The question Properties of graphs where every edge is in at most one simple cycle is—in my opinion—an interesting question which is very well suitable for cs.sx.

The question concerns properties of graphs in which every edge lie on at most one simple cycle. The author didn't know that this was exactly the class of cactus graphs.

Now, searching online for properties of cactus graphs will not give you the answers to the following questions:

  • Is a cactus graph 3-colorable?
  • Is a cactus graph Eulerian?
  • What are the properties of cut vertices and bridges of a cactus graph?

The question has been closed as being unclear. It is obviously clear, so it is not closed for the correct reason. Now, I read the rules in the help center, and I cannot find a good reason for the question being closed.

I already voted for it to be reopened, but that didn't seem to do much.

So my question is; Why—really—is the question put on hold? (Preferably answered by Yuval Filmus, David Richerby, Rick Decker, D.W., Juho, who closed it, but if anyone else can shed some light on it, I would be happy.)

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    $\begingroup$ This is in essence in line with what David Richerby answered below, but I find the following two interpretations useful in deciding closing votes: "unclear what you're asking" and "unclear what you're asking" - the first covers badly written questions, the second questions where I can't see what the questioner is trying to get out of if (but the question may, at face value, be clear). If it fits neither, but is just bad, then downvoting/commenting. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ I voted to close because the question was a problem dump with no significant effort from the OP. $\endgroup$
    – Juho
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 22:55

2 Answers 2


We used to have a tradition of closing problems that showed too little effort as "unclear what you are asking." The rationale was that we didn't want to answer questions that are "just little puzzles designed to make you learn a concept," because (a) such questions and answers are rarely useful to anyone other than the OP (because they aren't part of any real problem, they are just a little puzzle designed to make you learn) and (b) if we answer the question then the questions isn't even useful to the OP, because then the OP doesn't get the practice thinking it through for themselves.

Instead we would put a comment something like

What have you tried? Where did you get stuck? We want to help you with your specific problems, not just do your work. However, as it is we don't know what this problem is and thus how to help.

(from the link that @David Richerby posted.)

This is the justification for closing as "unclear what you are asking." It is unclear to us what the OP's real missing knowledge is, so we can't provide an answer that will help the OP or future visitors.


Stack exchange has long had a much better mechanism for dealing with problems of exactly this type. It's the downvote. If you hover over the question downvote button you will see that the tooltip says:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

@Gilles recent answer to another meta question: Should we have a close reason "shows too little effort"?

And he links to a very detailed answer from @shog9 on meta.se that weighs many different pros and cons: Should Stack Overflow (and Stack Exchange in general) be awarding "A"s for Effort?

@shog9's last paragraph really drove the point home for me:

During all of the recent discussions surrounding the close queue backlog, something's been bothering me... A pretty big chunk of the backlog is taken up by questions flagged or voted on using this "minimal understanding" reason. That's not surprising in the least - but it's a horribly inefficient way of dealing with these questions. It takes 5 voters to close a question, and because some amount of subject knowledge is required to properly evaluate them finding the right voters is extra-difficult. Meanwhile, folks who interpret the reason as "no effort shown" are pushing more and more questions into the queue every day...

...If they just down-voted the questions, a privilege available to nearly everyone flagging them, they'd drop out of sight a lot faster.

As shocking as the notion that someone might get their work done for free is, that's not a particularly compelling reason to put a lot of effort into closing a question. And if we factor out the downvoting guidance ("This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful") from our close reasons, they could become considerably more straightforward.

(emphasis added.)

I was already uncomfortable with our habit of closing as "unclear what you are asking", but ever since that answer by @Gilles I've been actually voting "Leave Open" on most of these. (It's actually even more of a pain because you can't downvote from the review queue. If I think the question really deserves a downvote instead of a close-vote I have to open it in another tab.)


It's a problem dump: a homework-style question with no conceptual content. The purpose of such a question is to check the student's understanding of the underlying concepts. Anybody who can figure out what a cactus graph looks like and who understands the definitions of graph colourings, Euler trails, cut vertices and bridges should be able to quickly figure out the answer to the question.

So, yes, it's clear what the literal question is. However, it's unclear what the real question is: it's something like "Can you help me understand some or all of the terms involved in the question?" but we don't know which ones. Answering the literal question ("Yes; not necessarily; they could be almost anywhere.") doesn't help much, in the give-a-man-a-fish/teach-a-man-to-fish sense.

Some related existing content on meta:

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    $\begingroup$ I agree. To be fair, though, I have to say that while I used to close dumps as a rule, people complained that that was not in accordance with the rules. Since then, I have been commenting and downvoting. This may be more appropriate: the "question" can be answered, but we don't want to because we don't think it's good. FWIW, if all close voters downvoted, no regular user would see the question anymore. (Also, downvoting questions don't costs any rep. Which would be refunded after eventual deletion, anyway.) $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael There are usually enough users who vote to close that mods not using their "dictatorial" powers avoids the mild controversy without actually affecting the result. So that seems reasonable to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ My comment was intended to imply "maybe we shouldn't close". Personally, I'm fine with closing crap; I just wanted to remind everybody that the controversy exist(s|ed). $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 21:30

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