This post is one follow up to the discussion Gaps to fill without HW close reason. It seemed appropriate to give it its own place to discuss this.

It seems to me some questions (a lot of the questions we close) fall into a range of common reference, or general reference, as I'd like to call it. The curators are fairly certain your normal textbook, online tutorial or Wikipedia page can adequately answer this question, leading to

  1. an uneasy feeling that your response would be to an uninterested poster, like shouting at a wall, when they haven't bothered to give their textbook a read, or search online.
  2. another uneasy feeling that a lazy answerer would come by with a verbatim poorly formatted probably unattributed copy of an online tutorial and call it an answer, and complain when it doesn't give them free rep.

Whether these feelings are warranted is arguable1, but I can certainly see why gen-ref questions of the worst quality, at least, should be closed. Consider a question on the beautiful concept of "number of moles", and an uncertified molologist answering with a huge blockquote from take-your-pic. It's the archetype of a broken window. We don't want more or even less of it. We don't want it at all.

In light of reigniting the efforts to refining our policy and guidance, what is your opinion on general reference (or trivia), in the scientific sense, incorporated into our close reasons? Basically, closing a question on the grounds that it shouldn't be answered according to our model as we don't want to be a 'replica of commonly available resources'. I also think I took that from somewhere but I can't recall. This would ideally cover questions that we often vaguely close as homework.

I have commented on this in my earlier answer, and this is really an idea adopted from language sites (say, EL&U). It seems to be a more viable option than either lack of research or basicness for closing these questions. Here's what we can discuss, as a few options and some direction:

  • Possible overuse; beware the fallacious forms of "Slippery slope".
  • How to objectivize the close reason; what resources would be included in the close reason
  • In case of disagreement, a possible alternative (no, not homework, unless you have a really good reason not addressed in the two dozen previous meta posts)
  • Some vague points about gen-ref that might make this policy a hurdle too
  • ???

1: I've personally seen enough evidence to know they're true most of the time; after a while, a question that should be closed but hasn't been usually gets answers that makes you frown, and (perhaps you've seen this often too) a caring commenter that tries to lead the OP in the right direction gets nothing but a "so waht is answer???". I've also been proven wrong more often than I care to admit, and this would be because people are generally unaware of how prudent they need to be when posting on Stack Exchange—It's far more intuitive to ask someone than to search.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Don't like this. This seems to be the sort of thing that will be super abused to close 60% of the questions. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2019 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Avnish why? Can you explain? $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Jul 8, 2019 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ I mean, if you have an objection to closing them, then explain in an answer. If you have a better, alternative solution to this reason, then we can discuss that too. But "-1 dis sucks" is not productive for the sake of the discussion. I'm amassing opinions after all. We're probably far away from a decision, if any. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Jul 8, 2019 at 13:21

1 Answer 1


In principle, I don't agree with it, because of the idea of SE aiming towards being a complete repository of information, blah blah. In practice, I've long given up on being idealistic, especially when it comes to close reasons; and it's not as if 'homework' is perfect in that regard either.

The thing about 'general resources' in chemistry is that they are typically websites or textbooks which are written for introductory chemistry / a less experienced audience. I don't really consider Wikipedia a 'general resource', otherwise there is a ridiculous amount of stuff you could close simply because the information is on some Wikipedia page out there. So, my impression is that 'general resources' will effectively be a proxy for 'basic' or 'easy'; but maybe if there is a very clear delineation of what exactly "commonly available resources" are, it can be better (read: more objectively) implemented than 'basic'. But we should be quite careful about whether we are comfortable with this being the case (we can't hide behind 'general reference' and claim that it isn't, in a sense, discriminatory towards 'basic' questions). Personally I am ok with that, but that is just me.

I can see it being abused, but honestly no matter what close reason we have, it will be abused, so that's not a particular concern of mine. The only real way to combat abuse is to make it more objective.

There's another issue which I was thinking about, which is the fact that a question may have several answers at different levels. I hate to self-promote with an example which I already used in my last meta answer, but consider Why do stabilised ylids lead to trans alkenes in the Wittig reaction? - technically, this is "easily" answered in popular textbooks like Clayden etc. (if we decide that Clayden counts as a gen ref - I think it shouldn't, but that's a separate debate to be had).

Maybe in this case the solution is that "Why do stabilised ylids lead to (E)-alkenes?" could be closed, and the proper question to elicit the long answer given should instead be "What experimental evidence is there to support this explanation?", the answer to which is not found in Clayden.

Likewise, a hypothetical example of "why does nitrogen have three electrons all pointing up?" could be closed under gen-ref (Hund's rules); but "What is the physical basis for Hund's first rule?" can remain open. So maybe in a way this could lead to more focused questions, which is a good thing.

Sorry for basically solving my own problem, but I'm just thinking out loud here. It would be nice to see whether people agree/disagree with this bit of the answer, too.

  • $\begingroup$ Well, I'm not sure Clayden is easily accessible for everyone, is it? In principle, when meta is active enough, it would have probably taken a single highly viewed meta post to outline the popular criteria for these resources, and that has always driven me to keep thinking about this. It's how young betas do it too, they don't overthink it. One meta, and then maybe a follow up explicitly listing the resources. As for the other issue, I guess every close reason has this hidden-awesome-question problem. It should rely on a dutiful CVer to point out why the question should remain open. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Jul 9, 2019 at 18:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .