We will soon see the arrival of the new close reasons (a change being implemented across the StackExchange network). This will raise a few question: here I want to focus specifically the 'off-topic' closure reason.

The 'off-topic' closure reason is being expanded, meaning that we will be able to have one or more custom sub-reasons for closure. The idea is that these can reflect 'local practice' on each site. The example we are given here is for the cooking site:

Recipe requests are off-topic, although recipe replacements, etc. are allowed

i.e. this might look on-topic to the 'passing' user, but the community there have decided they don't answer such question, which makes it 'off-topic'.

Worth noting here is that 'too localized' is being removed as a close reason. That's because it was meant to really apply to very localized issues, but is used by many sites to mean 'other things'. So it's possible we may want to have some 'off-topic' reasons that would have previously been 'too localized'.

We don't have to have pre-defined reasons, and I understand that you will be able to leave a free-form comment when voting to close as off-topic. However, we may want some boilerplate text for common cases. We also don't have to decide on everything now: reasons can be added/deleted/edited as we go along.

Answers ideally should contain one piece of text plus an explanation of why it's useful. It will be handy to have those explanations available longer-term. Based on voting, the mods can then use the text(s) selected in the new box. (Two mods have to agree on altering such texts: one to edit, one to approve.)

  • 3
    One thing we might want is to have is something to cover 'you have an out-of-date package'. We've tended to close these as 'too localized' (in time), but as they apply to many people that will no longer be an option. So we'll either have to simply answer to that effect or have a close reason to the effect 'Bugs in packages which are known to be fixed in the latest release are off-topic'.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 21:27
  • 8
    one thing that might be appropriate is "user error, discovered by user" (a frequent cause of the "too localized" designation). Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 21:32
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    @barbarabeeton Reasonable suggestion: perhaps add an answer? I wonder whether 'unclear what you're asking' might cover this ('You've solved the problem so exactly what are you asking?').
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 21:37
  • 1
    I think it's worth noting that a valid answer here might well be 'Off-topic means exactly that': we don't have to follow the line implied by the meta.SO thread.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 7:45
  • i just posted my first "close" vote for "off topic" on this question. i selected "other" as the reason, and was met with a comment box with starting text "this question appears to be off-topic because". i changed "off-topic" to be "out of scope" and added my reason. when clicking on "vote to close" the screen returned to the question that now showed my comment. rather nice touch, even if not a perfect approach. (the usual comment "edit" and "delete" features are still there, though the latter shouldn't be used in this case.) Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 14:29

3 Answers 3


one possible reason is "user error, discovered by user".

this is already a reason frequently used to apply the "too localized" designation, when a user mentions in a comment that s/he has found the problem (sometimes even before a suggested answer is posted, although often after one or more comments by other viewers).

joseph suggests in a comment that perhaps "it's unclear what you're asking" might cover this. i think they're different: a user might be completely clear about what s/he is asking, but the answer, while obvious to someone with experience, might not be immediately obvious to a newbie until it's pointed out or stumbled upon. since the question will only be closed, not deleted, it will still be available to enlighten future users, and the fact that the user did find the solution without an explicit answer could be a source of encouragement to other newbies.

  • Do the same considerations as raised under Alan's answer apply here, I wonder?
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 21:25
  • @JosephWright -- i think those considerations do apply. "user error" doesn't really imply that the question was "off topic"; "too localized" was better (if not perfect), but i guess we'll have to make the best of what's available. come to think of it, "out of scope" might be an improvement over "off topic". Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 21:30
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    This would be a great reason for a couple of my posts recently where I just couldn't find my mistake until tailoring it for this site and then once posted and having taken a break I realize, "that was really dumb of me."
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Jun 21, 2013 at 5:57

What concerns me about treating all formerly too localized questions as "off topic" is that they usually were not off topic, but simply, well, 'too localized'. ;-)

So I suggest that we have some text that acknowledges that quite explicitly, something like:

In order to be considered "On Topic" for the site, questions need to be potentially helpful other users as well. Questions that are likely to be helpful only to you because they pertain to specific ways in which your system or TeX distribution is configured (including out-of-date packages) are too narrow to be considered on topic.

  • My understanding of the reasons to drop 'too localized' is that this kind of thing ('You are seeing a known bug: update', etc.) applies to many people (so not 'localized'), but may well not be sensible to leave open (doesn't add value).
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 15:13
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    I'm wary of saying 'We are closing as off-topic, but this is generally on-topic'. Perhaps we could rephrase that part to avoid what seems like a very odd statement?
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 15:15
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    Well that's the problem I guess. The issue is (as always) that there is now a technical definition of 'Off Topic' that doesn't actually match it's everyday use, since we have no category for 'on topic but not useful to anyone'. As far as I can tell, that is supposed to be considered 'Off Topic'.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 15:21
  • Yes, I know ('Off-topic' as a close reason is more 'not within scope of questions answered on this site' than 'not with the scope of this site'). However, that is how it is: I'm trying to make it work!
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 16:26
  • Ok. I've changed the wording a bit.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 16:56
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    I think it is a bad idea to squeeze the former TL reasons into OT, whatever semantic bending is used for that. As the discussion on meta.so shows a lot of people take issues with the removal of TL. So I think the right approach is to leave TL questions open for now, nag the Powers to give us TL back, and then have a TL-closing party!
    – mafp
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 17:03
  • @mafp I'm not sure that will happen: the preference on the main site seems to be massive downvoting, which I'm not at all keen on. I did say in the question that it's possible we may want to use the 'new' off-topic to cover some cases we previously covered with 'too localized': I'm not saying we necessarily should.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 19, 2013 at 17:16

I have a question and a suggestion and question goes first;

I often find some of our own resident behavior (myself included) as if we are owning the place. Especially if I read very old comments of mine, I sometimes go Dude, what was I thinking?. To be clear, sometimes I can see that I'm dictating a certain way to a new user about the site usage. I don't necessarily get into fights and whatnot but still, I don't think I have the right to claim any ownership which would imply a say stronger than others. Having said that, we have roughly 20k+ (active+inactive) users and only a minute percentage of it is active on the site. (By active, I mean every once in a while contributing in a Meta.TeX.SE way), so whose words are these that are spoken through the closing reasons? The SO creators? Moderators holding the hammer? The senior residents?....

Example; do we really need to have a dictating tone in the closing reasons? Instead of

This question is very unlikely to be a good question because it sucks

or any other kind of

It's all the asker's fault. He didn't research enough and his packages belong to his/her grandmother's era. They were called baskets back then...

we can just have

TeX-SX cannot handle bug reports. Hence the question is closed for answers.

Now I think, my example doesn't really cover the point that I'm trying to make but I hope it's an acceptable approximation. By the way, this is not orthogonal to barbara beeton's suggestion. I liked it because it's concise and factual instead of having a tone such as This question already has an answer here: for duplicates which is often not really that accurate despite the self-confident assertion.

I can understand the reason for discipline if a site gets 7k+ questions a day, but we rarely have any issues with closing and if a user persists enough we just shrug and switch aight, go on then mode.

We can openly put At least five voters think that this issue is not relevant for anyone other that the asker if that's what we mean. Currently, it seems a little passive aggresive in the closing reasons. A hypothetical grumpy old man....

Anyways, that's the question and my suggestion is something related to the bug reports as I've already mentioned earlier and cases of external software mishandling TeX. But I don't have a concrete suggestion should we decide to stay with the current indicators.

  • You are certainly right that there is a need for the small group of 'meta-active' people to avoid 'dictating' how things work. On the other hand, the StackExchange approach is one with editing, moderation and closure, which is distinct from for example comp.text.tex. So we have to find a balance.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 7:41

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