This is a Q&A site for a topic so broad that I doubt anyone is up to date on all of the relevant theories/analyses/terminology, so even for professional linguists (i.e. Professors, basically), I doubt that they will be able to phrase every question they might think interesting in current and concisely defined terms.

I doubt that a Q&A site that expects everyone asking questions to be on top of current academic terminology will have a lot of valid questions to answer, so why do I keep reading comments like "Your terminology is unclear, so I have voted to close this question", especially as the first comment? Isn't that a good way to make damn sure that noone will ever dare ask a question again? And wouldn't it be possible just to edit the question, or in the case of terms with few distinct meanings, try to answer just one of them, or maybe all of them in one answer?

Edit: Also, should comments like that be flagged as "not constructive"? To be honest, seeing them makes me angry the way only flaming teammates in online games do, and I can only imagine what they do to the emotional well-being of the actual askers.

Another Edit: I was unaware that this site is targeted at professional researchers, but older questions imply that the goal was to get research level questions. But I don't really understand this, because I know I'd feel somewhat awkward if most of the research in my PhD boils down to public internet discussions where a lot of the input didn't come from me; it would make it look like a collaborate internet effort rather than my own thesis.

  • It may be blunt, but yes, those comments are good. It is hard to ask clear, precise, well scoped on-topic questions. Closing questions is very important for the health of the site.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 5:29
  • @curiousdannii See I refrained from using your name in my Question :) But if that is your opinion, please elaborate in an answer so that we can see if everyone feels that way or if it's your personal crusade.
    – user9315
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 11:40
  • It's the standard across the entire Stack Exchange network. But I'll try to put together an answer explaining why it's important. PS, I'm not aware of anywhere saying that this site is only for professional scholars. I don't think we have a problem with amateurs at all. More of a problem is people coming up with a theory with no knowledge of linguistics terminology or basic principles and then coming here to test out their ideas.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 11:54

2 Answers 2


As I intimated here, it's hard for a user to know what is appropriate / optimal for the site and what is not. I also think that someone else substantially editing a question to change what it asks is a bad idea -- the OP should decide what he/she really means, and then remove the ambiguity.

It is not clear to me what purpose closing a question serves, and without knowing that, it's hard to say whether the answer to the question "should this question be closed" is yes or no. It could serve as a warning to others not to ask questions like that.

I hate to be critical but there is usually not much useful feedback about the nature of the problem (and it's often inconsistent, e.g. both "too broad" and "too narrow"), so it's difficult to discern what the "questions like that" would be. The defined labels are both too broad and too narrow, so voters have to approximate by picking the closest label. Ideally, there would be a physical requirement to add a comment in order to vote to close, but I imagine the software has its limits.


Also, I think it's ultimately counterproductive to flag comments, unless the content is plainly offensive or rude. Instead, you should counter-comment, explaining why the terminology is clear: answer with facts. I often find that the wording can be interpreted in two ways, but the commenters don't identify the two readings (and even when the unclarity is pointed out, the OP prequently doesn't bother to fix the ambiguity, especially the casual passer-by poster).


Curiousdannii's rationale for closing questions seems valid, especially the "signpost" consideration. However, I now see that closed questions are auto-deleted (the exact rule is unknown to me), which negates the educational function of closing a function. I would say that this is an argument against closing as opposed to leaving on hold.


I agree with you that one should not be trigger-happy with voting to close questions. (As a moderator, it's a pain in the neck for me to go through a huge number of needlessly flagged questions.) IMO, the best course of action is to leave a comment explaining why the question was unclear. The asker can then elaborate in the question. However, if after a few days of leaving that comment, the question remains unmodified, I get the impression that the question was just a passing thought in their mind, and they really don't care to have it answered. I close questions in such cases.

And of course, it's perfectly fine for anyone to edit the question and add clarifications.

On the other hand, I don't see closing a question as a big setback to the asker. Anyone, including the asker, can modify and then flag it to be reopened.

  • Of course, there aren't any real setbacks for the user. But say I read something about attributes or the Altaic languages, google it and find that helpful Stackexchange site. So I create an account, ask a question about it, and for the first 15 hours the only feedback I get is some variaton of "Attributes/the Altaic languages are not a part of the scientific framework I am comfortable with, so I have voted to close your question." I don't think I'll ever check back to that site, much less ask another question; if that is the only response I see when googling it, I won't ask in the first place.
    – user9315
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 21:05
  • @MaxP In such cases, you are right to express your disagreement. I have read such comments by you, and they did help me to decide against closing the question.
    – prash Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 3:05
  • We need far more closed questions here! So many are poorly defined, overly broad or just off topic.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 5:28
  • 1
    Do you think closing questions is better than improving guidance to errant question-posers? IMO, the attention should be on saying what a good question should be. While agree that many to most of the questions posed are badly conceived or written, I don't see how anyone could know in advance that e.g. a question about a theory of the origin of language is off topic.
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 16:19
  • @user6726 The idea is always that questions should be edited and reopened. But bad questions need to be put on hold so that they don't attract answers. Questions which are unclear, too broad or too opinion based attract answers from new users all the time. If this site is going to be better than Yahoo Answers (probably the worst Q&A site on the internet) then we need to work hard to ensure that all question can be answered as definitively and objectively as possible.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 23:03
  • I'll just note that while this attitude has been prevalent on StackExchange, it has contributed to the poor reputation of StackExchange as a querent-hostile place, and is one that site leadership is belatedly trying to counter (see the recent "<3" blog posts). Peremptorily closing questions without real feedback (and three-word comments are not real feedback) is unnecessarily unhelpful. Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 1:23

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