I've noticed that we get a lot of questions from first time visitors to Philosophy.SE which are just very confused and in need of serious editing. Often, the confusion is hopeless, or the question off-topic.

Occasionally, though, I have noticed that there are poorly formulated questions that might have an appropriate question in the vicinity. For instance, this question was recently closed and I think quite reasonably so (in fact I was one of the first downvoters). But, as I noted in the comments when I was explaining my downvote, it does seem as though there is a good question in the vicinity, namely "Is it ethical to do something without a good (moral) reason for doing it?".

Now, it seems rare that these newcomers actually reformulate their questions as suggested. In these cases, should we be more proactive with the editing, deferring less to the OP and trying to extract an interesting philosophical question from the confusion? Or, should we just let the question fall by the wayside?

I ask just because I wonder if we might be scaring too many people off and missing opportunities to get good answers to good questions (which, as a practical matter, we need to do with more frequency if we hope to graduate beta). At the same time I recognize that we need a certain amount of deference to the OP and shouldn't do too much violence to their original question.

Is there a good general guideline here? Do we always just leave it to the OP to edit their question? Or could we, perhaps, have more advanced users edit the question and try to clear the edit with the OP (or, if the OP vanishes, perhaps make the question a community wiki so that it isn't attributed to OP)?

1 Answer 1


We have raised this issue before and there is no hard and fast answer. The ideal state of the site, I think, is for questions to be closed immediately if they are poor and reopened immediately when they are improved sufficiently. Currently, this does not happen, and Joseph and I are generally very lenient with the initial quality of questions on this site. As of now, very few questions are closed immediately unless they are flagrant violations of board rules, most are given at least 24 hours — up to a few days if the OP appears responsive and willing to work towards any given improvement suggestions — before they are closed. That is certainly how I operate, and generally the pattern I see from the only other mod who closes questions, and it will vary based on the OP, whether I think they are ever going to come back and edit their question, whether they seem like the type of person who possesses the necessary skill to improve their question to a point that would make it acceptable, etc.

This — the way things are right now — is in my opinion not ideal, and barely works only because we don't have huge volumes of questions. If the voting membership was higher and was more capable of closing questions itself, it might be okay but generally speaking it's left to Joseph and I to make sure poor questions are improved and/or closed; leaving questions open to give the OP more time dramatically increases our workload as now we have to keep track of previous questions rather than simply looking for new incoming content to fix (which is made easier by the reviewing tools). Often, questions accidentally fall off the radar because even as of today I still don't fully understand SE's sorting methods...

At any rate...

I think it's super important to encourage people to edit their own questions, as well as helping edit and improve other people's questions. Responsible close-voting and reopen-voting would be a great thing for the community as well.

  • Fair enough, that's kind of what I expected. So, I suppose I'll head towards being a bit more heavy handed with my close votes in hopes of alleviating some of the work load for you guys. Like you say, though, getting 5 500+ rep users to see a single question and vote to close is a bit tough.
    – Dennis
    Feb 20, 2013 at 22:15
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    We have many of those users at this point; but most people are more "lurkers" than contributors. Only some small percentage of vote-capable and close-capable people actually exercise their powers... :\
    – stoicfury
    Feb 20, 2013 at 22:27
  • That's really a problem, isn't it, all the non-voting people? Would be great to get them to vote and edit, but I don't see how; the voting activity kind of represents the meta activity - there's just nothing happening here.
    – iphigenie
    Feb 26, 2013 at 10:19
  • I don't think it's out of the ordinary. I reckon the numbers (percentage-wise) are similar across sites, if not better than some of the busier sites. Have you looked at the questions on Stack Overflow? The vast majority of questions appear to get no votes because they have such a high volume of questions.
    – stoicfury
    Feb 27, 2013 at 5:50

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