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Around half the questions I've clicked on in the last couple of weeks have had a pile of "Too broad" close votes. Some of them have been closed already, and in some cases I've had to push for them to be re-opened (frustrating for everyone concerned).

None of them seemed "too broad" - they've all been perfectly clear questions along the lines of "Here's something cool, I can't figure out where to start when making something like this, what would be a good technique or approach to take?".

It's a totally normal, common type of question for a designer to ask, and a lot more interesting than the "I've never seen a drop-shadow before, can I haz teh menu opshun names?" type questions we all want to move away from.

So why are we trying to stamp these out?

Examples:


The only explanation I can think of is that someone has decided that "Too broad" means "Close anything where there's more than one possible answer that would work". That's not what it's for. Questions with multiple good answers are encouraged. It's more like "Close anything where there are NO possible answers that would work (without writing a multi-chaptered book)".


Edit: Just saw that DA01 commented on one of these that:

"It's too broad in that it's basically "how do I do illustration/do photo manipulation". While there are certainly steps that can be outlined to achieve the above, it's really more about 'practice, practice, practice + a bit of talent and skill'"

I don't want to see every question closed if it is about a problem that involves or requires talent or skill. We wouldn't have a site left - or even worse, we'd have nothing but "can I haz teh menu opshun names?" questions.

It's really common for someone who has reasonable baseline skills to have an image in their head and think "where the hell do I start making that?". It's not a sign they have no idea what they're doing, just that they're stretching themselves attempting something specific they've not attempted before (which I'd say is healthy - it's the opposite of a designer stagnating or hiding in a comfort zone).

There also seems to be an implied assumption that people asking questions can't do anything except be led by the hand through step-by-step instructions. I don't want to be part of a site that is exclusively aimed at step-following robots and assumes its askers can't apply good judgement or creativity. I want to be able to write answers a bit like my answer to the 'Mondreaan' question, that are essentially "Here are some tips, techniques or approaches to get you started (or un-stuck). Now take it from here - I'm trusting that, as a user on a design site, you have enough skill and aesthetic sense to do the rest unaided".


We've come a long way from being 90% 'design software tips for StackOverflow users' to being (very nearly!) a good proper freestanding design site largely populated by actual designers.

Can we start treating our question askers like they're actual designers?

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    I've seen a few similar questions that has received "tech support" close votes. We're not going to be able to draw a fine line, but to me "how can I create this with this program" is not what I consider tech support. I think that close reason should be used for questions along the lines of "How do I stop Photoshop from crashing?" – JohnB Oct 9 '13 at 14:29
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    Funny thing, I was trying to plan a WPF implementation (without a clue where to begin), and thought: I should ask on SO how to get started. Not too different from "Where to begin with this effect"! – Yisela Oct 10 '13 at 3:27
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"I don't want to be part of a site that is exclusively aimed at step-following robots and assumes its askers can't apply good judgement or creativity"

Agreed.

However, I vote to close as too broad when absolutely no effort to show any attempt at any solution is explained in the question. Questions which entirely amount to "How do I do this?" and nothing more are of little use to anyone. And, what I fear, a slippery slope to a tutorials-on-demand mentality.

With the exception of the Google Map question you've linked to, the other examples clearly fall into the lack-of-effort "how do I do this?" category. In the cliff example, the explanation of what the user tried was only added after I left a comment.

The users asking for mini-tutorials are showing absolutely no effort to solve the issues themselves in favor of someone spending time teaching them.

If these users actually do have some skills in creativity and problem solving, they are not expressing it in their questions.

But, hey, even the most poorly worded, no-effort, question still gets upvoted by someone.

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    Stack Overflow has a close reason for low effort: "Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Include attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist". I'm on the fence about whether or not such a close reason would be good for our community. It's hard to distinguish what a "minimal understanding" is. I think a comment urging the OP to explain what they have tried might accomplish the same thing, that's generally what I try to do. – JohnB Oct 9 '13 at 14:42
  • I agree that the comment is good for now being a relatively young site. It's needed and generally works. I add the vote to close because no one knows if the user will return to answer the comments. Many do not. And without a better phrased question, the question deserves to be closed in my opinion. But it is only 1 opinion. And I'd rather vote to close than down vote. – Scott Oct 9 '13 at 14:45
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    I generally agree - but that's what downvotes and comments are for. Closing questions penalises other people as well as a lazy asker: it penalises people who understand what's being asked and want to answer it, it penalises people who think "Hey, that's an interesting-sounding question" then are disappointed to find they clicked on a dead-end wall, and it penalises future people researching the same problem. Also, questions always don't need an essay of what's been tried - especially if it's a "Where do I even start?" question. We don't always need to make people jump through hoops. – user568458 Oct 9 '13 at 14:49
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    [Simulatenous post] Why "And I'd rather vote to close than down vote"? As I see it, downvotes are for style and close votes are for substance. Interesting question badly written? Downvote the lack of effort, with an explanation, then consider answering it because it may be of interest to others. Well written question that is a duplicate or not quite on-topic or unanswerably subjective? Consider upvoting the effort, but vote to close and explain why. – user568458 Oct 9 '13 at 14:52
  • Every single question gets up voted. Every single one Until that stops down votes mean very little. I have tried down voting the poor questions, but you'd never know it by looking at questions. "Where do I start", in my opinion, is not a valid question. You wouldn't post "Where do I start" on Stack Overflow. You have to at least have a base to ask a question. – Scott Oct 9 '13 at 14:52
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    Remember voting to close is not voting to close, it's voting to put on hold to receive attention and be improved before being opened again if worthwhile. Similar to preferring to close rather than downvote, I'd rather have my question put on hold than downvoted. A -1 or more feels offensive, like I'm stupid, whereas a vote to close at least comes with a reason. – Dom Oct 9 '13 at 14:59
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    Some of the voting baffles me too - prob deserves its own discussion. re. "You wouldn't post "Where do I start" on Stack Overflow", I disagree, many SO questions I've favourited for being extra-useful have been "Where do I start to do X?" questions: stackoverflow.com/questions/5061318 stackoverflow.com/questions/15341165 stackoverflow.com/questions/7289937 stackoverflow.com/questions/12919398 stackoverflow.com/questions/14994391 stackoverflow.com/questions/2353818 (last one is borderline, was nearly closed but judged useful) – user568458 Oct 9 '13 at 15:02
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    I would disagree that those SO questions are "where to start" questions. I mean if someone asked, where do I start learning Photoshop here, they'd get answers. But if someone at SO were to ask... " I want to replicate [this] website. How do I do it?" You can bet it would be downvoted and closed quickly. – Scott Oct 9 '13 at 15:05
  • @JohnB A similar close reason to SO's lack of effort would be very beneficial in my opinion. – Scott Oct 9 '13 at 15:11
  • All of those questions have a specific focus. A lot of the questions that get closed as too broad are just that too broad, they don't have a specific task in mind, how is the 'Mondreaan' question going to be useful to anyone else? Can those steps be applied to any other task? I didn't vote to close it but I wouldn't disagree with closing it. – Dom Oct 9 '13 at 15:13
  • "How do I create a Mondreaan image. I've tried.... A.. and ... B.. and can't seem to work out... C" is a perfect question. Where as "How do I create a Mondreaan image." is not. But again, merely my opinion. – Scott Oct 9 '13 at 15:16
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    We're drifting away a little from the type of questions this is actually about. All the GD examples above and SO examples above follow this format: "Here's something I'm trying to do. [album cover effect|stylised pattern|polar clock|orbit animation|debugging problem|transform effect...(the other two are a bit different)]. Where do I start?". Unlike "I want to replicate [this] website", they're focused on a specific target. Where they use an example, there's a particular feature of that example (unlike "I want to replicate [this] website") - which is why they're answerable. – user568458 Oct 9 '13 at 15:26
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    I simply feel every "How do I...." question must include "I've tried....." or "I'm struggling with..." or "I can't figure out.." – Scott Oct 9 '13 at 15:31
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    Perhaps I voted to close too quickly on the Mondriaan question. I'm not infallible. :) Realize that the cliff image literally had nothing other than "how do I make this" and the solution (pen tool) right in the question itself when I voted to close that one. I commented that the user already knew the steps. The only answer to be provided would be a full tutorial. – Scott Oct 9 '13 at 15:41
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    Yup, and your comment fixed that and taught the asker that this is a rare design site with standards :-) RE: "I simply feel every "How do I...." question must include..." - I agree, but often it's either there (just not in a bold explicit paragraph on its own), or it's strongly implied or obvious, e.g. if it's a complex, intimidating-looking technique. I think the cutoff point should be: can we understand where they're coming from? Sometimes it feels like we're forcing people to jump through hoops like it's a question-writing exercise - when we already know what they're asking and why. – user568458 Oct 9 '13 at 15:50
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As Scott has pointed out and also mentioned some in the long comments per his answer I agree with closing as too broad for several reasons.

  1. My understanding of the intent for this site is to allow for professionals to get professional opinion on how to achieve something better or in a different way. When a question is posted as "How can I do this" with NO documentation of what you have done I personally feel you are basically doing someone else's work and like a few other stack sites it will quickly turn into a "wow this site can do all my work for me and I dont have to learn".
  2. Questions need to be configured down to a degree of X is completed by Y for future viewers that are looking for help. Answering question X with an answer of ABCDEFG server no interest to the searcher and defeats the purpose of a simplified Q&A site.
  3. Too broad applies when you have no clue what the OP has tried. If the OP states what was attempted with X program we could help provide a better quality answer.

I am more inclined to assist and answer questions for people that show interest. I do not agree with supporting questions that show NO effort in a search because it devalues the answers from some, not all, that just post a link to a search that the OP was too lazy to do.

I do believe we should possibly implement another close reason that would classify something other than broad into little effort, not enough effort, or lack of effort visible.

  • I do not understand why "too broad" bears any relationship to the prior attempts by the original poster. One could choose to insist that posters reveal the attempts they have made already, and including such evidence of effort certainly leads to more thoughtful answers but does it have any logical connection to the breadth of the question? – dumbledad Oct 17 '13 at 7:42
  • Actually it does if an answer is to be provided with accuracy. Some design related questions can be asked and formulated with a multitude of answers or the questions context can be taken by an individual to conclude they are trying to do X or Y but in reality X and Y dont even touch what the OP is trying to do. – Mᴏɴᴋᴇʏ Oct 17 '13 at 14:30
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Most of what I think is represented in the answers and comments, but I wanted to mention a couple of things.

The explanation for 'too broad' might be in itself a bit broad, but I think it's being used as a 'shows no research effort' because of the last part:

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

Questions that show no effort are generally put on hold to give them a chance to add more information. On Hold is not Closed, it's On Hold. Some users see the message and never come back (perhaps they would have never come back in the first place), but those that do edit their questions will probably get excellent answers. Please put as much effort in your question as you'd expect others to put in their answers, a great rule for life and a polite way of asking for clarification.

Our question per day number has increased quite a lot in the last six months. We are getting new questions (lots of tech support ones - that I interpret as 'troubleshooting software') and with them, new users. We were all first visitors to a SE site, we know how difficult it is to understand exactly how everything works. New users need guidance, some of them will stay and flourish in rep, others will leave without even reading the answers. It doesn't change that.

Anyway, something I noticed is that a lot of questions with 3 or 4 votes, even questions that are on hold, have no comments. It's not mandatory, but if it's a new user's question, why not explain how he/she could do things better? Downvotes and close votes happen for a reason, and we should state that reason in a comment. Same with "What have you tried?". It's not an accusation of laziness, or a test to see if you are a 'true GD OP'. We do need information to generate good answers (and we need good titles too. "How do I recreate this effect?" won't give us more search results).

I wouldn't mind a fourth On Hold reason asking for detail, but I do feel we should also be using comments to educate new users.

  • All good points. – Scott Oct 10 '13 at 2:50
  • Good points - I def agree that downvotes/close votes should come with a comment (or upvote to a comment) explaining why. Do please consider though that while the "on hold" language may now be softer, closing/holdifying still means that people who want to answer can't until sufficient hoops have been jumped through. If people-A think "There's not as much explanation as I'd like" and close it, and people-B think "I understand exactly where this person is coming from and I want to help", people-A are standing in people-B's way. – user568458 Oct 10 '13 at 16:39
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    ...so it should be treated as a blunt tool to be used sparingly when truly necessary to prevent harm to the site, not any time we feel a question could be improved. "Good enough to answer" is good enough. We sometimes seem to get perfectionistic about the art of question writing: it's nice when questions are really well written, but we're a site for answering design problems, not a question-writing masterclass. – user568458 Oct 10 '13 at 16:41

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