I've been much more active in the review queues lately and ran across a few questions over the past days with votes to close for "Unclear what you're asking".

It's not like the questions were gibberish, more like lacking in details or proper terminology and coming from novice users. I was glad to see that, for most of them, there was already an ongoing dialogue with the OP to help them better phrase their question and understand their problem.

Although the close vote requires the OP to:

"Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question."

I think it needs to be considered that novices don't always know the proper terminology to their issue and guided questions from the community are likely more helpful than a close vote. I also find "Unclear what you're asking" has a lot to do with the readers' perception. I could take a bunch of questions out there regarding software that I don't use and consider them "Unclear what you're asking", but I disgress...

Is there really a good reason to vote to close for "Unclear what you're asking" as opposed to just asking the OP to clarify keypoints of the question in a more guided manner?

I feel that by voting to close right off the bat instead of trying to explain to users what they need to provide in order for us to be able to help them, we are passing a good opportunity to educate new users to our format.

3 Answers 3


I vote to close as unclear when the question is unclear. It's that simple.

I try and refrain from editing for intent. Because, well, I don't know the actual intent, which is why I perceive the question as unclear. I only edit a question for typographical, grammar, tags, and formatting issues, not content.

I don't feel editing for terminology helps the user. It's better to explain correct terminology in an answer. That way they grasp it better in my view. Merely editing for things like terminology only serves to confuse anyone that doesn't understand the correct terminology in the first place.

I also vote and typically post a comment asking for clarity. There's no telling if the user, especially one with less than 101 rep, will ever return to clarify the question. I mean, watch the questions that "Community" bumps.. and how many are asking for clarity with no response.

My close vote is not something I expect to immediately take action. In fact, I rely on the fact that it does not close the question immediately. But, it's there to count towards the eventual close should the user never return to clarify and others also vote.

Note I don't down vote unclear questions either. I only down vote bad questions.

  • +1 I agree with everything you wrote. I guess I am however wary of the speed at which these questions may accumulate 5 close votes.
    – curious Mod
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 23:21
  • Well, just going on my experience @Emilie nothing unclear is closed in a day or two. So the user has time to to return if they are vested in answers. Bad questions may get closed faster, but not the ones which are merely unclear.
    – Scott
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 23:28
  • 1
    @Emilie: Remember that if a question was closed quickly and the asker (or anybody else) edits afterwards, it will be automatically pushed to the reopen queue.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented May 26, 2018 at 7:58
  • @Wrzlprmft Can you double-check me on this: an edit would have to take place within 5 days?
    – curious Mod
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 13:54
  • @Emilie: Yes.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 16:34

When you first visit the site as a new user you're going to ask your first question badly.

When high rep users come in and edit your question and make it more like what they expect it helps educate users rather than persuade them to leave the site.

As long as the intent of the question remains the same I believe this would solve the issue.

  • 1
    Many new users react very badly to edits and clarification requests. To their mind everythi8ng is perfect.
    – joojaa
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 16:01
  • @joojaa Yes I agree. A lot of people will be upset. If we keep the edits minor than I believe this is the best option to educate new users. Commented May 22, 2018 at 16:02
  • 2
    The problem I see with this is if the editor makes the wrong assumptions, it literally hijacks the OP's questions and becomes even more misleading to get proper answers. I think rephrasing to confirm with OP in a comment would open more of a dialogue, and also require more of an effort from them to learn the terminology (as opposed to force feeding it to them)
    – curious Mod
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 16:27
  • @Emilie Yes but I've tried to do that before and my edit was rejected for changing OPs intentions too much. So I think the balance we've struck is pretty good. Commented May 22, 2018 at 17:28
  • @LateralTerminal Can you elaborate on what that balance is in your answer?
    – curious Mod
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 17:31
  • 1
    @joojaa: And some people react very positively to it. Given the return rate of such users, I much prefer a saving edit guessing the intentions to some extent than going to the long process of elaborating what the user wants. Most importantly, if I do this I leave a comment along the lines of: “I edited your question to make it more clear. For this I made a few guesses. Please check whether everything still matches your intentions and edit otherwise.”
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented May 26, 2018 at 8:03

Yes, we need to educate new users, but I don't think it is even a matter of asking them to follow guidelines.

Most questions are badly asked to some extent. If you really know what question to ask, then the answer is on Google, or you have found the answer by yourself while writing your question, and you no longer need to ask. So the really good questions will rarely show up here...

Now, I have seen many answers, put on hold for "Not clear what you are asking", that got the right answer (in comments), so maybe sometimes some people should look a bit harder.

  • "Now, I have seen many answers, put on hold for "Not clear what you are asking", that got the right answer (in comments), so maybe sometimes some people should look a bit harder." That is exactly where I was getting at with this question. I agree sometimes trying to decypher what's going on is a bit of an effort but a worthwhile one IMO.
    – curious Mod
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 13:03

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