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After my recent discussion starter (Towards a policy for hint-only answers) and some chat conversations, I think that the biggest problem we have with questions now is if they don't contain a (real) question.

While a definition of what we mean by real question is pending (right now, we are acting on a template basis with an "I know it when I see it" paradigm), I think this covers the most common problem posts: dumps and check-my-work.

Why do I think these are problematic? Well, we don't want them but we don't have a clear-cut argument for closing. We often use "unclear" which confuses people; it usually is quite clear what the OP wants! It's not clear what their problem is, though; in other words, there is no real question.

SE used to have a closing reason "not a real question", which I think would be more apt for these types of question-posts. We can bring it back as a custom close reason, if we want to.

So, here's my query for discussion:

  1. What constitutes a real question for us?
  2. Do we want a "no real question" closing reason?
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  • $\begingroup$ the preoccupation with closing perceived low quality questions is justifiable on a tactical level, and it seems many high rep users have been conditioned to adhere (and maybe others not), but is there actual evidence anywhere that it really plays into strategic site goals? is it any bigger issue on this site than other se sites? doesnt any (successfully!) growing site have similar issues? etc.. seems at times its mostly an assumption... how about the value/ utility of "case by case basis"? $\endgroup$ – vzn Jun 28 '15 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Raphael, a friendly suggestion: rather than asking for NARQ to be brought back, I suggest proposing a site-specific close reason. Given past history, I consider it extremely unlikely that StackExchange folks will bring back NARQ just for our site. In contrast, a site-specific close reason sounds like something that might be plausible -- at least worth considering -- particularly if it could be made relatively specific and crafted to address the criticisms of the old NARQ. I think this is just a renaming and wouldn't affect the merits of your proposal, but will affect how it is perceived. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Jun 29 '15 at 21:34
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The close reason “not a real question” was too broad and unclear. Bringing it back would solve nothing. It isn't any less confusing than applying the current “unclear” to problem statements that are clearly presented but where we don't understand what kind of answers are expected.

The guidance about “unclear” does explain that case (“add additional details to highlight exactly what you need (…) it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking”); it could use some clarification (“it's hard to tell what kind of answers you're expecting”?), but who reads the guidance anyway?

We can add one more per-site close reason. Unfortunately, these reasons have to be under off-topic (allowing per-site close reasons that aren't under off-topic has been requested but in vain), so adding a close reason for computer science “problem dumps” is unlikely to alleviate much confusion.

Having a per-site close reason would at least have the advantage of clarifying our policies. My impression is that different people have hugely different ideas of what constitutes “check my answer” types of questions — I've seen it applies to questions that presented a potential solution with an obvious questionable step. The situation is even worse with “problem dumps”, and heads back to one of the reasons why we didn't make “homework” a close reason¹ — the boundary between a problem dump and a perfectly reasonable question is pretty fuzzy.

¹ Not the only reason — “homework” carries the much worse problem that it seeks to distinguish on how the problem came about, which we can't know and have no reason to care about since it doesn't affect the answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Given a suitable definition of "real question", I don't think such a close reason would be too broad, or less clear than the existing. (Such a definition did not exist for the old, system-wide close reason!) The technical issue of it being an "offtopic" closing reason nowadays is certainly problematic. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Jun 29 '15 at 8:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Raphael, I agree, but as a matter of perception, I'd suggest we avoid calling it "closing as not a real question", as NARQ brings a whole bunch of historical baggage with it. I'd suggest we find another way to describe the close reason (some other language than "not a real question", and that makes clearer how this is narrower and better-defined than before), so we avoid getting mired down in the remembered-problems of the old NARQ close reason. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Jun 29 '15 at 21:37

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