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Putting questions "on hold" or the closing of questions is a recurring phenomena seen on this the Chemistry StackExchange site. Most questions I have seen so far have been closed for good reasons, such as being a repeat or lacking evidence of research on the part of the question asker. However, I feel that there are some issues about putting questions "on hold". One of the main reasons why questions are put "on hold" based on my experience is that the question is "unclear". Which is extremely uninformative to the question asker.

Indeed, an "unclear" question may demonstrate a lack of communication skills of the question asker. However, it also a lack of communication skills on the part of the moderator. The reason being that the moderator does not know how to communicate why the question is "unclear" or how the question is "unclear". This sort of labeling of questions as "unclear" is evidently not beneficial to all parties, the moderators, the question askers and the rest of the community of users. In fact, such a label is equivalent to a baseless accusation because it is not substantiated by any evidence at all.

Hence, may I suggest that in addition to labeling a question as "unclear", moderators also provide sufficient reason to support their claim? For example, they could make reference to parts of the question (i.e. particular phrases or sentences) or clarify the meaning of particular words which are ambiguous.

This is different from downvoting because putting a question "on hold" is more of an official course of action taken by the "all-powerful" moderators. Thus, it is also more serious, in my opinion.

I hope actions aimed at improving this situation would be taken as this labeling of questions severely compromises user experience on the site.

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    $\begingroup$ Moderators? You mean community in general, I hope? Us mods hardly close anything nowadays. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jun 22 '17 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ In the last 7 days, 5 of 84 questions were closed (not unilaterally) with the help of the moderator vote. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jun 22 '17 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ The main focus of my question is on the part about putting questions "on hold" for unclear reasons, not about closing questions. $\endgroup$ – Tan Yong Boon Jun 22 '17 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ For all intents and purposes putting a question on hold is synonymous with closing it. It is just that the label changes from [on hold] to [closed] after 5 days or something like that. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jun 23 '17 at 6:13
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I want to begin by clarifying: it is not ‘“all-powerful” moderators’ (quotation marks present in the original) that close questions. Rather, like practically everything on Stack Exchange with the exception of deleting comments, it is the community as a whole that closes and reopens questions.

The community as a whole — like all across Stack Exchange — means that once you reach a certain reputation threshold (in this case: 3 krep) you gain the priviledge of performing a certain action (here: casting close and reopen votes). Thus, closing (and subsequent reopening) is a task typically performed by five normal users voting in favour of doing so.[1,2]

I do agree that it is often beneficial to both asker and others to drop a comment explaining why a certain close vote was dropped. And I also agree that I am many times guilty of not dropping the helpful comment — usually because I can’t wrap my head around what the OP actually wants to ask.

However, dropping a comment is a possibility, not a requirement. It has often been raised whether comments should be dropped mandatorily in certain occasions such as downvoting, close voting and others. However, Stack Exchange’s stance is and always has been that such a requirement will not come. Users are always free to drop comments as needed but they will never be required to.

Frankly, that is also a good thing: sometimes it is just so crystal clear that a question is overly broad or incomprehensible that further clarification in a comment is not needed — such a comment would just end up being a tedious task and in no way helpful.


[1]: Moderators actually have stronger powers: their vote is binding, i.e. if they decide to close or reopen a question they can do so single-handedly.

[2]: Another exception are users who gained a golden tag badge — currently 3 and all for the tag. They can vote to close or reopen questions as duplicates single-handedly. They do not have the power to close as unclear, off-topic, opinion-based or too broad single-handedly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Even comments get deleted by the community. We simply have not a big enough user base and quicker moderators that this would happen, but in principle the community decides it with flags. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jun 22 '17 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン Yes, I didn’t mention that. In my mind, the mod deleting the comments is still the main path of action. $\endgroup$ – Jan Jun 22 '17 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan Well... but by setting the bar so high at 3K reputation. Is it still the "whole community"? What is the percentage of users with that number of reputation points? Does the absolute number of reputation points suggest that the person is capable of good judgement? $\endgroup$ – Tan Yong Boon Jun 22 '17 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan I would like to ask if there is a review committee to review the edits made to questions "put on hold"? Well... Certainly, questions "put on hold" will get reviewed to see if they have improved since it was put on hold right? $\endgroup$ – Tan Yong Boon Jun 22 '17 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @TanYongBoon It’s 81 users. The good thing is that they are all regulars. If you provide good content, good questions and good answers, it isn’t that hard to quickly reach 3k. But it still is defined as the whole community in SE terms because everybody has an equal chance of getting there and no discrimination is made. The rep points are used by SE to determine whether somebody is capable of good judgement; not only with respect to close voting but with respect to everything on the site. $\endgroup$ – Jan Jun 22 '17 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ Also, there are review queues, one for close voting one for reopening. If a vote or flag is dropped (for either close or reopen), the question gets put on that queue and remains there until either the five-people threshold is reached or three people vote ‘leave as is’. (You can also bump a question from the close vote queue by editing it in the review dialogue.) Questions [on hold] (i.e. closed but not for a long time yet) are also automatically bumped to the reopen review queue if they are edited. $\endgroup$ – Jan Jun 22 '17 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan Thanks for the insights. I am relatively new to this site so I haven't really understood how it operates fully yet. Regarding what you have said, it does make sense but there are definitely some loopholes here and there, as I have mentioned in my question. However, I am satisfied from hearing this assurance by you that there is a working system already put in place, just that I am unaware of it. $\endgroup$ – Tan Yong Boon Jun 22 '17 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ @TanYongBoon That’s okay, we all started off as new users without clues =) $\endgroup$ – Jan Jun 23 '17 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ Heh, yeah, @TanYongBoon, I had plenty of Chem.SE acclimation pains -- just ask Martin! $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Jul 1 '17 at 2:02
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Just adding to Jan's answer, I'd like to just put it out there that if you disagree about the closure of a question, you can either

  1. Ask somebody in chat (moderators are always around)

or

  1. Post on meta with a link to your question and the tag
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The problem here is that the term unclear itself is sometimes rather opinionated. While certain questions are always meaningless, there are a few questions that can be understood by some, and not by others. I have seen quite a few questions asked by Indian users which may be unclear to others, but make perfect sense to me. But of course, if a majority of users agree that it's unclear, then it must be.

Hence, may I suggest that in addition to labeling a question as "unclear", moderators users also provide sufficient reason to support their claim. For example, they could make reference to parts of the question (i.e. particular phrases or sentences) or clarify the meaning of particular words which are ambiguous.

Take a look at this question:

Why can the anion NO3- behave as a L-type ligand while BF3 can not?

Do you really need a reason for why it's unclear? You can't really demand a reason for that, it's meaningless to ask. Even if the voters wanted to give a reason, they can't. Because unclear is an opinion of the voter. Of course, meanings of certain phrases and words can be rectified through comments, but if the entire post is meaningless, it's very hard to explain.

This is different from downvoting because putting a question "on hold" is more of an official course of action taken by the "all-powerful" moderators. Thus, it is also more serious, in my opinion.

This is simply not true. Moderator votes are binding, and a single vote of theirs' are needed to close a question. But they aren't the only ones voting. There are quite a few +3k rep members who have the ability to review close and reopen queues. 5 votes from such users are required to close a question. Even the mods do not close questions much (Martin-マーチン mentioned that only 5 out of 84 questions were closed with a mod vote), so it is mostly the community decision to close the questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Firstly, what you said only applied to questions which are indeed "meaningless". There are many questions which deserve to be given feedback on so as to allow the author of the question to edit it for clarity. Also, I would like to point out some fallacies. It is not necessarily true for something to be unclear if a majority believes it is so. That is committing argumentum ad populum. Nevertheless, you are right that. "unclear" is an opinion. $\endgroup$ – Tan Yong Boon Jun 23 '17 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ But by giving an opinion without any reason at all, you (and the community at large) are doing an injustice to the poor, pitiful author of the question who might have spent a lot of time pondering on why his or her question is "unclear". I believe that there is a logical basis for whatever out opinion may be. And it would definitely be helpful if we could articulate that reason properly to the question asker. $\endgroup$ – Tan Yong Boon Jun 23 '17 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ As I said before in my question, the failure to articulate the question clearly is a failure on the part of the author in terms of communication skills. But not being able to articulate clearly the reason for the lack of clarity in the question also shows a lack of communication skills on the voter. $\endgroup$ – Tan Yong Boon Jun 23 '17 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ I believe that the correct course of action in response to the so-called "meaningless" questions should be to explain why they are "meaningless" not to dismiss it as unclear. By doing the latter, it is clearly not just for the author of the question. Because "unclear" and "meaningless" are different in meaning. $\endgroup$ – Tan Yong Boon Jun 23 '17 at 14:48

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