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The new approach to closing questions means that things are changing in the way we handle 'off-topic' questions. I've already asked about the generic text and for some predefined off-topic close reasons. However, I think I at least didn't quite see how this was going to work. So I'd like to ask about this again, but with a better understanding of how things are 'supposed' to work and with more background.

Background

The idea of the new 'off-topic' approach is that the person who asked the question gets 'concrete' feedback on why their particular question was closed. This is made clear in a meta post giving moderators advice, which says (amongst many things)

At a bare minimum, off-topic reasons should identify a specific topic considered inappropriate. If you're struggling to be specific, find an example of a question that is off-topic and discuss the factors that make it inappropriate for the site.

As you can see, the 'Powers' are after specifics rather than a more general 'this is one of the things we don't do' answer. (In the mod chat room, it was also suggested that a list of 'please do not ask about ...' in the help would be useful.)

Mechanism

The mechanism which has been set up gives us broadly three possibilities within the 'off-topic' closure reason:

  1. Vote to close for a specific predefined reason
  2. Vote to migrate to another site
  3. Vote to close and give a free-text reason for the vote

If someone has already used option (3), later voters will see this reason as an option, too.

The concept is then that as long as at least two people vote in the same way, a specific reason is given for closure. If all of the votes are different, then the question gets the default text, currently

This question does not appear to be about TeX, LaTeX or related typesetting systems, within the scope defined in the help center.

So changing that is actually not so useful: it's only really meant to pop up in a small number of cases where there's no agreement on why something is off-topic.

What we need to do

There are two things we need to do if this is going to work. Here, I want to focus on one of them: deciding on up to three pre-defined 'off-topic' reasons. We also need to 'fix' migration paths (they've all vanished), but I will address that separately.

As you can see in the guidance for moderators, the suggestion is to come up with a list of common reasons for closure, and create texts for these which include guidance for the questioner. I guess one reason per answer would be best as we can then vote on them. Following the model suggested by the 'Powers', I think some form of link to a meta question or similar, which 'expands' on why a question is off-topic, might be useful within each text.

Notes

The way the 'Powers' see off-topic, reasons here might cover things we've previously closed in other ways. At the same time, it may also be the case that there are alternative approaches to different cases. Some examples:

  • A question on meta.SO asked about questions which turn out to be typos in the input. The suggestion there is that such questions should be flagged for deletion, as they are not really useful.

  • Questions which turn out to require a package update could reasonably be answered rather than being closed at all. It's arguable that these may actually be pretty general.

  • Out-and-out bug reports could be added to the help as a 'do not ask about' point, as well as potentially having a custom close reason.

Over time, we can of course alter what reasons we feel are 'most common'. So the list will not be set in stone.

The 'custom text' closure reason

It's worth noting that the 'Other (add a comment explaining what is wrong)' sub-choice for off-topic is meant to enable us to give a specific reason for closing a question. For example, rather than just

your question is off topic

you can imagine saying (for a hypothetical example)

While using or understanding the Knuth-Plass algorithm in TeX is on-topic, implementing the algorithm in Python (or any other programming language) is not, as it requires general programming expertise.

Other people can then vote for this specific and (hopefully) useful text.

  • I do hope people see why I've asked this again :-) – Joseph Wright Jul 1 '13 at 18:54
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While I like the idea to be specific on closing reasons, it is actually hard to squeeze that specificity into pre-defined reasons. And a pre-defined reason text that is so specific that it is only applied once a year is of no use either.

One closing reason that I can think of is the "typo" thing. Something like

Your question appears to be off-topic on this site as your problem is a simple typo (like \usepakage instead of \usepackage), and will thus not be helpful to other visitors of this site.

Rewording may be needed ...

Similarly, a pre-defined closing reason for outdated packages can be made, but I always has a problem with closing such questions as TL, as I think those questions (and their appropriate answers) are helpful to the community, even when it is only for a few months.

This would leave one or two more pre-defined OT reasons, but I suggest to first gather some data what kind of reasons occur regularly.

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Having thought about this, I think the best approach is not to have any custom close reasons just yet: we need to see how things work in practice.

What I'd like to imagine happening is that we take advantage of the 'free text' sub-option within the Off-Topic close reason. That gives the opportunity to give a specific reason for closing, which will hopefully be clear and useful to the questioner. After a little time (probably two or three months) we should then be able to look over the closures and pick up more clearly on what are common close reasons. We can then revisit this idea.

At the same time, the generic closure text is useful, but probably in the 'wrong' place. Rather than being a custom close reason, I think this should be what appears if the various Off-Topic votes don't all agree (i.e. when it's off-topic but we don't agree quite why!). Editing that is available to mods, so this can readily be done.

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