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One of the more popular suggestions from We're not a Q&A site. But what should be done about it? was to improve the wording of the close reasons or maybe change some of them altogether. We've been asked to flesh this out in a separate feature request so that SE can look into whether they'll make these changes for us.

So you don't have to follow the link above, here is the body of that proposal:

Mods can edit a few slots of custom off-topic reasons. However, the majority of close vote reasons are fixed and cannot be changed by us. While the names of the reasons largely make sense here, their descriptions don't:

  • Duplicate: "This question already has an answer here:", "This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question."
  • Unclear: "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."
  • Too broad: "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."
  • Primarily opinion based: "Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise." (This one in particular I don't think we need at all, because we've got that covered with lack of objective winning criterion.)

The notice boxes and tooltips on questions that are closed have similar problems. We also might want to think about whether there's a custom close reason that doesn't really fit under the "off-topic" banner.

So this post is here to discuss what close reasons we could really use and how they should be worded. There are of course several parts to this discussion, but it will be easier to keep everything in one place. Hence, I would suggest limiting answers to suggestions for one of the close reasons, so that the votes can more accurately show which suggestions have the community's support and which ones don't.

I assume that answers will fall into three categories:

  • Suggestions for rewording one of the existing close reasons. This should include all the relevant texts (the explanation that is shown before selecting the close reason, any notices that are shown on answers that have been closed with this reason, as well as any potential tooltips.
  • Suggestions for removing one of the reasons completely. This should only be done if we really have no use for it, because this will be a fairly permanent change.
  • Suggestions for adding a new reason that cannot be covered as a custom off-topic reason. If we get any of these at all, it should be something very important that really doesn't make sense as "off-topic" and that won't need changing any time soon, because we'd have to get the devs involved to do so.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Should there be a seperate reason for "No objective winning criterion"? In my experience, it's one of the most common reasons a question is closed, usually as Unclear what you're asking. Also, it would be convenenient if some/all of the close reasons included a link to the sandbox, which is relevant to pretty much every question that gets closed with the exception of those who confuse this site for SO. \$\endgroup\$ – Pavel Feb 7 '17 at 4:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pavel we have a (custom) close reason for lacking an objective winning criterion. (As part of the custom off-topic reasons, which I think is where it belongs.) \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Feb 7 '17 at 7:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MartinEnder is there a place where we can see custom off-topic reason? (beside trying to close a question) \$\endgroup\$ – Sefa Feb 7 '17 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sefa I don't think so. We've currently got two of the three slots in use: "This site is for programming contests and challenges. General programming questions are off-topic here. You may be able to get help on Stack Overflow." and "Questions without an objective primary winning criterion are off-topic, as they make it impossible to indisputably decide which entry should win." \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Feb 7 '17 at 9:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there any size limit on the length of the close reason message? \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 7 '17 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Fatalize 400 characters. (This is for custom ones. I doubt this limit exists if the devs change the default reasons, but at the same time, they'd probably be reluctant to go way over that.) \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Feb 7 '17 at 14:58
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Alternative phrasing for "Unclear":

Please clarify the specification or add additional details to highlight exactly what is required. As currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what qualifies as a valid answer. It's especially important to be clear on I/O formats, guarantees about input values, and edge case behaviour. You may want to post your challenge to the Sandbox for feedback before submitting it on the main site.

(Credit: the last line is stolen verbatim from Fatalize's proposal).

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 This is basically a better-worded, more extensive version of my proposal. This is close to the length limit though. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 7 '17 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Very nice. As much as I appreciate the BrE spelling though, I'm pretty sure SE is going to opt for AmE spelling. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Feb 7 '17 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MartinEnder, you're probably right, but I'll leave the translation to a native speaker because if I try to do it myself I'll like as not miss something. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Feb 7 '17 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Add a link to the sandbox? \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Feb 7 '17 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanMerrill, in principle that's a good idea, but assuming that Markdown is used then even with a compressed URL of //meta.codegolf.stackexchange.com/q/2140 it takes the text 37 bytes past the limit, so golfing would be required. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Feb 7 '17 at 15:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Try using the Sandbox for feedback before posting your challenge." takes it to the wire at 399 bytes. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Feb 7 '17 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ The 400 character limit may or may not be an issue, as that's a limit imposed by SE onto us (as the character limit is probably related to the block size, which a link wouldn't increase) \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Feb 7 '17 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure about wording everything as challenges. [tips] questions aren't. \$\endgroup\$ – mbomb007 Feb 7 '17 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mbomb007 Downgoat voiced the same concern when I suggested renaming "questions" to "challenges" across the entire site. Quoting myself, "I'd rather make the few non-challenge posts we have seem out of place with the terminology than the >95% of challenge posts." Unless you can come up with a good term that encompasses both types of posts, I'd definitely prefer gearing the wording towards the default type of "question", not the exception. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Feb 8 '17 at 8:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is too long and users will probably just skim it. I'd reword it as "The specification is unclear. Please clarify exactly what qualifies as a valid answer. Common ambiguities are I/O formats, guarantees on input values, and edge cases. You may want to post your challenge to the Sandbox (link) for feedback." \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Feb 10 '17 at 5:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xnor, given the context in which this is shown I'm not concerned about skimming and I think explicitness is more important than concision. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Feb 10 '17 at 8:22
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Replace "Primarily opinion based" with "Needs objective scoring criterion"

We currently use a custom reason of "Off-topic" as "Needs objective scoring". That said, we receive many posts here that are attempting to be a challenge, but lack objective scoring. These challenges aren't "Off topic": they simply underspecified the challenge.

Furthermore, the majority of these cases are when users post a challenge and say "My favorite answer wins", or "The funniest answer wins". They are primarily opinion based.

Therefore, I propose we replace "Primarily opinion based" with "Needs objective scoring criterion" with the following text:

Please update your challenge with an objective method of determining the winner. This method should not be opinion-based: it should be possible to score the submissions and determine the winner.

If changing the title of "Primarily opinion based" is too much of a change, then changing the description is fine.

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Rewording for "Duplicate"

"This challenge has already been posted. It is either an exact duplicate, or the differences are superficial enough that an answer could be copied with minor modification from the existing challenge and be competitive here."

Wording changes by @xnor

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth including some of the wording from this answer which is usually cited as our consensus for what constitutes a duplicate. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Feb 7 '17 at 10:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MartinEnder, Sure, feel free to edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 7 '17 at 10:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea but I think the wording could be simplified and shortened a bit: "This challenge has already been posted. It is either an exact duplicate, or the differences are superficial enough that an answer could be copied with minor modification from the existing challenge and be competitive here." \$\endgroup\$ – xnor Feb 10 '17 at 5:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xnor Agreed, I edited it. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 10 '17 at 8:03
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Rewording for "Unclear"

"Please clarify the specifications of your challenge. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what a valid answer to your challenge would be. You may want to post your challenge to the Sandbox for feedback before submitting it on the main site."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The wording "...hard to tell exactly what a valid answer ... would be" doesn't quite work for me, but I can't pin down why not. My alternative answer is an attempt to pin it down. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Feb 7 '17 at 14:51
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Rewording for "Too broad"

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please try to isolate a clearly defined sub-challenge that can be answered in a reasonable amount of code. You may want to post your challenge to the Sandbox for feedback before submitting it on the main site.

The last line is copied from Fatalize, because these kinds of challenges would often benefit from a round in the Sandbox. I tried to reword the part Please add details to narrow the answer set, but in our case that wold mean adding restrictions to the challenge, and new users could easily get the impression that bad challenges can be spiced up by adding an unrelated "you can't use addition or subtraction".

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