" because "A" is harder, involves reading a lengthy code or understanding the wording of OP or is just too ancient to bother. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 13:09
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    For me the main justification to close is that we benefit from having a curated collection of Q&A, that implies expert oversight but more importantly carefully chosen, and organized sets of questions and answers. Not all of them, just the good ones, so the noise doesn't drawn and obscure the valuable content. That necessarily implies to close and delete the bad ones and editing to improve the reasonably good ones. We want good information and little to no noise.
    – rhermans
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 13:10
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    By noise I mean all posts carrying little on-topic content and that is below the threshold of acceptability. All you don't see because it has been improved or deleted. Closing is the first step to label a question as sub-standards, that could develop in many ways, like moving the question to the correct site, improving it to make it acceptable, eternal limbo or finally deletion. Deleted questions should not appear on searches. Closed duplicates that have very different wording for the same problem do play a rol by directing searches to the good answers, but should not receive new answers.
    – rhermans
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 13:28
  • @rhermans Nice I understand better now your previous message especially after seeing the link Kuba provided. I see how it is different than a -1. Thank you. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 13:34

3 Answers 3

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What closing is:

  • Closing is just housekeeping for the site.

  • Closing is meant to ensure smooth and efficient operation, in part by enforcing adherence to the site's rules and constraints. The basic rules of the StackExchange network were developed to allow people to get useful answers quickly, something that traditional forums cannot achieve as well.

  • Closing is meant to keep the content high-quality and useful for many readers in the long term, as opposed to useful only for a single asker at a single point in time.

    Example 1: Duplicates keep all answers to the same question in the same place.

    Example 2: Concise and clear questions are useful to a broader audience than vague and wordy questions tied up in details that are ultimately irrelevant for the answer.

  • Closing is meant to create a productive environment in which a community can flourish.

    Example: Preventing answers to unclear question protects the answerer from frustration, which in the long term would drive people away.

What closing is NOT:

  • In contrast to downvotes, closing is not a way to punish or reprimand the asker, and will not generally have any negative effects on the asker's account.
  • Closing does not prevent the asker from getting a response. In many cases, the ideal outcome is that the asker improves the questions and eliminates the original reasons for closure.

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    Nice thank you for making the clear distinction. With all the answers here I have a better view of what closing is. For me closing was like a -2.5 or something. I see that it is another part of why stack exchange provides nicer more authoritative answers than other platforms that feel opinion based and/or looks more like a chat. Great thanks. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 13:57
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First of all, don't forget that closing isn't permanent, once edited, with hopefully meaningful content, they are put on the reopen review and it takes equal amount of votes to get it back.

Also, for the record: help/closed-questions


What are the underlying intentions or goals in closing a question that lacks clarity ? What is there to prevent ?

Unclear / low effort questions pile up and make searching through the site harder, but once closed they are deleted at some point: https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/65770/233085

Closing a question affects the entire community not just the person that asks the question.

Yes, and as explained above I think it affects positively by tiding up the site.

If we just want the person to fix their question then a down vote and a comment suffices.

For a short run yes but what if not fix arrives and we are left with garbage bloating the site.


I understand closing a question to prevent getting notifications of edits when the value of the edits are likely to be of little significance for the community [...]

If I understand your point correctly, closing is not meant for that, locking is, but that's rarely used here.


also do not understand why duplicates are closed rather than just flagged as duplicates.

Flags are short lived till mods handle them so I am not sure how flagging solves it. But still, closing as duplicate should be a thing to try to keep all relevant answers in one place rather than spread across different questions. Notice that the linked original question is put on top of the closed one so consider it a useful roadsign even though closing sounds harshly.


It is all about making SE an efficient source of information.

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  • Hello thank you very much it's great getting the perspective of a moderator. For the fact that questions can be reopened I read before a bit of this link mathematica.meta.stackexchange.com/q/2514/86543 on the suggestion for a "do not close" vote because people are likely not to care to reopen a question after it had already been closed for a while and it is hard getting people to go against the decision of others (especially high reputation members). I am curious whether it is rare that are question is reopened in your experience. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 13:29
  • By flagging I did not mean the flag button I just meant the usual duplicate banner without closing but stack exchange does not seem to provide that option. An alternative would be to edit the question and place the related link at the top but then OP might change it. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 13:38
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To me, one of the end goals of closing questions is to mark questions as "can/will no be answered". In an ideal world, every question would be answered, and no open questions would remain on the site. However, many questions will not be so lucky, e.g. for one of the following reasons:

  • The question has already been answered, and it doesn't make sense to copy and paste the answer (Close as duplicate)
  • The question was answered in the comments by simply providing a link to the documentation/pointing out a typo (Close as simple mistake/can easily be found in the documentation)
  • The question can't be answered because it's not understandable (Close due to lack of clarity)
  • Can't be answered because it's not about Mathematica (Close as not suitable for this site)
  • The question is clearly a homework problem/some other question with zero effort from the OP
  • etc.

So in summary, closing a question is often the community saying "this question will never receive an answer for XXX reason".

(Note that I am not claiming that every question is closed following this logic or is closed rightfully at all; this is just my own guideline for how I think about closing questions)

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  • Thank you for the nice points. The lack of clarity part is still a bit difficult for me as it can be subjective and even answers to an unclear question can be useful for learning one of the 6000 functions. It would have been nice if the reasons that a question was closed would appear when searching without having to click on the question. Some of the comments or links in closed questions can be helpful so I usually still check them. Thank you again for your answer. Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 13:50
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    @userrandrand Regarding lack of clarity, a common situation is that after someone writes an answer, the asker states that this is not what they were looking for, and perhaps edits the question in such a way that it no longer matches the provided answer. The idea is to avoid this, or at least minimize the amount of back and forth necessary before the person asking and the person answering are finally on the same page.
    – Szabolcs
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 14:36

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